Death to Smoochy


There’s a throwaway bit late into Kevin Smith’s “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back” in which a wigged out Will Ferrell barges in a taping of a kiddie TV show revolving around a dude in a bright coloured cow suit who does sing-alongs, and he accidentally shoots poor Mooby dead. That little Barney gag wasn’t particularly funny, but at least it was only 30 seconds out of a mostly hilarious picture. Now, imagine blowing up that one not so good joke to feature length and you’ll get an idea of what a bore “Death to Smoochy” is. Here’s a movie of which the extent of the comic output begins and end with its amusing title. See, Smoochy is a pink plush rhino suit who delights children with his silly songs, but it turns out that the kid TV business is a corrupted and ruthless one, and everyone wants him dead. That premise is actually pretty good, but it should be only a starting point, not one general idea which is stretched for 90 minutes with no punch-line.

So you’ve got Ed Norton as Sheldon Mopes, a naïve but overwhelmingly nice guy who sings ditties as Smoochy in methadone clinics until a bitchy TV executive (Catherine Keener) hires him to star in an after-school kid show in replacement of previous host Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams), who was revealed as a crook who took bribes by parents who want their children to go on his program. This doesn’t please Randolph at all, and he vows revenge on the damn dirty rhino who stole his time slot. Meanwhile, Sheldon must also fend off greedy agents, executives and merchants who want to use Smoochy to sell all kinds of junk. But his refusal to sell out pisses off a lot of folks, and he’ll have to be careful if he doesn’t want to get killed! Tee-hee.

From what I can tell, writer Adam Resnick and director Danny De Vito set out to make a black comedy but then they backed out and contented themselves with a lot of tired, harmless humour. Oh, there’s a lot of naughty words sprinkled into every line of dialogue, but all the crude language in the world doesn’t make it the wild, demented comedy it wants to be. And it’s certainly not gonna get laughs from its one-dimensional characters. Some people say that it’s nice to see Robin Williams letting loose again after starring in a string of touchy-feely pictures these last few years. Personally, I’ll take him in “Good Will Hunting” or even “Patch Adams” over this manic crap any day. Williams is extremely grating as the lunatic Randolph, always desperately hamming it up, doing stupid voices and coming up with lame ad-libs, anything for laughs that never come.

Ed Norton can’t make the lousy material funny either, but at least he’s likable enough as the idealist, innocent Smoochy, even though he’s only there as a target of mockery. Oh, he eats healthy food! He doesn’t swear! He’s not interested in money! What a dork, right? The movie seems to think so at first when it wants to be satire, but later it decides out of the blue to be a sappy feel-good flick instead and suddenly Smoochy is a role model, he warms the heart of Keener’s bitchy executive (and gets her into bed) and, worse, he helps Randolph have a change of heart. What a cop-out, black comedy my ass!

De Vito, who also plays a totally unnecessary role in the movie (as does Jon Stewart), does an atrocious job behind the camera. Even on the rare occasion that he stumbles into something remotely amusing, the comic timing is all off. Scenes go on and on long after any potential humour has burnt out. There are countless stupid songs, which culminates with an endless ice show where even the hit-man sent to kill Smoochy falls asleep! And then there’s the Irish retard and his family of thugs. What can I even say that can translate how utterly pointless and dull this stuff is… “Death to Smoochy” is a complete failure. It’s spectacularly unfunny.

Panic Room


Blah. It’s not that I expected David Fincher to top his “Se7en” or “Fight Club”. I didn’t expect his latest film to be anything else than what it aspires for, namely suspense. But Christ, who knew Fincher had such a pedestrian movie in him! It’s not a bad movie per se; it’s certainly well crafted and it delivers a few thrills here and there, but it’s sadly unmemorable nonetheless. That’s what shocking to me. Even Fincher’s “lesser” movies had things which stuck with you, be it the final twist of “The Game” or Ripley’s unexpected suicide at the end of “Alien³”. “Panic Room”, though, is bound to be remembered only (if at all) for some fancy camerawork.

