Brick (Rian Johnson, 2005)

This indie film about a teenager who lost the girl he loves to her tragic death reminds us of the best film noirs of the 1940's. Everything sounds like the film noir genre: the use of low camera angles, the twisted plot, the stereotyped characters and the broken and beaten down hero "à la" Humphrey Bogart.

But what struck you the most is Joseph-Gordon Levitt's presence as the protagonist: Brendan. His nuanced performance holds the whole movie together. Jo-Go has this weird "nerdy" look of an improvised private receiving multiple beatings and investing on the death of his former lover: Emily or should I say the femme fatale of the film... She is the kind of woman/girl a man can't lost all his marks.

Brendan will try to understand and elucidate what happened to Emily and what led her to death. He'll have to frequent dark characters like Tug and The Pin. Did I mentioned this? All this film noir settings is situated in the lives of High School teens.

It's without a doubt an interesting approach to the High School world and to the film noir genre. But somehow, it lacks of reality in its coherence. It's probably over serious in its use of the noir genre. It makes the references look like if the genre is a farce. However, Rian Johnson the writer/director of Brick wasn't afraid to insert some really funny humoristic moments. His direction is interesting and it keeps the true spirit of the Film Noir codes (see The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep). I don't know exactly why but this treatment reminded me of a David Lynch film of the 1980's and 1990's.

I'd like to see Johnson's other success Brothers Bloom which I heard some praises about lately. But now I'd like to know what you all think of Brick?


Recomended readings - A Cinema of Loneliness

This wonderful book about the most important American filmmakers of the second half of the 20th century is a mandatory reading for every cinephile.

Its author, Robert Kolker, dissects the films of Arthur Penn, Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, and Robert Altman. His knowledge and his comprehension of their films is very inspiring for an aspiring film critic like your host here.

Even if sometimes I don't totally agree with his opinions, I like the way he presents and defend them.
A Cinema of Loneliness is a must read for every film enthusiast out there. It helps the moviegoer of today to understand how the contemporary movies are conceived.

Robert KOLKER, A Cinema of Loneliness, Third Edition, Oxford University Press, 2000, 484 pages.

The Hustler

The Hustler (Robert Rossen, 1961)

This picture is famous mostly for Paul Newman's strong lead as the talented billiard player: Fast Eddie. He'll try to make a fortune by being a real winner with a real life. Piper Laurie as his love interest will play the part of morale that keeps Eddie on the right path. Fast Eddie is one of the first anti-heroes of his generation. Besides his conventional settings he'll forge the path of the new American hero or antihero. Not as interesting or extreme as Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle, we sense that maybe Fast Eddie was one of its precursors.

The clean black and white photography reminds us the beautiful Noirs of the 1940's that probably inspired the many scenes shot in bars and billiard clubs. In comparison with Scorsese's sequel, The Color Of Money, the billiard scenes were shot in a more naturalistic way. Scorsese's film was more of an artistic experiment of moving cameras and angles.

The billiard is the wallpaper of the plot, Fast Eddie's approach to his relationships is the center of the story. His struggle against his weaknesses is his path.

The way the story evolves is very 1960's, because the filmmaker takes all the time to set up his story. In some way, I found some similarities between The Hustler and À bout de souffle. They aren't in the same category but I think that it treats of the same generation that grow in the post-Second World War era of plenty and freedom. Those kids represent the fallen heroes of the pre-1970's pictures. This generation of the Cold War era pre-hippie "fashion or trend" was the pivot between conformism and liberalism.

I don't think that The Hustler is a movie as important and as revolutionary as Godard's. But I think it slowly opened the way to a more progressive point of view in American Cinema.

It is indeed a great piece of film that I really enjoyed in the richness of its plot and the wonderful performances by Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, and Paul Newman. A Classic!


