Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring

Jean de Florette was originally 4 hours long. Instead of cutting essential scenes, the director, Claude Berri, split off the second half and called it Manon of the Spring (a.k.a. Jean de Florette – Part 2). But he didn’t have to. Anyone who watches the first part of the story will want to go on to the second part immediately. Fans of Cinema Paradiso or Antonia’s Line will love it. I can’t say much more without giving it away, but it is a gorgeous film, full of engaging characters and a story that builds in its intensity and doesn’t let up until the very last scene. I wanted to go back to the beginning and watch it all over again as soon as it was finished. (Read the reviews I’ve linked to if you want to know the story, but don’t read too much. It’s best to go in just knowing you’re going to see a wonderful film.)

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Trilogy)

I’ve been watching a lot of B-movies lately. The acting is wooden, the production values are dated, but the filmmakers made the most of what little they had. The low budgets forced them to get innovative. Watching B-movies isn’t a bad way to learn about film. There’s no subtlety to any of the elements, the editing, the narrative, the music, the acting — so it’s much easier to see what the filmmakers were aiming for. My favourite B-movies so far: King Kong (1933) — it isn’t just a B-movie; it’s amazing. Forbidden Planet — there would be no Star Trek without this movie. Destination Moon — which may have been Kubrick’s inspiration for 2001: A Space Odyssey. It Came From Outer Space — a generic but entertaining “sci-fi” B-movie about aliens crash landing in the desert. And the latest surprise hit is The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon may be the best creature-feature B-movie I’ve seen since the original King Kong. Dramatically, it’s not in the same league as King Kong, but it’s a good action movie with enough thrills and surprises so it never gets boring. The DVD Talk synopsis (edited): “Starry-eyed scientist David Reed, adventurer-investor Mark Williams and curvaceous Kay penetrate the Black Lagoon to search for a full fossil to match the skeletal claw discovered by professor Carl Maia. But what greets them is an aquatic man-fish that takes an instant liking to the way Kay fills out a contoured swimsuit. The Gill Man decimates the supporting cast while the leads argue the best way to capture it; after he blocks their exit from the Lagoon, the wily Devonian goes a step further and claims Kay as a romantic spoil of war.” The underwater scenes (impressive even by today’s standards) are exciting and especially creepy when the The Gill Man follows the “curvaceous Kay” while she’s swimming. The creature may be a guy in a rubber suit, but it’s a pretty damn affective rubber suit.
Continue reading The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Trilogy)

Forbidden Planet ! ! !

Forbidden Planet is the ultimate “sci-fi” B-movie. When one of the opening credits reads, “Electronic Tonalities by Louis and Bebe Barron,” you know it’s going to be a fun ride. Pick any five minutes from Forbidden Planet and you’ll see evidence of its influence on Star Wars, Star Trek and even Alien. It’s a total goofball movie full of blatant chauvinism and cheesy (yet spectacular) special effects and aliens that can read your mind, and a robot and a crazy spaceship and insane “electronic tonalities” — all kinds of fun stuff.

Make yourself a big bowl and popcorn and dig in. You’ll have a blast (unless you take it seriously).

“Searching for Bobby Fischer” is a good movie

Searching for Bobby Fischer became one of my favourites when I first saw it in a theatre in 1993. I was hooked after the opening narration by 8-year-old Max Pomeranc that recounts Bobby Fischer‘s rise to fame as one of the best chess players in the world and ends with the whispered words: “He disappeared.” Then we discover the narrator is a child prodigy, a genius chess player who some call a young Bobby Fischer. But where Bobby Fischer was a nut, this kid stays on a path that keeps him sane. He plays baseball and goes fishing and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. It’s a good story and a good movie.

There is no trailer available online, but there is this scene:

A Review of “Vera Drake”

Whenever I put on just about any Krzysztof Kieslowski DVD, it becomes apparent, usually within the first 60 seconds, that I’m watching an exceptional film. The way it looks, the rhythm of the shots, the way it sounds, the natural look in the actors eyes — the attention to the details of every facet of the filmmaking process creates a feeling like a symphony of 50 different instruments playing a melody in perfect pitch and perfect time. It moves you. And you know that wherever the journey takes you, you’re in good hands. It doesn’t happen often because Sturgeon’s Law holds true in movies too. But when it does happen, you sit up and take notice because you don’t want to miss anything. You’re no longer a passive viewer. You’re engaged. You’re paying attention. Vera Drake is that kind of film. It tells the story of a woman in England after World War II who performs illegal abortions for poor people who can’t afford the medical procedure themselves. It’s not a pro-choice or anti-abortion film. It presents the situation, draws you into the thoughts and feelings of all the people involved (Vera’s close-knit family) and allows you to make your own judgements.

None of it is black and white, though. When the end credits start rolling, you’re left with a lot of feelings to sort through and plenty to think about. It’s not an overly-serious downer film, though. Yes, there is drama, but it’s a pleasure to be with these characters because they’re so genuine and kind. It’s just solid filmmaking all around. At any rate, I’ll keep an eye out for anything directed by Mike Leigh for now on. He definitely got my attention with Vera Drake. I recommend it to anyone who just wants to see a good movie.