Saturday, February 28, 2009

Texas Across the River (1966)

I expected that this movie would be silly, but after watching, I must say that I like it. First, the movie is well restored: picture and sound are great. I like the opening credits: colorful drawings of the main characters - in well chosen poses: Sam Hollis can't ride his horse properly after being hit by an arrow, Don Andrea in his nobleman's suit kicking a soldier, Phoebe Ann washing her hair in the river with 2 Indians watching, etc - while the theme song sung by Kingston Trio is playing. Throughout the movie, the music is well used. It's hilarious, especially when the Comanches appear.

Don Andrea Baldasar (Alain Delon), a Spanish duke, is about to marry Phoebe Ann (Rosemary Forsyth). The wedding ceremony is interrupted by Phoebe Ann's former fiancé, a member of US Cavalry, who is soon accidentally killed by Don Andrea. Don Andrea now becomes a hunted man and promises to meet Phoebe Ann in Texas, which has not been a state. On his way, Don Andrea meets Sam Hollis (Dean Martin) and his Indian sidekick Kronk (Joey Bishop) who need a good shooter to accompany them transporting weapons to Moccasin Flat, Texas. Don Andrea later will save Lonetta (Tina Aumont), a squaw, from a medicine man. Together they will tame longhorns. Meanwhile, Sam Hollis falls in love with Phoebe Ann, a cause which makes Don Andrea challenges him to a duel.

I like Yellow Knife, the Comanche chief's useless son. Every time he appears he makes me laugh. Not to mention the facial expression on the Comanches's faces, and Kronk's. Although considered as a spoof, this movie is not as stupid as I thought. The direction, music, and script are good.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Le Comte de Monte Cristo (1998)

First time I read about The Count of Monte Cristo was when some part of it appeared in a children's magazine in early 80's, which belonged to my neighbour. I cannot even remember now if the story started from the beginning, but I cannot forget the part about Danglars, who was kidnapped, and had to pay high price for his wine and chicken. In 1996, I bought the novel, which I believe was abridged, for it was only about 600 pages. Yet I loved the novel so much, enjoyed every detail of it.

Last Christmas, as usual I spent time with my parents, and 'The Man in The Iron Mask' was on TV. My mom said the movie was good, and I asked her if she had heard about the story of The Count of Monte Cristo. She said no, and I had this idea to obtain a copy of a Monte Cristo movie so she could watch it. I had seen the 2002 version with Jim Caviezel and didn't like it, for it turned out Albert de Morcerf was the Count's son with Mercedes. So I wanted to try the version with Gérard Depardieu. The French should be able to do this wonderful story better justice.

I finished watching it last night. Compared with the 2002 version, I like this one much better. The Count of Monte Cristo is a story of a successful sailor who is sent to jail on his engagement day because of a false accusation. After 14 years, he escapes and pays revenge to his enemies. [In the movie, I think it's 18 years instead of 14.] Gérard Depardieu is wonderful as Edmond Dantès, although I think his is physically too big for the role. Sometimes I can even see his stuntman. The other cast are equally very good, but the one I like best is Ornella Muti as Mercedès. She was still very beautiful in 1998, perfect for the role. My favourite scene is the boat ride when Mercedès opens her heart to the Count. It is very moving.

Unless I missed it, in this movie, it's not clearly mentioned Danglars's motive to get rid of Edmond Dantès. For Fernand, it's obvious: he wants Mercedès. Danglars does it because he and Edmond don't like each other, and if Edmond becomes the captain of The Pharaoh, Danglars will lose his job. The punishments are like karma: Fernand wanted Mercedès and loses her; Villefort wanted to keep his honour and loses it (unfortunately the movie didn't show how he went crazy in the end); and Danglars loved money so much and Edmond teaches him what it's like to be without any. Poor Caderousse gets killed.

This version is not 100% faithful to the novel, though. [In the novel, Edmond Dantès never has a happy ending with Mercedès. Perhaps because it is Ornella Muti.] I understand they had to eliminate several supporting characters. 6 hours are too short for this story. I actually wouldn't mind if they made it 10 hours. In all, this version is enjoyable, but if you can read the novel, read it. That reminds me: I have to get the unabridged version.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Doraemon & Nobita from Kidzu Bento

These two little figures are very cute! There is also Shizuka, but these two best friends are enough for me. If Hoka-hoka Bento came out with the whole set, including Suneo and Giant, perhaps I'd be tempted to get them all.

