Archive for the ‘French’ Category

Chocolat (2000) – Lasse Hallstrom (Dir.), Juliet Binoche, Alfred Molina, Judy Dench, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Peter Stormare, Carrie-Anne Moss

What is with that patch of hair on Depp's face? What is that? A sideburn? Beard? PICK A SIDE; WE'RE AT WAR.

What is with that patch of hair on Depp’s face? What is that? A sideburn? Beard? PICK A SIDE; WE’RE AT WAR.

Alright guys, here’e the fucking deal. I’m in a bad mood. I’m not going to tell you why, but I am. I’m really frustrated and angry and I can’t remember a fucking password for a tumblr blog and this dude sitting across from me KEEPS HITTING MY FOOT AND NEVER APOLOGIZES.

*Deep Breath*

If I could write this article in all caps, I would. But that wouldn’t allow for nuance and I FUCKING LOVE NUANCE. Now, before we get into this, people, I need you to know a few things. I write books. I’m working on a book. At least I have been for the last year…and it’s THIS CLOSE to being done. Can I work on it? Well, every time I sit down, with even a modest modicum of time at my hands, perhaps enough to get my fickle and distracted mind into the creative flow required to put something at least mildly cogent on the electronic page, I ask the universe, “Please, sir, can I write some more?” And the universe looks at me and says, “NO, YOU LITTLE TURD.” And this makes me mad. Like furious. More furious than Fast 9 Furiouserserserser 9. Like, I want to burn this city to the ground and dance on its corpse in the fashion of a demented Betty the Cow or Bessy or WHATEVER I’M TOO ANGRY TO GOOGLE RIGHT NOW.

What am I going to do? I’m going to write about fucking chocolate. That’s right! The brown stuff. That sugary sliver of heaven we dump into our slack jaws with fistfulls of cocoa. I fucking love the stuff. When I’m in a bad mood, just pull out the goddamn Snow Cap AR15 and semi-automatic that sweet shit right through my stomach lining. It doesn’t even need to pass my mouth. Just hook me up to an IV of Cadbury’s and this murderous rage will transform me into tranquilized kitten. GIMME GIMME GIMME CHOCOLATE!

*Six bars of Dark Chocolate later…*

Phew. Let’s all take a step back. Now, I know some things were said. Let’s not point fingers with ‘you said this’ and ‘you swore about this’ and ‘you threatened to burn down a major metropolitan area’. That’s all in the past. Let’s talk about the future. Better yet, let’s talk about chocolate. Oh that glorious divine barrage of calories and seratonin. I would look up whether or not eating chocolate even encourages the body to release seratonin…or whether or not that’s the correct way to spell the word ‘seratonin’. But I’m really tired. Because of chocolate. Did you know, in France, chocolate is called ‘Chocolat’? It’s true. Because they’re too good for silent e’s and hard t’s. They don’t have any issues with slews of silent consonants like, you know, s’s added for pluralization. But, I mean, they are French, so whadda ya gonna do? The correct answer is: get into a 100 year war with them, lose to a prepubescent crazy girl, let her get burned at the stake, then bide your time until a dude called Napoleon comes along, and then have the Duke of Rainboots spank him into submission at a London Underground station. That sounds about right.

"HE'S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!" ~ Catholics didn't appreciate my introduction of pantomime call-backs during communion.

“HE’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!” ~ Catholics didn’t appreciate my introduction of pantomime call-backs during communion.

Well, this movie, Chocolate without the E, has been sitting on my DVD rack since my ladyfriend moved in about a year ago. Ever since then, it has been a battle of attrition, a siege of epic emotional stakes, a Stalingrad of stubbornness, if you will, to get me to watch this movie. Every time I say, “Let’s watch a movie!” she would say, “Chocolat!” and I would say, “No!” Why? Did I not think I would enjoy this, a multiple Oscar-nominee, this sweet-filled modern French fairy tale, this Judi Dench curmudgeon-a-thon? No. I’m just stubborn. I am the grandest pain in the ass ever since King Edward II succumbed to the awkward end of a hot poker (true story). I don’t care if it’s the holy grail of holy grails (the mythical Holy “Holy Grail” Grail that makes an awkward debut in Indiana Jones 5). If you suggest it excitedly and willingly, my British genes flare, like a pair of 1970s hip huggers, and I am consumed by antagonistic malaise. Well, finally, I don’t know how…but Amelia managed to convince me to finally watch this movie. And I tell ya…it was pretty darn good. So…I’m an asshole. Moving on!

