Scarface (1983)

Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983)

This remake of more than fifty years later of the 1932 masterpiece by Howard Hawks, directed by Brian De Palma is probably one of the most overrated pictures in the History of Cinema.

Of the original film, De Palma only kept the names of the characters and the frenzy of Tony Montana (Al Pacino). Many cinephiles consider Pacino’s over the top acting and crazy-incestuous Tony Montana as one of his greatest performances. They should put Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and even The Godfather Part II in their DVD players before considering Scarface. His performance as the Latino mastermind of cocaine in Miami is nothing but annoying. De Palma deliberately asked Pacino to play a despicable character, but the acting got into over acting and in a persona that only inspire contempt and loath.


The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951)

This Science fiction classic by Robert Wise the man who directed masterpiece noir films like The Set-Up, musicals like West Side Story (co-directed with Jerome Robbins) and The Sound of Music, horror films like The Haunting and who edited Citizen Kane, did a strong impressive film with The Day the Earth Stood Still. Shot in 1951, during the McCarthyist era, this film tells the coming of a stranger from outer space in a little town of America. The actual alien, in the form of a man is helped by a little boy to hide.

The alien has a message to deliver to planet Earth, stop the wars and unite all nations together to save planet Earth from its own annihilation. It may be bold that the film wants to tell the world to stop the Cold War and make peace. The visitor from outer space represents the terror of the communism. It recalls in Steven Spielberg’s War of the World the kid yelling are they terrorists? Both the rogue menace of their times: in the 1950’s the menace was coming from the communism inside America and in the 2000’s it was(is) terrorism, sometimes from inside the country. The Day the Earth Stood Still is a critic of the current witch hunt of the time. Robert Wise an inside filmmaker of Hollywood surely knew some of the show business people targeted and blacklisted in Hollywood. His film might have been some kind of gesture towards his contemporaries in support to them. Set in the Sci-fi genre, a film had a easier ground to tell a virulent message.

In the form, The Day the Earth Stood Still has a beautiful black and white picture as every other Robert Wise picture. However, the frames are classic but well shot and the subtle but strong “mise en scène” by Wise places this film amongst the greatest films of its time. The directing of a film doesn’t needs to be off the wall, a strong film like Lumet’s style or Polanski’s are almost absent like the best example: a Fordian picture. When you don’t think about where the filmmaker put his camera during the film it means that you are in the presence of a mastered subtle “mise en scène”. Unlike Hitchcock or Scorsese, a subtle directing gives a more realistic approach to a story and we don’t feel like we are at the movies. The Day the Earth Stood Still, is a Sci-fi film and the realistic approach could be absent but instead the way it was filmed makes it even more believable, it is also more efficient that way to believe that an alien actually landed on Earth. The same strategy as M. Night Shyamalan used in his slightly above average Signs.
The Day the Earth Stood Still influenced many Science fictions films to come and still stands as one of the best films in the genre. Even if it’s “propos” isn’t as actual as it was in 1951 it still deserves it’s recognition.


Kwaidan (1965)

Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1965)

This exquisite Japanese masterpiece of traditionnal ghost stories reveals the many aspects of Masaki Kobayashi's great talent as a filmmaker and also as a painter and a set dresser. Almost entirely shot inside a huge airport hangar and completly painted by Kobayashi himself, Kwaidan tells three medival ghost stories.

Appart from being visually stunning it's obvious that the shooting was set inside, Its visual aspects add something unusual almost eerie to the story. It fits very well with the unsettling tales of the different ghosts. The bright colours of the Criterion transfert gives a undated perspective of this little gem.

Kobayashi is a very lesser known director, maybe in the shadow of his fellow compatriots like Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Immamure, etc. But his films are as important as those other Japanese directors. His other films include: The Human Condition and Samurai Rebellion.

But, to many cinephiles, including your host, Kwaidan is his masterpiece!

The LAMMYS are coming!


