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Cousin cousine

Cousin Cousine is a Delight
Cousin Cousine is a delight. I have never seen a film before that has made me feel so happy to be alive. A charming, refreshing, celebration of life. Nominated for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards, as well as best screenplay and best Actress- Marie Christine Barrault, It was remade years later in America in a feeble attempt to capture the true charm that often accompanies French films. This original French Version is one of my top 5 favorite films.

Jean Charles Tacchella tells a story which starts with a Wedding. On the Groom's side, we are introduced to Ludovic (Victor Lanoux) - the Nephew, his wife Karine (Marie France Pisier) and their daughter Nelsa (Catherine Verlor). On the Bride's side, her daughter Marthe (Barrault), her husband Pascal (Guy Marchand), and their son Eric. Ludovic and Marthe find themselves alone that night with their spouses nowhere to be found, and strike up a conversation.

Ludovic is a dance instructor, but changes his profession every 3 years. Before that, he studied mushrooms for a living. His wife has issues, one being depression. Her latest treatment - Sleep therapy. Their daughter Nelsa has a few issues of her own, believing that she has seen the worst that adolescence has to offer, and feels that maybe the earth would be a better place if humans ceased to exist. Rather than marrying one day, she would prefer to commit a murder. To her, it would seem no more absurd than raising a family. She also has a love of photography, and manages at this gathering to expose all the hidden naughty behaviors of family members on both sides, much to the delight of the small children who find the adults behavior quite amusing.

Marthe explains she is a rather bored housewife, with a husband who lusts after every woman he sees- which he firmly denies. When both spouses finally turn up after having an obvious affair, Ludovic and Marthe start seeing each other. At first, it's completely platonic, but after a few days together that changes. It is not so much to get even with their spouses for cheating on them, but more hedonistic in nature. When their cheating spouses find out, they panic and try to make amends. Pascal breaks off his affairs with the 6 other women he's been sleeping with, then proudly tells his wife. Poor Karine decides to get more sleep therapy. But both Ludovic and Marthe fall madly in love, and make sure the entire family knows about it.

This of course leads to numerous comic events that are all hysterical in nature and too numerous to mention. Cousin Cousine is open, honest, and lacking in pretense. Tacchella's ability to inhabit Bourgeois sensibility in an unconventional and free spirited way throughout the film both enhances and heightens its appeal, and what makes it so charming. Laughs galore, and the musical score makes this romp even more comical. Pisier, Marchand, and Verlor steal this film in their supporting roles. Hats off to France for yet another comedy classic. It gets 9/10 stars from me.

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars

Eric Clapton - The Man or the Genius?
I guess there are a lot of ways one can look at this documentary. It was indeed an excellent overview of one of the most gifted musicians of our generation. There is no doubt that Eric Clapton is a music legend, and in all fairness, he doesn't try to hide his shortcomings as a human being. But maybe, there in lies the problem. Some things are better left unsaid.

This documentary gives us an excellent background to the man behind the music, and deals honestly with his life and his career. I was very surprised there was no mention of his work with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. Delaney greatly influenced his musical direction, connected him to Duane Allman and Leon Russell, and encouraged him to write and sing more, all while giving him an escape from a psychological and professional rut he desperately needed escape from.

The problem I have with this documentary is that it tries to make us feel sympathy for Clapton. Yes, he grew up being rejected by his real mother, (who he only met twice and never really knew), but he had Grandparents who raised him and blessed his childhood. So, why all the self pity? They continually brought up that his Grandparents raising him, (as opposed to his biological mother), was such a tremendous trauma to him, that his life went straight downhill as a result. Really?

Truth is, he has never taken full responsibility for his own actions except by way of past reflection and for me, that wasn't enough. This documentary was filled with too many- "I really should have apologized" or "I really wished I hadn't done that" -- for my liking. It showed us how fame, fortune and self centered behavior can bring out the monster in some people, and yet leave them still looking for sympathy. Sorry. Many of us have gone through hard times in our lives. Few of us use it to justify our actions later in life.

Clapton left his original band- the Yardbirds- without notice. He later abandoned the band "Blind Faith" much like the Yardbirds- again, without notice. He influenced Delaney and Bonnie's band members into leaving them to form the "Dominos", and eventually stole a married women away from his best friend- only to abuse her later, (resulting from his battles with Alcohol). His poor judgement led to an accident in which his 5 year old son died- having fallen out of a window - evidently unsupervised by his girlfriend who he knew was mentally unstable at the time- and although he had periods later in life of showing good will towards others with benefit concerts (something almost every artist does in their careers), even his diehard fans were not spared. I was at that concert in Pittsburgh in 1986, and the movie depicts just a glimpse of what happened. It was ugly. Destroyed relationships seems to be an ongoing theme here, and in some cases, one has to wonder if there was ever a relationship at all.

