Friday, July 31, 2009

Aliens (1986)

By Eric Jessen 7/30/09

James Cameron's Aliens is a tasty regurgitation of Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) retaining all of our favorite ingredients from the original but lacking the fresh, smooth, rich purely sensational aura of new. Watching Aliens is like riding a roller-coaster a second time with the ups and downs, twists and turns: a raucous, impossible to catch your breath thriller. It's an extraordinarily faithful sequel with a more vivid, ghastly close-up of the alien, a lot more Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, even expanding on the first films fascinating underbelly.
The methods are cliché and the journey is predictable and yet Aliens is an undeniable experience. Ripley joins a crew ship of soldiers heading to the dreaded alien filled KV-426 rock (the set of the first movie) as a “consultant.” The cocky, self-declared “ultimate bad ass” troop venture into the alien haven talking a big game, confident, ignoring Ripley's warning, packed with big, bulky guns. Of course, they are no match for movies most evil, destructive creepy crawly bug. Ripley and the few remaining soldiers resolve to cut bait and “nuke the site for morbid” (only 45 minutes in, with still half a dozen people other then Ripley alive, obviously that plan was laughable). Just as they're leaving, their ship is attacked by aliens leaving them stranded.
I know which characters are going to die and when (everyone by the end, or when they wander off alone, except Weaver and children or pets). I know what the aliens look like having seen the first movie, and how they kill; they lunge, flipping and flopping, popping up from the ground, slithering around vents and ducts: acid blood, yucky, slimy, with a tongue that bites. I know from the first film that there will be at least one human to fear - the backstabber – although I also know he'll eventually get his comeuppance. Aliens mimics the original movie's story in almost every way, even the ending: the countdown, she barely escapes the exploding rock, exhale.....but oh wait, there's an alien on board the ship! I saw everything coming. And yet...... It scared the daylights out of me. My stomach was tumbling, rumbling, I could hear the swishing and swashing of fluids, my ear-drums were ringing, goosebumps, everything tingling: awesome. I love the movies.
But I sat back and thought.......Those weapons looked so stupid and ugly. Much of the movie looked like a cheap knock-off of Halo. Some of the acting and the dialogue were awful. One of the characters was so dumb and annoying, whining and whining, begging to die and yet I waited and waited. He threatened to halt the movie in its tracks. Finally he got eaten and I was relieved. The 154 minutes flew by but it dragged to the limits explosions, guns and sticky aliens, and banged through the characters. The first movie gave me sufficient inklings of the nature of the supporting cast which made me care more when they died. This movie brushes over the supporting players, leaving me with stereotype, cliché, throw-away inevitable corpses.
I thought more.... Aliens focuses on Ripley and that's what counts. The more screen time for Weaver the better. She's spectacular, the ideal female fire-wielding hero. In Aliens the depth of her character is enriched. She's the queen bee of the strength, the leader, the mother, the captain, doing battle with an unstoppable villain, meeting a perfect match. From the first film Ripley begins a love affair with the alien. In the final scenes of the first movie she faced the alien in close quarters: Weaver stripped down to her underwear with the alien lathered in goop lurking in the dark background. They have a strange intimate relationship, a mutual respect and hatred. When Ripley descends via elevator into the flickering depths among the aliens at the end of the sequel (claiming, she only wants to save the child), she licks her lips and smirks, salivating a last chance to stare eye to eye with the alien.
Aliens plays like a video game. It's a rowdy, rambunctious, slam bang roller-coaster regurgitation and it's undeniably fun.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Election (1999)

By Eric Jessen 7/29/09

One dreary morning at the beginning of my junior year, I reluctantly packed into a crowded auditorium to hear the obligatory speeches of the student body president candidates. I was forced to listen to microphone cracklings, “Is it on? It's on, okay.” and the incoherent ramblings of the “padding their resume, over achiever of the year” hopefuls. I sat, swarmed by blackberries and iphones, unable to breathe in the Axe Body Spray filled air, slumped over resting my head on my fist trying to catch a few extra z's. I looked up and noticed out of the corner of my eye a kid step to the podium who didn't fit my stereotype of candidates. Apparently he had previously been appointed to the student council and was running unopposed. He was little known but quick-witted with pent-up bitterness. Grabbing the microphone with confidence and an “I don't care” attitude, the kid described in detail how meaningless it is to be a student president, vice-president, counsel member and how my vote was pointless and that I “might as well not vote”. Of course the crowd of cynics, mad at their mommies and daddies (or something), hormones pumping through their blood stream, applauded, laughed and gave their hero a standing ovation. Then it was the presidential candidates' turn: the hyper workaholic, talkative, know-it-all girl, the football player who gets cheerleader cheers at the beginning of his speech and sympathy cheers after he mumbles, shivers and holds the microphone too close to his mouth at the end, and then finally a speech by a smoker kid, running after what started as a joke amongst friends, seeming a redundant copy-cat in his rebellious tone.
I don't remember who I voted for, or if I voted, and I don't remember who won. But oh, how I love to reminisce. Election includes all my favorite cast of characters (the over achiever, the rebel, the jock) and understands how they act, rarely relying on teen-movie conventions (only one too many bj's). We are spared from the silly relationships, drunken parties, and stupid parents.
Election paints a cynical, glossy portrait of real schools. The teachers, including everyone's buddy, Jim McAllister (Mathew Broderick), come to school wearing their personal lives, crumbling marriages, and affairs on their sleeves. When the overly perky, c. b. (fans of House know what I mean) Tracy Flick (Reece Witherspoon, fantastic and delectably snotty) gets in an argument with a teacher, she threatens to call her lawyer mother. If the ambitious Flick loses the election, you can expect a flood of tears. The dim witted, former football player candidate, Paul (Chris Klein), who thanks god for his truck “and what I've been told is a big penis” will undoubtedly, out of the good of his heart, vote for Flick. An angry sophomore girl who we first meet in her room as she's kissing another girl will run for president for revenge, after her girlfriend dumped her in favor of her brother, the football player. When she gives her speech, she panders to the rebellious teen audience saying, “I'll destroy student government,” and voting is “stupid.” As a result, she gets suspended for three days, and although she says, “It's not like I'm a lesbian or anything. I'm attracted to the person. But it's just that all the people that I've ever been attracted to have been girls,” she will spend all of what she calls “paid vacation” watching the girls soccer team.
Though I'm not far removed from my junior year, Election is still spiffy, well groomed cliché, Hollywood laminated nostalgia: high school consisting only of attractive, 25 year old actors but with sharp satire and non-stop laughs.

Deliverance (1972)

By Eric Jessen 7/28/09

Deliverance is a masochist's dream: painful to watch and intentionally brutal from start to finish. When three yuppie amateurs from Atlanta, Ed (John Voight), Drew (Ronny Cox), and Bobby (Ned Beatty) join their friend, self-affirmed outdoors-man and adventurer, Lewis (Burt Reynolds) on a trip to the depths of rural uncivilized Georgia to surmount the whitewater rapids of the Chattanooga River, they encounter unspeakable terror. Crazy toothless hillbillies lurk around every corner. By the end of their horrible journey two men have killed local red-necks, one has drowned, and the other has been sexually assaulted.
Director John Boorman and James Dickey (who wrote the original novel and the screenplay) are in a desperate search for the significance of this horror story, bluntly exploring the suppressed sadism and homophobia of the macho man and the unpleasant, barbarism of nature but in the end lacking clarity. Boorman shows admirable courage and boldness in making Deliverance but unfortunately has made a movie without an audience, a movie that has little in redeeming value and at times is unwatchable. In his determination to show the fierce and the vulgar, Boorman lost sight of his message. What's left is incoherent brooding, Freudian sexual ambiguity, and platitude filled monologues about “the game of life” and being “one with nature.” Deliverance is a remarkably terrible journey for four men and incidentally, anyone watching. I sat stunned, wondering how this movie ever got made. Any potential male fans of conventional movie violence will hate the man on man, squealing like a pig, strapped against a tree at crotch level, sodomy scene. It's excessively revolting, disgusting, turning the masculine “no woman allowed” camping trip on its head.
Deliverance is if anything very memorable. It's often effectively thrilling watching our four men tumble down the river in their canoe. The photography is beautifully haunting with a chilling twangy bluegrass music atmosphere. The acting by the four stars is magnificent. Voight plays Ed as weary, vulnerable, and weirdly drooling over Lewis. Burt Reynolds is perfect as the wannabe hero. Ned Beatty is great as well as Ronny Cox as the voice of reason. And not to mention the awesome transcendent dueling banjos theme song. It's amazing to me, that in the muck of anti-rural southern sentiment and fear mongering, a simple banjo duet survives and becomes a big hit.
Deliverance is all in all a disastrous experience. The overly exploitive cruelty of the violence especially in the infamous rape scene left me gagging on my popcorn rather then pondering the savage nature of man.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

