donderdag 6 oktober 2016

Le Pacha



Le Pacha

1968 - Dir: Georges Lautner - Cast: Jean Gabin (Commissaire Joss, Le Pacha), André Pousse (Quinquin), Robert Dalman (Inspecteur Gouvion), Dany Carrel (Nathalie), Jean Gaven (Marc), Maurice Garrel (Brunet)


I continued my journey through French cinema history with this police-gangster movie starring a 64-year old Jean Gabin as a police officer who discovers that his colleague and best friend, who has committed suicide (or was murdered) was a 'dirty cop'; in order to clean the person's name, Gabin becomes more than a bit dirty himself.

The film opens with an ingenious robbery, ending in slaughter, with the criminal mastermind killing all of his partners in crime. It's a well-conceived, protracted sequence, clearly influenced by the works of Jean-Pierre Melville, but unfortunately the rest of the film is not on the same level. The premise of the police commissioner who wants to settle (and cover up) a few things in the last months before his retirement, is interesting, but the movie never lives up to its full potential. The plot involves links between nightclub owners, racketeers, dancers and corrupt police men and we get a couple of seemingly interminable scenes set in 'hip' Parisian nightclubs. Things picks up again near the end, with a fairly good finale set in an empty warehouse.

There are a few good jokes on dialogue level - basically wise-cracks in the style of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett - but Gabin is mumbling his lines, and the abundant use of argot (French slang) makes some of the dialogue virtually unintelligible. Le Pacha remains watchable - all in all it's a decent police thriller - but considering the talent involved, it's a disappointment.


Note: Serge Gainsbourg has a cameo in a sound studio; he also sings the theme song: Requiem pour un con (Requiem for a sonnavabitch)





zaterdag 20 augustus 2016

Que la Bête meure




Que la Bête Meure is the middle part of Claude Chabrol’s Bourgeois Trilogy (the other two parts are La Femme Infidèle/The Unfaithful Wife and Le Boucher/The Butcher). Chabrol is often compared to Hitchcock, and like many other of his movies, Que la Bête Meure is labeled as a thriller, but it's not a suspense yarn - at least not in the strict sense of the term - but rather a study in loneliness and suppressed emotions; it's also a profound essay about iniquity, guilt and existential angst.

When on holiday in Brittany, Charles Thénier’s nine-year-old son is killed in a hit-and-run accident. Charles is a widower and his son was all he had in life. He therefore swears to track down the man who was behind the wheel and kill him in cold blood. He even swears to kill him slowly, so the beast will suffer and understand he’s dying.

The police investigation and his own quest remain unsuccessful, but then, purely by accident, Charles discovers that one of the people in the car was a woman, a local celebrity, an actress called Hélène Lanson. Charles soon finds out that it was not Hélène who drove the car, but her brother-in-law, Paul. He also discovers that Hélène suffered a nervous breakdown after the accident and that her career was ruined because of her mental illness. Like his own son, Hélène was a victim of the beast. The two lonely people fall in love, but they never talk to each other about their worst fears and obsessions.

Que la bête meure starts as a vengeance tale but Chabrol comes up with a series of subtle shifts in tone and perspective, that make use view things from a slightly different angle. Little by little we get to know this beast, step by step we get more familiar with his relatives, his wife and son, who also fear and hate him, but we also become aware of Charles's situation: his life was over after the death of his son, but Hélène, who sincerely loves him, has thrown him a new lifeline, a reason to live, even a new family, and if he will fulfill his mission, he will destroy all things dear to him.

In the English speaking world, the original title was translated as This Man Must Die, betraying Chabrol’s intentions and misinterpreting the title completely. Chabrol’s universe is not is not one of black and white, of good versus bad, and this is not a simple revenge movie. The title was taken from the Bibliblical book of Ecclesiasts (3:19) (*1)

« Car le sort des fils de l'homme et celui de la bête sont pour eux un même sort ; comme meurt l'un, ainsi meurt l'autre. »

(For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other.)

