Monday, February 28, 2011

Star Wars – the Original Trilogy

I waited almost 30 years to watch the Star Wars Trilogy. This is now done. 3 episodes watched back to back, altogether about 7 hours that went by really fast, a marathon that allowedus to stay in the movie and not lose track of the storyline: A new Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983).

Hats off to George Lucas for pulling it and imagining it – whereas most movies are inspired by a book, here it is the other way round, this trilogy inspired books, TV shows, video games, etc…. Even a prequel, directed again by good old George.

Do I need to give a detailed summary of the story? I believe only a handful of people (including me) have no idea but just in case – so, roughly: in a galaxy far, far away, the Empire controls the universe, and the resistance is led by Princess Leia. Luke Skywalker, a simple farmer, gets dragged into the war and, helped by Han Solo, Chewbacca and two droids name C-3PO et R2-D2, leads the ultimate fight against Darth Vader and the Emperor.

Beforehand, I had been wondering if the movie would have aged well – after all, some special effects that are cutting-edge at time t are not necessarily years later. No worries here. Apart from one scene in the last movie (the chase in the forest) everything is as new today as it was then. Granted, the costumes are a bit outdated but given the context it is fine! You will have to wait for the third episode to see Princess Leia in her alluring costume – the one Ross refers to in Friends, season 3. Whatever their age, seem men still fantasize on her! Did not realize until the end of the first episode that the actress, Carrie Fischer, is also a character in When Harry Met Sally - what a transformation, her role there was not as impressive or sexy.

I liked the subtle humour throughout the movies, not blatant, more implicit. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is one that makes it possible, especially in the first Episode A New Hope: he is cool, he is smooth, he is rude, he is hot, and as such is a natural magnet for women. The scene in The Empire strikes back (Leia: I love you Han Solo: I know) summarizes his character. I am a fan - therefore, most of my favorite quotes involve him!


Han Solo: Get in there, you big furry oaf! I don't care what you smell!


Han Solo: Look, Your Worshipfulness, let's get one thing straight. I take orders from just one person: me.

Princess Leia: It's a wonder you're still alive.

[Pushing past Chewbacca]

Will someone get this big walking carpet out of my way?

Han Solo: No reward is worth this.



Princess Leia: It's not over yet.

Han Solo: It is for me, sister. Look, I ain't in this for your revolution, and I'm not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I'm in it for the money.



Han Solo: Well Princess, it looks like you managed to keep me here a while longer.

Princess Leia: I had nothing to do with it. General Rieekan thinks it's dangerous for anyone to leave the system until they've activated the energy shield.

Han Solo: That's a good story. I think you just can't bear to let a gorgeous guy like me out of your sight.

Princess Leia: I don't know where you get your delusions, laser brain.

[Chewbacca laughs]

Han Solo: Laugh it up, fuzzball.


Loved the little teddy bears in the last episode, they were so cute – although this last film was not as good as the other two, I found. We had a little gamble going on: episode 4, the first one of the original trilogy, Luke is quite taken with Princess Leia. As it becomes obvious she is going more for the bad boy Han Solo, and given that in movies where there is a love triangle one couple makes it and something happens to the third one, well, it was an easy way out to suddenly make Leia Luke’s twin sister. I did not really see that coming but thankfully I was with someone with more insight.

Some quotes have made it to the everyday life, such as “May the force be with you” or “I am your father”. Darth Vader being Luke’s father is a twist in the plot but I watched the movie more as a thrilling sci-fi movie than as a psychological reflection on good/bad, father/son relationships etc…. That said, if you only watch one part of Star Wars, this is probably the scene:

Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan is fantastic, even though he appears fairly little. I have a feeling Obi-Wab might have inspired the role of Priest Cornelius in Fifth Element and, to go even further, I have a feeling Han Solo may have inspired the character of Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis). Tiny Master Yoda is also an interesting character, it took some time to get used to his weirdly structured sentences, I was just a bit disappointed we did not see him more – and is death happens at a time that is a tad too obvious. But I had a great time and really enjoyed it. So yes, maybe I’ll watch the new trilogy one of these days!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rain Man

Let’s now go back to 1988 and Rain Man, directed by Barry Levinson, also responsible for Sleepers.


