Classic Movie Review: La Jetée (1962)


Title: La Jetée
Release Date: February 16, 1962
Director: Chris Marker
Production Company: Argos Films
Summary/Review:

Working my through lists of all-time greatest movies means watching lots of very long movies, so I was relieved that this one is only 28 minutes. The joke was on me though, because this is an intense 28 minutes of experimental film set in a post-nuclear war Paris. The movie is almost entirely made up of a montage of still images.

The plot involves scientists researching time travel and finding a man (Davos Hanich) who has a strong memory from his childhood of a young woman (Hélène Châtelain) standing on the observation platform (“la jetée”) at Orly Airport.  The post-apocalyptic setting, time travel, and even the significance of an airport reminded me of the 1995 movie 12 Monkeys, so it was no surprise to find out that La Jetée was a credited inspiration for that movie.

La Jetée is a chilling but surprisingly beautiful film, with sound effects and music carrying a heavy load and Hanich and Châtelain expressing a lot of emotion and nuance in their acting (or perhaps more accurately, “posing”).

Rating: ****

Movie Review: The Hunchback of Nortre Dame (1996)


Title: The Hunchback of Nortre Dame
Release Date: June 21, 1996
Director: Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Perhaps inspired by the successful adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables as a Broadway/West End musical, Disney adapted Hugo’s other great classic novel for this Disney Renaissance movie.  While I wouldn’t say that kids can’t watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame, this movie is considerably darker than any other Disney animated feature before or since.  The movie deals with infanticide, physical and emotional abuse, racial prejudice, discrimination against the disabled, Christian ideas of lust, sin, and damnation, religious hypocrisy, capital punishment, and murder.  Yes, it’s heavy. It also has three comic relief gargoyles, and as ridiculous as that sounds, they’re really needed.

Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) is a young man confined to the tower of the Cathedral of Notre Dame where he works as the bell ringer.  His cruel caretaker,  Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay), will not allow him to go out due to facial deformities and a hunchback that Frollo claims make him monstrous.  Encouraged by his gargoyle friends (Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander, and Mary Wickes) encourage to venture out for the Festival of Fools, Quasimodo finds himself humiliated and abused by the mob until rescued by a Romani dancer, Esmerelda (who is not only voiced by Demi Moore, but is drawn to look like her).

Frollo, perhaps Disney’s cruelest and most chilling villain (and clearly a representation of modern-day religious hypocrites and bigots), declares an all-out war on Esmerelda and the “gypsies” within Paris, while simultaneously lusting for Esmerelda.  It’s up to Quasimodo to break away from his fear and self-loathing to save Esmerelda, with the help of Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline), Frollo’s conscientious captain of the guard.

I’ve never read Hugo’s novel, so I don’t know how faithful this movie is to the book, but I have to say it is a strange story for an animated film.  The animation, though, is absolutely gorgeous and brings medieval Paris to life as well as Quasimodo soaring through the spires of the cathedral (I do wonder how much of Quasimodo climbing the tower carrying Esmerelda was inspired by King Kong). The music, while not of the catchy sing-a-long variety, is good too and incorporates period religious music to good effect.

All in all, I’m not sure what to make of this movie.It has a good heart, but seems a bit uneven.  I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. Oh, and did I mention that it also has a comic relief goat, too?  Because the goat is really awesome.

Rating: ***1/2

Documentary Movie Review: Bill Cunningham New York (2011) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “B” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “B” documentaries I’ve reviewed are BabiesBallerinaBarbosa: The Man Who Made Brazil Cry,  Being Elmo, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, and Boredom.

Title: Bill Cunningham New York
Release Date: March 16, 2011
Director: Richard Press
Production Company: First Thought Films
Summary/Review:

The movie starts with a man photographing passing pedestrians on a street corner in Midtown Manhattan.  It’s a bit creepy, and not too far into the movie a pair of women yell at him to stop. We learn the man is a fashion photographer for the New York Times who publishes collages of street fashion as well from fundraising soirees and models strutting down the catwalk.  But as we get to know the humble man behind the camera, all the preconceived notions of fashion photographer.

Cunningham is not at all fashionable himself, consistently wearing the same blue jacket as he bikes around Manhattan with his camera. He lives modestly in a studio apartment within Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets of his photographs (part of the movie documents Carnegie Hall management evicting Cunningham and other aging artists to make more room for revenue-producing office space).  He never accepts payment or even food and drink at the events he covers.  He does try to photograph celebrities, but focuses on photographing fashionable clothing that captures his eye.  And he never mocks the everyday people he photographs, instead celebrating their fashion sense. Indeed he’s something of an anthropologist documenting fashion trends that emerge from the populist.

