Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Jacques Tati Collection

Jour de fête (1949)
Jour de fête is my first Jacques Tati movie. I had no idea how he looked like before, but I think I have seen that Postman's face before. It looks familiar, like Jean Bouise in Mort d'un pourri, they remind me of some characters in Tintin. That moustache is so French. The first 10 minutes of Jour de fête is boring. It shows a fair is being prepared. Then The Postman appears and things begin to look interesting. To avoid a falling flag pole, he and his bicycles goes into a café, and the next second we see the café's owner throws his bicycles out, while the Postman standing on the 2nd floor. The Postman works slow, but it doesn't mean he is lazy - he often stops to help the villagers. After watching an American movie about postmen (which is actually compiled from unrelated events), he is persuaded to work fast. He rides his bike so fast that I thought: 'What is this? Tour de France?' and the next thing I saw was he was joined by bike racers.

Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)
Not much dialogues in this movie. M. Hulot arrives in a seaside resort, and what follows is the funny things happen around him. He is not a trouble maker, so if he causes troubles, it's not by intention. Compared to other comedy movies, this is a calm film, with quiet jazz music sometimes, a noisy Dixieland a couple of times, sound of a swing door and bangs from an old car. During the movie, M. Hulot only says one word: 'Hulot'. While other movies of same genre often end with a chase, I don't remember there is one in this. M. Hulot looks a lot like Stephen Fry to me. I love the scene of a tiny boy who buys 2 cones of ice cream. He is so short what when he is paying, the seller cannot see him. With one cone in one hand and one cone in the other, he slowly climbs stairs. His eyes move from one cone to another to maintain balance. When he turns the door handle, I bet most audience will hold their breath. Will he drop the ice cream? The scene is something we see everyday, yet it's like watching a thriller. I think most people cannot take their eyes off the dough in the ice-cream cart as well - will it fall to the ground?

Mon oncle (1958)
This 3rd film is even better. It's more silent than silent movies, because silent movies use background music all the time. I remember Jean-Pierre Melville immediately. Mon oncle has minimalist style and grey colour dominates the movie, especially in the Arpels' modern house and the office. Again Tati plays M. Hulot and in this movie his sister, Mme Arpel, is introduced. She and her husband are rich and they live in a big house, with no paintings and portraits on the wall. The house is almost empty, except for modern furnitures and appliances. They like to show off, because the fish fountain in the front garden is only switched on if there are guests around. Their son Gérard adores his uncle, even though M Arpel thinks M Hulot is useless. Now I really know the meaning of a movie which can make us relax. No need to think, but just sit back and enjoy. No hurried pace and this makes us think of naughty things we have done as children as we are watching Gérard and his friends. I love the location of M. Hulot's flat, which is a long walk from the front door: a long and winding passage. I also love the opening credits, where the names of the crew are written in building site signage.

A funny scene from Mon oncle: for a dog, a dead fish's face is an enemy

PlayTime (1967)
I have to say that the first half of this movie bores me. PlayTime has less plot than the previous 3. The colour is great, dominated by grey/silver, almost like black and white, giving the whole movie a neat look. First we see American tourists arrive in Orly, then M. Hulot in a modern office building. It's like we are sitting, waiting, in the airport and the office, watching other people who do funny things. When it comes to the restaurant scene, the movie only gets my interest. A new restaurant just opens and the guests are so many that the waiters, who mostly are new, cannot cope with their job. The drugstore is interesting, very different from our pharmacy here. French drugstores has a bar. I've seen this before in The Sicilian Clan: Monique Sartet works in a drugstore and Jeanne buys an orange juice there. One of the brilliant scenes in PlayTime is the dancing feet of a busy travel agent (or an information guy?).

Parade (1974)
This is like a circus show we see on TV, with Tati as the host. He shows numbers of pantomimes, in which he began his career. There are also other performers, like jugglers, magicians, and clowns (without the costumes, they jump over a pommel horse).

Among all 5, in my opinion Mon oncle is the best. It has a great colour and nice plots. I think PlayTime is more an experiment, so I don't enjoy it as much as I enjoy the previous 3.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blackpool (2004)

One thing about this miniseries is, it's very entertaining. Actually, I'd never seen anything like this. I've seen musicals, but Blackpool is different, as the original recordings are used and the actors sing overlap with the original singers. I myself prefer if they don't overlap.