Jodie Foster stars as Meg Altman, a recently divorced woman who moves to a gigantic Manhattan house with her daughter Sarah (11 year old tomboy Kristen Stewart). A rich, paranoid old man used to live there, and he had a “panic room” installed, i.e. an impossible to open room equipped with security monitors giving a view of every corner of the building where one can hide in case of, say, an intrusion. And what do you know, on the very first night that Meg and Sarah move in, the house is attacked by three robbers! Thus begins a long, tense night the two locked in the panic room, while the thugs put to the test its alleged infallibility…

That’s it, that’s the story. We don’t even get to know the characters, though we do get a extended scene in which the girls take a tour of the house. I guess this is necessary to establish the geography of the premises of the remainder of the film but it also illustrates the film’s main problem: it’s more interested in its set than in its characters. I know this is just a cat-and-mouse thriller, not a psychological study, but by giving us almost no insight into who the characters are, it’s harder to invest ourselves in their ordeal. I didn’t find myself caring much about their well being. And anyway, they’re in an impossible to open room, what’s to fear?

Ok, writer David Koepp does have a few nifty twists in his bag to make things worse, but there are even more really dumb moves on the part of his characters and some rather contrived complications. This is the kind of movie where everything could wrap up in twenty minutes, but sheer bad luck or stupidity always comes in the way! Clueless neighbours, phones which don’t work, gullible cops… If that’s not enough, let’s make the daughter diabetic, that’ll screw things up! It might become ridiculous if it wasn’t for the actors, who generally manage to sell even the most preposterous twists. Foster is wonderful, of course, making the most out of a barely developed character. She looks great too; she was a few months pregnant when the film was shot, and she fills that tank top deliciously! I liked the bad guys too, even though they’re non-specific types. Jared Leto is good as the amusingly manic leader, Dwight Yoakam is appropriately menacing, with or without his ski mask, and Forest Whitaker is compelling as a thief who can’t quite forget his kind nature, which makes him sort of a tragic figure.

The solid cast puts “Panic Room” above the usual straight-to-video thriller fare, as does Fincher’s distinctive visual style, with sombre, gorgeous photography and inventive shot composition. There are a few jaw-dropping seemingly unbroken sequences where the camera travels around the house, passing smoothly through walls and ceilings, zooming into minuscule details and setting up perfectly who is doing what and where. The sound editing is sharp, and the Hermannesque score by Howard Shore is effective. Yet, no matter how technically superb the film can be, it’s oddly devoid of tension. It rarely ignites, and what sparks we get are few and far between. For an average filmmaker, this might be a nice addition to a résumé but for Fincher, this is a disappointment.

Ultimate Fights


At times, we all get a bit of attention deficit disorder. Like you’re not always up to immerse yourself for an hour in a concept album and prefer to just mix a bunch of rockin’ tunes, sometimes you don’t feel like watching a whole movie, you just wanna get the highlights. You’ll have some friends over, and you’ll want to play D.J., but with movies! I like to do that myself, showing off funny scenes, impressive Steady-Cam shots, cool music cues and, of course, kick ass fights! And now, from the people who brought you the “Boogeymen” collection of horror scenes, comes “Ultimate Fights”, which features just that!

Here’s a DVD which promises “nothing but the good stuff” and delivers. It’s basically a succession of 16 fight sequences, mostly from recent Hong Kong or Hollywood movies, inter-cut with video game-style title cards identifying the opponents. You can enhance that “Street Fighter 2” feel by selecting an alternate “Ultimate Rumble Party Mix” audio track which scores the fights with techno beats and guitar fills, and there’s even an option called “My Top 5” to program your favourite sequence of fights. Mine would run as such:

#5 Wesley Snipes’s samurai duel with Stephen Dorff in “Blade”, if only for how refreshing it is to watch Stephen Norrington’s visually sharp and dynamic but almost old fashioned movie, in contrast to Guillermo Del Toro’s frenetic abortion of a sequel.

#4 Michelle Yeoh chasing a masked Zhang Ziyi in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, even though it’s more acrobatics than a fight. But what graceful acrobatics!

#3 The warehouse gang fight in “Rumble in the Bronx”, one of the greatest Jackie Chan action scenes. Watching him fighting all these guys using everything around him (including refrigerators, TV sets, a shopping cart and skis!) is breath-taking.

