Monday, April 27, 2009
Based on a novel by Thomas Mann, Death in Venice is a beautiful movie. Luchino Visconti recreated Venice in 1911. If you have seen any work of Visconti, you know how he paid attention to details - and this movie is no exception. The character of Aschenbach is based on Austrian composer/conductor Gustav Mahler, so Visconti used Mahler music for the movie. [In the novel, Aschenbach is a writer.] Like Aschenbach, Visconti himself was obsessed by beauty. The movie itself is very very slow and perhaps only can be enjoyed if one is not in a hurry.
The face of Tadzio reminds me of Shinobu Ijuin from Haikara-san ga Tōru (published here under the title of 'Miss Modern' in the early 90's) by Waki Yamato, originally published in 1975-1977. The hairstyle is also similar. Ijuin is so beautiful that 'it pains me when I look at him', says his fiancée Benio.
Cranford is a lovely, warm place to live, especially in the first 2 of the 5 episodes - when the troubles have not begun. The main characters are spinsters and widows (not many young people around), but they help each other (gathering candles so Dr Harrison can operate, collecting money secretly for Mathilda). Some are old fashioned (Lady Ludlow, Deborah) and for them the progress is like the end of the world - at that time, a railway is coming to Cranford; some are always think of others (Mathilda, Jessie) even though it means they have to lose the loves of their lives.
There are funny times (Mrs Forrester's precious lace gets into the cat's stomach or the pyjamas for the cow), worrying times (the misunderstanding which makes Dr Harrison almost lose Sophie), good times (party at Hanbury) and bad times (death of Deborah, Walter, and Mr Carter; Harry must work at the stables) - the stories from the 3 novels are woven well.
There are 2 things which are not explained in the movie: how Mary Smith could get the 2 Valentines cards sent to the Hutton girls? And who attacked and robbed Mr Johnson - was it one of railway workers or an acquaintance of the gypsy who came to Miss Pole's house?
Beautifully written and well directed, with an impressive cast: Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Francesca Annis, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Julia McKenzie, Barbara Flynn, Greg Wise, Alex Etel, ... Ideal to watch when we need something light to relax.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Vittorio De Sica's I bambini ci guardano (=The Children Are Watching Us) tells about a little boy who is torn between his love to his mother and her infidelity to his father. Like the title suggests, little Pricò (wonderfully played by Luciano De Ambrosis) watches his mother as she meets her lover. Although very young, Pricò is not stupid. He knows what is going on and refuses to salute Roberto (his mother's lover).
That night, Pricò asks his mother to kiss him goodnight after tucking him into bed. When the next morning she is gone, Pricò falls ill and is very happy when she returns. The family seems all right again. Then the father takes them to a holiday in Alassio and leaves them there because he has to work. This time, when Pricò sees her mother with Roberto, he tries to come back to Rome to see his father. It seems Pricò is hurt very much this time to see this betrayal. When they refuse to sell him a train ticket - because he is a little boy traveling alone - he tries to walk by foot to Rome; but two gendarmes catch him and bring him back to his mother. When Pricò and his mother return to Rome, only Pricò arrives at his father's home because she is running away again with Roberto.
Perhaps the father can bear this problem if the gossiping neighbours don't make it worse. It's the shame he cannot take. The father commits suicide after sending Pricò to a dormitory. When Pricò is given the terrible news, he won't come to his mother who comes to be at his side. He chooses to hold the maid and leaves the room. In his heart, he knows it is she who has caused his father's death.
Like in The Bicycle Thieves and Sunshine, Vittorio De Sica knew how to make dramatic movies with quality, yet easy to understand and enjoyable. We can feel Pricò's suffering. He is a good boy, although his grandma doesn't think so and say bad things about him.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Ex-police Choucas (Delon), is now a private investigator with his friend Tarpon (Michel Auclair). Mme Pigot asks him to investigate the missing of her blind daughter, Marthe. Inspector Coccioli (Daniel Ceccaldi) tells him to accept the case, pocket the money, and stop there. A young man named Pradier brings a letter from Marthe which explains that she goes away with her boyfriend. At the same time, a pharmacist hires Choucas because he suspects his employee Pérez steals money from the cash register. Choucas follows Pérez to a casino and sees how he wins easily. Mme Pigot and Inspector Madrier are killed [the latter in his attempt to kill Choucas], and Choucas is now wanted by the police.