This movie also gives Clapton credit which was undeserved. They pointed out that he "opened the door" for all the Blues musicians, making it easier for them to get exposure to the general public- but was this a wonderful gesture on his part- or simply the byproduct of playing their music? Big difference. One can actually say without THEIR inspiration- he never would have picked up a guitar in the first place.

What really bothered me though was his failure to give credit to those who loved him and even saved him from further self destruction. Pete Townsend dragged him out of bed during his drug addiction and got him back onstage to help save his life and career. Procol Harum's Gary Brooker befriended him and helped him to kick his alcoholism by sharing his passion for fishing. Patty Boyd? Many people helped him thru his down times, but were NEVER mentioned or given credit for any of their support along the way. For a documentary of such length, there was surely enough time.

Believe it or not, I'm a big fan of Clapton but after seeing this I'm not so sure anymore. I still love and admire his music, but there's a big difference between living the blues and playing it. Clapton's Blues were the results of his own selfish actions- unlike the Blues masters, who were TRULY dealt a bad hand in life and had to express their hardships thru their music. Many today still live in poverty- not in multi million dollar mansions.

The Eyes

The Eyes- Don't Believe Everything You See
Well, rarely do I write reviews for a film which could be acted out on stage, but despite its terrible reviews, I have to give this a 6/10 for the plot twist alone. I didn't it see coming.

6 strangers are tied up and bound in a cellar. They all have no idea how they got there. They are told that only 1 will leave alive and it's up to them to decide on which one. As the story unfolds, we find a government agency is behind it and there is a secret reason they are all there. But is the reason given true, or is there something else going on? They all confess to being sinners, but despite the flashbacks we are shown, can anyone's confession be trusted?

"The Eyes" may not be a well acted film but to be honest, there is a reason for that too, as you will understand at the end of the movie. It makes me laugh at the reviews for those who trash the acting. I guess they miss the whole point of the film, or just weren't paying attention.

One can argue that this is hardly a film by normal standards. It's a play that happens to be acted out ON film, and as for its wooden direction or shoe string budget, who cares? I wasn't expecting Doctor Zhivago.

For those who expect "Saw" because of the setup, it isn't. There is little violence if any in this film. What we really have here is an elaborate game being played out- a cat and mouse tale, whose sole purpose is to set up a very unique and clever twist. As time goes by, "being original" is becoming harder and harder. They at least tried something clever. It does keep you guessing, and the ending makes it worthwhile- for those who are willing to hang in there.

The Brood

Sometimes Terror Comes From Within
David Cronenberg has long been considered one of the true great masters of horror. While other Directors preoccupied themselves with the horror that comes from the outside world, he was the first to focus on the horror that comes from within. In his early years, he played dual roles as both Writer and Director. While 2 of his most commercially successful films ("The Dead Zone") and ("The Fly") were films based on stories written by others, he wrote a few truly amazing films of his own. "The Brood" was his 3rd installment and by far his best. I believe it is one of the greatest and truly most shocking- yet intelligent- films of this genre.

A beautiful, (though totally insane) woman named Nola (Samantha Eggar), is institutionalized in a mental hospital for the child abuse of her daughter Candy. This subject was nothing new to Nola for she herself was a victim years earlier, (abused by her dysfunctional mother). Her daughter Candice now lives within the custody of her husband Frank (Art Hindle). Candy is allowed to visit her mother on weekends at the hospital by court order. That quickly changes though when her father discovers wounds on his daughter's back after her returns. He wants answers, and that is where we start our wild journey.

It appears that this hospital has a new experimental therapy by a modern day "mad doctor" named Ragland (Oliver Reed) It's called "Psychoplasmics". It allows patients to externalize the manifestations of their inner rage, often resulting in welts on their skin. The theory is the welts will heal, and the inner rage eliminated. Problem is, Nola has responded so well to this therapy that it takes our viewing horror to a whole new level.

As the story goes along, Cronenberg splits narratives between Nola's therapy sessions with Dr. Ragland at the hospital, and her husband and Candy's personal life on the outside. Frank sees a lawyer, wanting full custody of Candy because he believes those wounds to his daughter's back are further signs of Nola's abuse. It turns out they're not, and our story strings us along as we witness a number of strange incidents about to take place.