#2 A fight from my favorite Jackie Chan movie, “Drunken Master 2”, in which he seems to constantly get hurt real bad, as when he falls into burning coals! Sadly, little actual drunken boxing is featured here, but it’s still
amazing kung fu!

#1 The church shoot-out at the end of John Woo’s “The Killer, with Chow Yun-Fat at his best, slow-motion pigeons and the most graceful ultra-violence you’ll ever see!

I also enjoyed the inclusion of one of the bare knuckle fights in “Snatch”, with a bad-ass looking Brad Pitt and wonderfully stylised visuals; Russell Crowe battling tigers in “Gladiator”; Rambo fighting redneck deputies in “First Blood” (complete with Vietnam flashbacks!); Jet Li doing his thing in “Fist of Legend” and “Black Mask” (both choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, of “The Matrix” fame); and the “Say Hello to my little friend” shoot-out which closes Brian De Palma’s “Scarface”. I’m not a big Jean-Claude Van Damme fan, but his half naked “Time Cop” knife fight is kind of cool, as are the wrestling-flavoured street tussle with Rowdy Roddy Piper from John Carpenters’s “They Live”, Liam Neeson in Fight Club mode in “Crossing the Line” and a short but nasty cat fight from “The Players Club”. As for the “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” scene, it’s pretty good, but why oh why not give us the real Bruce Lee instead? Last but not least, there’s an Easter egg which can be found on the third page of the scene selection menu, which has two oiled, topless ebony Amazons in thongs beating the crap out of a big fella in a scene from “Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheik”!

Overall, this a very entertaining DVD, and it offers plenty of special features, from information about the fighting styles and the performers (notably through optional pop-up on-screen trivia) to theatrical trailers to most of the movies, a ‘Name that Frame’ game, two audio commentaries (by Hong Kong producer/director Tsui Hark and “fight master” James Lew) and an interesting featurette on how to stage your own movie fights, with tips from Lew and Van Damme (who happen to fight each other in the “Time Cop” clip). Of course, everyone will have his little disagreements with the roster. Personally, I’m suspicious of any fight collection which fails to include THE ultimate fight, namely Schwarzenegger’s showdown with Vernon Wells at the end of “Commando”. As for the fights that are included, it’s sometimes frustrating how they cut off before they’re over, but I guess you just have to get yourself the actual movies to get the whole deal. Also, I could have done without the cheesy Limp Bizkit intro, complete with the ever-obnoxious “Let’s get ready to ruuuuumbbbleeeeeeeeee!” kick-off. Still, “Ultimate Fights” remains a satisfying one-stop supply of macho thrills that action fans will watch over and over.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial


If we had to pick the filmmaker who had the biggest influence on world-wide audiences in the last 25 years, no doubt Steven Spielberg would be the one. Is there another director who made as much box-office smashes and critical successes, often both at the same time? “Jaws” (1975) might have been the first summer blockbuster, “Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind” is one of the most revered sci-fi flicks ever made, the “Indiana Jones” trilogy thrilled countless kids of all ages, and “Jurassic Park” and its sequel grossed nearly a billion dollars. And then there’s the 93 Oscar nominations his films received, from “The Color Purple” and “Empire of the Sun” to “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan”. Which leads us to “E.T.”, no less than the fourth highest-grossing film of all time, and arguably the most beloved family film since “The Wizard of Oz”.

I can’t imagine that there’s anyone who doesn’t know this film by heart already, but I’ll still summarise the plot for the possible weirdo who spent the last 20 years in a bomb shelter. Elliott is just a kid, but he still has to deal with bad stretches. School ain’t always easy, and life at home has became kinda depressing since his parents divorced and Daddy bailed to Mexico with his bimbo. So Mom’s down, little sister Gertie can be bugging and big brother Michael has a short fuse. Yet Elliott’s life is about to change forever with the arrival of E.T, a very odd little dude from outer-space who was left behind by mistake by his peers on a field-trip to Earth. Elliott is the one who will discover the alien and take him into his house, and they will become the best of friends. The film is about that very special bond, about how Elliott and his siblings teach E.T. about suburban America everyday life and about how E.T. shares his super-powers with them in return…