Chocolat tells the tale of the lovely and delicious Juliet Binoche traveling to a tiny French town in the mid 1950s…though it’s difficult to discern any chronological definition in the span from 1750 to 1950 when a movie is filmed in Europe because, well, everything is old. She and her adorably insane daughter (she has an imaginary pet kangaroo) set up shop (literally) in the center of town. Here’s the twist: it’s a chocolate shop in, wait for it…LENT! (Ladies swoon. Gentlemen vomit. Children defecate – though, I’m pretty sure that’s because children just do that). Alfred “Mole” Molina, the mayor and close-minded patriarch of the town, enjoys keeping the plebs under his religiously inclined thumb, though he has obvious issues at home and doesn’t quite have a handle on the Anton Yelchin look-alike new priest. Binoche goes about doing business, handing out candies to all the townsfolk, predicting their favorite taste by way of a mystical pseudo-psychological device. The people are almost instantly entranced, including the secretly diabetic and seriously badass Judi Dench (before the Dame, bitches). Binoche hands out candy like it’s, well, candy, some of her earliest disciples a couple who manage to rekindle their sex lives by way of cacao beans. Because that’s what the French need. More sex.

I don't know how to photoshop! YAY!

I don’t know how to photoshop! YAY!

The movie sets itself up as a fairy tale, the mystical interloper finding her way into a small town community and then upending it from the inside out. There is little newness to the premise, its plot reminiscent of Edward ScissorhandsOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Pleasantville etc. etc. It opens with ‘Once Upon a Time…’ and relies heavily on some insanely under-budgeted CGI wind effects before Binoche arrives on the scene and starts her sexualized treat revolution during the dog days of the Catholic period of “Remember that Jesus walked through a fucking desert, so lets lay off very specific items of food…because obviously Jesus wants us to suffer like he did. But not EXACTLY like he did. Just a little bit.” Anyhoo, Binoche will have none of it and turns her chocolaterie into the ground zero of the War on Lent, handing out hot chocolate to anyone lucky enough to stop by. Throughout the film, she helps Judi “Breakfast of Nails” Dench reconnect with her morbidly-inclined yet intensely talented grandson; she saves a battered kleptomaniac from that one dude who murders everyone in every Coen Brother’s movie ever (he will cut off your yon-son); and she helps two old Frenchies bang like a screen door in a hurricane.

Thematically, everything about the tale is fairly by-the-numbers. It even employs a cleverly adapted ‘magical negro’ trope, though masks it so well you might not even notice. Quick background: “Magical Negro” is not me being horrifically racist, but rather it’s a termed coined by maddeningly inconsistent director Spike Lee to describe every role Morgan Freeman has ever played. You know, the black guy who is outside all this crazy white people crap and somehow can explain the essence of all existence to those protagonists who need to know. Here, instead of being black or Native American, as most ‘Magical Negroes’ tend to be, the lovely Miss Binoche is apparently, if her story is true, descended from a French gentleman and a woman ‘from Central America’ or, as we call them over here, ‘Mexicans’. It is by way of this tribal link, and the chocolate recipes derived from her lineage, that she is able to mystically entrance the god-fearing townies. It’s funny because, if this were in the US, she’d have to be from Peru, or Chile, or even Asia. I suppose a half-Mexican woman is a wonder in Europe. If she’d waltzed into Birmingham, AL with a Fist-Full of Non-Pareils (the least well-known of the Clint Eastwood westerns) instead of patronage, they would have handed her a shovel and told her to start landscaping. The tale Binoche tells is that of a wandering woman who must go with the northern wind, never remaining in one place for long. She brings with her treats in order to spread the wealth, but she is doomed to a life of a nomad. I spent a good deal of the first half of this movie dreading that it would be nothing more than a sappy “Sexual Awakening in a Sleepy Town” tale, perhaps sprinting down the delightful, yet sometimes bemusing path of Pleasantville a few years before. Binoche seems like nothing more than a manic pixie dream girl, impervious to the drama she swirls into a torrent, always offering a treat to calm the nerves and managing to save everyone from themselves. It makes a healthy change that a good deal of her gambits aim to save women from an overbearing patriarchy, all symbolized by a very not-Spiderman Alfred Molina, but the structure is hackneyed, to say the least.