There are a series of brutal murders which occur in this film beyond the understanding of all the characters. It seems they are carried out by deformed children against people with ties to Nola. Her abusive mother, her father who she feels never provided her protection, and a school teacher who she believes her husband is having an affair with.

Pretty soon, we connect the dots to find that Nola has perfected this new therapy so well, she actually gives birth to a brood of children who act out based on her inner rage, and without her knowledge. After the 3rd murder, her daughter is taken hostage by two of Nola's "brood" and is brought back to the hospital. It's up to her husband Frank to figure out this mystery and get his child back.

To kill Nola's brood means killing Nola. Frank does, and gets back his daughter back. Candy is safe for now, but forever traumatized, and in the closing shots, we see bumps and welts on Candy's young body which implies that Candy too will eventually have a brood of her own. Thus, the cycle of child abuse continues.

The film has shocking scenes. The murders are graphic in nature and during the finale, there is a legendary scene that is easily the most shocking scene in the history of horror films.

The acting by two of the leads is excellent. Eggar is mesmerizing as the insane mother from hell, all the more effective by her contrasting beauty. She evens gets our sympathy on occasion. This is Eggar's greatest performance of her career - beautiful, and yet so terrifying and convincing -showing her great range as an actress. The late great Oliver Reed is powerful and intense as Dr. Ragland. These two take this film to another level, and rarely do you find acting of this quality in this genre. The sound effects are ominous, and the pacing of Cronenberg creates a tremendous emotional impact. He creates an other worldly feel to the film, with characters that have unusual names and equally unusual actions.

What impresses me the most about this incredible film is that rarely does a horror film carry such a strong message that has any socially redeeming value. In this film, its the sensitive subject of child abuse, and how easy it is passed down from generation to generation. Cronenberg called it a horror version of a more conventional film at the time- "Kramer vs Kramer". Cronenberg was also going thru a divorce at the time.

If you haven't seen it, do so. Its a hidden gem. Catch it on Blue Ray. Do not see it on commercial television. Of the films he both wrote and directed, this is his best, not Videodrome.

Los Parecidos

What On Earth Is Going On?
1968 was a turbulent time in both Mexican and United States history. It was a time of great sociological unrest, when authority was questioned, and social protests became prominent. While the United States lost Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, the Mexican government used its power to suppress political opposition from innocent students leading to a massacre in Tlatelolco during the reign of president Diaz- shortly before the 1968 Olympics.

I bring this up only because it serves as background for Isaac Ezban's fascinating and imaginative second Science Fiction film- "The Similars".

Setup- 8 people find themselves stranded at a bus station during a devastating rainstorm only five hours outside of Mexico City. But this is no ordinary storm, nor are the news reports that come in. This rain contains a lot more than just water.

The cast of characters are comprised of an old man on the verge of retirement, a pregnant woman on the run, a medical student, a mother and her handicapped son, and a few significant others. As with his brilliant debut film- "El Incidente", the characters seem inconsequential to the story. They are used merely to examine the human condition when put in a position of extreme circumstance.

As the story unfolds, we witness a strange phenomenon. Each character, by way of a bizarre seizure, wake up no memory and the same face. As expected tensions arise, characters become desperate for answers, paranoia takes over, and violence- including a few deaths. The student fears the government is involved. Others believe it's the Devil. An old native Aztec woman has an opinion too, but nobody can understand a word she says. This is only the premise. No Spoilers.

Could one of these characters hold the secret? Is there some sort of cosmic game taking place? Can fantasy become an uncontrollable reality? There is dark humor throughout this film, which Ezban delivers- tongue in cheek. I won't spoil the surprises. This is a fun, imaginative journey into Science Fiction. While his feature film "El Incidente" was explained within the context of abstract spiritual realism, this story has it's dots well connected and unfolds with perfect timing.

The film's main metaphor is - what does man become when stripped of his identity? That was in question that tragic day in Tlatelolco in 1968. Somehow, the military forgot that individuality can not be compromised, and there are dangers when our identity is suppressed in favor of forced conformity- in other words- when people are forced to "All Become The Same" (tagline). The fact that Ezban used a Sociological equivalency to his Sy/Fy story shows that this Director may become a true future visionary in the world of modern day Cinema.

The direction of Ezban, along with the cinematography of Isi Sarfati, leave the film with a real 60s look and feel. Yes, this is very much Ezban's tribute to Rod Serling's - The Twilight Zone - A combination of 4 ("Mirror Image", "It's a Good Life", "Mind and the Matter", & "Monsters are due on Maple Street") with a unique twist by Ezban that Serling would have loved.