David Morissey plays the central character: Ripley Holden, who has a dream of making Blackpool to be England's Las Vegas. He has an arcade and wants to expand to a hotel casino. Just his luck that a body is found in his arcade so he becomes the main suspect. Ripley Holden is not what one will call a saint. His relationship with his two children are not very good - although it will change in the end. The way he talks is not always kind and often he hurts feeling of his friends. Anyway, he is the founder of a big gambling place, which basically rob people of what they have.

David Tennant plays D.I. Peter Carlisle who investigates the murder. He likes eating so much, that you can see he is really distressed when he refuses the food offered to him. To know more about Ripley Holden, he comes to Mrs Holden (Sarah Parish), but makes a mistake by falling in love with her.

My favourite scene. Very amusing, this police's dance.

There are 6 episodes, with 3 - 4 songs in each. The choreography is funny, but sometimes I feel that the lyrics are not right. The songs are not especially written for the characters, so when a song is sung by several characters, it confuses me, what are they trying to say? Is she really saying that? Perhaps I need to see this again. The drama itself is well written, so is the development of each character. It ends with a happy ending for everyone.

Friday, February 18, 2011

L’Histoire d’Adèle H. (1975)

Beautiful Isabelle Adjani plays the title role, the daughter of the great Victor Hugo. Victor Hugo may be a great man, but the life of his family members were a ruin. Léopoldine was drowned at the age of 19, his 2 sons were imprisoned, and Adèle went crazy.

Adèle meets Lieutenant Pinson in Guernsey and they both are in love. However, Pinson is quickly bored of her. His love for her fades away as his regiment moves to Halifax in 1863. For Pinson, Adèle is only one of his lovers; but for Adèle, Pinson is her whole world. Without telling her parents, she follows him to Halifax. Under a false name, no one realizes that the daughter of Victor Hugo lives among them.

Adèle spends her time to go to the bank to pick up letters and money from her father, buys paper from a book shop, and follow Pinson. She has her imagination run wild and uses different names, including Mrs Pinson. She even writes to her father to tell him that she and Pinson have married. Her father puts a notice about the wedding in the newspaper, which makes Pinson gets a warning from his superior. Finally, knowing that Adèle has lied about the marriage and because her mother is dead, her father asks her to return home; but she refuses. When the regiment moves again to Barbados, Adèle's condition is worse and she walks around in public wearing torn clothes. The woman who takes care of her writes to her father to bring her home.

This is a sad movie. Adèle was so beautiful and talented (she was a composer); yet her life was a disaster. If only she were stronger in spirit. It's the 2nd time I saw Isabelle Adjani played a famous woman with a disastrous life. [The other is Camille Claudel.] About the movie, it is not as good as I had expected. Les 400 coups, which was also directed by François Truffaut, is great, but I feel the editing of this Story of Adèle has weaknesses. It feels like the story doesn't run smoothly... because of it's a true story and there are so many things to tell? I also don't like the way Adèle writes her letters is portrayed. Writing is slower than speaking - unless one writes in shorthand, which is not in this case - and here we see Adèle writes while speaking her thought at the same time.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

L’Associé (1979)

Michel Serrault's face in this movie is almost without feeling, so it's not easy to see immediately that this is a comedy. The story itself is funny.

How to say no to someone if you feel bad inside? Easy, just tell him/her that the decision has been made by your associate. Julien Pardot (Michel Serrault) has lost his job in an ad agency. "You are daydreamer. I myself will keep you, but my associate has made the decision." - that's his boss says, more or less. His friend asks him, "What skill do you have?" "None." "Then you must become a financial consultant" Really? So a financial consultant is someone who can't work anywhere else? :-)

At first there is no client, so Pardot invents an associate, an English businessman named W.C. Davis. Pardot can always give excuses why Davis cannot come. With
inheritance from an uncle, Pardot buys his first shares, and his instinct proved to be great. The news spread from mouth to mouth. Clients flow to his office, so does money. Meanwhile, stories about Davis are circulated. "Mr X was with him in Cambridge." "This is Davis's baby. He promised to give me money." "Mr Davis gave me this ring." "My friends say you are nothing without Mr Davis, Dad. They say you stole from him." Until Pardot cannot take it anymore and decides to kill his imaginary associate.

