Thursday, April 28, 2011

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Two years after Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman is back. And I have to admit, I am in love – it is almost a crime to be so good-looking! Anyway, getting off tracks here. So, in 1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, also starring Robert Redford, was released, for our great pleasure. It is a Western film, directed by George Roy Hill. Based very loosely on the true story of Butch Cassidy, the film tells the story of outlaws Robert LeRoy Parker (Butch, Paul Newman) and Harry Longabaugh (Sundance Kid, Robert Redford). 


First things first: the film is classified as a Western, I would call it a comedy. I loved when they arrive in Bolivia and try and rob a bank, but their first attempt just does not even start as they have not realized people spoke Spanish! This is simply hilarious. And Etta (Kid’s girlfriend) giving them lessons on how to say “this is a robbery”, “put your hands in the hair” and “open the safe” is just too good! Even the ending is comic ; although it is tragic, it goes too quick to generate sadness.


The quotes are perfectly balanced between funny, engaging and revealing about the characters.


Butch Cassidy: Kid, there's something I ought to tell you. I never shot anybody before.

Sundance Kid: One hell of a time to tell me!


Woodcock: Butch, you know that if it were my money, there is nobody that I would rather have steal it than you. But, you see, I am still in the employment of E. H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad!


[while being chased]

Sundance Kid: You remember the time you and me and Etta went to Denver one summer for a vacation?

Butch Cassidy: I'm glad you brought that up, Kid. That's an important topic, considering our situation.

Sundance Kid: The night we went gambling, you remember?

Butch Cassidy: We had dinner at the hotel. Etta had roast beef and I had chicken, and if I can remember what you had, I'll die a happy man.


Butch Cassidy: We're going to run out unless we can get to that mule and get some more.

Sundance Kid: I'll go.

Butch Cassidy: This is no time for bravery. I'll let ya!


While Sundance is practical, Butch is an optimist and a dreamer. Butch is the talker and the thinker, confident and charming , Sundance is cynical, tough and into the action. The first time Etta is shown is when Kid enters her room and orders her to strip: it is at first very shocking but as we gradually learn they are lovers the scene becomes funny and romantic. But the real highlight is the relationship between Butch and Sundance – even though the real ones were probably not as likeable and charming! Their only loyalty, in the end, is to each other, in life and death.

Newman and Redford make the two characters likeable, and their crimes seem petty. We end up rooting for them even though they are criminals!


Sheriff: You should have let yourself get killed a long time ago when you had the chance. See, you may be the biggest thing that ever hit this area, but you're still two-bit outlaws. I never met a soul more affable than you, Butch, or faster than the Kid, but you're still nothing but two-bit outlaws on the dodge. It's over, don't you get that? Your times is over and you're gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where.

 The great performance of Newman and Redford, the great music including "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head" by Burt Bacharach, and some great humour make this film a very nice way to spend an evening. Highly recommended!


To summarize and to conclude:


Butch Cassidy: Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

RED: Retired Extremely Dangerous

This is an entry that probably does not have its place here: I vowed to review “classics”, and recently I have kind of strayed. But let us accept that a movie starring legends such as Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and rising star Marie-Louise Parker (Weeds) deserves an entry. With such legendary actors and Richard Dreyfuss and gorgeous Julian McMahon supporting, you’d think you’re in for a good moment.

The plot of RED seems fun enough: Frank (Willis) is a retired CIA agent, who enjoys a phone relationship with Sarah (Parker), the customer service representation working at his pension’s office. When men try to kill him, Frank recruits his old team (Malkovich, Freeman and Mirren) and, helped by Sarah, they try to figure out who is out to get them, and save their lives.


What worked?

The cast, to start with – excellent actors who work very well together and look like they  are really having fun. Good discovery: Karl Urban, that I did not know before, quite nice on the eye.

I absolutely loved John Malkovich, the only one, I thought, who was flawless. Perfect as the paranoid living in a bunker and still stone from the 11-years acid trip he took and thinking anyone following him is out to kill him. The most fun moments were with him in the scene. I particularly liked the “baseball grenade” scene.

What didn’t work?

The story is weak and is not punchy enough to keep the viewer interested ; the plot is so unrealistic it is almost sad: who gets to enter the CIA building just like that? Granted, it is a second, even third or fourth degree movie, but highly doubtful, even completely unrealistic (dare I say “ridiculous”) at times. The villain Dreyfuss is less than credible, and, when the whole plot unfolded, I was at the point where I could not care less. So I am not even sure what it was all about! Mirren is fine but comes in too late to really make an impact. As for Freeman, he is barely there in the film. The role of Sarah is relatively unnecessary, and the love story that develops is a bit too much for me: he is old enough to be her dad.


Marvin: Do you know what's wrong with this country?

Sarah: They all are trying to kill us?

Marvin: Exactly!


Sarah: Wow. This guy's insane.

Frank: Well, he thought he was the subject of a secret government mind control project. As it turns out, he really was being given daily doses of LSD for 11 years.

Sarah: Well in that case, he looks great. Yeah.

Frank: Fantastic...


Ivan Simanov: I miss the old days.

I haven't killed anyone in years.

Frank Moses: That's sad.


All in all, as waste of my time. But hey, we all have different tastes! Maybe some people with find it extraordinary. Maybe I was just not in the mood. But I won’t try again.


Coming next: a real classic. Till then….