By Eric Jessen 7/27/09

Driving Miss Daisy is a pleasant surprise: a little cheesy, a little cliché but never descending into cheap melodrama and having the patience to share the quiet company of two wonderful people. Morgan Freeman as Hoke and Jessica Tandy as Miss Daisy are an absolute treat: aging but still ticking, enjoying simple pleasures and living simple lives, forced to accept each other, eventually building a special relationship. They move, as does the movie, at a slow pace with a calm demeanor and showing only small bursts of emotion: Hoke's high pitched laughter and Daisy's stubborn snickering. We watch the monotonous moments of their day – gardening, driving to the store, having dinner – but adore their lovely chemistry. She's a wealthy, Jewish widower going on 90 years old, living alone with her long time housekeeper Idella (Esther Rolle). After she crashes her car one morning, her concerned son, Boolie, played fantastically by Dan Ackroyd, hires Hoke to be her chauffeur. Daisy hates the idea, so Boolie warns but assures Hoke, “My mother's a little high strung. Now the fact is you'd be working for me. She can say anything she likes but she can't fire you.” At first Daisy yips and yaps at Hoke, criticizing him then ignoring him and refusing to let him drive her around town. Then slowly she warms up to Hoke. And after the death of Idella, Daisy admits to Hoke, “you're my only friend.” Daisy and Hoke are dependent on each other. As their bond gradually forms they subtly change as people. Daisy is forced to accept Hoke's help, relying on him as a companion, giving Hoke the respect he deserves, and also relinquishing her stubborn independence.
We watch Driving Miss Daisy observing Hoke and Daisy's small but lovable gestures to each other. We see them smile and laugh, or sneer and roll their eyes (Morgan Freeman also does this weird mouth thing like he's constantly chewing food). The story progresses naturally, showing their lives decaying with age, occasionally dangling cliché and manipulative narrative elements but then ignoring them gently and resisting the urge to become overly melodramatic, focusing instead on the characters. One night, Hoke and Daisy drive to Alabama, stop aside the road, when two stereotypical red-neck, intolerant police officers question Hoke about his license. I was expecting Hoke to get beaten, or end up in jail, but instead the police let Hoke and Daisy drive away. Later that evening Hoke pulled over and walked off in the dark to go to the bathroom. Daisy, worried and alone, cried for Hoke, then he appeared asking “yes miss Daisy.” Another day at the cemetery, Hoke reveals he can't read. Daisy stared at him perplexed, rather than giving him a hug, she bluntly tries to teach him.
Driving Miss Daisy is a great novelty, a true work of courage in Hollywood. It is slow, methodical, and patient. Don't expect big laughs or tears, or explosions or drama, expect a simple pleasure.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Risky Business (1983)

By Eric Jessen 7/26/09

Risky Business: an unbelievable accomplishment, I didn't know it was possible. Paul Brickmen, wacky tacky Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay and company, have made a wholesome, bland, flat, lifeless movie about a 17 year old gyrating in his skivvies, flying around in a Porsche, becoming a whorehouse pimp, and having sex with a prostitute on a dirty subway. The script is smart and funny, the direction is stylish and efficient, the acting is relatively strong, and yet the movie is still so dull, trapped in a shell, unwilling to toy, jab, or titillate the audience. The movie moves quickly but lacks a joyous ride. In fact it sits still because it's predictable. We know it's too cute and clean to take chances. Each element, the actors, the style......lack a key trait that strips them of any possible edginess and strips the audience of uncertainty.
Joel (Tom Cruise) is our 17 year old boy wonder: Crew cut and colored shirt while around his parents - black shades, T-shirt and black blazer while around his call girls. At first he's just a timid, shy loser. He seems completely unwilling to risk his sterile life. But when his parents leave for a vacation and his friends suggest he say, “what the fu—” and have some fun, in a flash he's in a heap of trouble: a six foot tall manly looking prostitute named Vicki is knocking on the door (she's disgusting and exactly right), pimps and prostitutes are crowding his bedroom and stealing furniture. Risky Business has a classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off, teen movie construction - have as much fun, or get in as much trouble as possible, then have the house ready, spic and span, before your parents get home - except with more interesting elements: prostitutes, pimps and unprotected sex, oh my! And still, it's humdrum, commercial film making. It could have been a great, exploitive, trashy, but fun movie. Why wasn't it? Let's play the blame game.
Let's first consider the actors. Tom Cruise is our star. He smiles and winks, worries, mopes and whines, all at the right time, but never embarrassing himself, never looking stupid, desperate. His lust is a tease, his angry is a tizzy, his passion is semi-serious, mostly passionless. Although, for playing a teenager, he's not far off (they don't yet know how to show intensity, they haven't had enough experiences to be bitter and ornery). It's his supporting cast that deserves the bulk of my derision. Our co-star, Rebecca De Mornay, is Lana, the call girl who uses/falls in love with Joel. She's the most pristine looking, well mannered, innocent prostitute I've ever seen in a movie. She lacks an appearance or air of anguish and sleazy wisdom. The other bad performance (or bad casting) was Curtis Armstrong as the pimp. He just looks stupid and not at all threatening.
Next up, the direction. Brickmen made many decisions that left no room for ambiguity or suspense in the story, and he never forced his actors to get down and dirty, even in the superficial sex scenes. For example, we never see Lana scrape, claw, or look disheveled. She never fights with her pimp who she called “crazy.” After Joel is thrown into a river, we don't see him wet, and when he's angry we don't see him smash things, or act out. After a night of torture, Joel storms into Lana's apartment and gives her a hug, weeping. I threw my arms in the air, shook my head, saying to myself “that was SO lame.”
Finally I'll place some blame on the producers and distributors. Apparently they removed a melancholy ending in favor of a happy, all is well, one. No wonder I was left feeling cheated. The ending made me think there was no point to the entire movie because his “risky business” had no consequences.
Risky Business is so glossy and mainstream that it's easy to watch. It presents nothing that digs deep, taking no chances even with seemingly provocative material, that it's a template for future box-office hits and a warning for what's wrong with many movies.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wag the Dog (1997)

By Eric Jessen 7/25/09

Wag the Dog is at its finest rousing, hilarious satire. I laughed and laughed: smart, funny, and SO true (only a little exaggerated). But after the first few reels the story stalled, the arc became clear and predictable, and the gag became redundant. The laughs faded, turned to chuckles and then only to a half smile. In its waning moments it descended into anarchist farce, mimicking Network (1976) in sardonic lawlessness and an untimely final death but lacking its poetic qualities. Instead forcing the ending arbitrarily - a rotten cherry on top - showing only desperation to seem provocative.
The premise is spectacular. This is the “you had me at hello” of set ups. Our story begins in a war-room for white house PR gurus. The President is in the midst of a sex scandal only a week before election day. His poll numbers are plummeting, so his PR spin-master, Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) is forced to take drastic measures and stage a fake, unnecessary war to distract and manipulate the naive voters. Conrad employs friend and Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to organize the show. The rest of the movie consists mainly of a series of funny, sometimes even plausible, obstacles for Brean and Motss to subvert. To them Politics is only a game. They snicker at voting and make a mockery of the Democratic process. That's their job. But settle down, it's all in good fun.
The script is in many ways tight, packed with punchy jokes, smart situational humor, satire that walks a fine line of whimsical but not stupid, biting but not angry, and best of all has funny acting: De Niro looks intelligent enough to be the spin master (especially with his beard); Anne Heche does her best to be a strong, level headed and not wimpy assistant; Dennis Leary works as a pitch man, though I wish he would have let out more of his fire; and Dustin Hoffman is fantastic as the producer. He's shrewd but with a cockeyed optimism that, no matter what happens, he can make bologna into filet.
Hoffman is filet but why is Wag the Dog bologna? This movie has so much quality and yet fails. I think it's because it attempts to perform an impossible balancing act. It has a dominant, convincing unrelenting “cynical side”. The ultimate recipients of this movie's jest are common people, the masses, the voters. Brean and Motss create a fake war on the assumption that people are stupid, gullible, blindly sentimental, overly patriotic, and most important incredibly easily distracted. But Wag the Dog falls apart, loses its laughs, becomes even somewhat tiring because it doesn't have an equal or even existent “human side.” The ordinary people, dumb enough to believe in a war or a hero, never get a say. None of our funny characters like Brean or Motss transcend their comedy. They only exist for our amusement and to act out their cynicism. They are indifferent to other people. The ending only reinforces this point: Brean with a stone face and cold blood orders his friend's death. This movie, though with wit and intelligence, only scratches the surface of its topic. It doesn't venture into the cause and effect. It shies from real people, non-caricatures, because then things are less complicated.
Wag the Dog is in the end a missed opportunity. But let's not dwell on what could have been. I'll remember that at least for the first hour, I laughed and laughed.

Friday, July 24, 2009

New York, New York (1977)