The movie is fast paced and funny at times. The scene when Choucas is leaving the police headquarters is similar to Le samouraï. Like Costello, Choucas looks at his watch, waves his right hand (left hand in the pocket) to call a taxi - the only vehicle which runs on the street [I think it's even the same location]. Only this time the taxi doesn't stop for Choucas.
There is a scene which reminds me of Plein Soleil: when Choucas and Haymann visits the Spaniard. They climbs the stairs and enter a big room with a beautiful ceiling, where a woman is playing a piano. While in Plein Soleil Elvire Popesco has stopped playing when Delon and Maurice Ronet enter the room, this woman keeps doing it - giving a lovely background music while the two detectives interview the Spaniard.
The ending is hilarious. Choucas the hero enter The Green Hill, a weight loss clinic which is used as a place to produce heroin. The Hydrotherapy room gives a strange feeling like the setting in the James Bond movies and we expect our hero to finish his enemies to the end. However, Choucas is different from such superheroes: soon he is caught, his gun is taken, his nose is broken - also his hand, while another hand is tied to a pipe - and in the attempt to break free his head is spurted with hot steam, and after that his knee is shot. The next scene shows him lying on a hospital bed with a bandage all over his head - only shows one eye and his mouth, one arm and one foot in cast, sipping a bowl of porridge with a straw. Rarely I see such a miserable hero. In the scene where his secretary Charlotte (Anne Parillaud) attends his wound, he cries in pain and she comments that Belmondo would have never made such an unmanly gesture.
Mireille Darc, la grande sauterelle, also makes a brief appearance here. We should not miss her, for she is blatantly addressed by Delon.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Jojo (Jacques Villeret) is a hard-working farmer in Le paradis (the name of the farm), which belongs to his wife Lulu (Josiane Balasko). They can't stand each other. The movie begins with Lulu makes holes on the bottom of Jojo's milk buckets, so that his goats' milk are wasted. She cooks food he doesn't like and put lots of salt in his soup. He cannot divorces her because that means he will sleep on the street. After Lulu burned his stamp collection, Jojo is at his wit's end. He happens to see on TV a brilliant lawyer who always succeeds in acquitting his clients. Jojo goes to see this lawyer and tells him that he has killed his wife. The lawyer supplies him with the details and Jojo goes home, accidentally kills his wife, who has put mole poison in his drink, exactly in the way described by the lawyer. The prosecutor who comes to the murder scene is given the poisonous drink, but his life is safe. [If I am not mistaken, in La poison, the poison is drunk by the pharmacist and he dies.]
The lawyer has to take Jojo's case, of course. The trial is funny, with a very long philatelic discussion between Jojo and the judge, who happens to be an avid stamp collector, too. There is also a question from the 7th juror (from George Lautner's Le septième juré). Jojo spends less than 2 years in prison and goes home to his dear farm, which has been taken care of the villagers while he is in prison.
I like La poison much better than this Un crime au paradis. In La poison, I like very much the scene where the children play 'husband and wife'. The case is so popular that the villagers' children pretend to kill each other when they play husband and wife. Horrible, but hilarious.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
However, in the feast, when they are merry after eating and drinking, the girls dance on the table and show their legs and one of the guests makes a comment that it's like being in a brothel. Interesting to note that Odile's sister-in-law and her brother don't have any suspicion at all. It's only Jean, Odile's brother, whose shame for having a sister like her, who ruins the party and his own daughter's prospect to get Odile's money. Jean reveals Odile's secret and tells her to go back to town.What we learn from this story, is that Odile and her girls are basically good people and kind hearted (even though I think they giggle too much); but the society don't like how they make their money and treat them like pest. Loulou says, "I don't want to be a prostitute anymore." but can she go into the dirt and beg?