Abrasive and selfish, Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) discovers that his father, whith whom he had fallen out, has died and left $3 million to his elder son Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), a man with autism of whose existence Charlie was unaware of. Charlie literally kidnaps Raymond from his institution and the two of them embark on a road trip that is going to change them both.


I am not really a fan of Tom Cruise – getting tired of the Colgate smile, the “cute guy” look he has going on in every of his early movies: Top Gun, Cocktail, even Rain Man, he is always sure of himself, too aware that he is attractive, and in the end without really much substance. Here though it is moving to see him change as the movie goes by – from selfish and unpleasant (Dr. Bruner: You have to bring him back, Mr. Babbitt. Do you understand me? Charlie: Certainly. No problem. That will be $1.5 million please. I'll take it in cash, check, or a transfer) to a caring brother (Charlie:But it's not about the money anymore. You know, I just don't understand. Why didn't he tell me I had a brother? Why didn't anyone ever tell me that I had a brother? Because it'd have been nice to know him for more than just the past six days).



Hats off to Dustin Hoffman, who is so sweet in this film, credible, and loveable. A fun scene includes:


As you know by now I enjoy quotes, so a couple of favourites here:


Charlie: Ray, all airlines have crashed at one time or another, that doesn't mean that they are not safe.

Raymond: QANTAS. QANTAS never crashed.

Charlie: QANTAS?

Raymond: Never crashed.

Charlie: Oh that's gonna do me a lot of good because QANTAS doesn't fly to Los Angeles out of Cincinnati, you have to get to Melbourne! Melbourne, Australia in order to get the plane that flies to Los Angeles!


Sally Dibbs: Good Morning! Coffee?
Raymond: [
looks at her nametag] Sally Dibbs, Dibbs Sally. 461-0192.
Sally Dibbs: How did you know my phone number?
Charlie: How did you know that?
Raymond: You said read the telephone book last night. Dibbs Sally. 461-0192.
Charlie: He, uh, remembers things. Little things sometimes.


Charlie: Raymond! [Grabs tooth brush from him] When I say stop it, why don't you stop it? Why do you always have to act like an idiot? [Raymond begins to laugh]

Charlie: You think that's funny?

Raymond: Yeah funny Rain Man, funny teeth.

Charlie: What'd you say? Funny teeth? What?

Raymond: I didn't say funny teeth, funny Rain Man.

Charlie: You? You're the Rain Man?


And of course, we do find out Charlie was quite attached to his brother when he was a kid, up until Raymond was taken away, as his parents feared he would harm Charlie. So the Dad did love both sons, after all! Maybe that realization is what also causes Charlie to evolve.




Other than that, I loved the casino scene, although I was a bit worried at how this would turn out - for a moment I forgot what kind of movie I was watching. Not Casino :)


I don’t know, I enjoyed it, but mostly because of Dustin Hoffman’s performance, which was incredibly touching. Not liking Tom Cruise so much did not really help and at times I had difficulties being attentive. But watching how Raymond, in hiw own way, also warms up to Charlie, little by little and in spite of having his routine disrupted, was sweet.

There were some fun scenes, some emotional scenes, I liked the music, which I still have not been able to identify (help, please?). It was also part of a marathon weekend where I watched 5 films so maybe that did not help - I realize I likely did not give it the attention it deserved. 

And to finish with my very favourite:

Charlie: What are you writing?... What the fuck is this? "Serious Injury List"? Serious injury list? Are you fucking kidding me?
Raymond: Number eighteen in 1988, Charlie Babbitt squeezed and pulled and hurt my neck in 1988.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Black Swan




This is rare, but I would like to talk about a 21st century, even a 2011 movie! This week, I went to see the much talked about Black Swan, Darren Aronosfky’s (Requiem for a Dream, coming up on this blog soon) latest film, and I felt it deserved an entry, as it is probably on its way to become a classic, if only because of Natalie Portman’s mind-blowing performance. We should know next Sunday (27/02/11) if she is getting the Best Actress Oscar.