By Eric Jessen 7/24/09

I popped in the DVD for New York, New York and up came the option, “Yes” or “No”, to first watch an introduction by Martin Scorsese. Of course I selected “Yes,” interested in what the great director had to say. In the introduction Scorsese mapped out his thoughtful and interesting plan in making New York, New York. The premise: to mesh the old style musical from the 1950's - glorious, lavish but obviously fake sets, big colorful hats, and hundreds of extras – with modern conversational, often improvised dialogue between the stars Robert De Niro as Jimmy Doyle and Liza Minnelli as Francine Evans. Scorsese used similar style dialogue brilliantly in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver (“Are you talkin' to me?), and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Unfortunately, that meant I wasn't to expect any classic 50's musical one liners. But instead, as a consolation, the new style dialogue lends itself to more edgy scenes. When Jimmy and Francine are off stage, in the car or their bedroom, their back and forth has a chance to be more melodramatic but heartfelt, or in Robert De Niro's case, whiny, embarrassing but funny. With the modern colloquial Scorsese can more easily stick to a story in his wheel house: two odd ball lovers, talented, charming, hooligans scrounging on the streets of New York. It's a strange, somewhat counterintuitive but intriguing juxtaposition: the realism of vernacular improvisation with the pastel colored, candy-land, Stanley Donen-and-Gene Kelly-style fantasy world.
From Scorsese's description, I was very excited to watch New York, New York, curious to see if everything would fit. But after watching, I was disappointed.
My intended first sentence and initial reaction to the movie was.... “New York, New York is a glossy, perky, well funded bad idea. Pretty, snazzy but uncomfortable to watch from start to finish. The fundamental problem is in pairing Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli as the star couple.”
It's hard to tell if Scorsese's idea would have worked with different actors or with less “old style musical” or less improvisation. Scorsese showed the ability, particularly in the last 30 minutes featuring Liza on Broadway, to make a fun lively musical. We also know he can make fantastic poetic realistic movies starring De Niro. But the pieces never came together. The story is jerky, and Liza and De Niro in more ways than one don't work together.
In the first 15 minutes I was distracted by the burning question, why would he be with her? The movie-star good looks courting the ugly duckling? Then I started to think, why would she be with him? She's talented, well mannered, while he's an obnoxious bullying pest. But then my father, who was watching with me and hearing me scoff frequently said, “just get past it.” He's was right, so I did. I accepted the seemingly ludicrous terms of the movie.
De Niro and Liza, Okay. So I decided to immerse myself in their story. They meet, fall in love and get married so fast I hardly see how they got from point A to point B. I saw them together, bickering, then all of a sudden hugging, holding hands and wrestling in bed. I don't think that's how love progresses. Where are the ups and downs, the hot and heavy? They yell and scream at each other and yet they're in love.
So, the story is lax, but I was hoping Liza and De Niro would have good chemistry. Maybe they're a sweet combination like Astaire and Rogers (even though she was a little out of his league). But to my further dismay, Liza and De Niro are horrible together. The scenes when they're alone with each other are almost painful to watch. De Niro clearly overwhelms Liza in improvisation. She is put back, eh, eh, eh, about to talk, but silent. (In her defense, she actually sings and he fakes playing the saxophone.) He is overacting for the role. Someone needed to pull the reins back on his enthusiasm for being annoying. De Niro is out of place in front of the painted backgrounds of 50's style musicals.
In the end Scorsese makes his intention to go against the grain too obvious. He commits musical heresy. De Niro and Liza DON'T end up together. Their work keeps them apart, they're too afraid to talk, and that's it. The movie fades without romanticism into oblivion. Their separation is a strange unexpected twist but oddly anti-climatic. Maybe because I've been sensing the miss-match from the start.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Poltergeist (1982)

By Eric Jessen 7/22/09

Poltergeist: an epic battle between a spindly fluffy haired mom and the angry spirits of the dead, modestly entertaining, creepy, but with one too many mysteriously moving inanimate objects and a story full of holes.
Living under a subdivision and specifically Diane (JoBeth Williams) and Steven's (Craig T. Nelson) wholesome family home are spirits. They terrorize, furious that the always evil real estate agents built housing on top of their cemetery.
The terror is at first conservative: a stormy night, a dark closet, weird noises, an eerie old tree, and a spooky clown. The suspense builds at a slow but reasonable pace, not particularly exciting but with my confident expectation of a good payoff.
Suddenly the terror and movie spirals out of control into the laughable and ridiculous: the tree possessed, grabs a small child Robbie (Oliver Robins). There are TV monsters, green fog ghosts (reminiscent of Ghost Busters), another dimension that sucks you in and spits you out covered in red slimy goo. After the cute daughter Carol Anne is whisked away by the spirits into the strange dimension, the family first seeks help from three parapsychologists, Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), Ryan (Richard Lawson) and Marty (Martin Casella). They are overwhelmed: Marty inadvertently eats a maggot covered drum stick and scratches off his face (bad use of makeup). Unable to retrieve Carol Anne, the parapsychologists consult a spiritual medium. Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) speaks with the spirits, gibber jabbers about demons and souls and telepathy (the actors trying to keep a straight face). When the courageous mother Diane enters the dimension tied to a rope and rescues Carol Anne, all is well, despite Steven being attacked by a giant clay head that looks like Mussolini (from Amercord).
The spiritual medium proclaims “this house is clean,” and the family is back together. The movie seemed to be limping to a finish. I was, at first, unaware more absurd terror was to come. The family decides to spend one last night in the haunted house and the mother takes a warm bath leaving the kids alone in their room: these were my clues to the impending onslaught of insanity.
Diane, half naked, is thrown around her bed in a thrusting, humping motion and then dragged up the walls and across the ceiling. The aforementioned spooky clown becomes possessed and starts chocking Robbie. The dark closet turns into a giant orange anus and coffins and skeletons start sprouting up from the ground. Finally some explanation, some attempt at clarity: the spirits of the dead were terrorizing because they were mad about their tomb stones being moved but not their bodies.
By the end my head was aching. I was out of breath, annoyed that it carried on and on. Poltergeist is mildly entertaining PG horror for the first hour, but it has no direction and little purpose. There aren't any characters, only a puppet family to wail and scream, their triumph over the demon spirits supposedly showing the strength of a traditional family's kinship (Note - Steven reads “Reagan: The Man the President” and at the end they ditch TV). There is not much of a story, only a 114 minute long excuse to show 1982 special effects. It drags on with no end in sight but with timeless clever lines like “they're here,” and enough budget to make a great horror movie, all Poltergeist needed was a more focused script.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

By Eric Jessen 7/22/09

I can recall entering the library on a dreary day, or maybe it was sunny, walking up the staircase to the third floor, or maybe it was the second, each step awkwardly small, forcing me to skip two, or maybe they were awkwardly big? I searched through the stacks of VHS tapes, or maybe they were DVDs, and found Last Year at Marienbad. I had heard it was worth seeing from reading Roger Ebert, or maybe it was Pauline Kael? I checked it out and noticed on the back someone had written, “this is SO boring,” or maybe that was Bresson's L'argent? I went home and watched the movie with my brother, or maybe I was alone, or maybe I've never seen Last Year at Marienbad before at all?
In Last Year at Marienbad, this is the kind of arduous journey we take into the depths of failing memory or just dream. We sit in awe, perplexed, shaking our heads, rubbing our eyes, either to avoid falling a sleep, or hoping to awaken from a nightmare. It's bewildering, frustrating and hypnotic. All of it or none of it may have happened. It is impossible to distinguish real from dream. Eventually just give up, but try to stay awake, because Last Year at Marienbad has redeeming value?
Don't try to understand it, don't try to put the pieces of the “story,” together. Try to ignore all of your conventions of movie watching. There is no story, there are barely any characters, just ornaments to the so called hotel. They are like phantoms, some of them only statues, manikins, and fashionable black-tie zombies. They seem absorbed into the hotel like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.
The camera, at first, only observes the hotel. It has the mood of a funeral, organ music for a haunted house, bizarre enough to be a Twilight Zone episode. The building is mournful, huge, luxurious, silent, deserted, “encrusted with cold paneling, stucco, molding, and marble.” Then, after the first 15 minutes, the camera moves with more urgency: running through the halls, peeking into every conversation, trying to find the reason it's here or the person it's interested in.
Eventually it finds a beautiful woman “A” (Delphine Seyrig), her husband “M” (Sascha Pitoeff), and a stranger “X” (Giorgio Albertazzi). The stranger approaches the woman and insists that they met the previous year, arranged to meet again this year, and planned to run away together. The woman at first insists “No.” But gradually acts more uncertain. They talk and talk, incessantly, about if they met before, if they'll meet again. Sometimes, using the exact same words in different places or wearing different clothes. Their conversations become self-parody, mocking of the previous conversations. The movie progresses like a kid running down a steep hill, unable to stop or change direction without tumbling. But after 95 minutes, the kid and the movie reach the end of the hill and fall flat on its face. Peeling its head off the cement street floor, the throaty narrator says “you were even now, losing yourself forever in the still night, alone with me.” I guess bringing “X” and “A” together, or perhaps simply forgetting, waking up, or finally remembering.
What is left from Last Year at Marienbad? Black and white photography may never have been done better. Despite confusion, irritation, we are left with a feeling. Our main character, “A” and “X,” have a desperation similar to Elle and Lui, in another of Alain Resnais films, Hiroshima Mon Amour. Elle and Lui were fearful and desperate to make the most of their final days of life. “A” and “X” seem to be in the first days of realizing they're dead, “shadows,” trapped in hell, trying to escape.
Last Year at Marienbad is an unparalleled experience, almost indescribable, like a distant memory or a dream.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Sacrifice (1986)

By Eric Jessen 7/21/09

This film begins in the wet grassy fields along the foggy island beaches of Gotland, Ingmar Bergman's famous work place. We watch from a distance an old man, Alexander, played by the great Erland Josephson, and a small mute boy (director Tarkovsky's son), plant a tree. Alexander laments, ponders, lets out his innermost thoughts and philosophies, uncertain if the little boy is listening. They stroll through the meadow, Alexander leans against a tree, saying man is not a savage because “savages are more spiritual,” then along comes the post man, Otto (Allan Edwall) on his bicycle. Not soon after, the rest of Alexander's family joins him by the tree. They all go back to his house.
Alexander lives alone, he is a poet, writer, artist and his family is visiting because today is his birthday. There are smiles and laughter, conversations, arguments and awkwardness. In every frame Tarkovsky attempts to assemble a painting. Through this beginning The Sacrifice seems a more reserved, toned down version of Tarkovsky (for better or for worse, I'm not sure). But suddenly the house is rocked by loud, banging noises, a jar of milk falls from a shelf. A jet had just flown over. It turns out, they are in the midst of war. The rest of the film is more like the Tarkovsky from The Mirror, Solaris.... There are strange unexplainable images, confusion, the miniature house from Solaris and the fire from The Mirror.
Wathing a film by Andrie Tarkovsky is like dreaming. One second can feel like an eternity. Your heart beat, blood pressure, entire metabolism slows down. Awaken, and you feel dizzy. It is difficult to remember or understand what you have seen. The memory of the dream and the movie is a blur.
As the credits start to trickle down, I can't help but sit still, staring at the screen, absorbing the moment, the feeling. It's hard not to think that it is important, that you may never feel the same again. It's hypnotic, bizarre, and haunting. The people appear to glide or float, moving slowly without urgency, wafting through the air like ghosts. They are sullen, longing for change, but hopeless: groaning and wailing, sloshing in a puddle of sorrow and self-pity. They talk and talk and talk, rambling on about art, love and death. The atmosphere is murcky, cloudy and dim. The colors are a muddle of browns and grays. Tarkovsky is a unique profound experience in film.
During the filming of The Sacrifice, Tarkovsky was dying of cancer. The early passages of the film reflect his desperation for a calm, retrospective film. The end, reverting to his normal style, may reflect his exhaustion. Tarkovsky died shortly after the film was finished.

Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (1936)

By Eric Jessen 7/20/09

Jean Renoir's camera frolics merrily around the courtyard, skipping and dancing from one star-crossed lover to the next, from the concierge's room to the printing office to the spiral staircase to the hall where friends and family share a drink. The courtyard is a congenial cheerful milieu with characters of all personalities, ready to laugh and sing the melodious dialogue from Jacques Prevert and Renoir's collaborative script.
In Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, Renoir has created a small community: Lange, our shy fool, Valentine, the pleasant savvy beauty, the drunkard who turns over the three trash cans, the innocent girl and the concierge's son sneaking a kiss by the stairs. No matter what their plight or misfortune, they all cherish their environment. They fear the depression that lurks outside. It's only when Lange commits his crime, that he and Valentine leave scared but hopeful. But maybe it's all for the better. Lovers, Lange and Valantine now have a chance to be alone together. Maybe Lange's crime and their departure is a gesture to their friends, forever making the courtyard the utopia of everyone's dreams.
The dialogue and the ambiance in Le Crime de monsieur Lange are splendid but the strength is also in the acting. Rene Lefevre as Lange, though timid and often boring to watch is perfect for the role. He is always daydreaming, ignoring the world and the women around him. Valentine says “your problem is you're always dreaming.” For most of the movie he is oblivious to Valentine's love for him. . Lange may be the only character who feels trapped in the courtyard. He dreams of the expansive areas, the open air, the freedom of the frontier. He writes a cowboy story series for the publishing company called “Arizona Jim.” (Reminding me of Holly's books in The Third Man).
Within our lovely town there was only one problem: the charming, conniving, deplorable yet lovable crook, Batala played by Jules Berry. He is the perfect villain. He smirks with the confidence of being a very successful manipulative thief, almost asking to be shot. But then in a flash he can seem like your friend. When Lange turns his cowboy fantasies to reality and finally shoots the villain Batala, it comes as a somewhat abrupt shock. I wondered, despite the answer being in the title, if Lange had the guts to shoot Batala. For a split second I thought perhaps Rene Lefevre had killed Jules Berry for stealing the show. Batala's death is one of the great scenes in all of Renoir's films. He falls gracefully. The camera spins, 360 degree pan, spinning and spinning around the courtyard: jarring yet refreshing, giving Batala and Jules Berry a well deserved exclamation point.
This movie is the work of a master in his prime. Other masterpieces were to follow: Sunday in the Country, Grand Illusion, The Rules of the Game. In Le Crime de Monsieur, Renoir captures the romanticism, beauty and joy of film.

Monday, July 20, 2009

American Beauty (1999)

By Eric Jessen 7/20/09

American Beauty is a mesmerizing, bombastic Freudian Office Space. It's exhilarating yet tranquil, funny, sardonic, with superb acting: a truly thrilling experience. In American Beauty we're haranguing on the suburbs AGAIN. And this movie will tell you the hidden truth about your sorry lives, (not that Hollywood has been keeping it a secret).
We are all boring and lame and suffering. We are all trapped within our white picket fences and our cubicles but we just don't know it. We all need to let out the fire in our libido.
But don't worry. This movie is our antidote, our rebellious anthem. Quit your job, buy the Firebird convertible you always wanted, mouth off to your wife who hasn't had sex with you for weeks, and ignore your bratty teenage daughter. According to American Beauty, that will make you feel better, that will make you truly happy. (Until your angry wife, or the closet-homosexual to whom you gave “the wrong idea” kills you execution style.) But you know, as the movies say, “life is short.” So you might as well spend your precious time “living.” Did you hear that! Crank up “American Woman” by The Guess Who, light up “the good stuff” that cost three grand from your dealer next door, fantasize about your underage daughter's cheerleader friend. Who cares, just live. And then by the end of your life, which might be rapidly approaching, you'll feel proud. Because you lived your life, at least for a short time (about a year), dancing like a plastic bag in a whirl wind.
Wow. It feels great to get that off my chest. I love a good bi--- slap of all the conformists in the world who love their job and families. They're all really “dead” anyway. American Beauty makes me feel good (I'm being serious). I don't care that it's full of platitudes and new psycho babble like if he's a strict military man who preaches discipline and homophobia then he must be gay. I don't care that the most level-headed character in the movie likes to videotape dead birds and the girl next door. I love that American Beauty bemoans the ordinary sane world and glorifies the absurd borderline depraved people.
Let's give a round of applause to the players. Kevin Spacey is extremely good as the husband, Lester, who does his version of destroying the copy machine (from an aforementioned movie). Annette Bening is perfect as the distraught pantsuit wearing real estate agent wife who gets off on local sales records. American Beauty is full of strong supporting performances: Thora Birch as the “hates her parents” black eye-liner wearing teen, Mena Suvari as the insecure cheerleader, Chris Cooper as the military man, Peter Gallagher as the “king of sales” and Wes Bentley as the thoughtful drug dealing “freak.”
American Beauty is a spectacular nihilist vision. Though it may be a staple of the setback in thinking about the world, and people, in modern movies, it gave me goosebumps of delight.

Iron Man (2008)

By Eric Jessen 7/19/09

When the lights go down, or when you press “play” on your remote for a movie like Iron Man, all logic must be temporarily ignored. Explosions come in bunches but they rarely result in someone's death. Everyone is a potential villain except for the face on the DVD box. All we need to know about a comic book action movie is, how witty is our hero and who is his female counterpart? The answers in this case are very witty, kudos to the actor Robert Downey Jr., and the girl is Gwyneth Paltrow, in a very strong performance especially given her superhero groupie role. The sense of timing in its explosions and thrills exceed any of the critics' whipping boy Micheal Bay's best efforts. But the strength of Downey Jr. and Paltrow's performances and their fantastic chemistry make Iron Man an exceptional action movie.
All of these elements considered, Iron Man is a can't miss movie for action fans, but it has something else that should make casual fans run to the theater. Can you guess what it is?...... It's the least common feature of the typical comic book action movie, aside from smart dialogue (sorry to say, still somewhat lost in Iron Man)......I'll give you a hint. You saw it in The Dark Knight (remember the scene when the ferry load of convicts and the ferry of regular passengers are given the choice to blow up the other before they're blown up themselves)......It's intelligent ambiguity: memorable, intriguing, clever scenes.
I'll give you only a taste, so as not to spoil the fun. Robert Downey Jr. plays a prodigy weapons manufacturer and playboy, Tony Stark. He preaches that the Manhattan project defeated the Nazis and his elite weapons save lives. But when he is attacked by terrorists using his guns, while on a trip to Afghanistan, Stark turns humane. He builds the “Iron Man” suit to retrieve his weapons. But he finds out that without his knowledge, his company was making under-the-counter deals, and the terrorists were only pawns in an in-house conspiracy (sound familiar?). Now he faces a larger opponent, his own company and more specifically his vindictive former right-hand-man, Obadiah (Jeff Bridges).
Stark thought he was creating weapons for safety (okay, maybe he just thought he was making lots of money) but he was wrong. So instead he tried with the “Iron Man” suit to create technology to fight weapons but eventually even that is used for destruction. Why does every advance in technology translate into bigger, badder weapons?
The comic book action movie has been improved. Explosions, wit, and thinking: fantastic.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Advise and Consent (1962)