The movie begins with a parliament member, Philippe Dubaye (Maurice Ronet), visits his best friend Xavier Maréchal (Alain Delon) at 5 in the morning, and tells him that he killed Serrano last night. Serrano is a fellow deputy and a blackmailer. Xavier gives Philippe an alibi, but it doesn't save Philippe's life, because everybody knows Philippe is the killer and more important: he has taken Serrano's documents, proofs that important people are not clean. Philippe hides the documents in his mistress's apartment and tells Xavier to pick them up. Xavier does the job well, but returns to find that Philippe has been murdered. Now it's Xavier's turn to be in danger, especially after the death of Philippe's wife, because it's clear that the documents are in his possession. It's easy for Xavier to give them up to the police, but he wants one thing in return: the name of Philippe's murderer.
Directed by George Lautner, this thriller has a wonderful cast: Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Mireille Darc, Stéphane Audran, Ornella Muti, Michel Aumont, Jean Bouise (his face reminds me of some police inspector drawn by Herge), Klaus Kinski. Stan Getz plays the theme song with saxophone. The music is composed by Philippe Sarde.
Casting Alain Delon and Maurice Ronet as the two best friends was a great idea. They played together in Plein Soleil, Lost Command and La Piscine (the photographs from 3 movies are displayed in Xav's living room) - so it helps the audience to understand why Xavier risks so many things for Philippe, including restraining himself not to sleep with Philippe's mistress. I have to say, though, that after Plein Soleil and La Piscine, I suspected at first that it was Xavier himself who killed Philippe.
I like the scene where cars falling from the truck onto Xav's car.
The yellow Rolls Royce is new at the beginning of the movie. The Marquess of Frinton buys it in London as a gift to his wife for their 10th anniversary. He may not care much of political things and only wants to win the Gold Cup, but in the end we see that his infidel wife (Jeanne Moreau) means so much to him. Rex Harrison plays the Marquess and I think he's got all the best lines. He sells the car because it is where his wife betrayed him.
The 2nd story takes place in Italy, about a gangster's moll (wonderfully played by Shirley MacLaine) who is blonde and dumb. The famous gangster, Maltese, (George C. Scott - have you heard him singing O Sole Mio?) takes her to beautiful places in Italy and she is bored to death, until she meets an amoral photographer (Alain Delon) who needs a ride to Rome. Maltese has to leave for several days and she has the best time with the photographer. The happiness changes her and she now realizes how beautiful Napoli is. Maltese's sidekick (Art Carney) tells her to end the affair if she wants to see her dear photographer live. Maltese sells the car and return to Miami with his moll. This 2nd story is the one I like best among the three. Not only because of the actors, but also because of the magnificent views in Pisa and Naples. There is also lovely scene where Shirley MacLaine and Alain Delon dance, with the song 'Forget Domani' (=Forget Tomorrow) by Riz Ortolani.
The3d story is the weakest, in my opinion, although not bad. The beautiful Ingrid Bergman plays Mrs Millet, a rich American widow who has important connections. She plans to go to Yugoslavia, despite the warning that there is a revolution there and that the Nazis are about to attack. She meets Davich (Omar Sharif), who needs her help to cross the border. Not only she helps him to cross the border, but also helps in recruiting guerrillas by taking them in her yellow Rolls Royce. It's quite typical, that Americans must do good. Like in the 2 previous stories, again the back seat of the yellow Rolls Royce is used to you-know-what. The movie ends with the car goes to America.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Based on Jean Cocteau's famous novel (he also did the screenplay, narrated the movie and imposed Melville to cast his protegé Edouard Dermithe to play Paul) , Les enfants terribles is about two siblings, Elisabeth and Paul, who live in their own world. The relation between them is like incest. They play games with their own rules and often force their friend Gérard to join, like when they force him to steal a big water-pot. In the beginning of the movie, we see Paul still goes to school until the incident when his friend Dargelos, whom he secretly admires, throws a snowball which contains a stone to him. The weak Paul is injured and has to stay at home. Elisabeth now has to take care of Paul and their sick mother. After the death of their mother, Elisabeth finds work in haute-coutueur where she meets Agathe. She brings Agathe home and Paul is amazed with her resemblance to Dargelos (they were played by the same actress: Renée Cosima). Elisabeth is married, but her husband soon dies. Agathe and Paul falls in love with another and both confide in Elisabeth, but Elisabeth tells Agathe and Paul opposite things. Broken hearted, Paul kills himself with poison from Dargelos, and soon after, Elisabeth shoots herself; although the slogan "suicide is a mortal sin" is written on their mirror. The last scene when Elisabeth falls onto the floor after shooting herself is like the death of the man who wants to kill Silien in Le Doulos.