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Notebook

The imminent arrival of summer seems to bring out my romantic spirit. The Notebook (2004) is as romantic as it gets. Ok, maybe just after Casablanca! Directed by Nick Cassavetes, it is based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks. It stars rising actors Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling , as well as veterans Gena Rowlands (and incidentally wife of John Cassavetes and mother of Nick Cassavetes)  and James Garner.  Supporting cast includes Joan Allen  and James Marsden.

And in case you're wondering, yes, this review is very likely to be a cheesy one!


The movie starts with an old man names Duke (Garner), who is visiting an elderly woman (Rowlands) who suffers from memory loss. He reads to her the story of rich girl Allie (McAdams) and poor country boy Noah (Gosling), who met during one summer when they were 17. But life (and Allie’s parents – mother played by Joan Allen) separates them. Allie goes off to college and moves on with her life, even getting engaged a few years later. However they are brought back together and Allie has to choose between her rich fiancé (Marsden) and the man she never stopped loving. In spite of this very brief synopsis, be assured that this is not just a movie about two people falling in love and living happily ever after.


Duke: They didn't agree on much. In fact they rarely agreed on anything. They fought all the time and they challenged each other everyday...But in spite their differences, they had one important thing in common, they were crazy about each other.


Noah: Would you just stay with me?

Allie: Stay with you? What for? Look at us, we're already fighting

Noah: Well that's what we do, we fight... You tell me when I am being an arrogant son of a bitch and I tell you when you are a pain in the ass. Which you are, 99% of the time. I'm not afraid to hurt your feelings. You have like a 2 second rebound rate, then you're back doing the next pain-in-the-ass thing.




Duke: That's my sweetheart in there. Wherever she is, that's where my home is.


Gosling and McAdams are amazing together, and the chemistry between them is obvious. The acting of the two older actors is slightly stronger, even though they do not appear much, but they are just incredible especially towards the end of the movie. Gosling is perfect, he makes you want Noah for yourself. Even the music is moving. James Gardner and Joan Allen are great in their supporting roles.

Each character is very well developed, and draws you into the story. I watched it several times, and each time I was embarked on this rollercoaster of emotions, from pure laugh to tears – honestly I think this is one of the movies where I have cried the most. It's heart-breaking and heart-warming all at the same time. Of course there is the little twist, the piece of missing info unfolds gradually and keeps us on tenterhooks, rooting for a happy ending.


Read this to me, and I'll come back to you every time

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Godfather - Part II

In 1974, two years after the original Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola released the sequel, starring Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, and Robert DeNiro as young Don Vito Corleone. I am usually not a fan of sequels, as directors typically try to capitalize on the elements that made the success of part I, and typically fail. Well, not here.


First thing to say, it is not possible to watch part II without having seen part I. That would be way too confusing.

We follow two stories in parallel here. We get to the origins of Vito Corleone and his rise to the ultimate Godfather role. Robert DeNiro impersonates younger Vito.

The godfather was born Vito Andolini, in the town of Corleone in Sicily. In 1901 his father was murdered for an insult to the local Mafia chieftain. His older brother Paolo swore revenge and disappeared into the hills, leaving Vito, the only male heir, to stand with his mother at the funeral. He was nine years old.

DeNiro is amazing and totally right for this part. He is a family man at heart, wiling only a better life.

There is a fun reference to the first part, too:

Vito Corleone: I make him an offer he don' refuse. Don' worry.


Most of the movie is dedicated to Michael though. It starts with an assassination attempt and we see him consolidate his power and destroying his enemies ruthlessly, even his own brother, Fredo.


Michael Corleone: I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies.

Michael Corleone: There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Michael: I don't want anything to happen to him while my mother's alive.


The two stories run in parallel, but I had difficulties seeing similarities, it felt a bit like watching two movies. Thinking about it a bit more though, I developed another point of view. Don Vito is a family man, who starts his “career” protecting the weak, through terror admittedly, but not siding with the “bad guys”: to some extent he turns into the person he is protecting the people from. But he keeps a side of humanity. He is respected as a man of morality, duty and principles, loved as a father  husband and friend, and is feared as a Don who never spares the enemy.

Meanwhile, Michael turns out to be more ruthless than his father. Betrayal after betrayal, he starts losing faith in the member of his family and, instead of gathering them around him, he alienates everyone who cares for him. This is particularly clear in the last shot, where he is alone, contemplating his actions and thinking back about his childhood. Ironically, we see Fredo was the only one who supported his decision to join the Navy. Pacino shows two aspects of Michael, quiet and pensive, then raging and scheming. In Part I, Michael did not want to become a man like his father and years later we see he has become much worse. In the end, the legacy of Vito Corleone is destroyed.

This makes me wonder about the power of fate: when you have everything for you, values and principles, and a vision for what your life is going to be, how much can elements interfere? And if you go another path, how much of what you become is really you, how much a just down to the circumstances? Because that's what happens to Michael, that's what happens to any of us actually, a reflection on "what if"?

The movie places a lot of emphasis on family and particularly on the father and son relationship, so it is a bit surprising never to see Michael with his children. While Vito is loving and caring, Michael never shows affection to his son, who is merely an heir. This makes it easier to understand the two ways of running the “Family” – Vito was a man who wanted to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, while Michael is decided to just wipe out anyone who resists him. The last question we could ask is whether Michael really cares for anyone: it becomes clearer and clearer he considers himself the “owner” of his brothers, his wife, his sister, and everything around him. Is it the case? Maybe Part III will tell. Until then….