Que la bête meure is a quiet film, the atmosphere is brooding but tranquil and even Pierre Jansen's score - usually a counterpoint to Chabrol's reticent style, is a reserved one. But underneath the surface things are slowly heating up to boiling point and the suppressed emotions are reflected by Jean Rabier's camerawork and Jacques Gaillard editing techniques. Rabier uses unusual, even disorienting angles when filming the wild and harsh Breton landscape and Gaillard's occasionally uses intense cross-cutting to 'cut' the quiet atmosphere and emphasize imminent danger (in the first minutes scenes of the kid quietly walking away from the beach are alternated by the car - howling like a beast - on its way to town). In the end we only get the confirmation that the beast is dead, but we do not know who killed him; we have an idea, but cannot be absolutely sure, and his death offers no relief to any of the characters.


Note:

* (1) Chabrol's regular soundtrack composer, Pierre Jansen, interpolates a piece of Brahms' Vier Ernste Gesänge in his film score (Opus 121), sung by Kathleen Ferrier, the text expresses the same idea: "Denn es gehet dem Menschen wie dem Vieh" (The sort of man is the sort of the beast)

Director: Claude Chabrol - cast: Michel Duchaussoy (Charles), Jean Yanne (Paul), Caroline Cellier (Helene), Anouk Ferjac (Jeanne), Marc Di Napoli (Philippe Decourt)



vrijdag 20 mei 2016

Riddick



RIDDICK

2013 - Director: David Twohy - Cast: Vin Diesel (Riddick), Matthew Nable (Johns), Jordi Mollà (Santana), Katee Sackoff (Dahl), Dave Bautista (Diaz), Bokeem Woodbine (Moss), Raoul Trujillo (Lockspur), Conrad Pla (Vargas)

It doesn’t happen very often that a sequel is superior to the original. We all know the exceptions (The Godfather II, The Road Warrior, Return of Ringo, a few more). I would like to add Riddick to the list, the third installment in the Riddick saga, featuring Vin Diesel as the titular hero. It’s by no means a perfect movie (it’s derivative and too much of everything) but it’s a helluva ride through a hell that is No Fury.

Riddick emerges from what looks like a natural grave on a desolate planet; he’s approached by a vulture-like creature that seems to take him for a happy meal, but the next moment the roles are reversed when Riddick grabs the scavenger by the throat. Ugh. We never learn the name of the planet, are only told - by Riddick himself - that it’s not his home planet, Furya. It’s a barren world, populated by carnivorous creatures - hyena-like dogs, scorpion-like swamp monsters - that are all hungry. Riddick is still one of the most wanted men in the universe, so he lures two teams of bounty killers ('mercs') to the planet in the hope to steal one of their space ships. He starts stalking both groups, eliminating them one by one, but is eventually forced to cooperate with the remaining members (those not yet killed) in order to fight off a new load of beasts.

Riddick feels very much like three movies for the price of one; most critics thought the first half hour - Riddick fighting the hyena’s and scorpions - was the best, but I thought the second part - Riddick stalking the bounty hunters - was equally good. In this second part Riddick becomes a creature in the dark, invisible most of the time, but a constant threat to those who have come looking for him. It’s a daring approach, turning Riddick into a supporting actor in his own movie, but it works thanks to contrast between the two bounty hunters, the buoyant Santana and the stoic Johns, and the presence of Johns’s second-in-command, female warrior Dahl (always good to have a woman around in those male chauvenist action movies).

The weakest link is, obviously, the third and final act, Riddick joining forces with the remaining mercs (short for mercenaries). It picks up the central idea of the first movie, Pitch Black, but it feels more like Jurassic Riddick, with velociraptor-like creatures attacking the stronghold in which Riddick and the mercs have taken shelter. Moreover director/screenwriter Twohy fails to come up with a satisfying conclusion. The Director’s Cut is about 8 minutes longer than the theatrical version (and a bit more revealing about how and why Riddick crash-landed on this remote planet and what happened to other key characters of the series, such as Vaako), but it all remains a bit inconclusive.