Even though people say Dermithe didn't play well, but his resemblance to Nicole Stéphane (Elisabeth) is amazing. See the poster. There are lots of close-ups on Stéphane and we can see that her Roman profile is similar to the marble bust (without the moustache). Apart from Elisabeth's death scene, my 2 other favourite shots are: 1) when Paul drags his blanket on the chequered tiles 2) The opening credit which shows Elisabeth's dream : a silhouette of hers standing on the right, a tree of the left, and Paul lying on the billiard table covered with a blanket. This image from the opening credit is, in my opinion, the most beautiful thing in the movie.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Not many director can make a wonderful movie from a simple story. You can trust Baz Luhrmann to polish it maximally. Visual effects are used very well, helped by the wonderful editing.
The story is narrated by Nullah, who would be one of the stolen generation, if not for his mother and Mrs Boss/Lady Ashley. Well, he is stolen for a while and brought to the Mission Island. The character Fletcher is described as a very evil man. First he murdered Lord Ashley, then we see him as a thief, threatens his own son and his mistress, almost kills Lady Ashley and her group when they are delivering the livestock to Darwin, murders Carney, and in the end, tries to kill his own son again. I thought that after the ball when Lady Ashley is reunited with the drover the movie ends, but it doesn't. I don't like the argument between Lady Ashley and the drover about Nullah.
A couple of years later, Michael is studying law and he, his professor, and a couple of students visit the trial where 6 female ex-camp guards are accused of murdering 300 Jews during WW2. One of them is Hanna. At least Hanna is honest in the trial and we feel sympathy towards her. When the judge asks her why she did that, she asks him back what would he do if he were in her shoes. I bet he would do the same thing. To Hanna, admitting that she is illiterate is more embarrassing than telling the judge that the murders was not on her order. For her, it's better to be sent to prison for a lifetime. And Michael is too ashamed to come by her side. His coldness towards Hanna 20 years later becomes a trigger to her suicide.
Ralph Fiennes plays older Michael Berg, but I think David Kross is more look like young Val Kilmer.
Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) lives in Los Angeles with her 9 year-old-son, Walter. In March 10, 1928, she returns from work and cannot find Walter. After searching in the neighbourhood, she reports that her son is missing to the police, who say she must wait for 24 hours and that Walter will have been home by the morning. Five months later, Christine is told that his son has been found. Her happiness soon is cut short, for the boy is not Walter. She tells the police, who tell her to give it a try. The police say that after 5 months, Walter has changed. However, Christine finds that the new Walter is 3 inches shorter. His teacher and the dentist also agree with her that the boy is not Walter. The police won't listen to her, because it will look bad to their image. On the other hand, Christine is upset because it means the police has stopped searching for her real son. At this point, she is helped by a priest (John Malkovich) - who is more like a politician to me. On the evening when she is supposed to tell her story on the priest's radio, she is taken by the police and 'escorted' to the psychiatric ward, where she meets many women who share her fate: they are locked up because they are dangerous to the police's reputation. Meanwhile, in a juvenile case, the police has caught a boy who has illegally entered the country from Canada. This boy has a terrible story for them, that his cousin has kidnapped and murdered 20 boys, and that one of the victims is Walter Collins.
It was annoying to see how the police handled this case. Not for once they confront the boy who claims to be Walter. They believe it's the mother who is wrong. However, it will be ridiculous to admit they have made a mistake. In the train station, where they brings Walter home, there are many journalists. When Christine tells them that it is not her son, if they admits their mistake, what will happen?
I like how the two trials are depicted: Christine Collins vs LAPD and the state vs Gordon Stewart Northcott. A wonderful editing, in my opinion. Also like the part when Arthur Hutchins, the little impostor, claims that it's actually the police's idea that he becomes Walter Collins. What a trouble he has caused, only because he wants to go to Hollywood and meets his favourite actor!