Update July 16, 2009

Finally : the whole series!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tony Arzenta (1973)

I like this poster of Tony Arzenta (A.K.A. Les grands fusils/Big Guns/No Way Out), which shows him attending the wounded Sandra. Both characters suffers and are sad.

Tony Arzenta (Alain Delon), a mob hitman, wants to retire. He tells his boss, Nick Gusto (Richard Conte), who seems to understand. Gusto's colleagues, however, think Tony knows too much and must be eliminated. A bomb is planted in his car. Unfortunately it is his wife and son, who celebrated his 8th birthday several days ago, who are killed. Don Mariano, the priest, tells Tony to let God do the revenge; but Tony is now in danger foe his bosses still want him dead, so he kills them one by one. He travels from Milan, to Paris and Copenhagen. Later, Tony is wounded and helped by Luca, who he thinks is a loyal friend. In the end, Gusto offers peace, and with Don Mariano as a intermediary, Tony agrees to attend Gusto's daughter's wedding. He doesn't realize that this is a trap.

This movie is full of violence. I enjoyed the car chases, though. In movies made in those days, the scenes are clearly shown. In recent ones, for example in Quantum of Solace, things are so fast that we cannot clearly see what is going on. Duccio Tessari, the director, is very good. I count that at least 2 scenes showed a shooting where the camera was placed behind the shooter, made it like in a video game [see picture]. To play a hitman, for Alain Delon, was not new. In this one, in the opening scene, he wishes his son a happy birthday, excuses himself because he has a job to do, kills two men and returns home as if he returns from an honest daily job, say as an accountant. Also interesting is the priest's sermon in the wedding, from the Book of Matthew: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Love the Lord and love your neighbour as yourself. ~That is not common in a wedding, in my opinion, and must be chosen by the priest special for Tony and Gusto.

Bob le flambeur (1956)

Bob le flambeur (=Bob the gambler) is Jean-Pierre Melville's first gangster film. No big actor in this because at that time he couldn't afford one. When I first watched this, I was so impressed with the opening scene, where the director took time to explain about the district of Montmartre in Paris. "Montmartre is both heaven (Basilica of the Sacré Cœur is shown. The next frame shows a bus, shot from behind railings. The music is cleverly arranged that I think the bus is descending) and hell (the nightclubs are chosen to describe hell)."

In this movie, the usual elements in Melville movies are available: gangsters, police, an informant, betrayal, detailed plans made before the big robbery, characters dressed in trench-coats and fedoras... except that in the end there is no robbery because Bob wins so much in the casino that he forgets the time. The ending scene, the conversation between Bob and the police, is funny. They are talking about how a good lawyer perhaps can negotiate well, so that Bob can spend less time in jail. "With a better lawyer, you could be acquitted," said the police, to whom Bob replied, "With a really top lawyer, I could sue for damages."

Les Granges brûlées (1973)

Les Granges brûlées (=The Burned Barns) is the name of a farm located in Haut-Doubs, where Rose (Simone Signoret) lives with her husband, two sons, one daughter, two daughter-in-laws, and some grandchildren. One day, a dead body of a rich, beautiful young girl is found near the farm and a judge (Alain Delon) comes to investigate. He suspects Rose's two sons and since then destroys the life balance in the family.

The audience learns about Rose and her family through the eyes of the judge, who is also an outsider. The police inspector says that he knows every one in the village and none of them is capable of murder. Although the barns are not burned, like the title suggests, it could mean that because of the murder, the fire enters into Rose's family and even though it ends well, the family will never be the same again. The movie more focuses on the characters than the murder investigation. Its strength lies on the relationship between the judge and Rose and the beauty of the snowy village. I like the music by Jean-Michel Jarre, too.

During the shooting, there was a big problem between the director/writer Jean Chapot and Delon - Signoret, who thought Chapot wasn't good enough. Chapot had all the idea in his head, but could not actualise it. Delon then directed himself scenes that concerned him. According to the assistant director, in the last scene - one of the best moments in the movie - where Rose and the judge say goodbye, the director was not there.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)

The producer perhaps wanted to make a movie about holocaust for children. Bruno, the center character is only 8 years old, a son of the commandant of a Jewish concentration camp. Torn from his old neighbourhood because his father has a duty in a new place, Bruno is lonely. From his bedroom window, he can see a 'farm' nearby, where its inhabitants strangely wear pyjamas. As his hobby is to read adventure books, Bruno is eager to explore the woods. He finds the 'farm' and makes friends with Shmuel, a bald boy of his age, who wears pyjamas with a number, who always sits near the gate.