By Eric Jessen 7/18/09

Frank Capra's 1939 camp classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington shaped future portrayals of politicians and the democratic system. The Hollywood formula for a successful movie about our democracy became the lovable, bumbling, wide eyed optimist from a small town who takes on money grubbing east coast Harvard suits. But 23 years later times have changed. And Advise and Consent, directed by chronically contrarian Otto Preminger, paints a new picture of our democracy. He's shown us rape in Anatomy of a Murder and drug use (with needles and mania, oh my) in The Man with the Golden Arm, always with the utmost class (by that I mean sometimes too flat). With Advise and Consent he's done it again. It's not glamorous or extremely thrilling but it's admirably blunt and honest. The politicians are not good or bad, guilty or innocent. They're noble and intelligent but they're human.
Watching Advise and Consent was an oddly fun experience of being routinely wrong on my assumptions about characters. Every time I was introduced to a character I placed him, based on his appearance and demeanor, into a Mr. Smith formula stereotype. The first character that gave me a pleasant surprise was Henry Fonda as Robert, a Secretary of State hopeful. Before the advise and consent of the Senate, Robert had to stand trial for suspicion of being a communist. Obviously I was thinking, it's Henry Fonda, he looks so trustworthy, there's no way. It turns out he dabbled in red ideology in college.
I was wrong again and again. The exuberant semi-fanatic activist Senator Van Ackerman (George Grizzard) is ironically willing to kill for world peace. The Vice President who says he's “afraid” to be President is actually the most “underrated” leader. The slick hair Senator with a hot wife from Utah, Brigham Anderson (Don Murray) frequents gay bars. And the witness accusing Fonda of being red, played with the perfect desperation by Burgess Meredith, is not a lier (or lying) just crazy.
But the most rewarding, while also somewhat disappointing, assumption I made was about the McCarthy-esc Senator Seab Cooley from South Carolina, played in his last brilliant performance by Charles Laughton. Seab is a rotten, slimy, sniveling, scheming, cockroach. He persecutes Fonda only for vengeance. But in his old age, though he treasures his crotchety, fear mongering reputation, he is sadly (because I love nasty manipulative characters) exhausted and ready to bargain.
The acting and directing in Advise and Consent is fantastic. The Senators have a rare quality in movies about our democracy: the ambiguity of being ordinary people. They're just playing a roundabout, confusing game. They're good, bad, innocent, guilty, honest, lying humans. At the end I felt a little cheated. I spent 140 minutes and the movie seemed to have achieved nothing. No one won, no big important bill was passed. But then I realized that's exactly right. Advise and Consent had me tripping over my own feet in wrong assumptions and I loved it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Patriotism (1966)

By Eric Jessen 7/16/09

Let me first explain, Patriotism is a short film directed by the renowned Japanese play writer and author Yukio Mishima. In it, Mishima and actress Yushiko Tsuruoka perform a seppuku, also known as a harakiri, which literally means stomach cutting. This film foreshadowed Mishima's actual death in which he and four understudies locked themselves in the Tokyo headquarters for Japan's Self-Defense department, tied up the commandant, made a speech to Japanese soldiers which was intended to inspire a coup, then committed the ritual suicide including the final beheading of Mishima. Mishima had foreshadowed this event in many of his books and plays. The short film is available on the Criterion Collection. You can also learn more about Mishima's life by watching the fantastic film Mishima: A Life of Four Chapters.

Now I'll tell you what I think of the short film.........

Patriotism is extremely well made with beautiful black and white photography. The high contrast photography accentuates the abstract and organic shapes of the human body. It is a vivid and fascinating portrayal of the ritual suicide. Though perhaps unintended by Mishima, who wanted Patriotism to show how romantic and noble a seppuku is, Patriotism exposes flaws in a feudalistic, militarist society. There's is also an interesting strangely erotic nature to the ritual suicide in Patriotism........But..........Call me naive......... I hate how Yukio Mishima exploits the film medium. He used Patriotism as a publicity stunt to increase his fame in 1966 and to increase his legend, making it a piece of the puzzle that foreshadowed his own suicide. Mishima was a genius at marketing himself. He wore funny clothes, dated famous women, appeared in gangster movies (only if he died in the movie) and did outrageous things all to increase his fame. He thought he would receive a Nobel prize for literature if he increased his notoriety overseas. So, he decided to make an eye-popping short film (you can learn all of this, as I did, in the text that comes with the Criterion DVD of Patriotism). Other than winning a Nobel Prize, everything worked out the way he planned. Patriotism was nominated at prestigious short film awards, his fame increased throughout the world, and his eventual suicide drastically increased his legend. He did it all because he's a self centered, ego maniacal lunatic. What's more selfish than killing yourself to further your legend? And I hate that it all worked. Be cynical, tell me every director makes movies only out of self interest, fame, legend, and I'll ignore you. I like to think otherwise.

Mad Max 3: Beyond the Thunderdome (1985)

By Eric Jessen 7/17/09

I love the explosions and the chase scenes and the “Australian desert post apocalypse wild west,” and the villains with Mohawks and Mel Gibson as Mad Max. And in Beyond the Thunderdome the creativity and the ingenuity of the first two Mad Max movies is pushed even further. Pushed to the point of ridiculous, which is usually a good thing. But, I'm sorry to say, Beyond the Thunderdome didn't tickle my fancy for the absurd like The Road Warrior. I just didn't like all the innovations of this movie. I'll describe a few and if they sound interesting I recommend the movie.
There's the Thunderdome. I've never seen anything like it before. It's a semi-sphere shaped cage, where you fight while attached to a giant rubber band or bungee cord, which you use to catapult yourself to the top to retrieve weapons. It's interesting but I thought it was just silly to see Gibson fling around the cage like a pin ball.
There's also the new post-apocalypse source of fuel. It's innovative, creative and disgusting. Bartertown, the hell hole that Mad Max is visiting, produces methane gas by concentrating “pig sh--.” Just to warn you, Max and many others will often be covered in pig poo. The duty scenes were sometimes funny but mainly gross. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood.
The last creative element, which I liked, is the character Master-Blaster. It's really two characters in one: Master, who is the smartest person in Bartertown but a dwarf, and Blaster who is the biggest and strongest person in Bartertown but mentally challenged. Master is attached to Blaster's shoulders and does the speaking while Blaster does the blasting. Master-Blaster is one of many characters in the Mad Max series with hilariously straight forward names like Humungus from The Road Warrior.
There are also a few other things in Beyond the Thunderdome that aren't necessarily “bad” but had me peeved. First of all, I thought Gibson looked stupid with long locks and unkempt facial hair. The shaggy hair makes sense because he's stranded, but it looks decidedly less cool. Second, I found it frustrating seeing Max help a gang of ignorant lame kids. That's not really even his character. He's supposed to be a loner. He supposed to only help others if there's something in it for him. And Third, though overall the villains are good, especially Tina Turner, Beyond the Thunderdome has an irritating cliché villain “that just won't die.”
Beyond the Thunderdome is a strange and interesting action movie. Though I prefer The Road Warriors, Thunderdome is probably the most memorable of the series. It is certainly worth seeing though after the first two, the “Australian desert post apocalypse wild west,” not Max, has overstayed it's welcome.
With Mad Max 1, The Road Warriar, and Beyond the Thunderdome it was a great ride.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

By Eric Jessen 7/16/09

The Road Warrior, the second in the Mad Max trilogy, creates a new, more rightful persona for the action hero. Mad Max doesn't protect the weak and “good” people because he is kind and moral. He doesn't attempt to defeat the “bad” because they are immoral. (And he also doesn't always get the girl. ) Instead Mad Max (Mel Gibson) is as the movie says a “desolate” man: lonely, wandering, scrounging the earth for food and oil to fuel his V8 engine. He knows only driving, fighting and most of all the Australian desert “post apocalypse wild west” rules of survival. He has lost his wife and child (in the previous movie) but he doesn't, as James Bond would, just get a new girl. When one sexy number gives him the “thank you for saving me, now I'm ready for bed” routine, Mad Max doesn't even bat an eye. In fact he is almost dead inside. We see only small glimpses of his ability to care for people other than himself. He suffers and faces death every day and yet, he plugs along. He has the strength and courage to defend himself so he lives.
He doesn't sound much like a hero, but as circumstances arise he finds himself fighting for the right team: the good guys. Mad Max doesn't survive by taking advantage of others, while at the same times not letting the villainous take advantage of him. He lives by “fair is fair,” “a deal's a deal.”
The Road Warrior is a superb action movie. Mel Gibson is terrific as the cold blooded hero. The first sequel in the Mad Max series took the strong base from the first movie, “style, an exotic setting, some cool chase scenes”, and ramped up the creativity. This movie is full of strange and fascinating images and full of interesting gadgets. The villains who were awful in Mad Max, are less stupid, less annoying and at least tolerable. They still howl and scream but at least they don't laugh uncontrollably like they're supposed to be imitating someone high on drugs as they did in the first movie (and in Death Wish).
This movie is very entertaining and the ending is an instant favorite. Here's a preview. Mad Max makes a deal with the “good guys” to get back at the “bad guys” and ends up a sacrificial lamb: all the more satisfying. I'm ready for thirds.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mad Max (1979)

By Eric Jessen 7/16/09

Mad Max presents a new world for action, a post apocalypse kind of wild west with open roads instead of frontier, with motorcycles and souped-up cars instead of horses, but limits itself to the same action movie conventions.
There are chase scenes, chase scenes and more chase scenes. There is a bike riding gang of villains who terrorize for absolutely no reason. They howl and scream and look like idiots. They make you hate them, not because they're evil but because they're so stupid. They are only one step above the villains from the Death Wish movies. Their unbearable unintelligent behavior makes their inevitable death very sweet, but the ride long and frustrating.
In Mad Max there is also a girl, attractive, obviously, who finds any chance she can to go wondering off by herself. Doesn't she know every attractive women in an action movie is vulnerable, helpless and perfect bait for villains? She goes for a stroll in the woods, on the beach, to the ice cream store and every time we hear the roar of the motorcycle gang's exhaust. It's predictable but makes for great suspense.
Oh yeah, and there's a hero, Max (Mel Gibson). He is apparently a police officer, but in this world the difference between an officer and a criminal is only in the uniform (sound familiar like almost every western ever made). At first Max just goes about his business: arresting and pursuing the bad guys. But once his best friend is burned to a crisp by the motorcycle gang, and his precious wife and child have been terrorized, he turns “Mad” and goes on a killing rampage.
You see, in action movies if the hero kills the villains when all they've done is menace other villains, innocent men, old people, or ugly women then that's uncalled for. But if villains hurt wives, children or attractive women, then our hero has free rein to torture them.
Mad Max is action for action's sake and there's nothing wrong with that. It's entertaining when the guys hit the open road and leave the story, dialogue and women back home. It needs smarter villains, and either a stronger story and better dialogue or heck, how about none at all? But this action movie has got a strong base: style, an exotic setting (Australia), some cool chase scenes and some relatively creative deaths. It's a perfect foundation for a sequel, or two.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