Where can I start in telling you what makes this film so wonderful? In short, this is one of these movies that just make you feel so good… Even though I spent half of it in tears! It’s filled with good humour, innocence and hope, and it’s highly original and inventive. Of course, this is Spielberg so this ain’t the most daring of films, but as far as mainstream Hollywood movies go, it doesn’t get much better than this. There are plenty of unforgettable moments, from little touches like E.T.’s taste for Reese’s pieces, to amazing sights like Elliot riding his bike across a full moon, a scene which gives me goose bumps to this day. Spielberg’s direction is technically flawless, John Williams’ iconic score is very effective and the special FX are astonishing. The E.T. creature is so expressive that you forget that it’s just a piece of rubber. I also love the way the film is told through the kids’ point of view. A lot is left unsaid, and adults like the scientists are often just menacing, anonymous beings. And the young actors are so good! Henry Thomas makes Elliott a full-blown, three-dimensional and very human character with his impressive yet natural performance, and Drew Barrymore is even better as his little sister. She’s so darn cute, and she’s funny and touching, too!

Now, about this new version… Personally, I think it’s stupid to tinker with your old movies, especially when they’re fine to begin with. Do we really need to see these few extra minutes of footage? And are we so jaded by modern digital wizardry that we can’t appreciate more old fashioned movie magic? As mentioned above, I like the old rubber E.T. just fine, no fixing up was necessary. Spielberg has also erased the guns from the cops’ hands, and he’s changed an off-hand reference to “terrorists” to a less touchy “hippie” put-down. Again, why 1984 the past? Can’t these directors just let go of their old movies and accept that there’s always gonna be little things they could have done differently? That said, it’s a joy to see “E.T.” on the big screen, with premium sound and image. It remains a timeless classic: it blew my mind when I saw it as a kid, and watching it again 20 years later, I still adored it.

Blade II


After seeing the first “Blade” movie, I called it the best comic book adaptation ever (since then, incidentally, Bryan Singer one-upped it with his “X-Men”). Of course, it’s ironic that the comic being adapted here is near forgotten. Safe for the recent MAX relaunch, I’ve never even seen a “Blade” book. Nonetheless, that first movie was real cool, and I was looking forward to the sequel, which has Mexican horror filmmaker Guillermo del Toro succeeding to Stephen Norrington in the director’s chair.

This second installment (in what is to be a trilogy) tries to crank things up even more than in the action packed original, which makes for an obnoxiously hyper-active movie. “Blade II” is all over the place, opting for flash and noise instead of invention and rhythm every time. I think the reason the first “Blade” worked and this one doesn’t is that Norrington made his movie in 1998, a full year before “The Matrix” came along and every action director figured they could ape its style. Hence such masturbatory messes of CGI, wire-fu and bullet time as “Tomb Raider”, “The One”, and now “Blade II”. What the makers of these movies fail to understand is that, while the Wachovsky’s visual gimmicks were nifty flourishes, what really made their sci-fi flick such a thrill was its compelling characters, intriguing storyline and graceful direction, all things its knock-offs forgo. So we end up with nearly unwatchable movies which are deadly boring even though they desperately throw everything at us at frantic speed.

Del Toro seems to think that the most loud, frenetic and violent he makes everything, the coolest his movie is gonna be. Dead wrong. His action sequences are so choppily edited that we can barely see what’s going on. We can glimpse some potentially cool fight choreography between the non-stop jump-cutting, but it’s hard to actually enjoy it. Oh, how I miss the good old days of movies like “Enter the Dragon”, where you could sit back and admire the physical prowess of a brilliant athlete like Bruce Lee instead of being jerked around by show-off camera tricks and digital effects that will look dated in eighteen months anyway.

You might notice that I haven’t even given you a plot summary yet, but that’s because even the filmmakers didn’t seem to care about plot. Basically, it’s about how Blade (Wesley Snipes), the day-walking half-human half-vampire, unites with his undead enemies to take on a new breed of creatures of the night, the Reapers, a bunch of really tough blood suckers who prey on humans and vampires alike. So Blade, his old partner Whistler (Kris Kristofferson, back even though he died in the first movie) and their annoying stoner sidekick Scud (Norman Reedus) team up with the BloodPack, a bunch of highly trained and oh so colorful vampires, each with a distinctive quirk which make them perfectly fitted to be turned into a line of action figures. I’ll admit that the Reapers are pretty cool, with their shooting tongue-fangs-jaws thingie, “Aliens”-style, and their leader Nomak (Luke Goss) is the only interesting presence in the movie, even though he’s thrown in a subplot involving family melodrama which feels like “Gladiator” leftovers.

As for Snipes… I can’t say anything good or bad about him. He’s a blank. He still looks badass, at least from what I could tell when the camera was on him more than half a second. Then again, he hardly ever takes off his sunglasses, and he’s given absolutely no character development, he’s just a dude who takes out vampires in countless confused/confusing fights. “Blade II” is not as much a movie as a video game demo, and a lousy one at that. Watch the first movie again and pretend they never even made this sorry excuse of a sequel.

Showtime


LAPD Detective Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro) is a loose canon. He’ not one of those touchy-feely community cops. He’s there to do his job, which is to hunt down criminals and throw them in jail. He also has no interest in having nosy reporters getting in his way while on a crime scene, and one tense night he loses his cool and shoots the camera off one of these rats’ shoulder. Uh oh, bad p.r. move, the network could sue Mitch’s department for all they’ve got… That is unless he accepts to star in their new project for a reality show and have them follow him around with more cameras! What a wacky premise, ain’t it kids? But that’s not all, the show’s producer (Rene Russo) also gives Mitch a partner, “funny minority type” Trey Sellars (Eddie Murphy).

Right there, “Showtime” is not looking too good. Its contrived plot is right out of a sitcom, and even if you accept it as satire, reality TV is not the freshest target: COPS has been on the air for a decade! Furthermore, the film doesn’t even stick to the spoof thing, it just pokes fun at cop show clichés for a while, then it settles into said clichés without a second thought until it’s no different than you usual B-movie police thriller. We’ve got a cheesy Euro-trash bad guy (Pedro Damian), a few trigger happy black thugs (including rapper Mos Def), and some of the loudest, most badass machine guns you’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, Mitch and Trey barely do any police work, busy as they are having their oh-so-different personalities clashing, but somehow fall ass backwards in clues and end up in a series of over the top fights, car chases and shoot-outs.

Basically, this is not as much a satire of buddy cop comedies as a buddy cop comedy itself. That said… I loved the stupid thing! Director Tom Dey (“Shanghai Noon”) keeps things fast and fun, and his movie works on its modest terms. It’s like “Rush Hour” (minus the cool kung fu action), a tired formula livened up by good chemistry between the leads. Robert De Niro is good as the straight man, sometimes he’s been having fun with for a couple of years now, in movies like the wonderful “Analyse This” or the not so wonderful “Meet the Parents”. But the real star of the show (and the show-within-the-show) is obviously Eddie Murphy. I was grinning every time his “Ice Trey” was on screen, when I wasn’t downright laughing out loud. He’s perfect as this fast-talking cop more interested in showing off for the cameras than in closing the case. He’s the main reason why, in spite of all its shortcomings, “Showtime” is just too damn entertaining not to recommend.

Training Day


Here’s a movie about cops, about the streets, about justice… Actually, to me it felt like it was really about one thing: scary Black guys. Make that two things, there’s scary Latinos too. Oh, and rich old white drug dealers, crooked cops and Russian gangsters. Mix it all up and you’ve got the crazy world of “Training Day”. You know, maybe I’m out of touch, but are things that bad? I can accept that South Central L.A. is a mean old place, at least from watching movies like “Boyz N the Hood” or “Menace II Society”. But here, it’s not just any hooligan messing around, it’s the police!

The movie has us following rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) on, that’s right, a training day with Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington), an undercover narcotics detective. Right off the bat, we can see that Alonzo is quite a character, a real live wire, volatile, aggressive and cocky as hell. But he’s charismatic, too, and after all he’s a decorated police officer, so Jake goes along with Alonzo’s scary Black guy antics. Talking tough, beating people on the street, stealing drugs and money off thugs, drinking and driving… We’re the police, we can do anything, right? Er, I’m not too sure, but I think we’re supposed to accept Alonzo’s behaviour, for a while at least. It’s the classic cop-who-plays-by- his-own-rules riff. If you need to cross the line to make a case stick, what’s the harm?

