Monday, March 30, 2009

The Secret Cardinal

Before Pope Leo XIV died, he tells Nolan Kilkenny, an ex NAVY SEAL, and Cardinal Donoher - Cardinal Librarian in the Holy Roman Church, that he has made Yin Daoming a cardinal "in pectore". Yin is now in Chifeng jail in China because the government thinks he is too dangerous. Yin refuses to cut off his relationship with Vatican, and for the Chinese government this is high treason. Donoher as the Camerlengo has the power until the new pope is elected, and as late Pope Leo XIV wished, he sends Kilkenny and his team to China to free Yin. They must act fast before the new pope is elected, just in case he doesn't agree with them. Meanwhile, in the conclave, the other cardinals starts to give their votes for Yin and one of them warns the Chinese government about the secret mission to free Yin.

This book is an interesting read and hard to put down. I finished this in 1 day. The plot is fast paced like a Hollywood movie. One thing which disturbs me, is that Yin seems okay with abortion. Kilkenny tells Yin that he has lost his wife and their unborn child because she had cancer. The doctor gave them 2 choice, and Kilkenny and his wife chose the baby. Yin says 'That is your decision, not God's.' I don't agree with Yin. I have heard several testimonies in the church where God have saved both mother and baby, even though the doctor had said that it was impossible, that the baby would be born deformed etc.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Hidden Assassins

Compared to The Blind Man of Seville, I like the previous book better. I like reading about chain murders, how the killer choose the victims, and how the police solve the case. Like in the Blind Man of Seville, Inspector Javier Falcón is still our hero - but this time he has been cured from his depression.

In The Hidden Assassins, although it starts with a murder case, the plot soon leads to a terrorist bomb. Although we learns in the end that the bomb has a connection with the murder, Robert Wilson writes about terrorism in a very long explanation, including the misunderstanding and prejudice which have grown into the people. If we push it aside, the rest of the novel is still interesting. The problem between judge Esteban Calderón and his wife which leads to his doom, for example.

Mélodie en sous-sol (1963)

Director Henri Verneuil knew how to make quality movies yet highly enjoyable. In Mélodie en sous-sol, Alain Delon worked with Jean Gabin for the first time. Fresh from jail, Charles (Gabin) learns from his old mate Mario (Henri Virlojeux) how to break in the Palm Beach Casino in Cannes, but as Mario is sick and he himself is too old, he has to ask Francis (Delon) and his brother-in-law (Maurice Biraud)'s help. Francis is a mediocre thief and in the end Charles regrets he ever asked him.

The movie starts with a conversation about tourism. This topic gets a big portion. Charles' wife talks to him to buy a hotel/restaurant and start to live honestly. In order to the robbery, Charles and Francis pretend to be tourists. To gain the access to the casino's safe, Francis has to gain access to the backstage of the nightclub in the casino. From the backstage's roof, through the casino's ventilation duct which leads to the elevator shaft, Francis can enter the blockhouse (where the safe is) to open the door so Charles can go in. The robbery goes well: no shots, no victim, no violence - except a slap on the face of one of the casino's owner's entourage because he doesn't hurriedly open the door.

From the start Francis has warned Charles that he is perhaps not the right man. As soon as Charles arrives on his hotel in Cannes, he realises that Francis doesn't do exactly what he has instructed and that this young man likes to improvise. He almost abort the operation, but Francis tells him that he has gained the backstage access. After the successful robbery, Charles finds that Francis has done another blunder. The morning newspaper shows the photo of the gala in the nightclub and Francis was in it. Knows that the police will interrogate Francis (he has spent 2 years in jail and sooner or later they will make him a prime suspect), Charles tells him to take the money out from its hidden place and bring it to him. Yet, Francis does another improvisation. The police is everywhere and one of the witnesses describes the bags used by the robbers in details - it's very funny. They are looking at the bags - or perhaps they are not. I am not sure what is going on in Francis' head, but Charles must be thinking 'what is this idiot doing now?' when he sees Francis drops the bags into the swimming pool. So we have here a movie about robbery which is planned and executed well, but the bad buys cannot enjoy the fruit.

The music by Michel Magne is great. Most of the time, he used one song and played it in different arrangements: the jazzy opening credit, the 60's jukebox, the ballroom dance.