By Eric Jessen 7/15/09

When a suburban town's local Avon saleswomen visited a big spooky mansion perched atop a hill that overshadows the pastel colored houses, she saw a lonely innocent boy with scissors for hands and said “I think you should just come home with me.” Just let that description stew and bounce around in you head............
This is the first scene of Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands and it is indicative of the movie's charm and also its problem. Its charm is in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach sense of wonder. As a result it is relatively enjoyable. But it leaves me unsatisfied because of its faulty structure and concept.
Edward Scissorhands is a clashing mix of fairy tale and social satire. The movie takes Edward, with his gimp clothes and goth hair cut, and puts him in a tired stereotype of a suburban town. The men all leave for work at the exact same time, and the wives stay home, tip toe on their high heels around town and gossip with each other about frivolous things. Edward, of course, doesn't fit in and blah, blah, blah funny wacky moments with his scissor hands. The town is supposed to be, though exaggerated, a mirror of real life (that's what satire is), but Edward is a totally implausible character. He has scissors for hands. That's ridiculous. I kept wondering, how is he supposed to go the bathroom? Burton put him in real life situations, in a town that is supposed to satirize real towns, as if Edward could possibly be real himself.
The point of the movie is too ask, what if a strange person with scissors for hands was put in a suburban town? How would people react? How would he act at a barbecue? How would he eat with scissors for hands? How would the house wives and and their corporate golf playing husbands and their bratty spoiled teenage children try to exploit his scissoring abilities? And what type of girl would fall in love with the outcast scissor hands man (In this case Winona Ryder)? Well, I'm sorry to say this, but all of those questions and the subsequent scenes that attempt to answer them are stupid because no one can ever have scissors for hands. By putting Edward in real life situations, the fact that he is an implausible character is magnified. Every time he struggled to eat even a pea, I was reminded, didn't he live in a giant mansion alone for many years? How did he eat then?
I don't mind a fairy tale and I don't mind a social satire but Edward Scissorhands is an awkward mix of both. The movie might have worked if Edward was put where he belongs, with other implausible characters in an implausible place. It also may have worked if Burton blew me away with creativity, in the places and the characters and the situations so I'm left not caring if it makes sense. (Trust me, that's worked many times before.) Edward is a creative and interesting character stuck in a cliché suburban town living out lame plot lines. Don't get me started on Edward fighting for Winona's love with her obnoxious ex-boyfriend.
You won't mind Edward, even if he looks like Robert Smith of The Cure, but unless you've always wondered what would happen if a man with scissor hands were thrown into the gauntlet that is suburban America, Edward Scissorhands is a let down.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Fly (1986)

By Eric Jessen 7/15/09

It's the utter and total absurdity that makes a movie like The Fly and many other science fiction movies so tantalizing. The Fly is gross and disgusting and yet irresistible. I found my self wincing and cringing but unable to look away. It's a strange fun experience. David Cronenberg, one of the masters of weird, took a simple horror movie from the 50's and added his flair for the revolting. The claymation is intentionally ugly and yucky. (It reminds me of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive.) But don't be fooled. This does not just titillate all of our fancy for the nasty and foul. The Fly is smart and intelligent. It's disagreeable to our stomach but hearty food for thought. There are great performances, witty dialogue and delectable undertones.
Let's start with Jeff Goldblum. He is fantastic as the neurotic loner scientist Seth Brundle. Seth is developing a teleportation device. He meets a journalist Veronica (Geena Davis) at a science fair meet-the-press event and they immediately hit it off. Goldblum and Davis' clever back and forth conversations are wonderful. They have sex, they fall in love, but then Veronica's ex-boyfriend and boss Stathis (John Getz) interferes. Seth thinks he's been used by the journalists for a story, and in a drunk jealous tizzy he decides to, for the first time, teleport himself. But as Seth is being teleported a fly sneaks into the “telepod,” turning Brundle into the genetic offspring of himself and the fly. Brundle slowly turns from man to a very hideous giant fly, or as he calls it “Brundlefly.” His face becomes course and lumpy. His entire body deforms. He can no longer digest solid food so he liquefies twinkies and candy bars by spitting on them with acidic foamy stuff (this is apparently similar to the way flies eat.).....(I'm shaking my head.)....It makes me feel queasy just thinking about this.
But again, remember, you might not think you'll like it, or dare ever say you liked it, but everyone has the itch for the “eeewwwwww gross.” Watching The Fly feels like being a little kid again, playing in the dirt. And this movie has many redeeming qualities. Let's get to some of the undertones. Brundle is becoming a freak. His slow but impending death is made clear to him every day when he looks in the mirror. He even keeps a medicine cabinet full of detached body parts (ears, teeth....). When you think about “Brundlefly,” he is not that different from any human. He is similar to the elderly or the diseased who can see death coming in their wrinkles, arthritis, and deteriorating vision. The elderly and the diseased, like Brundle, also become outcasts.
Another interesting aspect to The Fly is Brundle, as the half fly, and Veronica's strange relationship. She still sees the man she once loved in Brundle's deformed face and changing personality. It's fascinating to see the two come to terms with Brundle's irreversible changes and the loss of their love.
But wait, there's more. In a great twist, Veronica becomes pregnant with Brundle's baby. It's unclear whether the baby will be a Brundlefly or a human. They had sex before Brundle became a fly and after, when he still looked like a man. Veronica, overcome by fear, wants to have an abortion but Brundle wants a baby. The convoluted dynamics of the situation make for a thrilling end.
The Fly is gross, disgusting and disagreeable to the stomach but you'll love it.

Julie & Julia (2009)

By Eric Jessen 7/14/09

Julie & Julia knows a lot about the love of food and the love of cooking but little about Julie Powell and Julia Child. You'll see lots of chopping, stirring, boiling, and roasting. You'll see Julie and Julia moaning, groaning, licking their lips and foaming at the mouth over food. You'll even see a retread of the lobster scene from Annie Hall. But you won't see anything interesting or intriguing about either Julie, not in spite of the overly cheery Amy Adams, or Julia even with Meryl Streep's unstoppable “brilliance” and “genius”. You learn as much about them as you could have reading Julie's blog or Julia's cook book.
We see Julia Child as we already know her, hoo hoo-ing around Paris, flipping and poaching. She's predictably unpredictable and always jovial. She is very loving and has never hated anyone in her life, other than the crotchety culinary school lady. She's how I always pictured Santa's housewife would be. She's played “hilariously” by Meryl Streep who is perfect for the role. The audience roars over her impression of Child's silly voice, especially in the first few scenes. But as I heard one audience member put it, the great accomplished director Nora Ephron “wouldn't let her fall into caricature.” We get used to Streep as Child and we get used to her voice. Streep doesn't get as many laughs near the end of the movie just for impersonating Julia Child. (By the way, it's not a good sign when the biggest laugh came from showing the entire SNL Dan Aykroyd-as-Julia Child skit.)
But don't we get to know the woman? No. And this is the failure of the movie. Somewhere half way through Julie & Julia I realized I've learned nothing about Child the person. We know the TV personality. We know she wrote a cook book. I could have read on wikipedia that she lived in Paris, had a husband who was investigated by McCarthy goons and was the rags to riches story of cooking. (At first she couldn't even boil an egg, OMG!) I first realized that this movie doesn't really know Julia when Julie finds out her idol, Julia Child, “hates” her blog. This came as a shock. Who is this women who said she never hated anyone? She seemed so nice. Who have I been watching this entire time, the TV personality.
This is a movie that knows Julia, and Julie for that matter, only on the surface. It knows Julia's voice and it knows her kitchen but not what she feels or what makes her tick. A few brief moments had me thinking I was about to better understand Julia. When she learned her sister was pregnant, she started weeping uncontrollably. I thought, hmmmm? Interesting, so she can't have kids. Elaborate please.....But no. The topic is left alone.
What about Julie? No one cares about her. She doesn't deserve to share the screen with the great Julia Child. Adams doesn't deserve to split a billing with the “genius” Meryl Streep. (I can hear toddlers and the elderly, the Amy Adams fan base, lamenting.).....Or at least that's what I heard from the audience. But actually, though I was ready to rip Adams, saying I found her cheeriness nauseating, I thought she was pretty good. Remember, she was also good in Doubt (2008). We learn Julie also has a great love for food. It even saved her life, or a least she thinks it did. But again, we never scrounge around in her cookie jar. We never learn the secret recipe that makes her Julie. I guess this movie's motto is who cares about the why? Who cares about the ingredients that made the person? Julie & Julia only cares about the finished product, the food, the scrumptious and delicious food.
This movie is perfect for all the women I see at the gym who watch the food network while on the elliptical machine. This movie is perfect for the women on the Atkins or South Beach diet who go to restaurants, order a salad and then drool over the food other people ordered. This movie is perfect if you watch it on an empty stomach and are then going straight to a reception serving gourmet food (as I was). But for everyone else Julie & Julia is an over-cooked beef bourguignon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Europa (1992)

