8 Shots From 8 Films: Rest in Peace, Jean-Luc Godard

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

One of the last of the French New Wave directors has passed away.  RIP, to the uncompromising Jean-Luc Godard.

8 Shots From 8 Jean-Luc Godard Films

Breathless (1960, dir by Jean-Luc Godard, DP: Raoul Coutard)

Band of Outsiders (1964, dir by Jean-Luc Godard, DP: Raoul Coutard)

Alphaville (1965, dir by Jean-Luc Godard, DP: Raoul Coutard)

Made in USA (1966, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, DP: Raoul Coutard)

Week-end (1967, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, DP: Raoul Coutard)

Number Two (1975, dir by Jean-Luc Godard)

Detective (1985, dir by Jean-Luc Godard, DP: Louis Bihi)

Goodbye to Language (2014, dir by Jean-Luc Godard, DP: Fabrice Aragno)

Scenes That I Love: The Ending of Breathless (R.I.P., Jean-Paul Belmondo)

I was saddened to learn of the death of French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo earlier today.  He was 88 years old and still an international icon of movie star charisma at the time of his death.

Belmondo spent the majority of his career in France, where he was one of the early faces of the New Wave and also a prominent action star, famed for doing his own very dangerous stunts.  In America, he was best-known for his starring turn in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless.  In Breathless, Belmondo was the perfect existential outlaw, living life day-by-day and obviously doomed but still so incredibly magnetic and stylish.

In tribute to Belmondo, here is a scene that I love, the final moments of Breathless.

The International Lens: Breathless (dir by Jean-Luc Godard)

The 1960 French film, Breathless, tells the story two people, a French criminal named Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and an American student named Patricia (Jean Seberg).

Michel is a criminal but it’s hard not to like him.  Some of that is due to the fact that he’s played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, a charmingly off-center actor whose confidence and refusal to pretend to be anything other than what he was made him appealing even if he was not exactly handsome.  The other reason why it’s easy to like Michel is because, no matter how many crimes he commits, you get the feeling that he’s just playing a role.  He dresses like he belongs in a 30s gangster movie and a lot of his attitude has obviously been borrowed from Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.  Even the way he smokes a cigarette feels like an affectation.  He’s a kid, playing dress-up.  One almost gets the feeling that he knows he’s a character in a movie and he’s going out of his way to give the audience what they expect.

When we first see Michel, he’s stealing a car.  He drives around the French countryside.  He dismissively observes two hitchhikers.  A few times, he appears to speak directly to the audience.  Is he musing out loud or is he acknowledging that there’s a film camera in the passenger’s seat?  It’s hard to say.  When Michel gets pulled over by a cop, Michel shoots him.  Or does he?  The scene is edited in such a way that it’s hard to say for sure.  Maybe the cameraman shot the cop.  Maybe director Jean-Luc Godard shot the cop.  Not that it matters.  Michel is the one who is now wanted for murder.

With the authorities now determined to catch him and his face in all of the newspapers, Michel flees to Paris.  That’s where his girlfriend, Patricia, lives.  Patricia is an American student who aspires to be a journalist.  She sells copies of the New York Herald Tribune while walking around Paris.  Despite her journalistic ambitions, Patricia does not know that her boyfriend is wanted for murder.  Then again, boyfriend might not be the right word.  That would suggest more of a commitment than either one shows much interest in maintaining.

Michel hides out at Patricia’s apartment and, at one point, Patricia tells Michel that she might be pregnant with his baby.  Michel promptly blames her for not being “careful” and we’re never quite sure if Patricia is telling the truth or not.  While Michel hides out from the police and tries to figure out how to get enough money to flee to Italy, he and Patricia discuss …. things.  (It is a French film, after all.  It’s also a Godard film and, even if this film does feature Godard at his least pretentious, there’s still no way you’re going to get through a Godard film without at least a little conversation about the meaning of life.)  Michel is resigned to the idea of living in the moment and seems to be somewhat death obsessed.  Patricia remains optimistic and looks forward to the future.  Michel complains that Americans always make heroes out of the wrong Frenchmen.

Do Michel and Patricia love each other?  Who knows?  By the end of the film, one of them has betrayed the other and we’re not quite sure why.  One is dead and the other seems oddly ambivalent and rather confused about the whole thing.

One of the seminal works of the French new wave, Breathless was the directorial debut of Jean-Luc Godard, who was working from a story treatment that was originally written by Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol.  When it was first released, Breathless reportedly stunned audience by using techniques — like frequent jump cuts, location shooting, and the use of a handheld camera — that are now so familiar that we take them for granted.  That said, even if Godard’s techniques are no longer shocking, Breathless remains an exciting film to watch.  It’s not just the Michel and Patricia are frequently breathless.  One also gets the feeling that Godard was breathless behind the camera, trying to keep up with the story that he was telling.  This is a film that, much like it’s lead characters, never stops moving.  Indeed, a huge reason why the film’s finale remains powerful is because it’s the first time that anyone in the film truly seems to be still.  The viewer has gotten so used to the film’s frenetic energy that it’s a shock when it all comes to an end.