This is a beautiful movie, although sometimes I think Bruno is too ignorant. At 8 years old and since Papa is in the army, he should have known better. But again, this movie perhaps wants to explain holocaust to children. The ending is horrible, though. The commandant gets his karma. It reminds me to a movie called 'Monsieur Klein' (1976). Klein, a Frenchman, treats the Jews badly and in the end he gets transported to a concentration camp instead.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Le Professeur (1972)

I had wanted to watch this movie for some time. The trouble is, a version with English subtitles is not available. I actually wanted the full version, which runs for 125 minutes. However, while waiting, I decided to get the French version, which unfortunately is shorter, because it's the only foreign language I have learned apart from English... and I'm still working on it.

The original title is La prima notte di quiete (=The First Night of Tranquility. In the French version, however, Spider doesn't say 'Tranquility' but 'Serenity'.). Valerio Zurlini, the director, was furious when Alain Delon as the main actor and producer cut several minutes of the movie for the French version and changed the title. Delon explained that there were several things in the movie which couldn't be accepted in France.

The story is set in Rimini, a little beach town in Italy, in the early 70's. Daniele Dominici (Delon), a professor of poetry who likes gambling, arrives to replace a sick teacher in a high school for 3 - 4 months. One of his students, the beautiful 19 year-old Vanina Abati (Sonia Petrovna), interests him and although her boyfriend is the richest kid in town, Dominici's tenderness towards her makes her realize that he is different from the rest. Monica (Lea Massari), Dominici's suicidal wife, receives an anynomous letter concerning Vanina's dark secret, but the love between Vanina and Dominici has grown very strong. He only laughs. Later, when the truth is brutally spilled onto his face, he still decides to keep her.

I hope in the future I can get the full version with English subtitles because this movie has a very deep story. With my limited French, I think I have missed several details, especially with the poetry. Why Dominici wants Vanina so much? We know she chooses him because "He talks to me," said Vanina to her boyfriend Gerardo. But why she interests him? Because she chooses another subject when the new teacher asks them to write anything about their life? Does Vanina remind him of his loving cousin Livia, who drown at the age of 16? Or simply because she is the most beautiful student in class? This is a sad movie with a tragic ending. Dominici dies on his 38th birthday. On his gravestone we see he actually comes from a noble and rich family. What has become to him that he abandons all that and go around writing blank checks?

Alain Delon is very good in portraying the tormented professor. He has this melancholic look which clearly shows that he is very unhappy. This is one of his best performances. In the cast there is also young Giancarlo Giannini who plays one of Dominici's gambling friends, Spider. In the circle, he is the smartest and can be trusted. I'd never watched Zurlini's work before, but this is one of the best Italian movies I have seen.

Les aventuriers (1967)

Based on José Giovanni's novel, the story is different from his other works, which is usually about prisoners. Actor Alain Delon saw Les grandes gueules (1966) by director Robert Enrico and wanted to work with him.

Les aventuriers is a beautiful movie about adventure and friendship. It starts with the arrival of a beautiful girl, Laetitia (Joanna Shimkus), into the life of two best friends: Roland (Lino Ventura), a mechanic who dreams to make the fastest car; and Manu (Alain Delon), an acrobatic pilot. A series of misfortunes come: Manu loses his licence, Roland's racing car is burned, and Laetitia's first exhibition receives fierce criticsm. All three go to Kongo to search for a treasure in a crashed plane. On their way, they meet the pilot of the missing plane, and from there it's not difficult to find the ruin. But can the money make them happier than they are now?

This is one of the most enjoyable movies I've seen. It's also beautiful. Once you've seen it, you can't forget the name of Laetitia (and perhaps will whistle the theme song). The last part of the movie was shot in the famous Fort Boyard. The restoration is very well done. The movie is so clear that it seems it was only made yesterday. The under water scenes were well handled, that I can see what the characters are doing: which one is Roland, which one is Manu, and which one is the pilot. The pilot (Serge Reggiani) asks Manu, how come Laetitia is only a friend? However, the time is perhaps right, or perhaps wrong, and Laetitia is taken from them quickly, that the friendship between Roland and Manu is left intact. Roland is older than his friend, and wiser. He voluntarily shares with Manu the guilt for having taken Laetitia to Congo. Manu tries to forget Laetitia by returning to his old girlfriend, but early in the morning when she wakes up he is gone. Where? To a place where he has seen Laetitia in her glory. In the end, to please Manu, Roland says to him that she said to Roland how she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Manu. Manu knows he is lying, for if she really said so, she would say it to Manu herself- and not to someone else.