The Naked Jungle

The Naked Jungle (Byron Haskins, 1954)

This wonderful adventure movie starring Charlton Heston as Christopher Leiningen, a wealthy self-made man living on his cocoa plantation in Amazonia, diserves much praise than it actually received. Christopher has built his fortune with his own hands and bought everything he owns himself. He took great care in his choices choosing only new, never touched, furnitures for his immaculate white house. Even his piano is new from the factory, but as you learn studying music and in The Naked Jungle, a piano always sounds better when it's been played before. The story is set in the beginning of the twentieth century.

Leiningen has many Amerindian workers and in all his kindness he doesn't beat them or tie them to keep them working for him. He also understands their culture and laws. Christopher is a good master and a good diplomat. However, there's one thing he can't quite understand and master: women. When Joana (Eleanor Parker) arrives he'll have to handle this strong woman who by the way can play the pianoand confront Christopher with strong arguments. Even after their wedding Leiningen still have problems to understand his wife and her secret.

Meanwhile, a great menace will change their lives. Ants. Leiningen will have to sacrifice everything he'll have to save his workers and his wife from this danger.

The Naked Jungle is a film filled with symbolism on humanity, virtue, and how sacrifice is mandatory in the fight for their lives. The invasion of ants symbolizes how Leiningen has to struggle and forget everything he knows and owns to become a real man and open his heart to his wife. There is also the symbolism of purification with the deliberate fire of the furnitures to protect the villa from the ants. The morning after, we discover Joanna in her white dress in bed with white sheets like if she was born again from this purification. Shortly after, Leiningen will open the dam that was keeping the river's water from flooding the plantation. The water washes the last ants away and finalizes the purification. It also represents how Leiningen must open his mind and his heart to love and recognize his love to his wife.

Byron Haskins mostly made Noirs that I'll try to catch sometime soon because The Naked Jungle is a very interesting film that showed real mastery from its filmmaker. I highly recommend this very enjoyable Adventure film.


The Road

The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)

Based on the powerful book by Cormac McCarthy (his only book I've ever read) the same author who has written No Country For Old Men brilliantly adapted to the screen by the Coen Brothers.

The Road's story works on two levels primarily: the world we know is gone and civilization was completely erased. Even the names of the characters are absent. Every aspect of our common lives doesn't exist anymore. This is an unsettling story because it brings us somewhere we have to forgot everything we give importance to. Our preoccupations about job, money, and consumerism is put away.
On the second level, The Road works as a metaphor on how rightfulness should overcome wrong and that the "fire" must be kept alive by the good ones. It's represented by the father and son who will try pass good values and good will of the ancient world (the father) to the new world (the son).

Portraying the father, Viggo Mortensen continues to bring his A-game like he did in the last Cronenberg films. As for Charlize Theron with her true performance. Kodi Smith-McPhee is touching in his interpretation of the son.

With some exceptions in the story the adaptation of McCarthy's work is true to the original and it still has this philosophical strength that distinguished this post-apocalypse film from all his predecessors. The Road is a unique film that brings you places only McCarthy's universe can recall. A must see.


Dead Man

Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)

The films of Jim Jarmusch have this European contemplative quality. They also can be categorized as pretentious, mob mocking, and condescending. Jarmusch often uses cinephilic references to distance the masses or to "cast them out" and contempt the mainstream Cinema. Anyway, I like his films but I'm far from being his biggest fan.

In the case of Dead Man, his unique Western, shot entirely in a beautiful black and white starring Johnny Depp we understand that he uses two popular elements of mainstream Cinema; the western genre and a popular name: Depp. We are in the presence of a great film, but the distance is taken with the use of the black and white. Jarmusch off beat and black humor gives a light touch to the heaviness of the film. The photography is clear and recalls the beautiful westerns of John Ford (see The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).

The story of the Indian taking care of the reincarnated William Blake (Johnny Depp) is interesting and original. Although once again Jarmusch is working around a central concept and he manages to make an entire movie with it. You get the feeling that he is a true author and he never takes any compromise to attain his goal as a story teller. he builds his atmosphere around his central concept the whole thing is working really well.

