2014-07-29

Bob le flambeur

Bob le flambeur (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1956)

Bob (Roger Duchesne), an old gangster and gambler is almost broke, so he decides in spite of the warnings of a friend, a high official from the police, to rob a gambling casino in Dauville. 

As one of the French directors who orbited around the French New Wave without being really in it because he made films before and during the period of this revolution, Jean-Pierre Melville was a strong supporter of the young generation of filmmakers that were coming from Les Cahiers du Cinema emulating American films and threw a big rock into the calm pond of French films.

Melville's films are stylised gangster films widely inspired by Fritz Lang, Anthony Mann, William Wyler, Howard Hawks, and many other directors he regarded as true authorists and forefront names of the Film Noir genre. With Bob le flambeur, Melville does more than just a simple homage to the films and directors that he admired. He brought a French charm of the sexy women of Paris into the Femme Fatale element with Anne (Isabelle Corey) and a much more pessimistic view on gangsterism and transgressing the law. Yes, Bob is cool and his gambler friends have a hype around them, they get beautiful women and are all interested in easy money and low life living.

Having only seen Le samourai before visiting this popular entry in Melville's filmography, I was afraid that Bob didn't stand up as good as his other near masterpiece of coolness staring Alain Delon and one of the most interesting guns and hat movie ever. I have a vivid feeling that Melville's films were huge influence on filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. The latter with an even more prominent presence in his films. Knowing that, Melville's films have a contemporary freshness that their stories and vibe carry along.

Bob le flambeur easily fells into the recommended films category that can be appealing to the film buff but that can also appeal to a wider audience in the way that its storytelling, its qualities, and its value as a piece of entertainment is untouched. 


2014-07-23

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)

The spoiled young heir to the decaying Amberson fortune comes between his widowed mother and the man she has always loved.

The Magnificent Ambersons plays like a nice classical music from a classic composer, it is a story about pride, richness, family, and the turn of the 20th Century. Welles put more that expected in this story and he even made it even subtler that his previous Citizen Kane. Orson Welles was a man of his time, but his heritage was from a father who took him to travel around the world. His education was from this 19th Century heritage that clashed with the new Century.

This Orson Welles film should have been the director's masterpiece and become even greater than his own Citizen Kane made only one year earlier. However, the studios were not happy with his final editing and asked editor Robert Wise to cut down and retell the story that was inspired by Booth Tarkington's novel, a friend of the Welles family. During the re-editing process, Welles was shooting in South America and he was preparing another film. However, the cataclysm that was Citizen Kane the year before had already cursed Welles for the rest of his career.

Even with his detachment from the final cut and the story that maligned The Magnificent Ambersons, it is still a cinephile's dream to discover one day Welles' vision restored. The bits and parts that came to us still demonstrate the mastery of Welles, cinematographer Gregg Toland's masterful compositions, and the huge legacy that the actors directed by Welles for their iconic roles have left to us. On many many lists, this period drama is ranked as a masterpiece. Put aside the drama of the making and the steal from the studios, this is still a remarkable film that Welles enthusiasts can't throw away without considering.

I however believe that it is always good for the legend and the fans that the greats of films have such stories. It reminds us how important and unique each film is. How it is important to take the time to actually enjoy every offering a director has created and how it takes so many elements to control to actually release to masterpieces in a row in so few time. If Welles hasn't been stopped at the time he actually could have directed many more films. But let's just say that he almost never made a film that was not a masterpiece or a near-masterpiece.

2014-07-21

THX 1138

THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971)

Set in the 25th century, the story centers around a man and a woman who rebel against their rigidly controlled society.

In the 1970's, the films about the future and the Science Fiction features were according to project a dystopian vision of what mankind will be. In George Lucas lecture of the things to come, a pure white virginal world of machines and programmed events puts Robert Duvall as THX in a near George Orwellian world of greater power and crushed human conditions.

