Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Random Notes #2

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987 - Louis Malle) - Beautifully told story of an event from Malle's past - a sheltered Jewish boy being removed from the Catholic school he attended - is likely going to lead me down the path of investigating the rest of his stuff. "My Dinner With Andre" didn't quite do it for me (I found Wallace Shawn's character far more interesting than Andre), but both "Murmur Of The Heart" and "Elevator To The Gallows" were terrific and now this has sealed the deal...

One, Two, Three (1961 - Billy Wilder) - Aside from "Double Indemnity", this could be my favourite Billy Wilder film. From the get-go, this film is paced brillantly with little time to pause as Jimmy Cagney kicks into higher and higher gear. The last half hour literally sprints to the finish and is packed with gags and one liners a-plenty. Who knew that mixing Communists with Coca-Cola could be so much fun?

Otto Ludwig Piffl: Is everybody in this world corrupt?
Peripetchikoff: I don't know everybody.

Otto: They have assigned us a magnificent apartment. Just a short walk from the bathroom.

Otto: I'll pick you up at 6:30 sharp, because the 7:00 train for Moscow leaves promptly at 8:15.

Man, this was good.

Midnight (1939 - Mitchell Liesen) - More quality old comedy from Billy Wilder (though this time as script writer). A great entry into the screwball genre, "Midnight" stars Don Ameche, Claudette Colbert (who usually annoys me a bit, but not here) and John Barrymore (who also usually annoys me a bit, but is perfect here). Barrymore apparently refused to learn his lines for the film and used cue cards throughout, but his timing and reactions are impeccable in every scene. It also manages to inject subtlety into the nuttiness going on around the characters. Will Claudette keep up the charade as a Baroness in order to marry into money or will she give it up to be with her taxi driving true love? Ok, the answer is obvious, but the journey to it is highly entertaining.

El Topo (1970 - Alejandro Jodorowsky) - I can honestly say that, scene to scene, I had no idea what the hell I was going to see next...That's by no means a bad thing.

Dog Bite Dog (2006 - Pou-Soi Cheang) - The Dragon Dynasty label is releasing a whack of classic Asian action flicks as well as a number of more recent ones. There's some great stuff and some cheesy stuff. And there's some damn freaking awful stuff like this one. Why? Well:

  • It's one of the darkest looking films I've ever seen. You can rarely see characters faces and most of the time you don't even know who you're looking at.
  • There's very little action in the first 75 or so minutes. What's there is dull and uses far too much shaky cam.
  • It's not that the cops aren't overly bright - it's that they are to stupid to live. They have two methods of gaining information - screaming at suspects or hitting them. At one point in order to entice a suspect out into the open, they begin kicking his defenseless young girlfriend who is crippled with a tetanus infection. Doesn't make you really care for them as protagonists.
  • Which kind of sets up this suspect (a ruthless hit man) as the good guy. That's kind of tricky since we've already seen him cold-bloodedly kill. But in this film, that's apparently excusable - you see, his initial victim is a woman who wanted to divorce her husband and take all his money...As a matter of fact when the police interrogate the husband and find he contracted the killing, they all seem sympathetic for his reasons for doing it.
  • To prove that the killer is good hearted, the film shows him teaching a young timid girl living in a landfill how to fight back - but not so much that she could actually be of any use without him.
  • The only other female character in the film - the whole film - is a scared nurse who whimpers and runs away instead of giving aid to a patient. Of those 3 females, only the timid one is given any dialog - though it's only one single line repeated several times in one scene - and she's not depicted as the sharpest tack in the box. I don't think the film can be viewed as anything but misogynistic. There is a good dose of homoeroticism, but I doubt any of it was intended.
  • Everything is always at full tilt emotion wise. If you YELL it, then you obviously really meant it. Oh, and make your eyes really big too.
  • The music is uniformly bland or outright bad. The sappy acoustic guitar ballad during the "aw, look their in love" montage is cringe inducing. Not to mention the church choir showing up at "really serious" moments.
  • The sound design is awful - way over the top sound effects and bad foley editing (especially during some early eating scenes where the sound just doesn't match up) make this difficult to sit through at times.
  • For the hell of it, there's slow motion at several points for no discernible reason at all.