The official plot states: “A ballet dancer wins the lead in "Swan Lake" and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan - Princess Odette - but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odette's evil sister, Odile, the Black Swan”.

First things first: this is not a movie about ballerinas and the competitive world of ballet dancing.


Nina is overwhelmed, overprotected, and generally choked by her mother, whose career as a ballet dancer never took off. She is the “perfect white swan”, innocent, pure, naïve. In many ways, she is still a child, as is reminded several times in the movie: the pink room full of teddy bears, the mother watching her sleep, etc….. The “perfect black swan”, in contrast, is portrayed by Rival Lily (Mila Kunis): dark, seductive, sexual.


If we accept that we all have multiple aspects to our personalities, then to me Nina is the Child, and Lily is the Woman / Adult, everything Nina aspires to, everything she wants to be, but cannot, as her mother makes sure she remains this fragile, dependent child she can live through. So Nina goes through this over-accelerated, overwhelming teenage crisis she should have gone through years before – the crisis is worsened by the pressure of the competition for the role, as Lily is a friend, a fantasy, but also the alternate, so definitely a rival. On top of it, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, magnetic and a tad sadistic), after detecting a dark side in her and picking her for the role, keeps using his charms to unleash Nina’s sexuality, seduction, to unleash her Inner Woman, so to speak – in doing so, he pushes her overboard:

Perfection is not just about control. It's also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence. And very few have it in them.


The only person standing in your way is you. It's time to let her go. Lose yourself.


There is also, to me, a lesson on the search for perfection: technically, Nina is perfect, she masters the technique perfectly, but as Thomas tells her:

I see you obsess, getting each and every move perfectly right. But I never see you lose yourself. Ever. All the discipline, for what?

Perfection implies control, and control means absence of spontaneity, which is what Nina is told throughout the movie. This also leads her to doubt Lily’s intentions, as she quickly sees her as a rival: Watch the way she moves. Imprecise but effortless. She's not faking it.

As my grandmother would say: “The best is the enemy of the good”.


Interesting choice of words from Thomas at the very beginning, too:

We open our season with Swan Lake. Done to death I know, but not like this.


In the end though, Nina did get her perfection! What it worth it? Not sure. Movie is filmed very well, and brings the spectator in from the start. I freaked out when Nina’s reflection in the mirror continues dancing after she has stopped, I was convinced she had killed Lily and that she

was now enjoying her first and last show in the spotlight, then, for a brief moment, I thought she might have killed her mother – I did not see what happened next coming, I thought this had all been a dream, that said, it goes back to the point made earlier: the Woman / Adult, who has been repressed all her life, finally gets the chance to (figuratively speaking) kill the Child and come to the surface: “It's my turn! My turn! My turn!”.


Follows one of the most amazing scenes in the movie:

I hope Natalie Portman wins the Oscar. She is the one making the movie what it is. I do not know for sure if she is the one dancing in all scenes, but she has the natural grace of ballerinas, and the expressions on her face, which is often filmed close-up, are extremely credible and realistic. We start looking at the environment the way she does. The end left me a bit frustrated, like “hell, you put the ending credits before the final scene!”, but that’s what made it all the more intense.





I was a bit more confused about the role of Beth, the former star ballerina forced to retire and how to interpret it. Nina wishes so much to be a star, and steals small objects from Beth’s room: nail file, lipstick, perfume etc….. This coincides with the beginning of her hallucinations. I am not sure how to understand this. That said, I enjoyed seeing Winona Ryder come back to the big screen, I always liked her work.

