2015-07-16

Vacation (1983)

Vacation (Harold Ramis, 1983)

The Griswold family's cross-country drive to the Walley World theme park proves to be much more arduous than they ever anticipated.
For almost twenty years I’ve been watching year after year Christmas Vacation and saying to whomever that cares to listen that it is my favorite Christmas movie. But I have never seen the other movies of the franchise and even the original Vacation film that will have some kind of a remake this summer. Since this summer my wife and my daughter will embark on a car trip, not to Walley World but to Wildwood New Jersey, I had the urge to finally watch Vacation and see what it was all about.

Back in 1983, it had a huge box-office success and quickly became a cult classic. Still to this day I can’t figure why I haven’t seen this film on TV before. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) along their two kids Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) will go on a trip from Chicago to Los Angeles to the famous Walley World park, a ripoff of Disney Land.

Many moments of the John Hughes story are repeated in his Christmas Vacation and makes them like trademark jokes of the franchise. The infamous visit to cousin Eddie and Catherine will become stellar moments just like the pool scene with the girl in the red Ferrari.

The couple of Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo works well because Clark wants to be a good father, a good husband but he is so lefty and wants everything to be so damn perfect that everything is screwed up and she embarks on his mad ideas with a certain disdain but she loves her goofer husband so much that it reminds us of all of our dads and how we are as dads too.

The real genius behind the Vacation franchise is John Hughes and his writing makes it the best imperfect family. It reminds us how the road is half the fun and how the ups and downs makes it for great family memories. Sure it is reflecting a very late 1950’s idealized America but nostalgia and memories are hard to split at some point.


Overall, Vacation is a fun ride with the Griswold family and may or may not have influenced another well known American family : The Simpsons. I think that many elements link those families together and I wish that the Vacation series would be as everlasting as The Simpsons and maybe keep a level of quality that the cartoon did not achieved past a certain number of years.

2015-06-30

The Wind Will Carry Us

The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami, 1999)

Irreverent city engineer Behzad comes to a rural village in Iran to keep vigil for a dying relative. In the meanwhile the film follows his efforts to fit in with the local community and how he changes his own attitudes as a result.

This poetic tale of contemplative scape is about a man returning to the source of humanity. In a rural village far away from Tehran, the man from the city has to learn to reconnect with the sufficient simple life of the people.

Director Abbas Kiarostami shots this film with long takes and camera movements so subtle that it takes its viewer as a part of the location. Kiarostami’s films have no real contexts and are told as if we were into the story. He doesn’t rely on much technique but he uses long scenes of genuine human interactions.

As we follow Behzad in his routine of taking calls with a cellphone that only works on a hill where is the cemetery of the village the many repetitions on The Wind Will Carry Us makes us wonder how life in small villages is not subjected to time and routine. Behzad learns to live into this particular mindset and felt under the charm of the life. Unlike his colleagues that are never shown, he gets to be a part of the ecosystem of the village and lives and breaths the location he is forced to stay.

His mission which is never clear, is to do a report on the dying of a old woman. Just like this is a clash for me as a North American, the culture of the village is a clash to Behzad and we are linked to his discovery.

This is a film that sticks with its viewer for a long time and it is meditative without being arid or overly long. In fact, this might be one of Abbas Kiarostami’s masterpieces along with Close-Up. It is memorable and quite beautiful with warm colors and wide screen vast hills. One particular scene, which explains the title of the film is the milking of a cow in a dark cavern with a young woman and Behzad reciting a poem as a way to trade the milk for some knowledge. The trade is not an open trade but we feel that money is useless when you can have human exchange.


The Wind Will Carry Us proves again that Abbas Kiarostami is one the most important storyteller of contemporary films.

2015-06-26

The Year 1968 in France’s Cinema


Note : this review is my contribution to the Classic Movie History Project blogathon hosted by Movies Silently & Silver Screenings & Once Upon a Screen.

Surfing on the recent successes of the now widely recognized French New Wave, La nouvelle vague, France was a burgeoning location for directors and auteurs. However, an event in May 1968 will change the face of its Cinema and break the greatest friendship of the New Wave. This essay will try to put some light on one of the defining element of the films to follow.

Of the most important films released in France in 1968 we can list François Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black, Les Biches by Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil featuring The Rolling Stones, Je t’aime, je t’aime directed by Alain Resnais, Maurice Pialat’s debut film L’enfance nue, also from Chabrol The Unfaithful Wife, Truffaut’s second take in the Antoine Doinel cycle Stolen Kisses, and the porte-manteau film Spirits of the Dead co-directed by Federico Fellini, Louis Malle and Roger Vadim.

As of 1968, two directors were the stars of the New Wave and France’s film industry : Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. Friends from the time they were critics in Les Cahiers du Cinéma they each aligned a series of highly successful films.
Jean-Luc Godard

For Godard, 1968 was a turning point in his career that was already on the edge of a political  metamorphosis. His films were filled with more and more revolutionary content. Just look at two of the films he released in 1967, Week End with obvious revolutionary slogans and La chinoise which was his allegiance  to Maoism. Then in 1968 his film Le Gai savoir, banned by the French government, was about a couple listening to the radio and discussing politics. He also released One Plus One aka Sympathy for the Devil, a film of the creating process of The Rolling Stones while writing and recording the song Sympathy for the Devil interposed with Black Panthers speeches and images. 

Godard was more and more concerned by politics, Marxism, sociology, philosophy, and classic literature than ever. His constant struggle with stardom and the emptiness of the fame that accompany his success made him more concerned about how we should change the world and stop Americanization, Capitalism, consumerism, and reconsider everything and how everything was done. As he said of that era he was washed up from the common form of cinema.
François Truffaut

On the other end of this friendship, François Truffaut has become a classic filmmaker with a more and more conventional approach to filmmaking and acquaintance to the studio system. With Stolen Kisses, the second chapter of the Antoine Doinel series, the Jean-Pierre Léaud character that revealed Truffaut to the world with The 400 Blows in 1959, we have a Truffaut slowly falling into sentimental venues. His other release of 1968, The Bride Wore Black, is a story of revenge that was often compared to a proto precursor of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.

Then came the events that provoked May 68 in France and the Langlois affair. The Langlois affair is about the way the French government decided to cut short the financing of the Cinémathèque and fire its director Henri Langlois. In support many international directors signed a letter for Langlois’ restitution to the French institution. Even if in late April, Langlois was reintegrated into his functions, the actions of the administration of President François Mitterand will lead to May 68 and bring the French people in the streets. Issues are about a huge social movement that won’t be summarized here. However, their effects will be reflected in the French cinema and the Godard-Truffaut friendship.

For those who are not sure about the nature of this relationship, it would be easier to compare it to the Lennon-McCartney friendship. Once it was broken up, both parties started saying harsh things about the other.

Godard accused Truffaut of not being enough concerned by the revolts and being too close to the power to make sure to have financing. While Truffaut was more concerned about storytelling and technique Godard abandoned both to make documentary films and political contents.

In a way, those events marked the end of the French New Wave. Well, any new wave must have a definite time table, this one even marked a long time and a superb evolution in French cinema. It’s influence will be palpable on many other New Waves but also in the New Hollywood. All in all, the year 1968 in France’s cinema might not be the most interesting in the quality of films released but marked an important shift from an emerging bunch of young and talented storytellers and those who will make a serious career out of it. Those who continued making films after this year have left a permanent mark in films.



2015-06-22

One, Two, Three

Note : this review is my contribution to the Billy Wilder blogathon hosted by Outspoken & Freckled & Once Upon a Screen.