So it's no wonder you just don't give a crap when some of the characters get killed.

Flashpoint (2007 - Wilson Yip) - Better than "Dog Bite Dog" - if in this case I can define better as "sucking just a teeny bit less". This and Yip's previous film "SPL" (aka "Kill Zone") were both positioned as over the top action films. I can't remember a single thing from "SPL" (seriously, not one single image) and "Flashpoint" just grated on me, had little to no action and suffered from some of the same stupidity as the above. Bleh.

Fortunately, I've been able to wash out the bad taste those last two left...It's a good thing I watch a lot of movies.


Joseph B. said...

I recently began my own investigation of Louis Malle after a whole slew of his films were released to DVD. I've got two of his earliest fiction films, "The Lovers" and "The Fire Within", waiting to be watched right now. Might be a good time to check out his other stuff.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I liked this film that Donnie Yen directed, Ballistic Kiss. I also recommend New Dragon Inn if you haven't seen it.

By the way, there's a bar named after Billy Wilder in Berlin, next to the Film Museum.

Jamie said...

Consider this my film confession: I have not seen any of Louis Malle's films. Yes, unacceptable, I know. But, I plan to rectify that.

Any recommendations as to where I should start?

Bob Turnbull said...


I've been curious about those two recent Criterion releases as well. Will likely track them down too. I had wanted to see "Zazie Dans Le Metro" at a local French language film festival here last year, but just couldn't make it.


Thanks for the recommendations. At the very least "Ballistic Kiss" is a great title!


"Murmur Of The Heart" or "Au Revoir Les Enfants" are probably excellent places to start with him I guess. But you can't go wrong with "Elevator To The Gallows" either.

Jamie said...

Thanks, Bob. Tonight I finally saw "The Loved One" after adding it to my Netflix queue following your Blog-a-Thon essay on it. Wow. It was totally different from what I was expecting.

Bob Turnbull said...

So Jamie, was "totally different" (in regards to The Loved One) a good thing?

Limeyninja said...

Damn you Bob for not liking Flashpoint or SPL!

Ed Howard said...

One, Two, Three is an absolute joy. It doesn't top my favorite Wilder Sunset Boulevard, but it comes pretty damn close just on sheer force of will. Cagney's a steamroller in this one.

El Topo is OK, but I much prefer The Holy Mountain. The latter only makes a little more sense than the former, but it makes all the difference for me -- the wild imagery just hangs together a lot better when it has, not quite a plot, but at least a clear framework to build off of. El Topo isn't as good at building a coherent fantasy world, it simply rambles from one episode to the next like a surreal sketch comedy. This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- Bunuel does it well in many of his late films -- but it didn't quite work for me here. On that note, I like the Jodorowsky comic The Incal, imaginatively drawn by Moebius, even better than either film. Its fantasy world as limned by Moebius' pen and keen sense of color just leaps off the page with an intensity and physicality that is, somewhat perversely, not as present in the films.

Ed Howard said...

Oh, and I never thought of it before, but your wording made me wonder: did One, Two, Three inspire Godard's famous line about "the children of Marx and Coca-Cola?" It works as well as a summary of Wilder's film as it does for Godard's Masculin feminin.

Bob Turnbull said...

Matt, heh heh...Don't lose respect for me man! B-) I do wonder if my reaction to "Flashpoint" and "SPL" would've been different if I viewed it with a large Midnight Madness crowd. Neither film ever built up any excitement for me, so the audience may have helped...I also admit to having a hard time getting past the male characters - brooding, melodramatic at every turn...Ugh.


Thanks for the comments. I can't wait to see "Holy Mountain" (I have it on deck). I didn't love "El Topo" (I miss a lot of the religious aspects), but there was still enough to keep me engaged in it.

No idea about the Wilder/Godard connection...I haven't seen "Masculin Feminin" nor have I warmed up to Godard yet - I like the idea of Godard and his films, but I've yet to embrace any of them (even though "Pierrot Le Fou" was so great to look at).