Personally, I was never able to buy the premise. Shouldn’t Jake or any of the petty criminals who get man-handled by Alonzo object and report him? I don’t doubt that some cops are dirty, that there is corruption in the justice system, but this is too much! And even if you don’t question the plausibility, the movie just ain’t that interesting. Stuff happens, then more stuff, with not much of a narrative throughout. Not even halfway into the movie I started growing impatient, wondering if all this nonsense would ever pay off. Short answer: nope. Just more scary Black guys and Latinos standing around looking scary.

I guess one could suggest that what holds the film together is the character development. Could have been, except that Denzel Washington’s Alonzo is pretty much the same scary Black guy through the movie, except that in the third act he loses what little complexity, is-he-good-or-bad? ambiguity he had to settle into B-movie villainy. As for Ethan Hawke, his Jake doesn’t have much of a character arc either: “Dude, that dude’s crazy! Wait, maybe not… Oh yeah, he’s crazy!” pretty much sums it up. Likewise, the film never offers much insight: Alonzo’s evil, but he thinks he’s just getting the job done… But he’s evil still, eh? Cue up the shoot-outs, crashed cars and mano a mano action!

Basically, try as it might, “Training Day” never rises above being yet another by-the-numbers action thriller. Director Antoine Fuqua (“The Replacement Killers”) keeps things slick and sharp, and the cast is solid (though nominating Hawke for an Oscar might be pushing it), but unless you really wanna see Denzel doing his scary Black guy thing, I can’t quite recommend the film.

PORN STAR: The Legend of Ron Jeremy


Another porno biopic? Well, yeah, but “Porn Star” has two things which were missing in “Wadd”, “The Girl Next Door”, “Sex: The Annabel Chong Story” or “Bad Girl”, namely a lot of style and a wonderfully entertaining central subject. None of the sad sack whining of Chong or Stacy Valentine, none of the drugs & AIDS pathos of John Holmes’ life here. Ron “The Hedgehog” Jeremy is the last guy you’d expect to be the biggest male star in the sex industry. One has to wonder how a small, fat, hairy Jewish one-time teacher from Queens ended up shagging big boobed young blondes for a living, and this film intends to find out, while having a ball strolling through footage from Jeremy’s huge filmography.

We learn that it’s his then girlfriend who sent a nude picture of him to Playgirl magazine, which led to him being discovered by “exotic film” producers. Jeremy, who was pursuing his dream of becoming a famous actor, figure doing a few pornos might be fun and, who knows, it might lead to legit work. 21 years later, and Ron is still having a hard time trying to make it into the mainstream, but he’s certainly conquered the porn world! Why him? Well, having a 9 and 3/4 inch schlong doesn’t hurt (literally, it’s apparently soft and spongy; eeww indeed). Then, he’s reputed as a real professional, always able to maintain an erection and capable of ejaculating on cue, and he’s a rather decent actor and a funny performer. Yet more than anything, what makes Jeremy the phenomenon that he is, what prompts people everywhere to flock to him and want to be with him is that he seems to be an all around nice guy, an average Joe. Watching him doing beautiful women is a small thrill because you can say “Hey! That could be me!”, unlike with the usual arrogant bodybuilder assholes who are usually pistonning away in triple x flicks.

What I really liked about “Porn Star” is that director Scott Gill is obviously having a grand time with it. At its core, this is just a bunch of talking heads interviews, but Gill has overpacked his movie with demented montages of excerpts from Jeremy’s movies, from public appearances or from his regular life, which is anything but. We see him in all sorts of silly getups and situations, at parties, film premieres, doing (bad) stand-up in strip clubs, rapping in a music video (“Freak of the week”) or on stage with Kid Rock, we see some of his “legit” cameos in everything from Nash Bridges to “Orgazmo”, “Citizen Toxie”, “Killing Zoe” and “Detroit Rock City”… This all comes through demented editing and a great funky score, which makes watching this documentary a consistently enjoyable and often hilarious experience. Gill is not afraid to mock Jeremy and his lifestyle a little, but in the end it’s not mean spirited. While he’s alternately called greasy, ugly, dirty, cheap and worse, the final impression we’re left with is that of a jolly good fella who only wants to be loved.