Some of the scenes were a bit difficult for me, a tad scary, a couple were seriously disgusting (close-ups on a broken toe or on bloody fingers not so good)


I was wondering for most of the movie where I had seen Mila Kunis (Lily) before, this is it: she played Jackie, Ashton Kutcher’s Girlfriend, in That 70’s Show. Barbara Hershey is good at the overprotective, annoying, overbearing mother – I thought she looked familiar but could not remember when I have seen her, the only thing I would like to say is: stop surgeries, botox and liftings, ladies!!! That’s enough. 


And Vincent Cassel… well, he is as attractive as ever. Nothing to say! Vincent, if you’re reading….

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Wizard of Oz

Understandably, after watching Clockwork Orange, I had to pick a less traumatizing film. Wizard of Oz (1939) seemed to do the trick. Story is fairly simple. Dorothy and her dos Toto live in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. During a storm, her house is blown away and she is taken to the Magical Land of Oz. To return home, she must find the Wizard of Oz, the only one able to help her. On her way, she meets a Scarecrow looking for a brain, a Tin Man looking for a heart and a Lion looking for courage. 

This is a short musical for children, starring Judy Garland, very fresh and cute.  The costumes  and decor are a bit out-dated, but it is not a deal-breaker. II liked that we move from sepia to full colour once we enter the dreamland of Oz, that allows for a better differentiation between  dream and reality. A bit of a lesson, as Dorothy was unsatisfied with her life in Kansas and,,after many adventures, realises she wants to go home, and, as the with says to her: "you've always had the power to go home".

I was surprised to hear the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and even more when I found all the versions I have heard originate from that movie! Even better, when the Munchkins tell Dorothy to “follow the yellow brick road”, I finally found an explaination for Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road: Dorothy follows the road to find her destiny, the singer draws a parallel between his life, that is unsatisfying, and decides to take another path, “beyond the yellow brick road”.

A good film, a good moment, that does not require the viewer to be extremely attentive, it is easy and pleasant.


A few quotes that I liked, that add a bit of humour:


Auntie Em: Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn't mean that you have the power to run the rest of us. For twenty-three years, I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now... well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it!


Cowardly Lion: All right, I'll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I'll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I'm going in there. There's only one thing I want you fellows to do.

Scarecrow: What's that?

Cowardly Lion: Talk me out of it!


And to conclude:

A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.

 There’s no place like home.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Clockwork Orange

So I made the terrible mistake of watching violent A Clockwork Orange after sweet Casablanca. No, let me rephrase that: I made the terrible mistake of watching A Clockwork Orange. Or is it an error? I cannot say. It is definitely part of the culture. Based on a novel by Anthony Burgess (written in 1962) and adapted by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, it is both revolting and fascinating.

Alex is the narrator of the story. He is a teenager who is a fan of Beethoven (or “Ludwig van”, as he refers to it) and ultra-violence. Followed by his “droogs”, they go on raping and molesting until Alex is arrested and sent to prison for 14 years. Two years into the sentence, government officials are looking for volunteers to try the controversial Ludovico Technique, a trial method supposed to rehabilitate criminals in two weeks. Alex jumps at the occasion in the hope of shortening his sentence. Subjected to violent image while his eyes are forced to remain closed, he is programmed to have a negative physical reaction to violence. He is then released but suffers from the vengeance of his victims. In a terrifying end though, it appears he is back to his old ways, saying sarcastically and menacingly:”I was cured all right”. 

This is a story about violence (duh). But it also reflects on the never ending cycle: victims become tormenters, tormenters become victims, and so it keeps going. Thankfully I did not watch it alone, I am not sure I would have been able to keep going. First we put the language to English, and the subtitles to English as well. After 10 minutes and not understanding anything, we switched to French subtitles, which were no better. After 30 minutes though we were able to figure things out. The accent and the language used give an additional aspect of unreality and weird atmosphere, and the designs of the place where Alex lives with his parents adds a psychedelic feature to the movie. One thing is for sure, I will never hear anything from “Ludwig van” in the same way, ever!