I didn't know Irish Gypsies knew how to highlight their own hair. Nice guy-lights, Depp.

I didn’t know Irish Gypsies knew how to highlight their own hair. Nice guy-lights, Depp.

The movie, however, takes a random and refreshing turn. Out of fucking nowhere, Captain Jack Sparrow’s great great great grandson (Johnny “I Bet He Smells Terrible But I Don’t Care I Still Wanna Lick Him” Depp) materializes on a boat of Irish gypsies. This is the sort of side plot that emerges from the aether and returns with little impact whatsoever. Usually this is the shoe-horned love story, forced in there because, fuck it, can’t call it a love story if Binoche don’t get no action. But something subtler occurs. With Depp’s arrival and shockingly convincing Irish accent (he sounds drunk…but that isn’t unrealistic), the emotional life of the tale moves from Binoche fixing the lives of others to finally buckling under the pressure of not taking care of her own. We get to see the vulnerability coursing under the magical veneer she has constructed for herself. And so, piece by piece, as the movie rolls to its sad and fulfilling conclusion, the layers of mysticism are pulled back for what they actually are. There is no magic to her chocolate. It’s just really fucking good. She is offering these people a sense of pleasure, something they are meant to despise on all fronts, though they beg for it with every primal need. She doesn’t ‘follow the Northern Wind’ because of any ancient curse. She does it because she’s scared of making and fortifying emotional connections. What began as a fairy tale matures and blossoms into the truly enjoyable story of a woman coming to terms with her age, emotional life, love, needs and her own stability. Forcing a crew of gypsies to steamroll through the story is the deftest choice possible, juxtaposing her illusions against the grander mysticism of a traveling band of charming drunken layabouts. Suddenly, the magician is entranced herself, allowing us to see her for what it is. Allowing us to see the magic for what it really is.

It’s loneliness. These people look for the magic because perhaps there’s some undulating hidden energy simmering below the Earth’s crust simply awaiting its turn to sprout and pluck them from their emotional desolation. Ms. Binoche gets caught in throes of impressing the charming Depp, never able to satiate him with her impossible treats, always deterred when he always says, “these are good, but not my favorite”. She eventually sees the magic for what it is after a fire charges through her ecstasy and almost strips her of what she values most. After that, she settles, not into the life of the scared nomad sprinting in the opposite direction of anything resembling commitment, but into a community of love, which, in turn, accepts her. The capstone on this cautionary tale is, after Depp is chased out of town, he eventually returns and joins Ms. Binoche for a simple hot chocolate. No magic. No entrapment. Nothing. Just two people who have realized that all you get from running away is tired. She’s even rewarded when he says, “Hot chocolate, that’s my favorite”. It isn’t some divine truffle or perfect praline, just the basic of all basics. Sometimes, stripping away the magic reveals the best part of the illusion: the truth you’re trying to hide.

Wow. I feel a lot better. I don’t at all want to burn anything down. Well, maybe something French.

Goddamnit. Now I really want s’mores.

That’s my s’mores face

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Despicable Me 2 (2013) – Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin (Dir.), Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, an adorable child, and the directors mumbling French gibberish

This poster is oddly illustrative of this movies utter lack of concern for anything other than the minions. And I'm okay with that.

This poster is oddly illustrative of this movies utter lack of concern for anything other than the minions. And I’m okay with that.

Inevitability is an odd thing. There are some choices that, though we avoid like some kind of bubonic plague, manage to follow us throughout our lives, dogging us at every turn, ready to infect us with pus-spewing boils. They become the emotionless body snatchers, one by one removing the populace from their willful ignorance and turning them into one of the horde. For so long I was the Donald Sutherland, the Naomi Watts, if you will, of this horrendous trend, this insidious reign of unmitigated mediocrity, this scattegorically-obsessed prepackaged product designed to melt the minds of children into a susceptible mush of malleable marketability. I am, of course, talking about non-Pixar digital animation.

Yes, ring the snob alarm, if you please. Douse me in two day old caviar and flat champagne. Perhaps beat me with a Prada bag, whatever you please. But, yes, I hold children’s movies in extremely high regard. Children are simultaneously the dullest and the smartest creatures to ever spread across the face of the earth. Their minds and imaginations are, for the most part, blank slates ready to be sketched upon. I firmly believe the media we consume from an early age directly influences whether that sketch on that slate is something more akin to a Rembrandt or one of those things that a 3 year-old hands you that looks like a sausage covered in hair and the words “tHis my doGG”. For example, while watching this movie, there was a child behind me who spoke almost every line of the film in unison with it until his father begged him to stop. He’d seen it once. Was this child Rain Man? Fuck no. He’s a child! I still have awkward sound cues and snippets of dialogue from The Nightmare Before Christmas branded into my memory. Children are sponges and, if they even half-enjoy something, they will gorge upon its contents like a rabid Furby.

That being said, in the most pompous fashion possible, I’ve been in an unadulterated love affair with Pixar since Toy Story 2. Not only is their animation and direction fucking amaze balls, but their stories and themes strike deep at the heart of myriad emotional trials and tribulations. We have the tale of an overbearing father learning to let go while his son realizes he isn’t as weak as he thought (Finding Nemo), how to let go of our childhood and pass it on to the next generation (Toy Story 3), the dangers of pollution and the friendship of cockroaches (Wall-E) and how to be a really fast car that talks (full disclaimer: I’ve never seen Cars). Basically, with a few hiccups ignored here and there (I probably won’t be seeing Monsters University any time soon) their record is almost immaculate, culminating with one of the most heartbreaking tales to ever be told in 10 minutes, Up.

Hey children, interested in a new way to use Dad's poorly guarded golf clubs?Look and learn!

Hey children, interested in a new way to use Dad’s poorly guarded golf clubs?Look and learn!

So, after years of poopooing anything digitally animated lacking the Pixar stamp, turning my nose up at such harrowing classics as A Shark’s TaleOver the Hedge, Shrek 4: The One with JT and Ice Age 12: Now With More Rappers, I finally gave in and watched Despicable Me. Immediately, it is riddled with symptoms of lackluster kids movies. We have a mainly R&B soundtrack put together by a talented and completely child-unfriendly artist (Pharrell Williams),  a celebrity cast that looks like the guest list to a Woody Allen Young Woman Appreciation Party (and all of them timidly accepted) as well as already dated, over-the-head pop culture references that no child would ever understand (there is a joke about Lehman Brothers. I shit you not. What child, Doogie Houser aside, knows who the fuck Lehman Brothers is? I barely do. Shit!) Honestly, Despicable Me was utterly charming, for the most part. Yes, the minions, spouting their French nonsense (is that redundant?) while giggling and blowing each other up is chuckle-worthy. And, okay, yes, I let out a ‘Ha’ when Russell Brand’s Dr. Nefario creates a Fart Gun after mishearing directions. AND HOLY SHIT, AGNES IS FUCKING ADORABLE.

Here’s my issue with Despicable Me: everything that isn’t the main characters. They spent a great deal of time and energy upping the cuddle-factor, making Steve Carrell’s Gru a sort of Beauty and the Beast-like anti-hero that, for all of his nefarious deeds, like that one magical hooker, has a heart of gold. It’s everything else that’s the problem. The plot concerns Gru trying to get a loan from a bank to pay for his plan to steal the moon. Yes. Loans were involved. I get hives when even considering the concept of higher level interest rates. How the fuck is a kid going to understand that? Meanwhile, the bank manager instead gives the funds to his pear-shaped son, a villain who tries, and miserably fails, to create his own catchphrase. Sorry, guys, in a world where we have “Yippee kai yay, mutherfucker”, “I’ll be back”, “Use the force,” “You shall not pass”, and “I drink your milkshake”, the phrase “OH YEAH!” isn’t going to cut it. Especially when those words are coming from the mouth of Jason “I’m Over it” Segel. The guy sounds like he rolled out of bed, lit a blunt, and hurriedly spewed every line of dialogue into a fucking dictaphone, sent it to the studio and cashed a check large enough to make my bank account weep with shame.

"Did Barney the Dinosaur just have an accident on your face, or are you just happy to see me?"

“Did Barney the Dinosaur just have an accident on your face, or are you just happy to see me?”

It was Shrek, that feast of anachronistic fairy tale oddities, that began this trend of inserting famous people into voice acting roles. Yes, we know why you hire Eddie Murphy. We have all seen Delirious (except me. I haven’t. Oops). We also know that, once upon a time, Mike Myers was a bankable talent (shudder). Even John Lithgow has a voice that make bowels loosen and widows faint. But Cameron Diaz? Her? The lady’s strength is her looks. Once you strip that away, all you have left is a tepid and grating personality. It’s like, why the fuck do you cast Taylor Swift in an animated movie? So you can make sure she sings over the end credits? You might as well just hire out a speech therapy clinic for the afternoon. At least those people know how to string words together. If you notice, Pixar never, never lists their cast over posters or the opening credits. Why? Who the fuck cares! Voice acting is a different beast altogether. Here’s something that will blow your noggin: Mark Hamill, remember him? Luke “What Happened to My Career and My Face?” Skywalker? You know what his meal ticket has been for the last twenty years? And I’ll give you a clue, it ain’t Lucasfilm royalty checks. He plays the Joker in the iconic Batman: the Animated Series. Yes, the fucking Joker. Perhaps the greatest incarnation of the character until Heath Ledger ate too many popsicles and covered his hair in bacon grease. Voice actors are voice actors. Why, oh why, would you pay money for Jemaine Clement to voice a minion, when all you’re going to do is mix it into oblivion to sound like all the other minions?

Well, after all that, why don’t we talk about Despicable Me 2? This time around, Gru has become a full-on single parent of the three orphans and left his life of villainy behind. However, there is a new threat to the world and he’s the only person the Anti-Villainy League (yep, no prizes for originality there) can rely on to discover who is behind a plot to create an army of purple, indestructible super-beings. By his side is the new and utterly unpredictable Lucy (Kristen “Sitting on the ‘Tina Fey Throne of Female Comedians'” Wiig) as a super agent with a penchant for being simultaneously completely clueless and infinitely resourceful. While his minions are being picked off one by one and transformed into a purple army of crazed Eraserhead impersonators, Gru and Lucy open a fake bakery (or fakery, thanks Weeds!) in the inaptly named Paradise Mall. From there, we have childhood romances, adventures with jam, an insane guard chicken, and dangerously-close-to-racist antagonist.

DO YOU SEE? DO YOU SEE?

DO YOU SEE? DO YOU SEE?

It seems that the charm factor has blown itself into oblivion once more. While Agnes isn’t offered too much of the spotlight (with the gigglicious exception of that one scene in the trailer with her and Gru), the focus is on the infinite stream of precocious minions and their increasingly bizarre and gender-bending exploits. Also, remember that fart gun? Yes, it comes back. They milk that puppy for all it’s fucking worth. And, once more, the cavalcade of b-listers continues with the omnipresent Ken Jeong showing up for one bemusingly sexual scene in a wig shop and Kristen Schaal as an indestructible Barbie-doll during perhaps the most surreal and vestigial section of the entire fucking film. Let’s take a moment to go over it: Gru, while trying endlessly to avoid his neighbor’s attempts to set him up with a lady, agrees to go on a date with boobs-mcgee because…he has a wig now? And they go to dinner where Schaal proceeds to do one arm push ups and scream in his face (boobs everywhere) and then finally breaks into full rabid-nutso mode until Lucy shows up and shoots her with moose tranquilizer. The rest of the segment involves Gru and Lucy bonding over smashing the Rohypnol-ed vixen face-first into anything they can find. What the fuck?

Ultimately, the movie was fun. It was as deep as a claustrophobe’s spelunking threshold, but it kept the giggles coming. It was nice to see characters of other race in the film (the bad guy is a mexican wrestler)…though they all end up being evil. Also, it’s nice to have so many women on screen…though three of them are children and the last, Lucy, is about as mentally stable and coherent as Finnegan’s Wake on acid. Is she incompetent? Overly competent? A child? Obsessive compulsive? A manic pixie dream girl? But yes, there were dance sequences including a mildly subversive YMCA booty-break-down and the finale was both hilarious and secretly referential (World War Z, anyone?). All in all, my axe grinding shall halt a moment. I’ll place it on the ground and, perhaps, select a spoon with which to sup upon this light meal. It won’t last forever. It’s no Incredibles. Its imagination maxes out after ‘Three Stooges’ level horseplay. But, it’s a treat. It won’t give you a heart attack or diabetes. It’s harmless and delightful. And, for now, I’m simply going to willfully ignore everything from Pixar until The Good Dinosaur finally materializes in theaters. Let’s hope it’s a little more interesting than The Land Before Time 19: the Search for Spockasaurus. 

Fahrenheit 451 (1966) – Francois Truffaut (Dir.), Oskar Werner, Julie Christie

Fahrenheit 451: starring a really pretty lady and a Bill Murray impersonator.

And now we get to see me truly live up to my twitter handle (@filmicignorance – huzzah for self-plugging!). Seriously, if we discuss basic camera movements, directorial choices, mis en scene, etcetera, ergo, ad infinitum, I can bullshit rather successfully. But when it comes to actual knowledge of cinematic history, I’m a fish out of water. And much like that trout you’ve just tossed into a hilarious situation, I shall flounder and splutter, make up words and bellow opinions. However, in the end, I don’t know shit about French New Wave. And wikipedia can only get you so far. Well, with that said, let’s dump this piscine writer out of his natural aquatic habitat.

This film came about as a suggestion from a good friend and secret pretentious ass, Guy. He’s a hair stylist. He reads a lot of books. When we discovered that Ray Bradbury had passed away a week or so ago he demanded, nay, ordered me to watch this movie. It was on the list. Julie Christie was in it and it had a fancily named director that seemed familiar. My response was ‘sure’. So, after a night of heavy, heavy drinking, returning to my house at 5am and splitting my new jeans in half, I decided to take a gander at this handy little adaptation of a Sci-Fi classic.

Um…What?

Firstly, to those of you who don’t know…you fucking should. Ray Bradbury was a badass. They force children to read his books in school. I’m sure you have skimmed the spark notes of Fahrenheit 451 or maybe Something Wicked This Way Comes. If you have not read these books FOR SHAME. For SHAME on you, sir or madam. Bradbury, unlike many Science Fiction writers, could actually fucking write. I know, it’s a novel-ty (see what I did there? Haters gonna hate). His tales of dystopian futures, foreign planets and stepping on butterflies in the past not only force some extremely poignant and disturbing questions on what place technology has in society, but he also manages to meld each of these with a constant exploration into the disenfranchised and isolated adult male. I recently went back to read Something Wicked, hoping for a crazy/scary/juvenile romp through an evil circus…only to find all these sad middle-aged assholes longing for something deeper and more from their suburban lifestyles. So, no matter how much I wanted evil dwarves, sand witches, illustrated men and bearded ladies with meat cleavers, I was left with the question of…”When I’m fifty, will I regret my life?” And that was a fucking kids book.

Why didn’t anyone tell Truffaut that this image is really silly? Do the French not have the same silliness glands as the rest of us?

So what happened here? Fahrenheit 451 is a fascinating, if deeply-flawed, concept of the future. One without books. In fact, books are illegal and firemen are those whose job it is to dispose of said contraband. With fire. (Since regular firemen no longer exist because all the houses are conveniently ‘fireproofed’, not taking into account organic food stuffs, paper and, you know, human beings). So…everyone’s illiterate? Apparently not. But there are robot dogs that are amazingly terrifying and underground book traders and funny uniforms and…well, you get the gist. It ain’t that complicated but it raises serious concerns about the direction society at large has taken with the advent of television and film… I wonder what Mr. Bradbury thought of Kindle. Probably, “Fuck Kindle.” I’m paraphrasing, of course.

This movie was inevitably going to receive the ‘film’ treatment. Much like Something Wicked (Pam Grier…what the fuck do you think you’re doing?) and A Roll of Thunder (Ed Burns, why do you still have a career? And Ben Kingsley, you should be ashamed for, well, everything except Gandhi), this one has some major dramatic potential. Well, let’s make it Francois “Father of French New Wave and Doesn’t Speak English” Truffaut to direct. Amazing! He’s an Artist with a capital ‘A’! And let’s get Julie Christie, a woman so beautiful, we’ll cast her in both main female roles! But of course she can play more than one character! And let’s piss off Terence Stamp (who was going to play the awesomely named ‘Guy Montag’) and replace him with a German dude who couldn’t pass for English if he lathered himself in bad teeth and warm beer. And let’s make it Truffaut’s first English-language movie! And his first color movie! What can go wrong?

Apparently, everything. From what I understand from wikipedia-ing for about 10 minutes (because, honestly, who reads anymore? Come on.) French New Wave was a style of film that employed extremely naturalistic settings, almost documentarian in nature, as well as clipped scenes, natural light and diegetic sound. I suppose the objective is to construct a new, stripped-down way of making films to avoid the over-elaborate nature of operatic film scores, special effects and general falsity. Well, like that dude who gets killed at the beginning of The Warriors, I can dig it. In fact, Goddard’s Breathless was crafted in this style, a movie I’m itching to finally see. Truffaut wrote that. He’s the father of the entire movement (one of them at least).

Well, like a father, pulling up his terribly-washed jeans, Truffaut wanders over to his children playing the latest video games with their friends, asks to join and then throws the controller across the room when he realizes none of it makes any fucking sense. This isn’t his ground. He is out of his element, Donnie. You can’t make a movie in a dystopian future using found costumes, found locations and found objects. Why? Because in the future, it’s going to be fucking different. I love that Truffaut gathered up real, in-use books to burn on set. I love that the costumes, other than the hilariously terrible ‘firemen’ are cut right out of Vogue 1965. Here’s the problem, it is almost 50 years later and no one dresses like that…unless somehow, during this uprising, the hipsters overcome the rest of us and demand that we return to the fashion of 1960s England. The kicker is that some of the people are costumed, some of the sets are made. It’s as though the art director had a heart attack halfway through his designs or was mysteriously bumped off and his body was never found at the base of the stairs of Pinewood Studios and chopped up into little pieces and then hidden in the walls… I’ve said too much. (It’s murder. What do you expect? Truffaut is French. If at least three affairs and two murders don’t occur on a French film set, then the whole project is an abject failure. That’s science.)

Also, the man doesn’t speak English. He wrote the script. IN ENGLISH. No wonder everyone sounds like they just had a lobotomy with a complimentary bottle of wine (aka, French Lobotomy). The only point that I need make on this matter is this: the actual tagline for the film is “Aflame with the Excitement and Emotions of Tomorrow.” How did this man manage to make a science fiction film sound like a prostitute’s yeast infection?

And now: special effects. Notice the wires at the ends of the tube things. Yep. Top quality.