Poster by Saul Bass

One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder, 1961)

C.R. "Mac" MacNamara (James Cagney) is a high-ranking executive in the Coca-Cola Company, assigned to West Berlin after a business fiasco a few years earlier in the Middle East (about which he is still bitter). Nevertheless, Mac is angling to become head of Western European Coca-Cola Operations, based in London. After working on an arrangement to introduce Coke into the Soviet Union, Mac receives a call from his boss, W.P. Hazeltine (Howard St. John) in Atlanta. Scarlett Hazeltine (Pamela Tiffin), the boss's hot-blooded but slightly dim 17-year-old socialite daughter, is coming to Berlin and Mac is assigned the unenviable task of taking care of this young whirlwind.

Producer/director Billy Wilder is mostly remembered for his comedies like Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, and The Seven Year Itch. With One, Two, Three he once again goes into the comedic territory with lots of success. First, with his leading man James Cagney as Mac the ambitious executive of the Coca-Cola Company, by the way one of the most distinctive symbols of Capitalism, in the Berlin of the time they build the Berlin Wall. In fact, they were forced to leave Berlin for Munich to continue the shooting of the film because of the rising of the Wall. With his visions of expansion he has to deal with communists and Russians. With fast paced dialogues, Wilder wanted to make a funny film that would be like a whirlwind of jokes and strong moments. Much like, let’s say, Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday.

One, Two, Three is also the last film of actor James Cagney before his retirement and also one of his great performances. He carries the film on his own. He also represents the classic Hollywood in the early 1960's where the New Hollywood was about to take the silver screen and put aside those dusty stars and directors. 

Almost entirely shot into Mac’s office and some exteriors of Berlin and the airport, One, Two, Three demonstrates how a strong script can set everything for a great comedy. Written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, the plot is intelligent and is like a mix of Ninotchka, that Wilder co-wrote, and an Hungarian one act play by Ferenc Molnar. It is truly a great use of the stereotypes of the time on the battle between the West and the East. Much like the battle between Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola; to use another figure that the film offers. One of the annoying things of this movie is the fact that the dialogues are so fast that they are almost yelled all along the picture. But much like any other screwball comedies it is almost an entire dispute the entire film that characterizes the genre. So yes they yell but every line is a pleasure and the delivery from Cagney, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Lilo Pulver, Horst Buchholz, Hanns Lothar, and Howard St. John is deadpan funny.

 As often, heavy dramas gain respect and recognition and most of the time get the biggest awards. One, Two, Three is no rest with that and Cagney could at least been nominated for his performance at the Oscars. However, this movie isn’t on many lists of great films and not even on AFI’s 100 Comedies. It leaves me wondering who makes those lists and on which standards do they make their picks because this is definitely an omission. One of the greatest lesser known films from Billy Wilder who often gets its impact diminished because he left a bigger mark as a master at comedies than in a more serious genre. A great comedy that I highly recommend.


2015-06-12

Music Review : Akitsa – Grands Tyrans (2015)


Music Review : Akitsa – Grands Tyrans (2015, Hospital Productions)

While opening with Dévoilé like most of the primitive black metal origins of the vein of early Ulver and Darkthrone the Montréal based band led by O.T. pushes its listener into a path that black metal territories have been visited for almost thirty years of lo-fi recordings, distant drumming, scratchy strident guitars, and desperate screams. While Le feu de l’abîme brings us into a Voivoïd dimension of vocals while keeping the musical standard of the recordings in the BM genre while the structure of the song slows down from the first title and visits a more heavy metal sound maybe like contemporary aforementioned DarkThrone.

With its minimalist engraved black and with cover, Grands Tyrans goes one step into black metal and comes back just to dive again into its territory while never afraid to take the conventions of the genre into different angles and beat it with a cudgel just like it deserves to be with Naufrage contemporain.

Even with a true Norwegian black metal sound, Akitsa seems to be able to indulge a Quebecois sound into their French lyrics and music. We feel that they have a progressive taste maybe undertake and it reflects into their crossing of the hermetic guidelines of the purist of the kvlt primitive sound of their contemporaries like Taake. Without surprise, fans of the genre are reluctant to Akitsa and the battle for a wider fanbase may be harder than other bands that stay into the mold but the victory of Akitsa will only be greater. The same can be said for the listener that will persevere and give many listens to this excellent album.