I heard there are 2 versions of this movie: black and white, which runs for 116 minutes, and colour, 103 minutes. I found a DVD which according to the back cover should have both versions, but it turns out both versions are of 103 minutes. The b/w one is even unwatchable because of the quality of the picture. It seems the camera's speed was much lower (I don't know the technical name). However the colour one is all right.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Drôle de drame (1937)

This movie is very funny and as Jean-Louis Barrault is also in this, I can't help comparing this to Les enfants du paradis (1945). It turns out Marcel Carné directed both movies. Drôle de drame has a very good plot and dialogues and it's a pity that nowadays movies like this are very rare.

It begins with a conference with Bishop of Bedford, Soper (played wonderfully by Louis Jouvet), as the speaker. They are against crime novels written by the mysterious Felix Chapel, which is popular at that time. On the background there is a banner saying "Detective novel readers are future murderers". What Soper and others don't know, is that the mysterious Chapel is Soper's own cousin, the botanist Irwin Molyneux, who writes crime novels on his wife's suggestion for an extra income. In the conference, a notorious murderer William Kramps also attends. Kramps swears to kill Chapel because his books have inspired him to commit murders and he blames Chapel for that. [Later we find that Molyneux gets his inspiration from their maid Eva who hears the stories from the milkman, who delivers 4 bottles of milk every day for free because he wants to see Eva. I wonder why not only 1 bottle. Furthermore, it seems that none drinks the milk.]

After the conference, which ends bad because the police run after Kramps, Soper says to Molyneux that he will dine at his place. At the same time, Molyneux's cook and valet left. Molyneux's wife, Margaret, has to take over the cook's place, but as it is a shame for someone at her social status, they tells Soper that she has gone out to visit friends. Soper doesn't believe it and reports to the police that Molyneux has killed his wife.

The more it's going, the situation is getting more uncontrollable. I've hardly seen so many twists in one movie. Molyneux and his wife have to flee the house which is ransacked by the police who is looking for the body. Chapel has to come out for if he writes articles about the murder, the paper will pay him. In the end, Soper finds himself as the main suspect of the murder and the public are eager to hang him, ignoring Margaret who claims she is still alive. Margaret is accused of murdering her own husband, as Molyneux 'has to die' so that Chapel can gets the inheritance from their aunt - who is sick of the family (maybe one of them killed her dog Canada) and decides to leave her money to Chapel. Then arrives Kramps, who has fallen in love with Margaret (it's a hilarious scene when Kramps asks the Chinese hotel owner to bring him flowers. The hotel owner's man hit every passing man who has a flower and take it, to fill the vase.), to save the day.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Christine (1958)

I had no big expectation on this movie for the reviews were not positive. Critic Roberto Chiesi wrote it was ‘a pale adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’ and ‘a banal drama’. Christine is a remake of Liebelei (1933), a beautiful movie by Max Ophüls, who refused the offer to make a colour version 22 years later. After his death, in 1957 the project was passed to director Pierre Gaspard-Huit. If Liebelei stars Magda Schneider as Christine, in the remake it's her daughter Romy who plays the role.

Set in Vienna in 1906, 2nd lieutenant Franz (Alain Delon) ends his affair with the Baronne Eggersdorf (Micheline Presle) because he has found his true love in Christine (Romy Schneider), but at the same time, the Baron (Jean Galland) discovers the truth and challenges Franz in a duel to the death.

The story is simple, but I love this movie. The sets, the costumes and music are wonderful, not to mention the beauty of its two lead roles. Romy Schneider is shining in this. The innocent love of Franz and Christine is hard to find in nowadays movies. They are like two kids, playing happily in the world belongs only to them. The happiness depicted makes the sad ending very moving. We all feel the loss. “I don’t like stories with bad ending,” said Christine; but what can she do? Franz wants to start a new, but the past won’t let him go. “He had promised he loved me always, but he died for another.” It’s a bitter truth which Christine cannot accept. However, we can’t say that Franz dies for the Baronne, right? And I’m upset because Christine thinks so.

Christine is worth to watch, not only because of the sweet love story, but also because of its historical value. In this project, Delon and Schneider first met and would become ‘les petits fiancés de l’Europe’. If you know the story of them both and how it ended, the happiness we see in this movie evokes a sad feeling.