This mis-applied film style pushed this movie to the halfway point of crazy. There were two things that knocked it over the line. One: color. It looks like Van Gogh puked on this movie. Everything is so goddamn eclectic and bright, I almost had a seizure. That and the random bouts of slow motion, frantic zooming and inexplicable panning, I was ready to spew. Well, that might have been the hangover. But, as in all things, I blame the French.

The second force yanking this confused beast into the land of bat-shit is the acting. Firstly, we have Julie Christie who, though she is really pretty, speaks lines as though she just discovered the English language and is excited to tell you all about it. One of the more interesting choices on the part of the director was to have Christie play both female lead roles, Montag’s wife and the rebel who leads him to the book-side of things. What this does is reinforce the idea that Montag, as he falls from grace within the cutthroat world of fire-manning, doesn’t leave and change sides simply because of a pretty face. She has the same face as his wife, you know, the lady he is legally obligated to bang. The girl is simply convenient, a lubricant, if you will, to encourage his slippage through the revolutionary birth canal. Woah, that metaphor got weird fast. I apologize. Anyway, the whole thing would have worked if Julie Christie knew how to play anyone other than Julie Christie. She smiles, gasps, speaks words and all the rest of that stuff in exactly the same way at all times. The only thing that changes is her haircut. Thank god, otherwise this would have been confusing as hell.

Christie is one thing. Incompetent, perhaps, but serviceable. Who really steals the shit-show is Oskar Werner. As the story goes, Truffaut was all lined up to have resident badass and only-person-on-earth-who-could-make-Michael-Caine-nervous Terrence Stamp to play Montag. That shit would have been amazing. But…Stamp had already slept with Julie Christie and was worried she’d upstage him. I wish I could have gone back to 1966, taken him aside and said “Terry, bubby, look at me. Christie couldn’t upstage a fucking tree. At least a tree changes seasons occasionally.” But, alas, time travel hasn’t been invented yet. And if it comes about during my lifetime…then obviously I attempted and failed in this endeavor. So, future Andrew, I’m sure you gave it your best. But…you suck. Anyhoo, back to the point: Truffaut thought, (in French, so imagine him wearing a beret, holding onions and twirling his mustache) “No Stamp. This film is set in England? What is the most sensible thing to do? Hire another English actor? OF COURSE NOT. That would be far too predictable. I shall have a German.” And so, Oskar Werner was hired. The man is about as British as Idi Amin is Scottish. Not only is he German, but the guy does not give a fuck. Not a single, solitary, crying alone at night, orphaned fuck. Again, according to wikipedia, Truffaut and Werner hated each other. Thus, Werner attempted to drive the film into the ground. Well, good job buddy. You won. This thing couldn’t be more into the ground if it were Anne Heche’s career (younger readers might ask ‘who?’ and I respond with ‘exactly’.)

Coolest scene in the movie. Bitch got burned.

Now, this movie, though an utter mess, still has some formidable artistic merit. I do believe that there is a worthy adaptation of this tale out there. In fact, a remake might be the perfect treatment. Get some actual art direction, a terrifying robot dog and a director who doesn’t have both thumbs up his anus (of the thumb-in-anus category: Michael Bay, Brett Ratner, Peter Berg, etc.) and you could make something truly worth watching. This movie is worth a gander. Past all my pissing and moaning, there were several truly haunting and affecting scenes lodged in amongst the mess. The part where the old woman sets herself on fire? Awesome. Also, Bradbury enjoyed this adaptation solely because of the final scene. We’re left with all of the rebels who, in fear of losing the books they truly adore, memorize every single text and then burn the evidence. We’re left with dozens of people, wandering aimlessly through the snow, repeating the words of poetic greats over and over, each of them stripped of their humanity and reduced to nothing more than literary titles. A living library. With no other purpose than to remember their text.

What’s the point of loving books if you can’t enjoy them? What cost did these people end up paying? What’s the end? Just remember until you die and pass it on to someone else? Well played, Mr. Bradbury, well played.