8.4

2015-06-11

A Short Film About Killing

A Short Film About Killing (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1987)

The plot couldn't be simpler or its attack on capital punishment (and the act of killing in general) more direct - a senseless, violent, almost botched murder is followed by a cold, calculated, flawlessly performed execution (both killings shown in the most graphic detail imaginable), while the murderer's idealistic young defence lawyer ends up as an unwilling accessory to the judicial murder of his client.

A grey Poland of the late 1980’s is the setting of this longer part of The Dekalog that Kieslowski based on the Ten Commandments making a one hour film about each of the ten orders of God.

We are following a young man (Miroslav Baka) who plans to murder a man (Jan Tesarz) for no apparent reason. With almost no dialogues, Kieslowski takes us on the journey to a cold blooded murder, the trial of the murderer and his execution. The most attaching character here is the young advocate brilliantly portrayed by Krzysztof Globisz. Humanity is in this sensible man and his compassion and culpability are vectors of our feelings of the whole film.

It is a dark film that observe the worst in men, having to destroy someone’s life. Even if condemned to death penalty, killing a life is killing a life even if a judge gives a judgment.
Kieslowski’s films have their fans and his three Couleurs trilogy has earned lots of praise. I admire his work but I’m not a huge fan of his films. They are very claustrophobic and are not as interesting as let’s say another Polish director named Roman Polanski.
I have not seen The Dekalog yet and I hope it will change my mind on the director, but I’m starting to believe that he is one of the overrated European director of the 1980’s; a decade where American films were categorized as too commercial and not as good as the American films of the 1970’s.


Maybe because I’ve been wanting to catch this film for such a long time or because I evolved as a cinephile and I am not a in such a dark mood anymore, but I think that A Short Film About Killing is interesting in some ways but at 84 minutes a film should not feel that long and extended with filling scenes that might not have helped the story to develop into a strong film.

2015-06-10

Die Hard : With a Vengeance

Note : this review is my contribution to the Beach Party blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings.

Die Hard : With a Vengeance (John McTiernan, 1995)

John McClane and a Harlem store owner are targeted by German terrorist Simon Gruber in New York City, where he plans to rob the Federal Reserve Building.

This is the third instalment in the Die Hard franchise and my favorite one. Based on Hercules’ twelve labors and helped by Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson), John McClane (Bruce Willis) has to stop a terrorist in the biggest city of America; New York City. After the criminal bombs a commerce he plays a game of Simon says asking for McClane who is alcoholic and suspended to achieve every tasks he is asking him.

With director John McTiernan back on board, Die Hard : With a Vengeance is a fun ride of action film sequences and mind games. Set during summer, the opening with The Lovin’ Spoonfull track Summer in the City gets us into the mood. Then Michael Kamen embarks us on a great soundtrack with a use of When Johnny Comes Marching Home that fills some of the best scenes of the film. Some bits of his score from the first two film are reused but they all blend together to get us on the edge of our seats.

I remember going to the theater on May 19 1995 with two of my friends, I was eleven years old at the time and I was only one who haven’t seen the other films from the franchise. However, I was becoming a Die Hard fan. Even if the first film of the now five entries is by far the best and one of the best films of all time, Die Hard : With a Vengeance is my favorite one. The setting, my favorite city and almost my second home; New York City does do something in the whole. The fact that they did not visit tourist locations and included inside local places does it for a lot. It makes us feel as we know the city from the inside. It is a nice rally race that reminds us of the first NYC action films of the 1970’s like The Taking of Pelham 123.


All in all, he third instalment in the Die Hard franchise might not be as well praised as the first one but I wanted to highlight it as a summer blockbuster entertainment. And it is everything I’m looking for when I want to catch this kind of film. It has a dear place into my film lover memory and I tend to revisit it almost every year.
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