Stanley Kubrick described the movie as “a social satire dealing with the question of whether behavioural psychology and psychological conditioning are dangerous new weapons for a totalitarian government to use to impose vast controls on its citizens and turn them into little more than robots” and as “a story of the dubious redemption of a teenage delinquent by condition-reflex therapy. It is at the same time a running lecture on free-will.” I am not able to comment on this – I was just waiting for the end, to check this film off my (long) list, but I can honestly say I will not watch it again – it left me too uneasy, too sickened. And the actor, Malcolm McDowell, OMG, not sure where they found him but he is so credible in this role it is almost scary. As it turns out, after that film, he was only seen and cast as a psychotic villain. No surprise there. Years of drug abuse and alcohol put an end to his career and he was then reduced to playing secondary roles in The Mentalist, or the infamous Linderman in the first season of Heroes. No surprise there – I guess it is one of many actors who get the role of their lives once, and nothing significant afterwards.

Nothing funny about it, nothing particularly enjoyable, however a reference and a must. Glad it’s done.

And in case you are not sure you want to see this movie, well, here is a humouristic summary:

Monday, February 21, 2011


It is almost mandatory to watch Casablanca at least once in one’s life. Released in 1942 and directed by Michael Curtiz, the movie stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. I do not know what to say to do it justice, it is such a beautiful story I was left speechless.

Rick (Humphrey Bogart, magnificent) is a bitter, cynical man who owns a café in Casablanca in 1941. The city is controlled by the Vichy government, and is a platform where people can escape Europe and go to the US. He finds himself at odds when former love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband Victor, a pillar of the resistance, show up in his café, needing his help to escape. It has all the elements for a great movie: romance, love triangle, danger, suspense, drama, humour. Bogart and Bergman are just amazing, although I have to confess a slight preference for Bogart’s character, more subtle, deeper. Paul Henreid (Victor) plays a hero and seems pale in comparison to Humphrey Bogart. Poor guy does not stand a chance!I A fun fact: apparently Ronald Reagan was briefly considered to impersonate Rick - thankfully, briefly!

It seems the movie was filmed with a half scenario, written by the Epstein brothers, with no specific end in mind, up until the very last moment – at first the end disappointed me but, thinking about it, it was the only logical choice, and very likely what makes this film unforgettable.

I loved that there is so much subtle, clever, funny quotes in the movie, that release the tension

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]

Croupier: Your winnings, sir.

Captain Renault: Oh, thank you very much.


Rick: And remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart.

Captain Renault: That is my least vulnerable spot.


Also, in spite of the fact that it is war time, I loved the atmosphere at Rick’s Café, to the point where I almost wish it still existed: Sam is a great piano player and the general spirit is fantastic.

On Rick’s character, I could see some parallel with Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind: a cynic, still able to show a human side. Here the similarity is obvious:

Casablanca / Rick: I'm the only cause I'm interested in.

Gone with the Wind / Rhett: I believe in Rhett Butler, he's the only cause I know


The second confrontation between Rick and Ilsa particularly caught my attention: I remember being shown this scene a few months ago as part of a class, and the only thing we were asked after was: “Did they do it?” – strangely enough not everybody agreed! The DVD supplement (narrated by Lauren Bacall, Humphrey “Bogey” Bogart’s wife in real life) tells us that all explicit sexual references have been deleted, to be just hints and innuendo.


Some more intense scenes include the scene with The Marseillaise, beautiful and very emotional, especially when placed back in the context of WWII – remember, the film was released during the war! 


The movie has an incredible amount of quotes that everybody uses at some point, some times without quite knowing where it came from:

-          Here's looking at you, kid.”

-          "Usual suspects", from Captain Renault's phrase:Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects

-          Play it once, Sam. For old times' sake.”

-          Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine

-          And a personal favourite: “We’ll always have Paris

I just could not put every scene, every quote, every picture in this post, otherwise the entire movie would have been shown here!

To finish on a less serious note, Casablanca was such a success that it was imitated many times, without success. However, a funny version is the Looney Tunes’, Carrotblanca: