Tuesday, December 30, 2008

La Dolce Vita (1960)

I'd heard a lot about Federico Fellini and since lately I love old Italian movies, I decided to try La Dolce Vita, which they said was one of his best works, if not the most famous.

This is truly an art movie, which means it's not easy to understand, although the picture looks beautiful. There are too many things in the movie, too many the director wants to tell. I read that it contains 7 episodes, which center around Marcello the journalist, played by Marcello Mastroianni, in the time when moral corruption begins to get worse, after the booming of economy in the late 1950's. The plot I like is the one with the American actress, played by Anita Ekberg. Ekberg's gown, the one she wears in the dancing scene, is so beautiful, makes her like a flower, maybe that was why this movie won the Oscar for Best Costume Design. The most famous scene from this is one in the Trevi fountain, with Ekberg and Mastroianni.

Marcello lives with Emma and their relationship is not so good. He sleeps with another woman (or perhaps more) and refuses to marry Emma. I don't understand why he and Emma keeps living together. After a fight, he asks her to get out of the car and leaves her, and picks her up later. Perhaps he does love her a little.

Airport (1970-1979)

Airport (1970)
The most interesting thing in this movie is when an old lady called Ada Quonsett, played by Helen Hayes, tells the management of Trans Global Airlines how she can board a plane without any ticket. No wonder that she won an Oscar for this. The 2 main plots of this movie are how the manager tries to keep his airport open during a snowstorm and a desperate man who wants to commit suicide in a flight over the Atlantic with a bomb in his suitcase so that his wife can get the insurance money. The moment when the bomb exploded is very exciting and scary, mainly because a beautiful stewardess played by Jacqueline Bisset is hurt.

Airport 1975
Among the four movies in this series, this is the one I like less. The disaster on the movie poster look great, and it is. Can you imagine a plane with passengers without a pilot? Columbia Airlines's Flight is en route from Washington to Los Angeles, but a weather trouble makes them diverted to Salt Lake City. A smaller plane, piloted by a business man who suddenly suffers a heart attack, hit the Boeing's cockpit, killed 2 pilots and leave the captain blind and unconscious. Nancy the stewardess takes over the plane with the help from the tower. She cannot land the plane, though, so a new pilot must come to the rescue by entering through the hole in the cockpit. I find it impossible to believe how Nancy saves the plane. Good thing I like from this movie: Helen Reddy plays a guitar and sings a song for a sick little girl.

Airport 1977
James Steward plays a millionaire who will open a museum. His private luxury Boeing will carry his guests and his precious collections. On its way, the plane unfortunately is hijacked. The plane flies under radar, but it is too low that it hits an offshore drilling platform. The plane falls into the ocean. The SAR team cannot find them as they are 200 miles off course, and the only way out is someone must send a signal from the surface, before the survived passengers are drown. It's nice to see Olivia de Havilland; while Lee Grant's character, Karen Wallace, a wife who is angry to every body, is very irritating. I think none misses her after her death.

The Concorde ... Airport '79
I have written before that I liked this movie. I read this was a disaster, but I've seen worse movies. An arms dealer, played by Robert Wagner, plans to destroy The Concorde on its flight after learning that one of its passengers, his girlfriend, a reporter, knows about his illegal activity. The side plots about its passengers are a bit annoying and not interesting at all (but perhaps such things were popular in the time the movie was made), but I like the stories about the pilots and the manoeuvres when the Concorde is trying to avoid the missiles and fighter aircraft. This supersonic aircraft has ceased to operate since 2003.


What made me interested to read this, was because this was the only whodunit story by Frank Yerby. I like Yerby's works. I must admit that this book's cover made me ashamed, but I have known that Yerby works are not what the cover depicts. I think the publisher thought that if they used a cover like this, they could sell more copies.

Gillian is published in 1960 and the story centres around Gillian MacAllister (of course), a lovely blonde who inherits a steel factory in Birmingham. Her character is like Jekyll - Hyde type: sometimes she is like an angel and sometimes she is like the devil incarnate.

Geoffry Lynne, a writer, narrates the story. After staying in Europe for years, he returns to Birmingham, Alabama in 1908. Soon after, Gillian is found dead, murdered, and his brother Gregory gives himself up to the police. Many believe that Gregory is innocent and cannot do such thing, but why he has confessed? Geoffry thinks his brother is protecting someone, most likely Hero, the woman he loves. Geoffry then interviews those who were close to Gillian, mostly Michael Ames (Gillian's husband) and Hero Farnsworth (a young widow who loves Michael) and the results are this book. So we have here a whodunit story where each chapter/incident is told from a character's point of view. Geoffry must find the real killer before his brother is hung for the crime.