He is surprised when he is arrested for murdering Davis. The police won't believe him. Meanwhile, his clients are gone and the stock market collapses because of Davis's death. His secretary, who was with Minister of Finance in the army, goes to see the Minister and asks if he wants to restore the situation. Voilà, the next morning the newspaper reports that Davis is still alive, Pardot is released from police custody, and the business continues as before; but this time Pardot shares the secret with his secretary and his wife.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

La Piscine - Edition Prestige (1969)

I bought Alain Delon 5-Film Collection back in 2008. This DVD box-set from Lionsgate, released on March 25, contains 'La piscine' by Jacques Deray. One day later, the Edition Prestige was out in France. I enjoyed this box-set from Lionsgate, although in La piscine, the restoration work is not perfect; which unfortunately very clear in one of my favourite scenes: when Jean-Paul, Marianne, and Pen waiting for Harry. Jean-Paul and Marianne looks so much in love with another that Pen asks "How long you two have been together?" I heard people talking about how good chemistry between 2 actors on screen, but none would be better than Alain Delon and Romy Schneider in La piscine.

I post here 2 sample screencaps of the defect. See the black line from bottom to right in pic#1 and the smear on pic#2. Also in this scene there are lots of black and white dots. I assume that this not happens only in my copy.

Later La piscine was broadcasted on TV5 and the quality was breathtaking. The colour of the skin was so right. I thought that perhaps it was from the new French DVD (or Blu-ray).

Time passed by and now I have a copy of the Edition Prestige. [It took me a while. It took a fortune.] What I wanted to see so much was actually the alternative ending - and after watching it I was a bit disappointed because it only lasted a few seconds, showing Inspector Leveque and several police officers come to the villa, perhaps to arrest Jean-Paul.

The quality of the DVD from SNC is excellent. The picture is very clear and brighter than the US DVD. Here is a screencap:

The set also contains the English version of the movie. Apparently, having done a scene in French, the cast did it again in English. Of course there are slight differences since the movie each is built from different takes. [In the English version, Jean-Paul doesn't eat melon in the dinner scene.] However, the scene where Harry goes into Marianne's bedroom to wake her up with breakfast is gone from the English version. The English version has the alternative ending, though.

Another interesting thing is in the scene of the party with Harry's friends. Pen leaves the party to run after Jean-Paul to the swimming pool area. They both listen to 2 guitar players and Pen kisses Jean-Paul's cheek. The French version ends here, the next frame shows Marianne watching them. However, the English version continues with Jean-Paul kisses her back in the ear. This is something as I always wonder how far these 2 would go.

Doctor Who series 1-4 Box Set

Finished watching the Complete Specials, I planned to get another box set of Doctor Who. "Just one season," I said. However after comparing the price and reminding myself how I enjoyed the Specials, I ended up buying the season 1 - 4. And I don't regret this. I enjoyed this box set very much. I finished watching last night and was upset because there was no more.

When I saw the picture of the box set, I wondered how big it was and hoped the postman could deliver it to my home. When it arrived, I saw that it was not as big as I had expected. 19,8 x 10 x 14,2 cm.

I had seen the first season before, but watching it again, I enjoyed it again. The Empty Child + The Doctor Dances is still my favourite, because it ends beautifully. A mother reunites with her child, what is more moving than that? Funnily, I remembered Doctor Who as a series with not much budget because of this episode. I thought the gas mask wouldn't cost so much. Yet it created a big chill. A simple question like "Are you my mummy?" can be so scary. [Although in The Poison Sky when this question is popped out again, in a completely different situation, the result is hilarious.]

Season 1 is so much fun, but the stories are getting darker in season 2. The close up of The Wire in The Idiot's Lantern, I found very terrifying. The Impossible Planet + The Satan Pit are the scariest episodes for me, who think every story about possession is a horror. My niece loved the dancing Cybermen in the Outtakes, but she was terrified by the machines in the ceiling in The Age of Steel; when people are being upgraded - she hid her face behind a pillow. In Gridlock, I like how the future is portrayed with so many vehicles that to cover 5 miles it takes 12 years - because of the terrible traffic jam, but we cannot walk as the air is so polluted.