The Blind Man of Seville

The book title is rather misleading because neither the hero nor the antagonist is blind. It's the psychiatrist who helps the hero is blind, and she's not a man, obviously. Set in Seville, Spain, Chief Inspector Javier Falcón feels very troubled in a murder scene after seeing the eyes of the victim. The victim was forced to see something which was very traumatic for him, but what? There will be more victims to come and Falcón soon will find that the answers lie in his late father’s journal.

The journal itself is very interesting. Writer Robert Wilson told recent events and stories in the journal in well proportion. Falcón didn’t know what his father was like when he was young. Francisco Falcón was a soldier in the civil war and sent to Russia during WW2. Later he would become a smuggler and finally made his name as a painter. The horrors of wars are depicted well. The book is hard to put down, although the conclusion is not very convincing, at least for me. My world is too different and the killer is surely very sick. [His victims also. What terrorized them to death were their own guilts and trauma.] Okay, he wants to revenge his grandfather’s death (who deserved it anyway for stealing the painter’s wife), but why chooses the culprit’s friends? Because the culprit himself has died and he’s sick to see the culprit’s friends ways of life? In all, if there was no journal, a few lives could have been saved. When he was alive, Francisco Falcón was not a saint, but after he died, his doing still can trigger murders.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

La cuisine au beurre (1963)

A movie about restaurant is always interesting, especially when two great French actors are in it: Fernandel and Bourvil.

Fernand Jouvin (Fernandel) who lives with a German woman in Tyrol since the war, has to go back to Martigues, Marseilles, because her husband is to be return. In Marseilles, Jouvin finds that his old restaurant La Vraie Bouillabaisse has changed name into La Sole Normande, and his wife Christiane (Claire Maurier) has married again to hardworking André Colombey (Bourvil) from Normandy. If Jouvin used to cook his food with oil, Colombey uses butter only that Jouvin makes a comment: 'So oil is only for cars here?' Later there will be a chaos in the kitchen when Jouvin cooks with oil, because Colombey believes that it's his kitchen.

Jouvin tells Christiane that all this time he suffered in Stalag Siberia. He becomes a sort of hero. There is also a confusion because Jouvin has been declared dead and his name is still on the epitaph ("With the bureaucracy he'll be there for a while"). The priest also says that since Jouvin is still alive, that means Christiane is a bigamist and Colombey is her putative husband. They must have Jouvin signed the divorce papers. At first it seems that Jouvin wants Christiane and his restaurant back, but it turns out he wants her and Colombey to be happy. As the time goes, he and Colombey become great friends.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The World of Pooh

Years ago I bought a nice little book entitled 'Piglet Meets a Heffalump'. Perhaps that was the first time I learnt that the original illustrations of Winnie the Pooh were different from Disney's. Compared to Disney's, the original illustrations by E.H. Shepard are like raw sketches, yet they are so cute.

This World of Pooh book contains chapters from 'Winnie-the-Pooh' and 'The House at Pooh Corner', with 8 colour illustrations (apart from the b/w drawings). In reading, the characters are more likeable, because Piglet doesn't stammer so much, Tigger is not so annoying, Rabbit not so patronizing; although Eeyore is still gloomy.

It's interesting because now I realize how Christopher Robin first only had Winnie-the-Pooh and gradually adds more friends to his collection. One thing I like about this work of A.A. Milne, is that, the characters have difficulty in spelling. In my opinion, those who are learning to read and write should not read this book alone, and a parent should accompany. You don't want your kid to spell 'honey' as 'hunny', don't you? -and it did take me a long time to figure out that 'heffalump' meant 'elephant' - and perhaps I'd never found out if E.H. Shepard didn't provide the clue. However, we all can learn about altruistic from Winnie-the-Pooh, a Bear of Very Little Brain (so they say), but proves that he can solve delicate problems, better than those who are smarter (so they say) than him.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

I think once I read that this book was in the list of the most beautiful books in the world. I wanted this because of the illustrations by Arthur Rackham, and I do like them, although sometimes I think his depiction of bad fairies is scary, like a bad dream from Rip Van Winkle.