As always, Yerby's story is rich with details, which make this book is very enjoyable to read. I only found the culprit in the last pages. Some readers may guess it right, for there are not many characters in the book (like in any detective novel). The difficulty is to guess how and why.

I have read many detective novels and sometimes can guess the conclusion. Gillian is not that easy. Geoffry Lynne writes this note at the end of chapter 27: "For instance, in the last chapter, Hero gave me a most important clue. I ignored it as female vaporing. A few pages hence, she will give you another. Perhaps you'll prove a better sleuth than I." When I read this, I re-read chapter 27 again, but couldn't find the clue. After I finished the whole book and possessed the knowledge of what happened, I read that chapter again and chapter 29 (in which Geoffry said Hero gave another clue), but still couldn't find any clue.

Du rififi chez les hommes (1955)

Rififi is one of the best heist movies ever made, featuring about half an hour heist scene without dialogue or music. Adapted from Auguste le Breton's novel, although many parts of the book have been butchered, with low budget and no star cast. Director Jules Dassin himself joins the cast as Cesar, the safe-cracker from Milan. Among the cast, I've seen Jean Servais (who plays Tony here) in Les Centurions (Lost Command) and there is young Robert Hossein as Pierre Grutter's brother, a heroin addict.

Tony is just out of prison. His friends Jo and Mario approach him to ask him to join them to cut a jeweler's window and grab the precious stones. At first Tony refuses, but after finding out that his girlfriend is with Pierre Grutter and beating her, he agrees to do the job, with a condition that they take the safe instead. They hire Cesar, a safe cracker. The job is successfully done. The police come to Grutter if he knows about the robbery, but after Cesar gives a diamond ring to his mistress who sings at Grutter's club and Grutter realizes that Tony and his friends are behind the heist, he plans to take over all the jewels for himself by kidnapping Jo's son.

After the heist, the plot seems to me getting better and better. The robbers die one by one: Mario by the enemy, Cesar is shot by Tony himself after he betrayed them, then Jo, and then Tony. We can see how close Jo and Tony, for Jo named his son after Tony. The ending scene is so impressing that I am almost sure I have seen it before: Tony dies in his car after delivering little Tonio safely to his mother's door, surrounded by bystanders and police. None of the robbers gets the money. Louise, Jo's widow, is too relieved to have her son back that she doesn't care about the suitcase full of money.

I cannot help comparing this to Le Cercle Rouge, referring to the fact that Jean-Pierre Melville himself almost got the Rififi project. Tony is like Corey: both are fresh out of prison. The heist scene in both movies is without dialogue. The robbers in Rififi enters the jewelry store from the upstairs flat, while in Le Cercle Rouge from the next door building. The ending in both movies is tragic.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Phantom of The Opera (1990)

This version of Phantom of The Opera is made for TV, divided into 2 parts, and based on a musical by Arthur Kopit. Kopit's work is of course based on the famous Gaston Leroux novel, about an opera ghost who falls in love with a singer.

I first saw this on TV in the 90's, around the time when Twin Peaks was shown on TV. We had black and white TV at that time, but I remember that this Phantom movie was beautiful. Yesterday I had a chance to watch it again.

The movie begins with Christine's arrival at the Paris Opera House. As the opening credit rolls, we can see some beautiful front side of the building. Christine has been sent to Paris by Count Philippe de Chagny, the opera house's patron, to take a singing lesson. The count saw her singing in a fair and thought her voice was beautiful. Unfortunately, the opera house has just had a new director, whose wife, Carlotta, doesn't believe Christine can sing. Carlotta places her in the costume department. Christine stays in the opera house and one night the Phantom hears her singing and takes her as his pupil. When the Count de Chagny arrives, he holds a party and in this party Christine sings and they can see that she is much better than Carlotta, the opera house's star. In her jealousy, Carlotta ruins Christine's premier debut, and this makes the Phantom angry and brings down the big chandelier. He takes Christine down to his lair, beneath the opera house. In a picnic, Christine asks the Phantom to open his mask, but the shock makes her faint. The Phantom realizes that granting Christine that wish is a huge mistake, but it is too late. She is gone, back to the count, but she knows that she must make amends.