Crash (1996)

Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996)

Based on J.G. Ballard's novel, which I haven't read, David Cronenberg's Crash depicts the changes in  the lives of cinematographer James Ballard (James Spader) and his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), an open minded couple with no boundaries on fidelity. The film opens with each having sex with another partner and shortly after telling each other their experience. If this seems twisted you haven't seen the rest of the film yet.


Top Secret!

Top Secret! (Jim Abraham, David & Jerry Zucker, 1984)

From the creators of Airplane! comes this new comedy mixing Elvis’ movies, spy flicks, and comedy. Set in East Germany during the Cold War, Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) the American star of Rock n’Roll is invited to play at a concert to show how the East is opened to international music. The whole story evolves around this stereotyped character using all his charms and songs to save his ass and the lady.

The Abraham/Zuckers team presents a funny but lower than Airplane! quality amusement with Top Secret!. The whole thing gets old and gets on the nerves after the second or third song. We kind of understand the point that they are mocking Elvis’s movies for their lack of quality and the below average songs wagon they were.

On the side of the comedy, some gags are better than others but they were so imitated and stolen from this film that today a fresh viewer could predict a good 75% of them. Some are very efficient and the contextualization of them is well done. It’s just that the formula is now textbook for comedies and that the jokes influenced shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy and many movies to follow. It made me realize how humour doesn’t need to be about penises and vulgarities to be funny and/or efficient. Sure, there are some jokes falling in that category but compared to the Judd Apatow pedestrian comedies, we are in more decent terms here.

Anyhow, I felt like if the movie wasn’t as inspired as Airplane! was. Moreover, it was duller and despite some excellent moments I’d wished for a better story to hold the jokes together and I just wish I’d seen this when it came out to compare it to the comedies of its time and how it was original.



eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)

Have I already said how original and unique I find David Cronenberg’s films? Well, let’s just say that as of today I consider him as one of the most important Canadian director. Forget James Cameron or Paul Haggis, have you seen his A History of Violence and his Eastern Promises? If not, I recommend them it’s not mandatory but almost. I really like how he dismantle the human body and the sexual desires of modern day men and women. His special effects are unique and their touch is immediately recognizable.


Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)

From the same team who did the refreshing Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost comes this policeman - police officer comedy. It has been a while since a duet of comedians (Pegg/Frost) has seem this united and confortable in subsequent comedies. The two looklike two friends who always played together. No surprise they were chosen to impersonate Dupond-Dupont in the Tintin picture Spielberg is currently working on. They look like two brothers from a different mother and a different father. In other words they physically don't look like each other but here stops the divergences.

This is the story of Nick Angel, the perfect police officer working in London obliged to work in the quiet small town of Stanford. Angel is too stiff for this mellow smooth office of cake eaters policemans. Until one day a series of unexplained deaths leads Angel to rethink about the little town and its loose behaviors and laws.

Well, even if Hot Fuzz isn't as hilarious as Shaun of the Dead was it still has its moments of pure comedy.

The script has some flaws and characters tend to be over stereotyped. In this case I tend to think that the stereotype just helps the comedy.

The direction is inventive and tight editing gives a refreshing movie for the genre. The genre was mixed like what they did with the mix of Rom-com and Zombie movie in Shaun of the Dead. The cuts between the genres is better handled in Hot Fuzz and it doesn't a break as much as in the previous film.

In the whole, Hot Fuzz is a good comedy with very hype actors and efficient gags. It just needed a stronger script to hit the next level of excellence.


Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (Terry Jones, 1983)
What is the meaning of life? This theorical question stands as the unifying concept around the many scenes or scenettes of this feature film from the hilarious gang of Monty Python.

Like many multi stories films the biggest challenge for the filmmaker is to have in every scene some kind of unity in their quality. In the case of The Meaning of Life, or in comedy, this is a huge challenge. Because you want laughs, you want them good, real and most times you want it early in the scenette to get a hold on the audience. Monty Python's feature takes its time to situate and warm the crowd. With this film you're nowhere near a sitcom where the public can change the channel at all time and where you need a joke a minute. It's a good luck that the Python gang knows how to set-up and tell a story. They bring the viewer where they want.
For those who are not acquainted to them, their humor is sometimes satirical, sometimes black, other times vulgar and always British with their tongue in cheek/dry sense.