It’s been written that there are two eras of cinema — pre-Breathless and post-Breathless.  I don’t know if that’s true but it is impossible to watch Breathless and not see what a huge influence it’s had on every crime film that has followed.  Every film about lovers-on-the-run probably owes at least a minor debt to Breathless.  It’s one of those films that you simply have to see, both because of it’s historic importance and also just because it’s a damn good movie.  It’s a film that’s in love with cinema and, by the time things come to a close, you’ll be in love with it too.

4 Shots From 4 Films: À bout de souffle, Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution, Made In U.S.A., and Tout Va Bien

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films.  As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Happy birthday, Jean-Luc Godard!

4 Shots From 4 Films

 À bout de souffle (1960, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

À bout de souffle (1960, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Made in U.S.A. (1966, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Made in U.S.A. (1966, directed by Jean-Luc Godard)

Tout Va Bien (1972, directed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin)

Tout Va Bien (1972, directed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin)

Film Reviews: The Airport Terminal Pack

 Sometimes, you have to be careful which films you choose to watch over the course of the day. 

Such as, last Friday night, I heard the news that Jill Clayburgh had died and I ended up watching An Unmarried Woman.  This, along with the fact that I also watched the Black Swan trailer, led to me dancing around the house in my underwear, en pointe in bare feet, and doing a half-assed pirouette in the living room.  And I felt pretty proud of myself until I woke up Saturday morning and my ankle (which I don’t think has ever properly healed from the day, seven years ago, that I fell down a flight of stairs and broke it in two places) literally felt like it was on fire.  That was my body’s way of saying, “You ain’t living in a movie, bitch.  Deal with it.”

So, come Sunday, I decided to play it safe by watching something that I was sure wouldn’t lead to any imitative behavior on my part.  Since I had previously reviewed Earthquake on this site, I decided that I would devote some time to the movies that started the entire 1970s disaster movie genre — Airport.  Watching Airport led to me watching Airport’s three sequels.

I was able to do this largely because I own the Airport Terminal Pack, a two-disk DVD collection that contains all four of the Airport films and nothing else.  There’s no special features or commentary tracks.  That’s probably a good thing because these films are so extremely mainstream that I doubt the commentary tracks would be all that interesting except to people who love “Me and Jennings Lang had the same lawyer…” style stories.

The movies are a mixed bag of ’70s sexism, mainstream greed, and casts that were described as being “all-star” despite the fact that they featured very few stars.  They’re all worth watching as time capsules of a past time.  Some of them are just more worthy than others.

Below are my thoughts on each individual film in the collection…

Airport (directed by George Seaton)

First released in 1970, Airport was nominated for 10 Academy Awards (including best picture), broke box office records, and started the whole 70s disaster movie trend.  It also has to be one of the most boring, borderline unwatchable movies ever made.  The fact that I managed to sit through the whole thing should be taken as proof that I’m either truly dedicated to watching movies or I’m just insane.  Take your pick.

Anyway, the film is painstakingly detailed account of the every day operations of an airport.  Yeah, sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?  Burt Lancaster runs the airport.  His brother-in-law Dean Martin flies airplanes.  Both of them have mistresses but we’re told that’s okay because Lancaster’s wife expects him to talk to her and Martin’s wife is cool with him fucking around as long as he comes home at night.  I would be tempted to say that this is a result of the film having been made in 1969 and released in 1970 but actually, it’s just an introduction to the sexual politics of the typical disaster film.  Men save the day while women get in the way.  And if you think things have changed, I’d suggest you watch a little film calledf 2012

The only interesting thing about the film is that Lancaster’s mistress is played by Jean Seberg who, ten years earlier, had helped change film history by co-starring in Jean-Luc Godard’s classic film Breathless.  Nine years later, after years of being hounded by the American press and the FBI for her radical politics, Seberg committed suicide.

Airport 1975 (directed by Jack Smight)

As opposed to its predecessor, Airport 1975 is actually a lot of fun in its campy, silly way.  This is the one where a small private plane (flown by Dana Andrews, the star of the wonderful film noir Laura) collides with a commercial airliner.  The entire flight crew is taken out and head stewardess Karen Black has to pilot the plane despite the fact that she’s obviously cross-eyed.  Luckily, since Black is a stewardess, she has a pilot boyfriend who is played by Charlton Heston.  Heston talks her through the entire flight despite the fact that she was earlier seen trying to pressure him into not treating her like an idiot.  Anyway, Heston does his usual clench-jaw thing and if you need a drinking game to go with your bad movie, just take a shot every time Heston calls Black “honey.”  You’ll be drunk before the plane lands.