Directed by Tony Richardson, this is the best version of The Phantom of The Opera I've ever seen. Charles Dance as Erik the Phantom, has a witty sense of humour. At least twice he takes off his mask, but instead of showing the audience his horrible face, it turns out he still has another mask under the first one. His face is never shown to the audience. Teri Polo is very beautiful as Christine. It's too bad the songs are in French. My French is miserable, and the subtitles are in German. Burt Lancaster plays Gerard Carriere, the old director of the opera house, also Erik's father. He always takes care of his son and in the end promises him that he 'will not end on display'. Jean-Pierre Cassel plays Inspector Ledoux, who wants to capture the Phantom. Andréa Ferréol who plays Carlotta is very funny, especially in the scene where the Phantom has done something with her wig. I think the ending is very sweet: Christine kisses Erik on his forehead (and not like Andrew Lloyd Webber's version where she kisses him on the mouth) - showing that she loves him very much, but it's different from her love to Philippe (yes, here the count is named Philippe instead of Raoul. In the novel, Philippe is Raoul's older brother.).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thomas Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
After watching Plein Soleil (René Clément - 1960) several times, I have been familiar with the story of Tom Ripley. It's interesting, though, to read about Tom's life in New York and how Dickie's father thinks Tom is the right person to persuade Dickie to return to America. Marge doesn't like Tom and thinks he is queer. In the beginning of Plein Soleil, there is an amphibian plane takes off. I always wonder who is on the plane. Unless I have missed something, the book doesn't mention anything about it. In the movie, there is also a scene where Tom says how Dickie (in the movie his name is changed to Philippe) saved him from drowning when they were teens, but Dickie tells Marge he had never seen him before Mongibello. After reading the book, it could be both are telling the truth: Tom remembers, but Dickie doesn't. Dickie's body is never found and Tom can get away with Dickie's money, even though several experts believe Dickie's signature has been forged. In Plein Soleil, he gives the money to Marge.

Ripley Under Ground (1970)
I was amazed to find that this 2nd book was as good as the first. Sequel is usually not as good as the first. However, in this case, it is not true. Patricia Highsmith was a very good writer. Six years have passed since Dickie Greenleaf's affair. Tom is now 31 years old and has been married for three years to Heloise Plisson, daughter of millionaire owner of Plisson Pharmaceutiques. The happy couple live in Villeperce-sur-Seine. They name their house Belle Ombre. In this book, Tom is involved in a fraud. He and his gang makes money from a dead painter called Derwatt. When all Derwatt's works have been sold, the gang sells new paintings by someone else. An American, Murchison, notices the difference, so the gang must come up with something to explain it. This book is called Ripley Under Ground because at some point, Tom is buried alive. He can get away, as usual, of course.

Ripley's Game (1974)
Six months have passed since the Derwatt episode. Tom sometimes work for Reeves, a fence. This time Reeves asks Tom to find someone to kill a mafioso or two. Tom suggests a picture framer from Fountainebleau called Jonathan Trevanny because this man has made an unpleasant remark to him. In a party, Tom approaches him and says, "I'm Tom Ripley. I live in Villeperce." Jonathan replies in a sneering way, "Oh yes, I've heard of you." Tom knows he has a bad reputation because of the Dickie Greenleaf affair, and after that there is the Derwatt case; but Jonathan's reply sounds nasty to him, so Tom wants to do a practical joke on him by giving his name to Reeves, to play his game. Interesting to read how an honest person like Jonathan can be corrupted by money. He kills the first mafioso successfully by shooting him at a train station. At this point in the story, all goes around Jonathan, so I'm glad when Tom appears again to help Jonathan in his 2nd murder because Reeves wants the mafioso to be garroted on a train, and Tom knows Jonathan cannot do that. Although Jonathan is very rich after that, he doesn't know how to explain about the money to his Catholic wife, Simone, who will never accept the blood money, even though the victims are mafia members. Tom tries to help Jonathan, without any success. In the first book, it's Tom himself who starts to do murder because he wants Dickie's money. He offers Dickie friendship and companionship, but Dickie replies him with ingratitude and hostility. Marge is drawing Dickie away from him, so Tom kills him and becomes him to possess his money. In the 3rd book, Jonathan is also having this moral corruption. Tom only opens the way to him. Jonathan can say no to Reeves, but finally he gives up to the temptation. Simone has a big prejudice against Tom. I symphatize with Tom (this is Highsmith's intention, I think), but I dislike Simone. She hates Tom so much and blames him for all that has happened, although in the end she accepts the money and is 'a trifle ashamed of herself'. I like the part about the harpsichord: "Tom sat at the harpsichord, playing the base of a Goldberg variation, trying to get the fingering in his head and in his hand. [...] Tom knew how the variation should sound, because he had Landowska's recording. As he was going over it for the third or fourth time and feeling that he had made progress, the telephone jangled."