Despite being pretentious, his films are really simple to follow and sometimes too simplistic in their content. Their rhythm are slow, if not off beat and they bring us as far as Jarmusch wants them to go.

Dead Man is a very enjoyable little film set in the Western genre but garmented with philosophical amplitudes.


Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights (P.T. Anderson, 1997)

Jean Renoir once said that "everything that is recorded with a microphone and filmed with a camera together is Cinema. There isn't any criteria to dismiss any work of this kind."

When I discovered Anderson's There Will Be Blood in theater back in 2007, I immediately knew that I was in presence of a great filmmaker's work. All of his films reflect the grammar of his masters. When you look at There Will Be Blood you feel like you were watching a modern made version of Erich von Stroheim's Greed and even Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. His Magnolia feels like an interpretation of Robert Altman's particular ensemble narratives. For Punch Drunk Love I have some difficulties to identify to whom he applies the grammar and the narratives but it still a one of a kind picture.


Bright Star

Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)

This costume drama/biopic about the poet Jim Keats is well executed and has great performances from the leads and a great directing. The naturally lit interiors and exteriors give a crude but beautiful images to this somptuous film.

However, I may just get bored by costume dramas because I find them laborious and somewhat "impersonal". They mostly reflect what the paintings of the time looked like. Their execution is wonderful and it takes a lot of mastery to handle them at this level. But, their subject and matters are too classical for my tastes. As in paintings, I prefer contemporary Art and subject. My favorite painters are Dali, de Chirico, Magritte, Munch, the expressionists, Warhol, etc.

My two favorite costume dramas are Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon and Eric Rohmer's Marquise of O. Birght Statr is a good film well made and exquisite to loof at but it won't take the third place of my top costume dramas which is held by Marie-Antoinette.


Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)

Toy Story 3 is the family movie of the year from Pixar studios aka Disney in 3D and believe me it diserves this subtitle. Being old-fashion in my movie tastes it doesn't mean that I can't enjoy a good animation flick. I always liked cartoons and for almost a decade The Simpsons was my favorite TV show. I also love the classic Disney films lake Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, and my all-time favorite: The Jungle Book. In my different quests to see films they often (sadly) are relegated to second class movies...

In 2010, there were so many animation films that I wouldn't list them all here. But of the two major that came out Shrek; The Final Chapter and Toy Story 3. The latter one diserves the gold. And on every level. The story is original, the graphics are amazing and the spirit of the first films in there.The time lapse between the second and the third offering was much profitable for the public and the creators.

The thing I liked the most about this film is that instead of referencing and copying all of its predecessors it's mostly an original picture. Mostly because, yes, it has some elements of the film grammar you'll recognize, but still, it doesn't feel like a total pastiche of popular films.

Toy Story 3 is a great finale to the films that put Pixar on the map of major studios and moreover, it started the revolution of the animated feature film in mainstream Cinema.


The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)

This light comedy about a one of a kind family is just so all right! With Annette Benning, Mark Ruffalo and one of my favorite actress out there Julianne Moore.

The lesbian couple formed by Benning and Moore has had two children from the same sperm donor. The two teenagers attaining adulthood want to meet their biological "donor". As you might bet this encounter will change the dynamics and the life of this entire united family.

This story is never overdramatic nor too light. It's the kind of film you watch with a bottle of wine and let the flow carry you aboard.

I rank this kind of comedy in the same category of indie films I appreciated like Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, & The Squid and the Whale. As you've probably noticed, those are all Oscar nominated pictures. I tend to think that the Academy wants to feel better about itself by nominating those indie inpired films each year just to get them around and notice about them but never giving them the grand prize... Don't get me wrong, I like indie films but sometimes a so-so film like Up in the Air gets nominated for that kind of reason. It's not always good when it's indie!

Happily, The Kids Are All Right is a very clever film with fine acting and a good soul! I hope it will do good on the evening of February 27th.