There’s some other stuff going on in this movie (for instance, Gloria Swanson appears as “herself” and doesn’t mention Sunset Boulevard or Joseph Kennedy once!) but really, all you need to know is that this is the film where Karen Black acts up a storm and random characters keep saying, “The stewardess is flying the plane!?”

Odd trivia fact: Airport 1975 was released in 1974.

Airport ’77 (directed by Jerry Jameson)

In Airport ’77, a group of art thieves attempt to hijack an airplane which, of course, leads to the airplane crashing into the ocean and somehow sinking down to the ocean’s floor without splitting apart.  The crash survivors have to try to figure out how to get to the surface of the water before they run out of oxygen. 

In this case, our resident sexist pilot is Jack Lemmon who has a really ugly mustache.  He wants to marry head stewardess Brenda Vaccarro.  Vaccarro doesn’t understand why they have to get married to which Lemmon responds, “Because I want a wife and kids!”  The film also gives us Lee Grant as a woman who is married to Christopher Lee but who is having an affair with another man.  She also drinks a lot and dares to get angry when she realizes that the airplane is underwater.  While this sort of behavior is acceptable from Dean Martin, Charlton Heston, and Jack Lemmon, the film punishes Lee Grant by drowning her in the final minutes.

Technically, Airport ’77 is probably the best of the Airport films.  The cast does a pretty good job with all the melodrama, the film doesn’t drag, and a few of the scenes manage to generate something resembling human emotion.  (For instance, when the blind piano player died, I had a tear in one of my freaky, mismatched eyes.)  Unfortunately, the movie’s almost too good.  It’s not a lot of fun.  Everyone plays their roles straight so the silly plot never quite descends into camp and the key to a good disaster film is always camp.  This film also has the largest body count of the series, with most of the cast dead by the end of the movie.  (And, incidentally, this film did nothing to help me with my fear of water…)

The Concorde: Airport ’79 (directed by David Lowell Rich)

The last Airport movie is also the strangest.  Some people have claimed that this film was meant to be a satire of the previous Airport films.  I can understand the argument because you look at film like Concorde and you say, “This must be a joke!”  However, the problem with this theory is that there are moments of obvious “intentional” humor in this film (i.e., J.J. from Good Times smokes weed in the plane’s bathroom, another passenger has to go to the bathroom whenever she gets nervous) and none of them show any evidence of the type of wit and outlook necessary to come up with anything this silly on purpose.  Add to that, the film’s story is credited to Jennings Lang, a studio executive.  Studio execs do not take chances.  (Plus, the actual script was written by Eric Roth, who went on to write the amazingly humorless The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).

No, this film is meant to be taken seriously and oh my God, where do I start?

Our pilots are George Kennedy and Alain Delon.  The head stewardess (and naturally, Delon’s girlfiend) is played by Sylvia “Emanuelle” Kristel who, at one point, says, “You pilots are such men!”  “Hey, they don’t call it a cockpit for nothing, honey,” Kennedy replies. 

Meanwhile, Robert Wagner is trying to destroy the Concorde because one of the passengers is his girlfriend who has proof that Wagner has been selling weapons to America’s enemies.  So, he attempts to blow the plane up with a guided missile and when that fails, he sends a couple of fighter planes after them.  Kennedy responds by opening up the cockpit window — while breaking the sound barrier mind you — and firing a flare gun at their pursuers.  

After this, there’s stop over in Paris where Delon arranges for Kennedy to sleep with a prostitute who assures Kennedy that he made love “just like a happy fish.”

The next day, everyone returns to the exact same Concorde — despite the fact that just a day earlier they’d nearly been blown up by a squadron of fighter planes — and take off on the second leg of the flight.  Let me repeat that just to make sure that we all understand what this film is asking us to believe.  After nearly getting blown up by a mysterious squad of fighter planes, everybody shows up the next morning to get on the exact same plane.

Oh, and it never occurs to Wagner’s ex-girlfriend that Wagner might have something to do with all of this.

Now sad to say, Concorde is the one of those films that’s a lot more fun to talk about than to actually watch.  It should be a lot more fun in its badness than it actually is.  Still, the movie has just enough camp appeal to make it fun in a “what the fuck…” sorta way.

And that’s how the Airport series comes to an end.