This J.M. Barrie lovely book was originally published in 1907, but I never heard anything about Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, which meant his life before he met Wendy - for I only learnt about Peter Pan in the Disney movie.

The book begins with a description about the Kensington Gardens, which I find useful, because I've never been there. Then it tells about baby Peter Pan, how he flies away from his dear mother and lives with the birds. The birds make him a boat which he uses to sail to Kensington Gardens where he befriends the fairies and a brave little girl called Maimie.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Giù la testa (1972)

Like Once Upon a Time in the West, I also wanted to watch this movie because of Ennio Morricone. I was reluctant at first, because this one was about a revolution. If I had known that the original American title was 'Duck You Sucker' I would have thought twice before deciding! 'Giù la testa' actually means 'Get Your Head Down', and there was nothing wrong in learning a bit about Mexican Revolution in 1913, so, again, why not?

Rod Steiger plays Juan, a Mexican bandit who has 6 sons, each from a different woman. In the beginning of the movie, he robs a luxurious coach by disgusing himself as a peasant. Interesting to see what the high class people say about him. Director Sergio Leone did close-up shots of eating mouths, thus fortifies the scene, that the gossips they are telling are as disgusting as the images. This bandit then meets an IRA explosive expert, John (James Coburn), who is on his way to join the revolution. Juan wants John's help to blow up the Mesa Verde bank, but Juan doesn't know that the bank is now used as a political prison. Juan raids the 'bank' and frees many political prisoners and becomes a great hero. He will become a hero again after killing the governor in order to revenge the death his sons. At first, Juan doesn't care about the revolution. He believes that the poor are only used. "I know what I am talking about when I am talking about the revolutions. The people who read the books go to the people who can't read the books, the poor people, and say, "We have to have a change." So, the poor people make the change, ah? And then, the people who read the books, they all sit around the big polished tables, and they talk and talk and talk and eat and eat and eat, eh? But what has happened to the poor people? They're dead! That's your revolution. So, please, don't tell me about revolutions!" However, as the movie goes on, we see Juan is forced to let himself used. He joins the revolution.

The 2 disc-Special Edition of this movie helps a lot in understanding it. I was tired when I watch this, and was lost at the cave scene because I had seen Juan's sons left with Dr. Villega (played by Romollo Valli. He was in Visconti's Il Gattopardo, but I didn't recognize him at once. In Il Gattopardo he played a priest who wasn't respected at all. Dr. Villega, on the other hand, is intelligent and elegant.), Juan and John blow up the bridge, and the next thing we see is Juan's sons dead in the cave. I was tempted to get back to previous chapter to see if I had fallen asleep, but after listening to the extras, I knew that there was no such scene.

Interesting to listen to the history of this movie and I am lucky that the first version I see is the complete version.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

I listen to Ennio Morricone's music recently and one song, C'era una volta il West, is one of the most beautiful. I wondered what the movie was like. The reviews were positive, I liked Claudia Cardinale, and the price of the DVD was very good (it's the 2 disc collector's edition), so I thought: why not? I have seen 2 of the Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy. I know one thing: one should not watch his movies when in a hurry.

The beginning of this movie is very very slow: three killers waiting for their prey, a mysterious man whom will be associated with a harmonica for the rest of the movie, played by Charles Bronson. In the early 80's, I knew him because of the Mandom commercial, which often shown on TV. We here used to pronounce it 'mendem', which means 'drunken'.

The story in Once Upon a Time in the West centers around a woman called Jill (played by the beautiful Claudia Cardinale) who comes to Flagstone to follow her new husband and his three children, but when she arrives, they have been murdered. The rumour says that the murderer is Cheyenne (Jason Robards), a fugitive who just escaped, but Harmonica tells Jill that it is Frank (Henry Fonda), hired by a railroad baron (Gabriele Ferzetti) because of the land.

Apart from the hauntingly beautiful music, I like the landscapes in this movie. The DVD contains the photos of locations - then and now, which I find very interesting. I even find the Stills Gallery very moving: those are the portraits of old times, of people who were beautiful then and those who are now dead.