Being the follow up to Lucas' student film, THX 1138 was produced by his friend Francis Ford Coppola and became a sandbox for him to experiment for his game changing Star Wars movie that became the multi billion dollar franchise that it is today. Watched as a precursor of Lucas' talent and so-called vision, THX could be a nice little first film for any director. However, it is shadowed by the aforementioned Star Wars films. While keeping in mind that it is a first film, the story is well handled even if a little conventional for the genre but it is the visual mastery and the storytelling approach of few dialogues and a lot of space for the nothingness of the sets and the claustrophobic society depicted. The use of Techniscope gives and sense of depth and its large framing could only be appreciated in theaters until HD televisions were introduced in everyone's homes.

The presence of Donald Pleasance might be the most interesting of the interpretations in this particular movie. His relationship with Duvall's character is unhealthy at best. Pleasance is disturbing and uses all the screen time he has to be the most interesting character of the movie. It is about alienation and every character seems to bring its own in this unappealing world.

All in all, this is a short movie of under 90 minutes that gives a little something to the fans of the early films that had the spirit that Lucas wrote and directed. It also lost with the passage of time since many films of the same era are now considered as Sci-Fi classics for example: 2001: A Space Odyssey might overshadow any Sci-Fi film to ever be released. 

2014-07-18

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

Archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the US government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.

Just like any young boy, I was fascinated with Steven Spielberg when growing up. It was the first director I ever knew he was making films but he was not in front of the camera like the actors. My opinion of this director has been changing with the years. As much as I loved Jurassic Park, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the Indiana Jones trilogy, I've been struggling with his more serious films. With time, I learned to put aside the fact that he he is the kind of director with multiple personalities. The naive charm of his adventure/action films will compensate for his lack of talent at handling more serious subject matters. His subjectivity may or may not have tarnished his reputation but his talent will always be there.

With Raiders of the Lost Ark, a collaboration between George Lucas and Spielberg with the help of screenwriter Philip Kaufman, will lead to one of the most iconic films of all time. This without mentioning John Williams' legendary score for the thing. Add to that a friend of the Lucas/Spielberg family, Harrison Ford as the stellar character that will become Indiana Jones. 

Mr. Ford's ability to be the intellectual Prof. Jones but also the action hero of calm and courage, except for his fear of snakes, is now a pattern for many actors. He is the all American man, with a brain, wit, whip, and he doesn't fear to get his hands in the dirt. And he sure knows how to fight. 

One aspect of Raiders I often like to discuss is the opening sequence that is in itself a complete short film that presents the character of Indiana Jones. It is also very iconic, even The Simpsons have parodied it. 

As I already mentioned, Indiana Jones is an American hero. He fights Nazis and works for the US government to bring back the lost Ark that belongs now in the United States of America where no maligned or ill-intentioned nation will use it. There's all this symbolism with the Ancient Testament that is evoked in Raiders and it demonstrates how the success of this film is clearly linked with the American myth of the foundation of the USA but also how this country is the culmination or the end of the world. In fact, just like the Jews were running out of Egypt to find their promised land. Well, this promised land in Raiders is the USA.

As an archivist, the final shot of the film makes me laugh in its comment on how things are sheltered and relegated to the past when archived. So much is in the final minutes of Raiders that a short essay wouldn't summarizes it. 
I cannot say enough how I like this film and overly praising it would not be fair to anyone who hasn't seen it yet. But I highly recommend this yet entertaining and fun film.

2014-07-13

Night of the Ghouls

Note: this review is a contribution to the Accidentally Hilarious Blogathon hosted by the great folks over at Movies Silently. A blogathon of unintentional humor in classic film.


Night of the Ghouls (Edward D. Wood, Jr., 1959)

The sequel to Ed Wood's infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of the Ghouls presents the story of a phony medium called Dr. Acula (Kenne Duncan), okay they had me right there

2014-07-12

7 Women

Note: this review is a contribution to the John Ford Blogathon hosted by the great folks over at Krell Laboratories and Bemused and Nonplussed.