All the 3 books are very good. Perhaps I will read the next 2 Ripley books: The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980) and Ripley Under Water (1991).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)

Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of the Gods) is voted the best French film ever made. Either one agrees or not, in this movie there is definitely one of the greatest love stories on screen.

The story centres around Garance, a beautiful courtesan, and four men who love her: Baptiste (a mime), Frédérick Lemaître (an actor),
Pierre-François Lacenaire (a criminal) and Édouard, Count de Montray (an aristocrat). In the beginning of the story, Garance perhaps likes Lacenaire, who cares more about his activity. On her way to visit Lacenaire that day, she meets the actor, who tries to flirt with her. However, it is the kind-hearted Baptiste, whose own father is ashamed of, who will be her true love. The mime helps clear her name when she is accused of stealing a watch, and later gets her a job and a room in a boarding house, next to the actor's. Baptiste is tormented seeing Garance and the actor together, and later he will lose her forever when she chooses the aristocrat after seeing no other way to escape a new accusation of burglary and murder attempt.

The movie is divided into two parts. In the 2nd part, the mime and the actor have become very successful. Baptiste has married Nathalie, the daughter of the director of Theatre Funambules, where Baptiste works. They have a son. Garance has returned to Paris and every night she goes incognito to see Baptiste's performance. Nathalie sends their son to tell Garance that Baptiste is very happy with his family now.

It's been so long since I saw a pantomime, so I am very impressed with Jean-Louis Barrault who plays Baptiste. When he sits on the barrel as Pierrot, staring without blinking, looks so hopeless that I believe his father is right: he is useless. The next minute, he displays his great talent as a mime artist, and falls in love with Garance because she says his eyes are beautiful.

It must be not easy to make this movie and at that time (during WW2). The crowd inside the both theatres, Funambules and Grand Theatre, and outside, must be real crowd. 'Paradis' means the gallery in a theatre, so the title 'Children of Paradis' refers to the audience in the cheapest seats. In British theatre, this 'Paradis' is known as 'the gods' because the cheapest areas is also the highest. These people usually react to a play honestly.

The ending is not so clear. Baptiste runs after Garance's carriage which moves off into the carnival crowd which is full of pierrots and masked people. I guess she will never returns to him, but where she will go? The aristocrat is dead.

Garance : You talk like a child. People love that way in a books, in dreams; not in real life.
Baptiste: Dreams, life... It's the same or life is not worth living. But it's not life I love. It's you.

Fanfan la Tulipe (1952)

Fanfan la Tulipe is a swashbuckling movie with an absurd plot, yet very entertaining. The narrator is so hilarious that when I still giggle, he has already said his next funny narration. I also have never seen a swashbuckling movie where the fight scenes are accelerated. The director, Christian-Jaque, seemed in a hurry.

Gérard Philipe who plays Fanfan is a very popular actor at that time. He has become a sort of legend because he died at the peak of his career in 1959.

King Louis XV is at war. On his way to a force marriage, Fanfan meets a beautiful gypsy, played by Gina Lollobrigida, who tells him that he will marry the king's daughter. How can Fanfan meets the princess? So he enlists as a soldier for the regiment of Aquitaine. "When the dead outnumbered the living, reinforcement was advisable," says the narrator. He gets the nickname La Tulipe because after rescuing the princess and her chaperone la marquise de Pompadour from robbers, the marquise gives him a tulip.

The dialogue by Henri Jeanson reminds me of Astérix comics: funny. I love the dialogue when the new recruitment arrive in the camp.
-Your name?
-Fanfan la Tulipe.
-La Tulipe?
-It's a fine nickname. We have a Larkspur, a Meadowsweet, a Buttercup. This isn't a regiment. It's a flower-bed.

and "You'll be my brother and I, your father."

Jean-Marc Tennberg who plays Lebel, the king's chamberlain, looks a lot like Alan Cumming.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Dark Knight (2008)

In the past, Batman movies can be enjoyed by the whole family. This new Batman, The Dark Knight, is not suitable for children, in my opinion. Two-Face, although the make-up is great, looks very scary. In the beginning of the movie, when I saw how handsome Aaron Eckhart was, I almost couldn't imagine what he would look like when he became Two-Face. It's sad he dies in the end, because it means no more Two-Face in the next Batman movie.