I like Midnight very much. This series often reminds me that they don't have much budget (compared to similar science fiction projects), so it amazes me when I notice things they have achieved. The cheap 3D glasses worn by The Doctor in Doomsday, for example, is hilarious; but I can accept after he explained what it was for. In Midnight, there is no creature, but one of them has been possessed by it and at first she repeats every thing they say, then as if she has infiltrates their mind, she says what they are saying at the same time; later she says what they will say. Having seen the extras and how they did the scenes, it still amazes me. The root of Pi scene is an incredible moment.

If I have an episode which I like the least, that would be Love and Monsters. I don't like how several fans of the Doctor become main characters. I also find the Scooby- Doo chase in the beginning is not right. It's not because we don't see much of the Doctor and his companion that I don't like this episode. Both also don't appear much in Blink, yet I enjoyed Blink.

Of the 3 companions, I like Donna Noble very much. Rose is charming, Martha is intelligent and sweet; but Donna is funny and daring. The Runaway Bride made me laugh a lot and I was glad she was back for season 4. The Unicorn and The Wasp is also one of my favourites. In this episode, The Doctor and Donna meet Agatha Christie in 1926. As in Agatha Christie films, the characters are gathered to be enlightened of who is the killer, and Donna keeps saying: "So she killed him." "So she killed them." etc

Monday, February 14, 2011

La commanderie (2010)

This was shown on TV when I wanted to see Pillars of The Earth. The story of La Commanderie is not as complicated as the Pillars of The Earth (I am referring to the book as I haven't seen the movie), but is quite good. Set in 1375, when France suffers because of a long war and black death, the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem and Rhodes builds a citadel known as la Commanderie d'Assier. This place offers help and support for those in need.

The purpose is noble, but not in practice. The main character, Captain Thomas Cortemain, the commander-in-chief of the citadel, is not what you think a hero should be. He tries to make some extra money for himself by threatening the farmers. He makes an agreement with a band of mercenaries who rob travelers. He cheats on the girl who loves him. The Order soon finds out about what Thomas did to the farmers, but lets him go if he helps searching for the lost treasure of the Templar. Thomas doesn't know that the guardian of the secret is no other than his childhood sweetheart, Constance, who has married the country squire: Geoffroy de Montet. Meeting her again makes Thomas believe that they are destined to each other.

I think except Commander Roger de Neuville, other characters in this are corrupted. The beautiful Constance guards a secret so big that she will not hesitate to murder. Her maid is even meaner. Everyone has secrets. The farmers live poorly because the church takes too much. The inquisitors are feared by everybody.

Thomas stops searching for the treasure because of Constance's doing. She poisons herself and accuses Thomas, who begs one of the saints to save her, and promises he will not continue his work. However, the Pope gives Thomas a letter to free him from his promise. In the end, with the help of Master Sabet, the doctor in the citadel, Thomas finds "the treasure" - some IOU letters of how the church owed the Knight Templars. The Duke of Anjou refuses to believe this and accuses Contance has taken the treasure. He orders Thomas to torture her, which leads them to a false treasure: a document of how the crusades to Jerusalem was not recommended. As the Duke of Anjou wants the treasure to finance the next crusade, he must cancel his plan.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Le crime est notre affaire (2008)

This detective story features an old couple: Prudence Colonel and Bélisaire Beresford, who live a tranquil life - until Aunt Babette visits them and tells them that she has witnessed a murder in a passing train. The aunt has reported what she has seen to the authority, but as no dead body has been found, everybody thinks she must be dreaming. However, as Prudence is bored, she begins to investigate and finds that perhaps her aunt was right. The clues lead her to the castle of the Charpentier family and to enter, she works there as a cook. Then Prudence finds the dead woman's body in a sarcophagus.

This is a very good adaptation of Agatha Christie's 4.50 from Paddington. In the book, Miss Marple is the detective; but here it's the Beresford couple. Agatha Christie also created the Beresford couple: Tommy and Tuppence; and here their names are changed. The tone of the movie is comedy and it was fun to watch. Films based on Agatha Christie's books made in England mostly are faithful (to the books), so it's nice to see this creative adaptation made in France.