As said this is a derivative movie. There are shades from Predator, Aliens, Jurassic Park and - of course - the Mad Max saga (more and more Riddick is becoming the Milky Way warrior). Film buffs will also spot influences from classic movies as various as Howard Hawks Rio Bravo and David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia; the opening scene - the hand grabbing the vulture’s neck - was taken from one of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan novels. But it doesn’t hurt the movie. Vin Diesel, who co-produced, seems to be at ease in this fancy world of matte paintings and fantasy creatures. His Riddick has become a character of flesh & blood, almost human, who domesticates one of the hyena-like predators and is really pissed-off when his companion is killed by one of the bounty killers. 






donderdag 5 mei 2016

Passi di Danza su una Lama di Rasoio




PASSI DI DANZA SU UNA LAMA DI RASOIO (Death Carries a Cane)

1973 - Dir: Maurizio Pradeaux - Robert Hoffmann (Alberto Morosini), Nieves Navarro (Kitty), George Martin (Inspector Merughi), Anuska Borova (Lidia Arrighi/ Silvia Arrighi), Simón Andreu (Marco), Sal  Borgese (Asdrubale Magno), Luciano Rossi (Richard) - Music: Roberto Pregadio


Oh, Italian genre movies and their titles. The original Italian title, Passi di Danza su una Lama di Rasoio, reads as Dance Steps on a Razor Blade. And what to think of the German title, Die Nacht der Rollenden Köpfe (that is: The Night of the Rolling Heads)? In comparison, the title of the international, English language version almost feels insipid : Death Carries a Cane. But note that Death once rode a horse in a spaghetti western. From horse to cane is big step for mankind, but a small step for Mr. Death.

A black-clad serial killer is terrorizing the city of Rome, slicing the throats of his victims with a razor blade. A young woman called Kitty accidently witnesses one of the murders through a telescope; she only catches a glimpse of the killer’s black gloves and black hat and is therefore not able to identify him. Police inspector Merughi has only one clue: the maniac is carrying a cane, so he must be a cripple ... Suspicions fasten on Kitty’s husband, Alberto, a professional photographer with a preference for the macabre. Alberto is limping because he recently sprained his ankle ... Did Alberto or didn’t he?

Passi etc. has an international (but predominantly Spanish) cast and most actors neither look nor behave Italian (and a pimped-up Martin looks more like a gangster than a police captain!), but the director and composer are Italian and with the Roman settings, black gloves and sharp blades the movie has all the visual and atmospheric characteristics of a genuine giallo. The mystery plot and the motivation of the killer might be a bit too typical, but these movies are more about style than about plot, and in sense of style, director Pradeaux does score a few points. The finale is particularly strong, with Navorro being trapped inside a glass house, the killer stalking her, the beams of his flashlight piercing the night like sharp knives.

The movie offers the ususual doses of nudity and blood, but some stock material was inserted to make the graphic killings look more convincing, but the effect is counterproductive; with their different color pattern and definition, the insertions give the slasher scenes an untidy, occasionally cheap look. Both Navarro and the virtually unknown Borova* - in dual role - are gorgeous, so I have no complaints about the nudity.


Note:

* According to IMDB this was her only movie appearance


maandag 4 april 2016

Sleeper



SLEEPER (1973)

Dir: Woody Allen - Cast: Woody Allen (Miles Monroe), Diane Keaton (Luna Schlosser), John Beck (Erno Windt), Mary Gregory (Dr. Melik), Don Keefer (Dr. Tryon), John McLiam (Dr. Aragon), Bartlett Robinson (Dr. Orva)

A nice combination of slapstick, social comment and Woody’s typical verbal sparrings (with reality, fantasy and Diane Keaton). Woody himself plays Miles Monroe, a clarinetist player and owner of a health food shop from 1973, who was put to a hibernation sleep after a small surgery went wrong; he wakes up 200 years later, when some overzealous scientists run a few tests with him. America has become a police state and because the scientists were members of the rebellion, Miles becomes a wanted creature, referred to as ‘the intruder’; the only way to escape: going undercover as Diane Keaton’s household robot!

Sleeper is more coherent than some of Woody’s other early efforts, which were shot in a tell-the-joke-and-run fashion. It’s the first of four movies he wrote with Marshall Brickman, the other three being Annie Hall, Manhattan and Manhatten Murder Mystery (that was written in the seventies but only brought to the screen two decades later). It's tempting to credit Brickman for the more coherent plot, but by this time Woody was also becoming a real film maker instead of a stand-up comedian making movies; the movie is well-crafted, and immensily helped by a great production design (the architecture of the future world is pure magic) and an energetic jazz score.

It holds up quite well after nearly forty years even if it it’s not always as funny and spirited as Woody (and his fans) might have thought back then. It’s a great idea, but it’s also one of those ideas that might have worked better on a shorter format: the comedy falls flat in the final twenty minutes or so. But if it works, it works marvelously. According to Woody himself, the comedy is a homage to two of his favorite comedians, Groucho Marx and Bob Hope. I’d say Chaplin (who’s hardly ever mentioned by Allen) was a source of inspiration as well.



woensdag 2 maart 2016

Escape from L.A.



A sequel to the 1981 fantasy thriller Escape from New York: director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill are re-united, and it also brings back Kurt Russel as everybody’s favorite wacko hero Snake Plissken. In the first movie, the US president crash-landed in a Manhatten that had become an open air prison, surrounded by thick walls, and it was up to Snake Plissken to save him. The sequel uses a similar premise.

L.A. has finally suffered 'the big one', the earthquake everybody feared and the city has been cut off from the mainland. The new president of the US wants the country to be as clean as a whistle (even smoking a cigarette is punishable) and therefore uses 'Los Angeles Island’ as an open air prison for all those have comitted a 'moral crime’. The presidents daughter has joined the resistance - led by a Che Gueverra lookalike - and has taken daddy’s doomsday machine with her, so the situation is critical. Snake is sent to L.A. to save the world, or at least the president’s new America.

What to think of it? If Lee Van Cleef is no longer available, Keach is not a bad alternative and Cliff Robertson knows how to portray a power hungry madman, but their characters are caricatures and Steve Buscemi (who’s occasionally funny) is basically playing Steve Buscemi. If the premise is similar, the tone is different; the original was a tongue-in-cheek, but grim fantasy, dark and disturbing; this sequel is almost cartoonish with special effects that often look deliberately poor. In one scene Plissken surfs on a tsunami, only to leap on a convertible driving a high speed.




So what to think of it? I don’t know, not really. The idea of a perfect world, clean as a whistle, is interesting: it was probably inspired by the depiction of a similar utopic/dystopic world in Ira Levin’s The Perfect Day. At one point, the Che Gueverra lookalike starts explaining his ideas to 'unite’ the South against the North, that is: to unite Afro-Americans, Latinos, in short: all non-whites, and simply break through all natural barriers ("We got the North by the balls"). At that particular moment the movies seems to say something about what’s happening here and now, before our very eyes, but the satire remains too playful to become venomous.

What made the first movie work, was the idea of a post-apocalyptic world that was not post-apocalyptic, only futuristic: no catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions had taken place and yet the future New York looked apocalyptic. Escape from L.A. is semi-apocalyptic - it’s set after the Big One - but it’s not menacing. The final scene of the movie is the best (it’s by the way remarkably close to the ending of Levin’s novel): the evil president is dead, his dream of the perfect world has vanished into thin air. The world is ready to become 'dirty’ again. Snake lights a cigarette, saying:

"Welcome to the real world."


Dir: John Carpenter - Cast: Kurt Russell (Snake Plissken), Steve Buscemi (Map to the Stars Eddie), Peter Fonda (Pipeline), Cliff Robertson (President), A.J. Langer (Utopia), Valeria Golino (Taslima), Stacy Keach (Malloy), Pam Grier (Hershe Las Palmas), Paul Bartel (Congressman)


vrijdag 19 februari 2016

4.3.2.1.




4.3.2.1.

The title stands for 4 girls, 3 days, 2 cities, 1 chance. The movie has been described as the British answer to the very successful American ensemble movie Go (1999, Doug Liman). Another way to describe it would be a Girl Ritchie movie: a comedy thriller in the style of Guy Ritchie, starring girls instead of guys.