The music by François de Roubaix is beautiful. Too bad the DVD doesn't include the Laetitia song sung by Delon. Also too bad that there is no DVD of this movie with English subtitles. This is a great movie and deserves a wider release.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Characters in Woody Allen movies are always chatty, and in this one, there is no exception. This is strange movie about relationship, which perhaps will only work in Europe. The location is beautiful, and the cast is great.

Two American girls, Vicky and Cristina, go to Barcelona for a summer holiday. Vicky has a fiance and they plan to marry in autumn. She is interested in anything Catalan after seeing Gaudi's works. Meanwhile, Cristina doesn't know what to do with her life. They meet Juan Antonio, a painter, who offers them a weekend in Orvieto and bluntly tell them that he wants to sleep with them. Cristina accepts the challenge, while Vicky feels she must come along to save Cristina. In Orvieto, Cristina falls sick and it is Vicky who ends up sleeping with Juan Antonio. However, Vicky and Juan Antonio must let it go because her husband-to-be comes to Barcelona to marry her. Juan Antonio turns to Cristina and they live together until his suicidal ex-wife, Maria Elena, joins them. Apparently she has nowhere else to stay. Juan Antonio and Maria Elena has the-love-and-hate-kind relationship. They love each other, but it doesn't work because something is missing. "Like salt," he explains to Cristina. Cristina proofs to be the salt. These three live together in harmony (Maria Elena even teaches Cristina how to be a better photographer) until Cristina feels it's time to move on. Without the salt, Maria Elena leaves Juan Antonio again. Alone, he contacts Vicky after being told that she is unhappy with her marriage because she cannot forget him.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sign of The Cross

Sign of The Cross by Chris Kuzneski, at a glance, seems like a controversial book. I must say that I had a great time reading this. The actions are handled well, not like Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. The amount of violence is very high, but it can't be helped as there are many mercenaries in the story.

A man is found crucified in Kronborg Castle in Denmark, and he is only the first of the four. The Interpol must find the killer(s) and why. Meanwhile, an archaeologist and his student are attacked in the Catacombs of Orvieto, Italy, because they have found something very important.

The dialogues are sometimes stupid (too many puns), and I even think I found some mistakes. I heard that Jesus was flogged before the crucifixion because Pilate thought he could save him. They didn't flog a man who would be crucified. That was why Jesus died much sooner than the two thieves beside him. Also, the Jews at that time had this idea that the Messiah would deliver them from the Romans (In Ben Hur, this is very clear.). So we can say that Tiberius's idea of the Messiah was different from the Jews. However, in the end, the writer has created a very good fiction. A reviewer at Amazon said that this book was 'a waste of paper' and I was afraid that I only wasted my money on this. It turned out the book was enjoyable (almost couldn't put it down) and I see perhaps the reviewer said so because there was a twist in the end which would make you feel that you had wasted your time reading this nonsense. Usually, the controversial books, like Da Vinci Code, try to tell you that what you believe all your life, is not always true. The idea of Sign of The Cross is similar to that, but not in the same sense. It's quite funny actually, and I see now why the man is laughing.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mamma Mia! (2008)

Mamma Mia! is a very entertaining movie. I wish I could see the musical on stage before watching this. ABBA songs are used to create a story about a bride-to-be, Sophie, who wants her father to walk her down the isle. The problem is: even her own mother is not sure, for around that time she was seeing three guys. So Sophie invites all 3, without consulting her mother first, with the hope that she can recognize her father immediately by instinct.

Sophie has 2 female friends, so does her mother. Sometimes I see Sophie's future husband, Sky, is also accompanied by 2 friends. So it seems the writer loves the number of three. I like Meryl Streep, but in this comedy, she seems to overact. Her two friends, played by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, look more natural. These three remind me of a French play (or two) I saw on TV last year, Les Amazones (and Les Amazones 3 ans après), which is about 3 single women. One of the actresses in the play, Chantal Ladesou, was so hilarious that her every gesture and line got laughters from the audience.

I hope producers of future musical films will hire actors who can really sing. I don't understand: Mamma Mia! is a very famous musical and I hear that the theatre is always full. Why they still needed big names? I'm not saying that Meryl Streep can't sing (I am referring to someone else). I think she is great during The Winner Takes It All. However, Mamma Mia! is more of a comedy and it's not her strong suit.