Every Blogging A to Z Challenge I’ve done on documentary movies has included one on a street photographer – previously Finding Vivian Maier and Zimbelism – and they’re all complex and a bit odd people. I’m not terribly interested in fashion photography but do feel I learned to appreciate something about it through Bill Cunningham’s unique life story.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Cleo, From 5 to 7 (1962)


Title: Cleo, From 5 to 7
Release Date: April 11, 1962
Director: Agnès Varda
Production Company: Ciné Tamaris | Rome Paris Films
Summary/Review:

Watching lots of New Wave, New Hollywood, and other 60s art films, I’m seeing a pattern of movies that glorify the renegade man. Over and over these men defy convention, yes, but are also obnoxious, abusive, and sexually aggressive – in short, dudebros.  So it’s refreshing to see a New Wave-style film by a woman director that focus on a woman lead character who spends much of the film interacting with other women.

Cleo (Corinne Marchand) is a rising pop singer who is waiting for the results of a medical test which will tell her if she has cancer or not.  Over a two-hour period (close to the film’s 90-minute run time), Cleo visits a tarot card reader, goes shopping with her maid, has a brief visit from her lover, rehearses with her composer and lyricist, meets her friend Dorothée (Dorothée Blanck), and finally goes to a park where she encounters a soldier on leave from the Algerian conflict, Antonie (Antoine Bourseiller).  Antoine agrees to accompany her to the doctor if she will see him off at the railway station.

Cleo is depicted as being somewhat vain, but a recurring theme is “beauty is life,” reflecting how people are conditioned to value a woman for her beauty. Cleo’s meanderings through the film are given poignancy by the fact that she is facing her mortality.  The movie is also a great time capsule of Paris in the early 1960s.  I was particularly impressed by an extended scene in a taxi cab that simply showed the view of the city’s winding streets at a radio news report speaks about Algeria and other current events.  The whole movie is beautifully composed as a film and features top-notch acting all around.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Breathless (1960)


Title: Breathless
Release Date: March 16, 1960
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Production Company: Les Films Impéria | Les Productions Georges de Beauregard  | Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC)
Summary/Review:

There was a big deal about a remake of “Breathless” with Richard Gere, that I remember seeing scenes from as a kid.  There’s also the song by Jerry Lee Lewis. But I honestly had no idea to expect from this alleged French New Wave masterpiece. Alas, it’s another movie from the Sixties which tries to glamorize the life of an obnoxious, sexually aggressive, and criminal dudebro (dude-frère?).  In this case, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) steals a car in Marseilles, kills a police officer who chases him, and uses his American girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg), to shield him from the police.  It’s very self-indulgent and frankly kind of boring.  The movie is recognized for its innovation in cinematography and broad influence, but I just don’t care enough to muster up any thoughts on what this movie does right, because it was so dull and awful.

Rating: **

Movie Review: A Cat in Paris (2010)


Title: A Cat in Paris
Release Date: December 15, 2010
Director: Jean-Loup Felicioli & Alain Gagnol
Production Company: Digit Anima | Folimage | France 3 Cinéma | Emage Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Une vie de Chat (translation, A Cat’s Life) is movie set in Paris, about Paris, and Paris could even be said to be a character, so it seems unnecessary to have Paris in the American title of the film.  Through vivid animation, the movie follows a two-timing cat, Dino, as he spends his days with a small girl named Zoé, and his nights accompanying the cat burglar Nico on his heists. Their stories come together when the mobster who killed Zoé’s police officer father (and is under investigation by her police officer mother, Jeanne) kidnaps her and Nico is drawn in by Dino to help her.  This is a wonderfully visual spectacular with scenes of foot chases across the rooftops of Paris more than making up for a thin plot.  Plus, it’s about a cat in Paris, which after watching April and the Extraordinary World, and then this film, is apparently my jam!

Rating: ****

Book Reviews: Night of the New Magicians by Mary Pope Osbourne


Author: Mary Pope Osbourne
TitleNight of the New Magicians
Publication Info: New York : Random House, 2006.
Summary/Review:

This is a really entertaining installment of the Magic Tree House series where Annie and Jack visit the Paris World’s Fair of 1889 to learn of for forms of “magic.”  The magic is actual the inventions and discoveries of Gustave Eiffel, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, and Alexander Graham Bell who all meet in a memorable scene atop the Tour Eiffel.  Annie and Jack also end up flying on a bicycle.  Cool stuff!