7 Women (John Ford, 1966)

Of the bunch of John Ford films that I've seen, a total of sixteen, I tend to prefer the tone of his non-Westerns because it takes him out of his "comfort zone" of the American myth and get him into the world of the likes of Tom Joad, Ireland, and in this case Northern China. Ford's final film to the silver screen was 7 Women, a lesser known entry in his oeuvre that was much more celebrated in Europe especially in France with Les Cahiers du Cinema highly praising it and its auteur. While being a catastrophic commercial and critical event in North America it forced him to retire from film making.

This being his last picture in 1966, the Film industry was on the eve of one of its greatest revolutions with the coming of Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Riders, and the revitalization of the 1970's that let much more space for the director as the creative force of the movie they are directing. One could say that it was a more European approach to the seventh art. But I digress, Ford was working with smaller budgets and less freedom over his work during the shooting of his last films. 
However he managed to have a script that was carrying many elements that were dear to him when telling a story. The Catholic mission being the setting of the story, the dedication to a moral duty by the women, the hard headed Dr. Cartwright (Anne Bancroft) that represents contrarity in this balanced world by the strong and very strict Agatha Andrews (Margaret Leighton), the head of the mission, the younger of the women, Emma (Sue Lyon), looking for a role model and flinching between the two "mothers" aforementioned. Are the most forefront characters of this almost entirely female cast. Except for Charles Pether (Eddie Albert) the mission teacher that dreamed to be a reverend and that brought along his middle aged pregnant wife in this far country.

Much like his position on racism that he tries to finally solve with Cheyenne Autumn, 7 Women seems to be his redemption with his projection of the Woman in society. While in his Westerns they are more related to supporting roles. With this film, he makes them the stars of his swan song. This is almost unexpected but also very revealing of the aging master's late redemption with his earlier detractors.

The film has this Fordian dilemma between moral values and moral dedication, it also shows much like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance how words don't compensate for actions. He also believes in the theory of every one's role in a closeted society. 

When talking about Catholicism, there's a great debate about the level of sacrifice and how one must sin to achieve to help others. No human is a Saint until he dies. This is illustrated in many ways by the most human characters of the movie but also the negative aspects of the purist spirit that put into the action are completely wasted. 

This is an intriguing and also quite enjoyable entry into Ford's filmography even if more than far from his habitual films. The presence of The Graduate's Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) and Lolita's Lolita (Sue Lyon) also brings an interesting aspect because they were actress not remembered for many roles. 
This might appeal more to John Ford enthusiasts, sure because its unique but also because it brings an important aspect of the director and the man sitting in this chair.

2014-07-05

Update on LMdC's author... and Summer Schedule

Calvin and Hobbes. Waterson
Hi folks!

Many things have happened to me lately, I became a father on Friday the 13 of June on a full moon night of a beautiful baby girl that my wife and I decided to name Sofia Parent.
I know that this date will now be linked with the most beautiful day of my life tied with my wedding with the lady that shares my life since September 2001.
So now, I'm on a parental leave that brings me to a break from work until August 11th. So far, it is a nice summer with short nights but beautiful moments.

On the side of the blog related news, I've decided to join many Blogathons this summer and sparse my posts but to contribute more to the community.

Here is my schedule so far:

July 12
The John Ford Blogathon with a piece on Seven Women.

July 13
Accidentally Hilarious Blogathon with my writing about Night of the Ghouls directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr.

August 1
The Goldblumathon and my contribution with a top of Jeff Goldblum's performances.

August 3
The British Invaders Blogathon will be highlighted with a review of If... by Lindsay Anderson.

August 29
The 1984-A-Thon and my review of John Cassavetes's Love Streams.

For now, it is pretty much all that I have planned here with some reviews here and there but I'm not planning on being as regular as I was with my 3 to 4 posts a week. So stay tuned for those papers and let me know about Blogathons or events I may have missed!

And I'm even more present than ever on Twitter @parentmichael. Make sure to follow and I'll follow back!
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