By Eric Jessen 7/13/09

Behind every window shade, always kept pulled down, in Europa is barbed wire, starving children, endless and endless destruction. Europa is a mystical world of only flickering lights, glowing snow and the moon and the stars to brighten everlasting darkness. The people sleep all day and work all night. Everyone cheats and lies and has killed just to survive. It's Germany in 1945 and it's a frightening place for an idealistic American.
If you watch Europa, you will be that innocent American. A deep and melancholy voice (that sounds like Darth Vader without the wheezing, actually Max von Sydow) will count from 1 to 10. You see a glimmer of light traveling up a railroad track - the same tracks you might have seen in Shoah(1985) or Alain Resnais' Night and Fog (1955). And then you hear the voice. “You will now listen to my voice. My voice will help you and guide you still deeper into Europa. I shall now count from 1 to 10......1......2......3......” The voice lulls you to sleep. It attempts to put you in a hypnotic state, similar to the state you were in watching any one of Tarkovsky's movies (Stalker, Nostalgia, Solaris, The Mirror). It's a state where the pace of time is slower. “......On 6, I want you to go deeper. I say 6 and the whole of your relaxed body is slowly beginning to sink......7......You go deeper and deeper and deeper......8......On every breath you take you go deeper......9......You are floating......On the metal count of 10 you will be in Europa......Be there at 10...... I say 10.”
If you haven't already guessed, this movie is the work of none other than Lars Von Trier. We discussed his “movie from hell” Dogville (2003). We also discussed his “thought provoking” Breaking the Waves (1996). No other director today is more bold or more talented or more truly disturbed and insane as to attempt to delve into his character's and audience's souls. He's trying to do as Bergman once did. He puts his heart into his work and the results can be brilliant as in Breaking the Waves or disastrous as in Dogville. I wish I could give you a more definitive opinion of Europa, but my reaction to the result of Lars Von Trier's passion and madness is mixed. He had me in a trance when Sydow was counting to 10. He had me in a trance for most of the movie. The werewolves, the German transportation head slowly, one small cut with his razor at a time, killing himself, the occasional small glimpse of color, it all worked. I loved it when one suffering German said to us, the naïve American, “You're so good and understanding. I find that a little provoking.” But the relationship between the American (Jean-Marc Barr) and the German(Barbara Sukowa), the supposed love, the one glimmer of humanity in Europa: fake, contrived, a weak effort with little passion and finally (Lars undoubtedly smirking at the sad end) the love, the glimmer dashed by nothing else but lies. And the end, although poetic and wonderful, predictably dire. The American, dead. Our carcass drifting in a river in Europa. The voice returned once again, “You are in a train in Germany. Now the train is sinking. You will drown. On the count of 10 you will be dead......1......2......3......4......5......6......7......8......9......10..... You want to wake up, to free yourself from the image of Europa. But it is not possible.” This is the End. It is an end scene of agonizing torture. It is brilliant, masterful and unbearable. That is so Lars Von Trier.
He's done it again. He has me all riled up. I'm reeling and filled with emotions. No matter what my reaction, if I love it or hate it, a Lars Von Trier movie if bizarre, mystical, hypnotic, infuriating, absurd, extraordinary, is always worth seeing.

Monday, July 13, 2009

La Bête Humaine(1938)

By Eric Jessen 7/13/09

By the end I was out of breath. I couldn't take any more of the depressing and overly bleak view of people. La bête humaine is often sad but beautiful, poetic and full of passion. Jean Renoir is a genius of atmosphere. La bête humaine has a fantastic cast that includes Jean Gabin as a train engineer, Simone Simon with her bedroom eyes as the seductress and Fernand Ledoux as the troubled husband of Simon, Roubaud. La bête humaine can be strange, sick and riveting but there is only so much jealousy, lust, manipulation, murder and Gabin's strange delirium I can take. The grim nature of the movie is tiring.
We first meet train conductor Jacques played by Jean Gabin who is all greasy and dirty for the roll. Jacques is a strange tormented man. He is a big strong train engineer but appears weak and vulnerable. It turns out he has a weird pathology. Whenever he begins to fall in love or lusts for a women he is overcome by the urge to kill. He says everything gets “hazy” and he can't control himself. We first see Jacques' illness when he holds and kisses former loved one Flore (Blanchette Brunoy) and then suddenly starts chocking her. Jacques tries to keep to himself in fear that he'll kill someone.
We also meet the young luscious Séverine (Simone Simon) and her husband Roubaud. Séverine had a tough childhood and has grown up to be bitter and scheming. Every man she meets tries to use her for sex, so she uses their lust against them. It's her way of controlling them. She uses her husband to kill her lover Grandmorin (Jacques Berlioz). The murder is committed on a train and witnessed by Jacques. Jacques saw Roubaud and Séverine go into Grandmorin's cabin so Séverine seduces Jacques so he won't tell the police. Séverine then tries to manipulate Jacques into killing her husband by convincing him she has always loved him. But just as Jacques is going to kill Roubaud he suddenly becomes delirious and stabs Séverine.
Both Séverine and Jacques are tragic characters. They are unable to love. As the song goes in the movie, Séverine offers her heart to everyone but never gives it away. Jacques on the other hand is forced to avoid love because of his illness.
Everyone in La bête humaine is tormented and sad. The fantastically photographed, monstrous train represents every character's life barreling down a deep and dark tunnel. Finally at the end Jacques can't stand his tortured life anymore and jumps off. He relieved himself and the audience of any further depressing, melancholy exhaustion.

A Feminist Slasher for the Moron Trade

By Eric Jessen 7/12/09

Why did I react with so much hostility to Fatal Attraction? Why did I want to call Glenn Close as Alex Forest a psycho bi---? Why was I taking cheap shots at her frizzy hair? Something about Fatal Attraction had me repulsed by Alex and feeling connected to Michael Douglas' character Dan Gallagher. Well, Alex did boil a bunny. But wait, I “wanted her dead” before that. I wanted her dead when she was initially disturbing Dan's humble home: the beautiful and subservient wife, the happy child and the golden retriever. Am I afraid of the strong independent Alex? Okay, I'm not that guy, but I do see what this movie is getting at. This is a feminist anthem, or so it seems. I thought the “strong woman” theme wasn't in the dialogue but I was wrong. It's there.
Let's examine this carefully, scene by scene. We begin to get a sense of the feminism theme when Dan and Alex have dinner. Alex first asks Dan, “Where's your wife?” Dan is shocked. He can't believe Alex is putting their inevitable one night stand into perspective. She's intentionally ruining his fun. He can no longer pretend the soon-to-be affair was only in the throes of passion. Now he feels guilty as if he's already cheated. Alex, taunting Dan, calls him a “naughty boy.” Then Dan eases his own guilt by responding, “I don't think having dinner with somebody is a crime.” Alex replies, “Not yet,” reestablishing her control and thus making Dan feel guilty again. Dan tells Alex, “I definitely think it's going to be up to you,” taking the guilt and blame off himself.
Dan and Alex have their one night stand. Alex attempts suicide, not very “in control,” but she's human, and Dan tries to ignore her. Alex confronts Dan with strength and reason. It's fascinating to see Dan squirm. He completely loses his composure when Alex threatens his lifestyle (the humble home). Alex says, “You've had your fun, now you just want a quiet life,” and Dan replies, “You need a shrink.” Then Dan finds out Alex is pregnant. He assumes she'll have an abortion but when she says she's going to keep the baby and says, “I was hoping you would want to be a part of it,” Dan mumbles, “This is crazy. This is Insane.” Later Alex proclaims with a sense of righteousness and entitlement, “I'm not going to stop until you face up to your responsibilities...I'm not going to be ignored....Don't you ever pity me you smug bastard.” Dan cowers and says, “You're sick,” and Alex defiantly responds, “Why? Because I won't allow you to treat me like some slut you can just bang a couple times and then throw in the garbage. I'm going to be the mother of your child. I want a little respect.”
When I step back and think about Alex and Dan up to this point it occurs to me: Alex is not a psycho, she's feeling unstable and vulnerable after her suicide attempt but she's not unreasonable. Dan is just a coward. He's trying to take the responsibility off of himself and pretend Alex is vindictive and everything is her fault. He's pathetic.
But wait, is this a feminist masterpiece? No. We've only examined the first half. After Dan and Alex's two confrontations everything changes. Alex does becomes a psycho bi---. What else can you call a person who vandalizes cars, threatens via cassette tape, boils bunnies, kidnaps children, and tries to knife Dan and his wife? Fatal Attraction reneged on its strong independent women theme of the beginning. The second half can only be described as a tawdry slasher story. (By the way, the fact that Dan's wife is the one who ends up killing Alex is a nice touch but the damage had already been done.)
In the first half, Fatal Attraction was hinting at something very intriguing. Alex is a strong independent women who seeks respect and Dan treats her like she is a psycho bi--- because she threatens his conventional lifestyle. But when Alex becomes the psycho bi--- she only feeds into the male audience's ignorant fears. Making Fatal Attraction nothing but a feminist slasher for the moron trade.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fatal Attraction (1987)