Citizen Kane


When I was going to film school, I sometimes found it hard to sit through some of the movies the teachers made us watch, especially when I felt that even them must find their own selections rather boring, but were too conformist to do otherwise. ‘A film is old, and everyone says it’s a classic? Well, it must be, let’s make the students watch it!’ The teachers would then recite stuff they’d read about the film in an attempt to convince us that the film’s great, but I was never too keen on thematic analysis overkill. I believe that if a film is really that good, you don’t have to explain it during an hour to realise it. I have nothing against analysis, it’s just that the film itself shouldn’t be dead boring. Take “Citizen Kane”. Unlike most of the tedious and dry flicks I was forced to watch in class, here’s one classic that is as enjoyable as it is brilliant. It has a gripping story and dynamic direction, it doesn’t just stand there with nothing happening so it looks like there’s an hidden meaning.

As you know if you’ve browsed a while through this site, I’m not all that into golden age classics, I’m more into contemporary filmmakers like Scorsese, Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson. Well, even then, I am truly fascinated by Orson Welles’ timeless masterpiece, a film that actually feels more modern than most of what we see nowadays, sixty some years later. This is what I meant about how a film should be able to impress on its own. I didn’t need a teacher telling me “Kane” is a great film. Even first seeing it as a 15 year old punk, I was mesmerised. Not only was I not bored a minute, I was so enthralled that I had to watch it again the same day! I believe this might be the most visually rich movie ever made. You could literally watch it without the audio and just revel in the always inventive shot composition. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the story itself is fascinating!

It all begins with a riveting sequence showing us the death of Charles Foster Kane, a godzillionaire living as a recluse in Xanadu, his fortress of solitude on the desert coast of Florida. The camera travels smoothly from the main gate to Kane’s dying bed, as he drops a snow ball and his final word: Rosebud. We then see a purposely tacky “News on the March” segment on Kane’s accomplishments. The characters watching the newsreel (and us) are left feeling that the report is shallow and hardly satisfying. Who was really that rich newspaper tycoon who trapped himself in a humongous castle? And what the hell is Rosebud? Journalist Jerry Thompson (William Alland) is determined to find some answers, so he seeks out the important people in Kane’s life, and everyone has a story to tell. We learn that as a kid, Kane was sent to live with a banker, that he became extremely rich and took control a paper, the New York Inquirer. He was married to the President’s niece and ran for Governor, but things messed up. He divorced and ended up with Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingor), a simple girl who thinks she can sing. Kane wants to make her a star, but she just doesn’t have the voice. As time goes by, we see how all of Kane’s wives and friends leave him, and how he might have been responsible.

Of course, the story is much more complex than that. Welles and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz did an amazing job, creating fascinating characters and situations. The narrative is very interesting, as the pieces of Kane’s life come together as those of a jigsaw puzzle. Orson Welles truly is a visionary filmmaker, and his direction is flawless. His use of deep focus, lighting and camera angles, the great work done with the soundtrack (with an evocative score from Bernard Herrman) and the memorable performances he got from actors new to motion pictures give you just a glance of his talent. Welles is an awesome storyteller who knows how to exploit the possibilities of cinema, “the biggest magic kit a boy was ever given”. He also stars as Kane himself, and his screen presence is unique. “Citizen Kane” has become the official answer to the “What’s the greatest movie of all times?” question, and one can understand why. This is a film that you can watch over and over and keep discovering new things.

The “Citizen Kane” DVD has got to be one of the most complete packages ever put together. Besides offering a gorgeous transfer of the film, it’s jam packed with extras detailing everything about its making, its release and its influence. We can see archival footage such as a newsreel about the premiere of the film, the original theatrical trailer (a rather odd but original bit of Welles whimsy) and stills of scenes and shots which didn’t make the final cut. Then there are not one but two commentaries. One is by Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert, who goes through the film nearly shot after shot, pointing out things about the actors, the sets, the lighting, the use of deep focus, or how so much was achieved with the magic of cinema, as the film makes us think we’re seeing crowds or grandiose locations that are not there. He comes to the conclusion that there are as many special effects shots in “Kane” than in any “Star Wars” movie! The second commentary is by Peter Bogdanovich, who wrote an Orson Welles biography and has made a movie (the upcoming “The Cat’s Meow”) about media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who is widely believed to have been the inspiration for Charles Foster Kane.