Rating: ***

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 36: Sidetrip to Paris (day 4)


On Ash Wednesday, 25 Fevrier 1998, I started with a bit of memento mori by visiting Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. This “city of the dead” is the final resting place of numerous illuminaries such as Sarah Berndhart, Frederic Chopin, Jacque-Louis David, Isadora Duncan, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Richard Wright, and Jim Morrison. It’s ghoulishy cool place to take a stroll. Year’s later I would read a great book called Waiting for Gertrude by Bill Richardson in which all the people buried in Père-Lachaise are reincarnated as cats.

I returned to Norte Dame, this time to worship. The cathedral was quite crowded and a security guard valiantly tried to keep camera-toting tourists out of the choir. I had no idea how to tell him in French that I was here to pray, so I made a sign of the cross on my forehead, and he let me in with a smile. I received the actual ashes on my forehead a little later during a lovely Mass where I sat next to a French woman with an amazing singing voice. Not knowing the language, I really couldn’t sing myself.

On Wednesday, the Louvre Museum was open to 10 pm, and anyone arriving after 2 pm got in for reduced admission. I figured 8 hours was a good amount of time to take in the world’s greatest art museum so I joined the snake-like queue leading into Pei’s glass pyramid. The line was long but moved fast and soon I was inside and overwhelmed by choices. I bought an English-language guide for first time visitors that described and guided me to the 51 top masterworks in the collection. Following that took me about four hours and was well worth it to see all the famous art works I’d heard of (as well as many I never heard of but liked anyway).

On my own, I revisited some of the galleries more in-depth, mainly the collections of paintings. I was amused by the crowds gathered in front of Mona Lisa, all talking nonsense. I figured one could make a comical recording of tourists in front of Mona Lisa with witty bon mots like:

AMERICAN MAN: What makes it so famous?

AMERICAN WOMAN: Marketing!

After being around so many Australian travelers, I was amazed by how many fellow Americans were in Paris. Luckily I had my English-language guide so I could tell the woman from Michigan that David’s Le sacre de Napoléon depicts the Emperor’s coronation, not his sacrifice.

I admired a lot of art, but settled on the following three paintings as my favorites: La belle jardinière by Raphael (I especially like that John the Baptist wore a hairshirt as a baby), La Jeune Martyre by Paul Delaroche, and the drool-worthy Woman with a Mirror by Titian. After a full day’s work looking at art, I was bleary-eyed and staggering through the gallery. I took the Metro back to the hotel and dreamt of curvy, curly-haired women with mirrors.

Pere Lachaise

An “avenue” in the City of the Dead.

Mona Lisa

If you go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, expect company.

Aphrodite avec otter

Venus de Milo and Newport Otter enjoyed one another’s company because they both understand what life is like with stubby arms.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 35: Sidetrip to Paris (day 3)


On Mardi Gras, 24 Fevrier 1998, I moved out of Jessica’s flat because Madame Françoise was hosting several guests and didn’t have room for me. I enjoyed two nights rent free, but I also looked forward to having a place of my own for the next tonight. Jessica took me to her favorite budget lodging in Paris, Hotel Clairefontaine. I ended up in a petite chamber (9 1/2 x 8 ft) with a faded, dirty floral wallpaper, a squishy bed, a sink, a bidet, a wardrobe, and a window looking out on the courtyard covered by an old brown rag. And I loved it! This was the first place I had to myself in weeks, and it cost less than many of the hostels I’d been staying.

I took the train to Versailles, avoiding the wait to visit the actual palace of Château de Versailles, and instead I set out to explore the expansive gardens. I spent most of the day enjoying fresh air and exercise in a beautiful setting, which was inspiring despite replanting, statues covered in canvas, and no bubbling fountains. My favorite part is Petit Hameau where Marie Antoinette would dress up as a dairymaid and live a rustic lifestyle. Today there’s a working farm on the site, so I got to see a French sheep to go with all the Irish, Scottish, and English sheep I’d seen. It seemed to me that Marie Antoinette was ahead of the curve in creating the Disney/Busch Gardens experience.

Back in Paris, I met Jessica for dinner at a fondue restaurant. To complete my Parisian experience, we had a very rude waitress who responded to Jessica’s French in English, mocked her for ordering a Coke, told us she knew we were American because we came to dinner at 7 pm (too early), and would not tell Jessica what type of cheese was in the fondue. “It’s a secret recipe and I don’t want you opening your own restaurant.” It was so over the top, I had to laugh and simply enjoy the whole rude waitress experience. Oddly, the more I laughed, the nicer the waitress behaved to us, and by the end of the meal we were rather chummy. I figure Parisians are like New Yorkers: if you get offended it’s your own problem, but if you play along, the you’re alright.

Clairefontaine

My petite chamber in Hotel Clairefontaine.

Petite hameau

The Petite Hameau in the gardens at Versailles.