By Eric Jessen 7/11/09

Fatal Attraction is a dowdy version of Play Misty for Me (1971). It has some of the same cheap thrills but lacks the punch, the bite, the sheer twisted ludicrous insanity. This review may not be fair, I loved Play Misty for Me, but because both movies have the exact same story we must compare the two. There probably wouldn't be a Fatal Attraction if there wasn't a Play Misty for Me. Also the bathtub “Fatal” ending is straight out of Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1955). This is a copycat movie.
The details are different but the premise is the same. Michael Douglas is a lawyer, Clint Eastwood, a radio disc jockey. They both have one night stands with desperate women. Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction doesn't initially seem as crazy as Jessica Walter was in Play Misty for Me. (By the way, Close is the “Attraction”? Her hair made her look like a troll doll.) Close and Walter turn out to be nutty and become obsessed with their respective movie hunks. When Douglas and Eastwood try to blow them off they both attempt suicide. Now the two men have serious hassles on their hands. They've got steady relationships to worry about. Douglas also has to worry about his daughter. Both Eastwood and Douglas are afraid the object of their “weekend of fun” will spill the beens. They don't know the half of it. These women are beyond a hush problem, they're deranged and vindictive. Eastwood and Douglas are in for some serious torture.
Both of these movies have their moments of chilling horror, but Play Misty for Me digs deep, it's memorable. You'll be sleeping fine after Fatal Attraction. The main reason: Play Misty for Me has stronger performances. Jessica Walter in Play Misty for Me was tawdry and tasted rotten, perfect. Glenn Close is too upscale a psycho bi---. I only wanted her dead half of the time. The other half I thought, maybe they'll work it out. Walter loomed over Play Misty for Me with a delectably evil force. Michael Douglas is OK. He's dumb enough to cheat but heroic enough to “save his marriage.” But is anyone capable of matching Clint Eastwood's unstoppable coolness. Eastwood doesn't even need to speak (not that he does). Anne Archer as Douglas' wife is too nice. She's begging him to cheat on her, like Jocelyn Brando was begging to be blown up in The Big Heat.
Fatal Attraction is a humdrum sexploitation thriller. It's fun most of the time. But I was disappointed by the lack of creativity and newness. So, if you are considering watching Fatal Attraction, remember there's this movie, it's called Play Misty for Me, and it's much better.

Love on the Run (1979)

By Eric Jessen 7/11/09

The Antoine Doinel of Stolen Kisses and Bed and Board was tolerable. He was even a little charming when he wrote love letters, visited whore houses and eventually settled down with Christine. But in Love on the Run his act has over stayed its welcome. Now in his late thirties, his love affairs with nubile women like Sabine (Dorothee) are pathetic. By this stage he has forgotten about his wife Christine. She apparently has a few too many wrinkles. But as much as we are supposed to love Antoine, I feel good for Christine for being free from him. He's a loser.
In Love on the Run, Antoine and Christine are getting a divorce so Antoine can make his forbidden affair with young Sabine officially passé. Antoine is also trying to refuel an old relationship he had with Colette, from Antoine and Colette (1962).
Love on the Run is filled with overwrought nostalgia for the previous movies in the series. Half the movie consists of clips from The 400 Blows, Stolen Kisses, and Bed and Board. Mixing clips of the masterpiece The 400 Blows with this movie made me cringe.
Jean-Pierre Leaud was quoted as saying the Antoine series was “over” after Bed and Board. I think he was on to something. Love on the Run takes this beloved character past his expiration date. If you liked the 30 minute short Antoine and Colette and you liked Stolen Kisses and you even liked Bed and Board, I still think Love on the Run will disappoint you.

Bed and Board (1970)

By Eric Jessen 7/11/09

Antoine Doinel, the little ruffian from The 400 Blows, is now grown up. He's settled down, married, not happy but satisfied and no longer running. We all had high hopes for Antoine, he had fire in his eyes, but it turns out he's normal. So normal, that I am somewhat uninterested. This Antoine tries to be witty and has a light hearted personality. But he is whimsical to the point of being annoying. I don't take him seriously. His personality change from The 400 Blows is mainly the result of Jean Pierre Leaud's acting. I called his acting in Stolen Kisses “cute but incredibly flimsy” and it hasn't changed. His air of “I don't care” is supposed to be funny and at times gets a few chuckles but by the end is stale. Antoine and Christine are a darling couple. They're like Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Braily in Godard's A Woman is A Woman. Their shenanigans make me smile, but after one squabble and one silly affair I'm tired of their routine.
In Bed and Board Christine and Antoine are married. Everything is going great. Antoine cheats with a semi racist-stereotype of an Asian woman. (I thought it was stupid, you might think it's funny.) Antoine and Christine separate but Antoine gets sick of the weird Asian stuff, like sitting on mats, so he returns to Christine. That's it.
Bed and Board is dainty and pleasant. If you liked Stolen Kisses, I think you'll enjoy Bed and Board. But if your time is precious, skip it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stolen Kisses (1968)

By Eric Jessen 7/10/09

If you watch Stolen Kisses expecting the same Antoine Doinel and the same Jean-Pierre Leaud and even the same Francois Truffaut from The 400 Blows, as I was, you will be sorely disappointed. But let's put that movie behind us, I'll put that disappointing experience behind me. Let's think of this as a new Antoine. Let's step back and judge Stolen Kisses against all other movies we've seen, the trash and the masterpieces. If we do that, than Stolen Kisses is not half bad. If you think of Stolen Kisses as “just another movie” when you enter the theater (that plays old foreign movies, yeah right), or when you pop in the DVD, you might even enjoy it. It can be quite funny. You won't be falling out of your chair or anything, but you might chuckle. I did once or twice. As romantic comedies go, it's cute, but not too cute to make you want to throw up.
In Stolen Kisses Antoine has grown up a little. He's learned the whimsical, foolish lover, routine. We meet Antoine as he's just dropping out of the army. He's thrilled to be back in Paris. The first thing he does is skip to the nearest whore house. He's quite a rascal. He uses his boyish good looks to get several jobs including one working for a private detective agency. Antoine comes across a few women throughout the movie, most notably, Fabienne (Delphine Syrig) who's a sexy middle aged woman, and a previous love Christine (Claude Jade). They run around, and blah blah blah he ends up with the nice one.
There is really not much to tell about Stolen Kisses. It has its funny moments. If you love young people, you'd probably enjoy these kids' charades. Claude Jade's dumbfounded look can be adorable. She looks like a tame version of Catherine Deneuve. And Delphine Syrig is a pleasant surprise. But with Stolen Kisses there is one crucial point I need to make. What happened to Jean-Pierre Leaud? There was so much fire in his eyes in The 400 Blows (sorry to bring that movie up). His so called acting can only be described in this movie as cute but incredibly flimsy. It's impossible to take him seriously. And I know this is not supposed to be a serious movie, but it's like John Stewart or Jimmy Fallen, when they look like they're about to break character any second the act isn't funny. It doesn't allow us to “suspend disbelief.” Jacques Tati as Mr. Hulot, who makes an appearance in another Antoine movie Love on the Run, or Charlie Chaplin put 100 percent effort and seriousness into their comedy. That's why they're so funny. But, oh well, I'll put that behind me too.
So hey, there's this movie by Francois Truffaut staring Jean-Pierre Leaud. He plays a kid named Antoine Doinel, ever heard of him?.... No..... Good, go see it, it's not half bad.

The 400 Blows (1959)

By Eric Jessen 7/9/09

The 400 Blows is one of the extraordinary experiences in film. Watching it is to personally absorb Antoine's suffering. You'll never feel more connected to a character in a movie than with Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud). The 400 Blows revolutionizes the relationship of the movie and its audience. We are no longer detached. The characters are no longer heroes or villains for us to glorify or idealize. There isn't a conventional narrative with a beginning, middle and end, for us to pretend is real and simply go along for the ride. With The 400 Blows we have a more intimate relationship with the movie and the characters. We dive straight into Antoine's life. He is not a hero or a villain but a person that we care for and we see as a part of ourselves, like we would a friend or a loved one. We don't regard his decisions and actions as ones that exist only to move forward a story. Instead they exist as simply a reaction to his life. While watching, we are not waiting for something interesting or important to happen, we are closely following Antoine. We, the audience, exist in the present, in a state of “being” in Antoine's life. I found myself regretting Antoine's mistakes as if I had made them or as if I could have prevented them.
Antoine is an adolescent, probably 14 (Jean-Pierre Leaud's age when he played the part), who attends an all boys school in Paris. He lives at the mercy of many adults who scold him and lecture him but don't care about him. As a result of his childhood of turmoil, he seems unable to care about his own life or other people. He talks with indifference about his mother's contempt for him. He says he lies to his parents because “if I told them the truth they wouldn't believe me anyway.” Antoine still has enough life left in him to run and run and run as much as possible. He tries as often as he can to escape. He seeks independence. Every once in while, when he's failed a school paper, or skipped class, when he has done something to irritate his parents, Antoine flees from home. He wanders around the city. Sometimes he stays at his friends house, but sooner or later when he's out of food he returns home . His life is cold and depressing but he seems to blindly press on.
Jean-Pierre Leaud is brilliant as Antoine. His performance is one of the best by a child actor in movie history. One look at Leaud as Antoine can bring you near tears. You can see in his face and his eyes that his life has destroyed all of his innocence and joy.
John Constantine contributes a moving and memorable score. There are also strong supporting performances by Claire Maurier as Antoine's mother, Alber Remy as his father, Guy Decomble as the School teacher, and Patrick Auffay as Antoine's best friend.
The 400 Blows is a realistic vision of one child's sorrow and hardship. Director Francois Truffaut presents Antoine in such vivid detail that he seems to be Truffaut's childhood persona. The 400 Blows can be sad, but thankfully Truffaut fills us with optimism with an ending that is uplifting. Antoine throughout the movie says he wishes he could see the ocean. Near the end, he is put in a boot camp. He then escapes and reaches the coast. As he approaches the water he slows down in disbelief. He steps into the water, the ocean washes away his problems, and for a moment, for at least a second, Antoine has hope.