Last but not least, the film comes with a second disc displaying a feature length documentary entitled “The Battle over Citizen Kane”. It tells the story of Hearst and Welles, two ambitious wonder boys whose massive egos clashed when the 25 year old filmmaker set his sights on the seventy-something millionaire. We see that they had somehow similar lives, and that the “fictional” story of Kane mirrors Welles’ nearly as much as Hearst. Little Orson never really had a normal life, being deemed a child prodigy early on, and going about directing plays and performing on radio serials as a teenager. Then, still in his early twenties, he was given the greatest contract in Hollywood history. No studio had ever offered such control to one person, and Welles intended to make the most of it. Today, all will agree he sure did, but back then his debut feature had one hell of a hard time being released.

When Hearst learned that the movie was a thinly veiled take on his accomplishments, his eccentricities and, most damning, his affair with the much younger Marion Davies, whom he strained to turn into a star, he was infuriated. Threats of lawsuits abounded, smear campaigns filled the front page of Hearst’s papers nationwide, and the bitter old publisher even attempted to tear down Hollywood as a whole and expose it as a nest of drunks, homosexuals and Jews! This worked to an extent, as studio moguls tried to buy the negative to “Citizen Kane” in the intent to burn the damn thing. It eventually made it through, but barely got a release, as nobody wanted to touch that hot potato. Learning all about “The Battle over Citizen Kane” in this fascinating documentary (originally made as part of PBS’ The American Experience series) makes it even more of a marvel that the film not only survived, but that it’s still cherished today as one of the major artistic achievements of the 20th century.

Le Ring Intérieur


Dan Bigras is an interesting figure in the French Canadian showbiz universe. He’s the kind of guy who’s almost too intense, too sincere for his own good. Maybe that’s why, while he got a few of his records playing on the radio and his few videos played on Musique Plus, he never quite “made it”, meaning that, while he’s probably living reasonably well off his music, he’s no big glamorous star. Good for him. He’s stayed true to his roots, getting involved with the homeless youth and various social causes. And now, quite surprisingly, he’s come out with an ONF-produced documentary about Ultimate Combat!

Maybe because he’s never been one to spread out his life in the tabloids, I wasn’t aware that he’d been delving in martial arts these past few years, getting himself back in shape after he quit drinking. He befriended professional fighter Charles Ali Nestor, a Haitian young man who hasn’t had it easy, getting from a bad childhood with an abusive father to messing around with street gangs and ending up in a detention centre. Painstakingly, he’s learned to express himself instead of holding it all in, and to focus his rage in the ring, and trying to be a good model to his young son and his boxing students. The film is mostly about Nestor, for whom Bigras serves as cornerman, but we also get to know their other chums, be it the always grinning, cocky 21 year old David Loiseau or thirty-something proletarian Steve Vigneault.

“Le Ring Intérieur” (The Ring Within) is kind of like a non-fiction “Fight Club”, not for the satirical social commentary and stylistic flourishes, just for the physical catharsis part. We meet men haunted by inner demons, men filled with unhealthy anger, men used to failure who’ve finally found a way to let some steam out, to fight off their personal issues, feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. In form, Bigras’ film is rather clumsy, with its rugged video images, and the ideas, while interesting, are not expressed with much subtlety or depth, but that’s alright. The film’s roughness is part of what makes it effective. What’s certain is that Bigras really cares for these guys, and that translates to us in the audience. I didn’t expect to feel so much for the people in the film, but I did. You really get to see where they’re coming from, so when they step into the ring you know that it’s not just about kicking the other dude’s ass.

Bigras’ goal seems to be to give a more positive, more accurate look of a much maligned sport and the athletes who practice it, and he’s achieved it. His movie changed my impression of Ultimate Combat as either barbarian or homo-erotic. It’s really a good documentary, warts and all. I don’t know if it’ll get a release out of Canada, but seek it out if you can.