Greenberg (Noah Baumbach, 2010)

Since The Squid and the Whale I always been an admirator of Baumbach's offbeat comedies. The story of his film of 2005 was so close to what my family was living that I immediately put it in my all-time bests.

Greenberg is an unpretentious little breezy film about a man trying to get out of his depressive antisocial patterns. Once again, a character I easily can get associated with. Sadly, I'm a little antisocial and I have a facility to fell into a depressive state... But in the case of Greenberg, the "propos" doesn't get annoying at all.

The rythm of the story is right and it never gets over dramatic. The plot and the chjaracters evolves in a good way and little redemption is at the end. Meanwhile, it doesn't get over cheezy or too melodramatic.

Ben Stiller as Greenberg gives a fine performance and he lets his character get all the subtilities it needs. The other actors that populate the film are very good in this well constructed play.

Baumbach's film isn't as flamboyant or exhilarating as the next indie comedy but it brings something new to a subject that has recently populated many films.


Waking Life

Waking Life (Richard Linklater, 2001)

Richard Linklater is one of the most versatile directors working out there. He goes from doing a authorist oeuvre like Before Sunrise to a more mainstream film like School of Rock and having success in both cases. This original animated feature made with an uncommon technique of "drawing" over actual shoot footage results in a beautiful, but dreamy, graphical picture.

Apart from being visually stunning this Odyssey of dreams into dreams recalls Luis Bunuel's Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie for its many states of awakening dreams. Waking Life is mostly philosophical and alike Before Sunset/Before Sunrise the story evolves around many conversations. Some of these conversations are set with concrete matters and others just play on the metaphysical level. Waking Life feels like a film essay about life and our perceptions of the present time.

I actually enjoyed most of the film and how the story slowly evolves around the main character. The lower point of the visual effects is that sometimes there are so much movement that it makes you a little dizzy. A must see.


Top films of David Fincher by LMdC

Oscar nominated director David Fincher directed one of his most interesting films to date with The Social Network in 2010. Here's my top films made by this brilliant American filmmaker.

1. Se7en
2. The Social Network
3. Zodiac
4. Gone Girl

5. Panic Room
6. The Game
7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
8. Alien3
9. Fight Club


The American Friend (1977)

The American Friend (Wim Wenders, 1977)

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, The American Friend stars Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz with co-stars directors Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller. Jonathan Zimmerman (Bruno Ganz) has very rare blood disease, he is a frame craftsman with a wife and a son. When the information of his disease came to the ears of a crooked frenchman, Zimmerman is offered a very big amount of money to do a well oiled mob hit.

Like Wenders' other films I had the opportunity to watch (Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire), the images are beautiful and naturalistic. the rythm of the film is perfect and it lets all the time to the story to take its place. The acting of Ganz and Hopper is just right and their relationship based on surprising events is very strong.
Flimmaker Wim Wenders was amongst the three major directors who emerged from the German New Wave, with fellow compatriots Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog. Fasbinder was mostly influenced by Jean-Luc Godard's work of the 1960's while Herzog may be the most German of the three with his intense , if not, extreme filmmaking. Wenders who gave us many road movies is the most Americanized of the three. He had a strong friendship with Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller. Their films of the 1950's was his major influence.

The American Friend works on the hope that Zimmermann will receive the right diagnostic for his diseasse. It also confronts the modern man to the isolation of the disease.At some point the story of the improvised hitman gets us close to Alfred Hitchcock way of involving the viewer in the action of the killer to be in the sequence of the first murder in the subway station.

The photogrphy of The American Friend diserves a special mention with its crude warm colors only attained by films of its time like Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver.

Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz are outstanding as the two friends who'll have to unite their efforts to eliminate the bad guys who wanted to use Zimmermann as their cheap hitman. They bring their characters to a level that only Hopper with his manic persona could have acheived and Ganz with his reclusiveness.

With The American Friend, Wim Wenders attainned one of the most beautiful film of his career and besides copying his mentors he uses their lessons to make a work of his own. A master acheivement.
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