2010: The Year In Film So Far

Everyone views history in their own individual way.  Some people remember past years by what they saw on the evening news (hence, 2004 becomes “the year Bush was reelected”) but I define them by what was playing at the nearest movie theater.  Ask me when I was born and I won’t tell you, “1985.”  Instead, I’ll tell you that I was born the same year that Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was butchered by Sid Shienberg.  For me, the quality of a year is determined by the quality of the movies that were released during those twelve months.  You may have hated 2009 because of the economy.  I hated it because it was the year of the overrated movie, the year in which otherwise sensible people ignored great films like An Education, A Serious Man, District 9, and Inglorious Basterds (which, praised as it was, deserved considerably more) in favor of Avatar and The Hurt Locker.

2010, however, is shaping up to be a far better year.  Though a final judgment can’t be passed on 2010 until 2011, here’s a few thoughts on the year so far.

Best Film (so far): Exit Through The Gift Shop, a quasi-documentary that might just be one of the most perfectly executed mindfucks in modern history.  Runners-up: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Fish Tank, Please Give, Winter’s Bone, A Prophet, Toy Story 3, and Inception.

Best Male Performance of the year so far: John Hawkes, in Winter’s Bone.  Hawkes has been overshadowed by Jennifer Lawrence but he dominates every scene that he appears in.  Just consider the scene where he “talks” his way out of a traffic stop. Runners-ups: John C. Reilly in Cyrus, Ben Stiller in Greenberg, Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception and Shutter Island, and Sam Rockwell in Iron Man 2.

Best Female Performance of the year so far: Noomi Rapace as the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire.  Rapace is my new role model, a Ms. 45 for the 21st century.  Runners-up: Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, Katie Jarvis for Fish Tank, Rebecca Hall in Please Give, Greta Gerwig in Greenberg, and Chloe Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass.

Best Ending: The final shot of Inception.

Best Horror Film: The Wolf Man, which should have been oh so bad but instead turned out to be oh so good with Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving both giving brilliant supporting performances. 

Best Bad Movie: Sex and the City 2.  Yes, if I’m going to be honest, it was a horrible movie.  But it was fun. the clothes were to die for, and the film managed to bring new depths of shallowness to the examination of the oppression of women in the Middle East.

Worst Film Of The Year (so far): Chloe.  Oh, Atom Egoyan, poor baby, what have you done, sweetheart?  You made a trashy, campy softcore movie and then you forgot that these things are supposed to be fun!  Runner-up: Robin Hood, because the entire freaking movie was a lie.  However, it did feature Oscar Isaac screaming, “Outlawwwwww!” and that saves it from being named the worst.

Worst Horror Film So Far: The Black Waters On Echo’s Pond.  So.  Fucking.  Bad.

The Get-Over-It-Award For The First Half Of 2010: The makers of Prince of Persia, who just had to try to turn an otherwise entertainingly mindless action film into yet another half-assed cinematic allegory for the Invasion of Iraq.  Ben Kingsley will probably be playing thinly disguised versions of Dick Cheney for the rest of his life.  I was against the Invasion of Iraq from the start but seriously, I’m so bored with every movie released using it as a way to try to fool the audience into thinking that they’re seeing something more worthwhile than they are.

The Read-The-Freaking-Book-Instead Award: The Killer Inside Me.  A lot of viewers are disturbed by the violent way that the main character deals with the women in his life.  I’m more disturbed by the fact that all the women in his life are presented as being simpering idiots.  The original novel is by Jim Thompson and it is a classic.

The worst ending of 2010 so far: Splice with the Killer Inside Me as a strong runner-up.

Future Film I’m Not Looking Forward To: Roland Emmerich’s Gusher, an ecological thriller based on the BP oil spill, starring Will Smith as the President, Dev Patel as the governor of Louisiana, Paul Bettany as the head of the evil oil company, and Ben Kingsley as Dick Cheney who will be seen cackling as oil-drenched doves wash up on the shores of California.  (How did the oil get to California?  Emmerich magic.)  Of course, the nominal star of the movie will be Jake Gyllenhaal as the young engineer who says stuff like, “This well is going to blow!” and who is trying to reconcile with his estranged wife (played by — does it really matter?  Let’s just say Emily Blunt gets the role this time around).  And let’s not forget Robert Duvall, who will play a grizzled old-timer who says a lot of grizzled old-timer stuff.  Look for it in 2012.

My prediction for which film will be the most overrated of 2010: The Social Network, which has not opened yet but Sasha Stone at awardsdaily.com seems to think that it’s a slam dunk for greatness which is usually a pretty good indication that the end result is going to be a predictable, bourgeois crapfest.

So, that’s 2010 so far.  It’s shaping up to be a good year.  I’m still looking forward to the release of Blue Valentine, Animal Kingdom, Get Low, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, The Last Exorcism, Wall Street, and the rerelease of Godard’s classic Breathless, which is one of my favorite movies and now I’m going to get a chance to see it in a theater!  Life is good.