Like great Writers and Directors, Ezban's story is fun, fascinating, and totally original- and just when you think you have the film figured out, he throws us the proverbial curve ball and dares us to hit it. Don't be misled by the trailer. Violence is kept to a minimum. On imagination alone, I give this a rating of 8/10.

El incidente

Is this world ready for Isaac Ezban?
Rod Serling once wrote "It has been said that God created the Heaven and Earth, but it's up to each individual to create their own personal or private Hell". Well, not necessarily, as we find out in this truly incredible film debut by writer/director Isaac Ezban's epic stunner "El Incidente".

El Incidente begins with a striking image of a very old woman in her last few minutes of life. She's still in her wedding dress, riding an escalator to an unknown origin into the future. It's followed by a sequence where we see an endless ocean, railroad track, road, stairway, and finally hallway. These shots acts as a road map by Ezban for us to follow on his journey into a universe of his own creation, and what a glorious journey it is

There are 2 separate yet connected stories for us to follow, both fragmented linear narratives about a family's venture on a road trip, and a detective's successful chase of 2 petty thieves on a stairway of an apartment building. In both scenes, we witness multiple incidents, both involving a death. A detective shoots one of the criminals while on the stairs- yet claims it wasn't his doing, while the father of a family gets lost while his daughter suffers a severe asthma attack for which he assumes much of the blame. Both groups hear an explosion shortly before each incident occurs, and both find themselves frozen in space-but not time- and isolated from the rest of the world.

While the family on the road keep passing the same landmarks over and over again, the Cop and 2 criminals discover an endless loop of repeated floors of the building in which they are trapped. There is much more to both stories and yes, they are connected. Listen closely to the conversation between both brothers in one's dying moments on the stairway. The regret of rushing childhood in quest of a happier adulthood is crucial to the film's universal theme.

35 years into the future--Act 2

Act 2 on the staircase contains the film's most creative and fascinating images. A vending machine that automatically fills up with food at will, a mural of fascinating drawings on the walls listing the number of days since the incident occurred- a bizarre religious ritual, a collection of empty plastic water bottles that contain (that's a secret) and the most beautiful images of food items ever captured on film since Antonioni's "Zabriske Point". The way the characters adapted to their new stairway home over the years with what little they had was amazingly creative, like utilizing limitless water bottles to use as a make shift shower. The relationships between characters grew as well as their lives depended on cooperation. (Ezban and set designer Adelle Achar used a lot of imagination in highlighting this fascinating and original segment)

Act 2 of the family on the road could have used a bit more development and imagination. Still in all fairness, it was realistic and true to the story. The father and son are alive, but remain quite distant. The mother is catatonic and soon dies, and the little girl has long been deceased. They have not adapted to their surroundings nearly as well. A revelation soon occurs in both stories, and some warnings as well.

In critiquing cinema, as in our regular lives, it seems we make our choices based on subjective impulse and live by these choices as though we have grasped an "absolute truth" Fans of mystery enjoy figuring out the unknown, and are often frustrated when the process seems like an exercise in futility (as one might experience here) Rather than solve all the mystery of this film, or understand its bizarre logic, enjoy the experience in a unique world created by Ezban. Someone once said that in Science Fiction, a writer doesn't have to embarrassed for loving strange ideas- in fact, its almost encouraged. I might add, its not a sin for the viewer for loving them either.

If there is a flaw, it might be understanding Ezban's tagline and the cause and effect aspect of the film. "Movement" should probably be replaced by "Creativity and Perserverence". It would have made the film easier to understand. It's also hard to connect or even feel compassion for the characters in this film, leaving a void in our caring about the outcome. Regardless of it's logistics and our emotional detachment, Its still a beautiful fascinating nightmare. It does leave us with questions. Most nightmares do, but few are this fascinating.

If you pay close attention, (which few people do), the film shows us is how mortality and the deterioration of aging goes hand in hand with the loss of innocence and the dreams of our youth. This film is all about that passage of time. It is a reminder that wasted time is time we never get back, and not staying active by living life to its fullest will only lead to our self destruction.

Of course, sometimes the metaphors are missed, but that's a fault of the viewer, not the filmmaker. This was easily one of the most fascinating films I've ever seen in years, and an amazing Journey , and on that basis- it gets a 9/10 from me. I loved it, and no, this is NOT a paid review.

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