4321 was written and co-directed by Noel Clarke (Adulthood), who also has a cameo and whose image on some movie posters is bigger than those of the girls. His movie has a multiple thread script: it's about a diamond heist and a couple of middlemen who are used by the thieves to shake off the police; and it's also about four girls who once were inseparable but now decide to go their own way. Things take an unexpected turn when one of the middlemen accidently drops a diamond in one of the girls' handbag.

The girls all have their own mini-movie: the suicidal Shannon, the prudish Cass, the militant feminist Kerrys and the pragmatic Jo. The four vignettes are interlinked by objects (that are often misplaced) or scenes that involve two or more girls. All loose ends are neatly tied up in the fourth episode, centered around  Emma Roberts - the best known of the four young actresses - as Jo, the foul-mouthed but responsible working class girl who's a real crack at solving other people's troubles (but has trouble to keep her own head above water).

The movie received some very mixed reviews; I liked it, quite a lot actually, but not unconditionally: the movie is vivid, zany, loud and tumultuous, you name it. It also has two steamy sex scenes, one sapphic, one straight. 4321 comes very close to hitting bull's eye but there's something missing; or maybe I should say: it has a bit too much of everything. It has too many characters and the setup of multiple threads told in the non-linear style of Pulp Fiction (yes, Tarantino was an influence too) gradually becomes inextricable. As a screenwriter Clarke is so secretive about things that a couple of potentially good ideas are sunk.

The girls are good-looking (Warren-Markland, who plays Kerrys, is a knockout) but the four vignetttes are wildly uneven (it's by the way also hard to believe that the four were ever bosom friends); the most satisfying episode is the second, starring the incredibly long-legged Tamsin Egerton as the daughter from rich parents who travels to New York to lose her virginity to a guy she has met on the Internet. This episode also benefits from a good cameo appearance by the comedian Kevin Smith (Clerks) as Big Larry, the fast talking man on the Plane.

***

Directors: Noel Clarke, Mark Davis - Cast: Emma Roberts (Jo), Tamsin Egerton (Cass), Ophelia Lovibond (Shannon), Shanika Warren-Markland (Kerrys), Adam Deacon (Dillon), Michelle Ryan (Kelly), Noel Clarke (Tee), Gregg Chillin (Manuel), Jacob Anderson (Angelo), Sean Pertwee (Mr. Richards), Freddie Stroma (Cool Brett), Kevin Smith (Big Larry), Lindzey Cocker (Gwen), Plan B (Terry), Ashley Thomas (Smoothy), Camille Coduri (Mrs. Phillips), Ben Miller (Mr. Philips), Kate Magowan (Mrs. Richards)

dinsdag 9 februari 2016

Pauline à la Plage




PAULINE A LA PLAGE (1983, Eric Rohmer)

One of Rohmer's finest movies, the third in a cycle of six movies - known as 'comedies et proverbes' - realised by this director between 1981 and 1987. All six movies feature women confronting life and are an illustration of a proverb from French classic literature, in this particular case a verse from Perceval, le comte du Graal by 12th century poet Chrétien de Troyes: "Qui trop parole, il se mesfait" (*1).

Pauline is a 15-year old, inexperienced girl who spends her summer holiday with her older and more experienced cousin Marion in Normandy. Marion is a real man eater, but at the same time she thinks she never experienced true love and is therefore still dreaming about that one ecstatic, passionate love that would drive both her and her lover crazy. While Pauline is having her first tender love affair, Marion feels the desired burning love for a middle aged man called Henri, a heartless Casanova and part-time philosopher. Pierre, a former friend of Marion and still fond of her (but also very considerate of Pauline) is the man in the middle.



Pauline à la Plage is often called one of most playful and gentle movies of this director. Rohmer keeps a save distance to the characters and their obsessions, portraying them with a knowing but mild touch of irony. People talk a lot, but their deepest emotions are passed over. The film is set in mid-summer, but there's always a cold breeze on this North Atlantic beaches and only in the course of the afternoon the sun is strong enough to send a short flash of sultry heat through the air.