The sketchs evolve around the cycle of the human life from birth to death. It's a little annoying that they needed to actually answer the theorical question at the end of the picture while the answer lies within the so-call cycle of life. Wider audiences would have probably been chocked to exit the theaters without a simulacre of something like an answer to this philosophical question that stands as a context and a link between the hilarious situations.

The actual weaker aspect of The Meaning of Life is the uneven sketchs that populate the film. As funny as some are, others just feel flat and link to the next one. Well, the comedy genre is hard to get through the ages and sometimes something that was efficient in 1983 could have lost its charm in 2011. However, the funny moments are really great and many jokes still work and create good laughs. It's Monty Python after all, those guys can do anything! This classic comedy stands strong in the pantheon of its genre.

On another subject I'm interested to know what's your favorite classic comedy? And why?


Me and Orson Welles

Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater, 2009)

Only the evocation of this title leaded me to great expectations for this film. Its director, Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Waking Life, School of Rock) is capable of bliss but also of so-so films.

The idea of a film about one of the most mythical persona in film history is very interesting. Although, I think the man himself would have hate to see a film about him. But, the cinephile I am the subject captivated me. In 1937, Welles directed Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar setting it in the fascist Italia of Mussolini. It was a terrible success and it helped the ever growing fame of Orson Welles.

However, this story is only a real event set-up for a fictional rom-com starring teen sensation Zac Efron. Well, this part of the plot feels like "déjà vu" and really tired. The better scenes of the movie are the ones with Christian McKay impersonating Orson Welles with an outstanding capacity. Many anecdotes of Welles' life are put here and there among the film and they are interesting blinks to the cinephile who can recognize them.

Overall, Linklater offers an above average film from with a mouth watering prime idea. The whole problem here is that the entire film lacks of consistency and some scenes are excellent while others just turn flat... I must admit that the film let me hungry and thirsty. I should probably rewatch something like Touch of Evil or the Criterion edition of Mr.Arkadin to fill the void Me and Orson Welles let in my montruous cinephile appetite.


L'ami de mon amie

L'ami de mon amie (Eric Rohmer, 1987)

Rohmer's films have been discussed a lot in the last year on this blog. Well, except the fact that he died earlier in 2010, I have been digging into this master's filmography.

L'ami de mon amie, is a part of Rohmer's 1980's films. It's interesting as a whole but at some points it gets in its conventionnalism. Also a little too much on the melodramtic and on the romantically side of things. This little film evolves around the availability and the disponibility of lovers and their match. Two friends date men they are not so muchy interested in but they need their company. When things get mixed up they discover that the we're mismatched and that the right couple can hurt their friendship but also help them gain a passionnate love story.

The "mise en scène" of L'ami de mon amie is very simple and this is a trend that Rohmer tended to go to with his films of the 1980's. Like if with his aging he took the same approach as Yasujiro Ozu took with his latter films of subtle beauty and simple narratives. Well, it helps the feature to gain authenticity by almost hidding the fact that the viewer sits as the same as the camera. Without much of camera movement and absent multi angles editing. A one shot deal when possible.

Despite, its interesting facets, L'ami de mon amie, isn't as original and well spirited as Le rayon vert or many other of Rohmer's films.



Michaël PARENT

 Please go read my interview with Squish from Filmquish for the 1001 Movie Club!

You'll learn insides and scoops about this self-proclaimed film critic, myself!

Plus feel free to join the club of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die!



Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, 1980)

I already admitted on this blog that I am a sucker for a good comedy and that it is probably my favorite of all movie genres. It was the more popular genre at the first moments of the birth of Cinema, look at the success guys like Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and many more had. People are always opened to laugh and disconnect with the diffculties of their lives in a Theater and this is maybe one of the reasons it is still one of the money makers at the Box-office. Just look how every comedy gets to the top of the most grossing films. They are often considered as family films that everyone can enjoy and understand. Pardon the introduction but I though it was interesting to get some ideas out of my head because I don't review lots of comedies here and that's one thing I'll try to correct in 2011.