The scale of this movie is very big. I love particularly the construction of the railroads.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Brideshead Revisited (2008)

Based on a book by Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited centers around a painter called Charles Ryder. The movie begins with an exhibition after spending two years in jungle, where Charles meets his old flame Julia Flyte. Ten years ago, Charles was poor. He lived with his father in Paddington. He went to Oxford, where he met Sebastian Flyte, who later brought him to his beautiful big house: Brideshead. Lady Marchmain, Sebastian's mother, was a pious Catholic and forced her way into her children, that especially Sebastian and his sister Julia were unhappy. Charles fell in love with Julia, but Julia married another man to please her mother because Charles was an atheist.

This movie begins beautifully. The sets, locations and cinematography are wonderful. However, the characters, especially Charles and Julia, are not well developed. Perhaps it's the running time, which is only 2 hours. I heard that the miniseries was much better. The story is about human feeling, and with much longer running time, the emotion of the audience will be more affected. At least that is what I think, unless you come up with a very excellent script. Sebastian perhaps loves Charles and he breaks down seeing Charles kissing Julia, but later there is a conversation that it is not about Julia, but Brideshead. It seems the beautiful Brideshead fascinates Charles so much that he doesn't care whether it's Sebastian or Julia and he uses one of them to move closer to the house.

The relationship between Lady Marchmain and her children is also not well depicted. We know the eldest Bridley is obedient, and the youngest Cordelia is charming. The problem lies on Sebastian and Julia. It's not the religion that is wrong, but the people who practice it. As a good mother, twice Lady Marchmain asks Charles to help Sebastian, and both times he fails her. In fact, Lady Marchmain is not as bad as Sebastian & Julia think. She only wants the best for them. We never know what is in someone's heart. When Lord Marchmain is dying and Father Mackay is coming, Charles tries to interfere. He believes he knows that Lord Marchmain is a non-believer and that he doesn't need a priest. What does he know? Julia, who is living in sin with him, tells him to mind his own business. Does Lord Marchmain need a priest? It turns out he does!

I like better the older generation of the cast: Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Patrick Malahide, and Greta Scacchi.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Le deuxième souffle (1966)

This movie was based on José Giovanni's book, so I could guess that the story would be about police vs recidivist. The center character, Gu, played by Lino Ventura, is not only a recidivist, but also a fugitive. His girlfriend plans his escape to another country, but he joins a dangerous heist to have 200m before leaving France.

In my first viewing, the movie was difficult to understand, especially the first part. There were too many characters, at least when compared to Jean-Pierre Melville's other movies I had seen. I was thinking to stop the DVD and started again from the beginning, but decided to go on. In my 2nd viewing, I listened to the commentary by Ginette Vincendeau and Geoff Andrew, which was very useful. [Before that, I read Vincendeau's book 'An American in Paris'. ] I think this was the first time Ginette Vincendeau gave commentary during the whole movie, usually she only gave introduction or commented on several chosen chapters.

Le deuxième souffle (=The Second Wind. I have no idea what the title means. Gu's 2nd chance? Because this happens after he escaped from jail.) is Melville's last black and white movie. He would keep making b&w movies if the producers let him. However, I prefer his colour movies because I love how he chose the colours. My father couldn't remember if Un flic was in colour or b&w 1 day after watching and he was amazed when I told him that it was in colour.

I like the heist scene here, how the guys waiting that one of them finally examines the ants. The commentary mentioned how little the amount of blood, and that is exactly what I like about Melville's works. I recommended Le Samouraï to a friend, telling her about this beautiful movie about a hitman, but almost no violence, and that the blood in the whole movie I could remember was the scratch on Alain Delon's hand.

Le deuxième souffle was made after 3 years of inactivity. Melville said he had waited for a good subject. The result, as we have seen, was wonderful. I was somehow disappointed with the disappearance of the torture scene. After more than 40 years, I hoped that perhaps in the new release, the scene would be restored, but no. As Ms. Vincendeau said in the commentary, that would explain why Fardiano felt guilty enough that he agreed to write a confession. Does Fardiano think that Gu will let him go after writing it? The closing scene is very good: Inspector Blot (played by Paul Meurisse in one of his best roles) 'gives' Fardiano's confession to journalists. Blot and Gu belong to opposite sides, but they respect each other. What will Blot gain by exposing the confession? But in this case, he restores Gu's honour so Gu doesn't die in vain.