Perhaps it's because Christopher Nolan directed this, that the movie becomes so dark. It does connect to the title, though. The handsome Harvey Dent is the White Knight of Gotham, while Batman is the Dark Knight.

The Joker is a sick character. True, he is a freak, but how freak the script has made him is also a scary process. In the beginning of the movie, we see that Joker doesn't trust anybody. None can guess what he thinks, what his goal is, except that he works without rules and that he enjoys making people panic. The code of honour among criminals/thieves is not applied to Joker. In the first robbery scene, we see how Joker's thugs kill each other because of greed.

The voice of Batman is a bit disturbing. I understand it's to show the audience how the people who know Bruce Wayne's voice don't recognize his when he becomes Batman. The suit must have something to distort the voice.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Airport '79 (1979)

I heard that this movie was so bad, so at first I had no plan to watch it. Last night I did and actually it was not as bad as I thought. The Concorde is gorgeous... and it flies at twice the speed of sound.

The plot, although is not very good, also not bad. Robert Wagner plays an arms dealer who wants to murder one of the passengers of the Concorde. There are also side plots on several other passengers and crews. Best moments, in my opinion, are when the Concorde is under attack.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Umberto D (1952)

Umberto Domenico Ferrari, the main character in this movie, is an old man who lives alone in an apartemen with his dog Flike. The movie begins with a march where elderly men demand better pension. We soon will learn that not all of them who join the march are in need like Umberto. Umberto has 2 things in his life: his dignity and his loyal dog Flike. Perhaps he will do better if he becomes a beggar. He will not have to sell his watch if he begs, for when he sells the watch, who else who buys it but a beggar. Perhaps his pension is enough if he stays in cheaper apartment. I do not know about the price, but is 15,000 lira per month the best price he can get for an apartement? His landlady is also eager to get rid of him, for she refuses when Umberto only can pay her half of the price. The landlady's maid, Maria, helps him whenever she can, although if the landlady finds out, she will be angry to both of them.

Throughout the whole movie we see how Umberto tries to survive. His dignity forbids him to beg, and once he tries to make Flike begs for him. (This particular scene is very cute.) When all hope is gone, he has an idea to kill himself to end the suffering, but before that, he must find a place for Flike. He first tries to leave him with a couple who keeps many dogs, but after knowing Flike will not be well taken care of there, he takes Flike with him again. After that he tries to give Flike to a little girl whom he knows likes Flike, but the girl isn't allowed to keep a dog at home. He tries to abandon Flike in a park, but the loyal dog keeps following him. When at last he takes Flike along to commit suicide, the dog senses the danger and becomes hostile to him. However, Flike and Umberto cannot be separated, and this movie ends happily.

Miracle in Milan (1951)

After watching The Bicycle Thieves, it's hard to believe that Miracle in Milan was made by the same director. When I saw the trailer, where Totò and Edvige rode the broom, I wondered what kind of movie it would be.

Watching Miracle in Milan is like reading a storybook, where everything can happen. The main character, Toto, is a person who thinks all the people in the world are good and kind. The story begins with an old woman who lives alone finds baby Totò in a cabbage patch. In the next scene we begin to see that this is no ordinary story, for when she comes back home, the boiled milk (or whatever it is) overflows and makes a little river on the floor. She doesn't get angry, but put little houses and trees around the 'river'. 'What a great big place the world is!' she says to little Totò. She dies and Totò is sent to an orphanage. At 18 years old, Totò leaves the orphanage. We learn here that it's better to say 'Good day.' only to the people we know. We also learn that Totò is a kind hearted person after he gives his bag to a man who wants it; although in return he can stay at his place - if we can call that a place. I'm very impressed with 'The Sun' scene, where standing [or running?] in 'a drop of golden sun' means like being nearby a fire place for poor people in the winter time.

Among the poor in Milan, Totò soon becomes sort of their leader. When oil is found on the land, a rich man called Mobbi buys the land and tries to evacuate them. Totò's adoptive mother comes and gives him a magic dove which can make wishes come true. With the dove, Totò helps the poor people to defend their homes and also grants their wishes. The most amazing scene is when Totò gives the sun to Edvige, but my favourite is 'Fano chocolate is the best.'

"All we need is a shack to live and sleep in.
All we need is a bit of ground to live and die on.
All we ask is a pair of shoes, some socks and a bit of bread.
That's all we need to believe in tomorrow."