But appearances may be deceiving: Rohmer cleverly mocks some popular postmodern ideas about truth and reality from post-war French philosophy (Foucoult, Derrida): Henri skillfully explains those theories in his own favour and in the movie's finale both women decide to believe 'their own truth' in order to avoid dissapointment in love. We know what happenend, and also understand that both woman realize they have been a plaything in other people's life. As more often in Rohmer's world, winners are only winners because they manage to hide their failures better than others.

Brilliantly directed and flawlessly acted, the movie is tender, sexy and (if you're on the right wavelength) often very funny. And it's hard not to fall in love with little Pauline while watching this gem of a movie.


***
Dir: Eric Rohmer - Amanda Langlet (Pauline), Arielle Dombasle (Marion), Pascal Greggory (Pierre), Féodor Atkine (Henri), Simon de La Brosse (Sylvain), Rosette (Louisette), Marie Bouteloup (Marie), Michel Ferry (Sylvain's Friend)


Note:

(*1) "He who talks too much, does himself a bad favour."



vrijdag 5 februari 2016

Young Frankenstein




YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)


Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks’ satirical salute to 1930's classic horror (in particular the 1931 Hollywood version of Mary Shelly’s novel) was his first movie to be hailed by so-called 'serious’ critics. The Producers and Blazing Saddles had brought him fame and money, but critical reactions had been divided. Many critics didn't know what to think of Brooks. Like the influential Roger Ebert wrote: "His movies weren’t just funny, they were aggressive and subversive, making us laugh even when we really should have been offended." 

Young Frankenstein changed everything - at least for a while. There are a few irreverent jokes plus a couple of references to the seize of the monster’s sexual apparatus (monstrous!), but otherwise it’s almost family entertainment.

Gene Wilder (who co-wrote the script with Brooks) is Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson, who insists on being called Fronk-en-steen because he doesn’t want to be confused with the notorious mad doctor. But he’s lured back to Transylvania and when confronted with a written account of his grandfather’s experiments, he discovers his true Frankenstein nature. With the help of a hunchback called Igor (it’s pronounced Eye-gor, and if you know the type is played by Marty Feldman you also know why) and a curvaceous laboratory assistant, the young doctor creates his own monster - with results that are both hilarious and devastating.

Young Frankenstein is every bit as funny as some of Brooks’ other achievements but it’s a less anarchic, more controlled effort and therefore probably even works better. It was Wilder who had come up with the idea for the movie and he had also convinced Brooks to forego his usual cameo-appearances and remain off-camera. It seems to have worked in the movie’s favour*. It is shot in a warm black & white and on magnificent studio sets: many props were copies of the lab equipment used in the 1931 movie. Not all jokes work, but most of them do and some are hilarious. Among the highlights: inspector Kemp lighting a cigarette in an uncanny way, the interpretation by the doctor and his creation of Puttin’ on the Ritz and above all the scene set in the cabin of the blind man.


Miscellaneous:

* For this reason there has been some discussion whether the movie should be called a Brooks movie, a Gene Wilder movie or a Brooks-Wilder movie. Gene Wilder was no doubt the spiritual father of it (when he first spoke to Brooks about his ideas, Brooks seemed not interested in them), but on the set and during post-production Brooks was in controll of things: he removed and abridged a couple of sequences because he felt they didn’t work properly and Wilder had to do his utmost best to prevent him from removing the 'Puttin’ on the Ritz’ sequence. More than any of Brook’s movies, Young Frankenstein was a collective effort: Marty Feldman improvised a lot of jokes and Cloris Leachman wrote some of her own lines, such as the 'ovaltine question'.

***

Dir: Mel Brooks - Cast: Gene Wilder (Dr. Frederick Frankenstein), Marty Feldman (Igor), Peter Boyle (Monster), Teri Garr (Inga), Cloris Leachman (Frau Blücher), Madeline Kahn (Elizabeth), Kenneth Mars (Inspector Kemp), Gene Hackman (Blind Man)