Airplane! is a success, well in its conception it's cheap and sometimes it looks cheap but the comedy and the gags don't get old. And just the presence of Leslie Nielsen on the screen makes me laugh, so he doesn't have to do much to make me laugh even more. The big story, if there is one, is about a couple that has had some issues and that should work over the fear of flying of the man (an ancient War pilot) and the shame of the woman (a stewardess). The whoel thing is a pretext for crazy jokes in an airplane. Well, except for the rules of in flight behavior that changed drastically since the sad event of September 11 and that make us think that cannot happen as bad as it is, the situations and the gags are extremely hilarious. Maybe it gives to the film a gloss of good old time...

One of the most important things to check when you are watching Airplane! is how in almost every frame there is always something stupid/unexpected happening in the deep focus.

Believe it or not I just discovered Airplane! and it made me think that I should revisit The Naked Gun series and the other films the Zuckers made because they are filled with creative gags and ironic dialogues. Anyone has a comedy I must discover or rediscover?


The Man Who Would Be King

The Man Who Would Be King (John Huston, 1975)

Entering in a John Huston film is always a challenge for because I tend to not like his films very much: The Maltese Falcon was ok but take Bogart apart and it's never the same movie. The Asphalt Jungle is in my opinion a better Noir than Maltese... As for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen, they are adventure movies that tend too much of crowd pleasers to my tastes. Moby Dick is probably my favorite of his films I've seen so far! Well, you would say I need to see The Misfits, Beat the Devil, The Dead, Wise Blood, Key Largo, Under the Volcano, etc. Probably, but for now I catched The Man Who Would Be King on a specialised movie channel and I surprisingly liked it.

India and those Arabian countries were gold mines to directors of the old generation(s), Fritz Lang, Jean Renoir, Louis Malle, Roberto Rossellini, and others I surely forgot. The Man Who... is the story of two adventurers British soldiers (Sean Connery and Michael Caine) who would be (Kings) rich, free, and on their own. They decide to travel to an almost inhospitable country to fight for a land and become kings. They learn that no white men have returned alive from that land. We they arrive there they form an army and decide to conquer to learn that they are on the path of the Greek almost god Alexander The Great. One of them is then considered as his son.

This epic story about the will to become great men, kings shows how the power can lead to greatness but also to excesses in every aspect. The presence of Connery is extraordinary and his character's evolution is well mastered with his ever growing taste for power.

The cinematography is interesting and the vast landscapes are filming really well as the close-ups of the stars and the natives actors. Without knowing the year the movie was made, 1975, I couldn't have guessed if it was in the 1960's 1970's or in the 1980's. It has an unperishable glow on it and some interiors reminded me of the firsts Indiana Jones in their lighting and presentation.

The two leads, Sean Connery and Michael Caine did an excellent job. Their pairing is interesting and also really British comedic. This is maybe one of the aspects I was the more surprised about, how the dialogues included lots of jokes between the two main characters and how it felt right in this genre that is wildly and boldly over serious.

With The Man Who Would Be King John Huston gain some points in my personnal Director rating. I probably have this negative approach to his films mainly because of François Truffaut who used to constantly bash Huston's films... After all, we all have our opinions on films and whether they are great or dull.


Recommended readings - My Life and My Films

Son of the painter Auguste, Jean Renoir has brought to Cinema a unique realist touch with his many remarquable feature films. My Life and My Films is an unpretentious autobiography that Renoir dedicated to the French New Wave directors. His passion of his Art is palpable and he recalls his past with interesting details and retelling every important detail in his own particular storytelling manner.

With only 250 pages we have the "cream" of his career instead of having a pompous autobiography where the author caresses his own ego for almost a thousand pages...

For every Jean Renoir enthousiast and any Film Historian amongst us!
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