2017 Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Awards (1 of 2): Melanie Griffith

When I posted my BAM Award honorees, it was another long day and I claimed I’d post special awards the following day. The delay in posting any and all of these honorary awards has been due in large part to wrapping a long first draft of a piece of fiction and the fact that a record keeping mistake almost led me to pick the same Lifetime Achievement recipient as last year. Not that John Williams hasn’t done enough for multiple lifetimes, but let’s spread the wealth.

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As such I will instead post at least one honoree a day to balance this blog with my other works.

As I deliberated picking people who aren’t exceptionally old as other awards do, I wasn’t inspired by many of my options until I looked at the history of my own awards and how in recent years I had seen the reemergence of some of my favorites into the nominated list. So, that seemed like the perfect reason to celebrate all of their works as I also like to select people who are still making an impact.

Without further adieu the first honoree…

Melanie Griffith

First, some stats…

6 total nominations; 2 wins
Won as Lead Actress and Supporting Actress (One of three)
Nominated four times in six years (19962001)

Best Supporting Actress winner in 1996 (Mulholland Falls)
Best Supporting Actress nominee 1997 (Lolita)
Best Actress nominee in 1999 (Shadow of Doubt)
Best Actress winner in 2001 (Cecil B. Demented)
Best Cast nominee in 2001 (Cecil B. Demented)
Best Cast Nominee in 2017 (The Disaster Artist).

Even before the era wherein the BAM Awards were a part of my life Melanie Griffith had already made an impression on me, and in retrospect I went on to view many of her films.

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Prior to her most well-known work (Working Girl) she had already made a splash with two films that would end up standing the test of time (Body Double and Something Wild).

While the string of films she was in following Working Girl had varying degrees of success commercially, critically, I enjoy most and like her work in them even more (Pacific Heights, Bonfire of the Vanities, Paradise, Shining Through, Born Yesterday, Milk Money, Nobody’s Fool, Buffalo Girls, Celebrity, Another Day in Paradise, Crazy in Alabama and RKO 281 among those not yet mentioned).

Paradise (1991, Touchstone Pictures)

Smaller independent works intervened between her last BAM nomination and The Disaster Artist, but I’d not happened to come across them or gone out of my way to see them, though I should have. The Disaster Artist was a tremendous jolt, a reminder that I’ve not tracked down enough of her works as she was one of the first actors or directors I made a point of seeing.

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“Do you even want to be an actor?” her character, an acting instructor, says to Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) in The Disaster Artist. He responds in the affirmative. “Well, you hide it well,” she retorts, and in a film about the making of a cult film, and in many ways the cruelty of Hollywood and entertainment in general; Melanie’s part, and Sharon Stone, as an objectifying talent agent, seems a very conscious and shrewd commentary: these are talented, professional women deserving of respect and recognition.

Melanie’s honor from my awards is overdue.

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BAM Best Picture Profile: Mulholland Falls (1996)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM nominee and winner lists. However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

This may prove, by the end of this retrospective, to be the one and only film I had to go back and watch over again. As I dusted off my ancient VHS I first realized that I’ve never seen this film in its proper aspect ratio, but rather have only in pan & scan. It’s sort of a testament to how old this film is by now, relatively speaking, and how young I was when I saw it. Now, I’m not about double back on this film. Granted it may not retain the luster that some of the Best Pictures I’ve revisited. In fact, some of the “retroactive” BAM Winners that I created (and no longer acknowledge because they weren’t truly picked at year’s end) are much stronger films.

However, this was what started it all. In 1996, I sat there and perhaps for the first time I paid close attention to Awards Season as the nominations were coming out. I was quite young (15) and I was very unaware to the process, critical buzz and the like. Regardless, I needed an outlet to express my opinions. Therefore, with the aid of ticket stubs, and I would suppose the IMDB (as this film was a rental that I had viewed during the year), or maybe even just memory; I started assembling my first nominations. Even back then I refused to bow to release dates and did pick a 1995 title as my favorite film of the year because of my lack of a reasonable chance to see it.

I’ve since gotten a bit more strict about that rule, but the spirit of it remains the same. So being my first Best Picture, from my first award slate (one if I recall correctly had about 25% or less the total eligible titles this year will likely have), sure, there was reticence to revisit it. However, I long since stopped engaging in revisionist history. It’s a snapshot. I still like the film, moreover, I still know exactly what it was that had me respond in so enamored a way then even though the surprise, and to an extent, some of the thrill is gone.

Mulholland Falls (1996, MGM)

Back then I was far more actor-oriented and there are many in it I tracked closely at the time (Nick Nolte, Melanie Griffith, Chazz Palmentieri, John Malkovich) some I’ve since come to know better (Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Connolly, Treat Williams, Chris Penn, Stephen Baldwin, Ed Lauter). Perhaps more noticeably I realize now that many behind the scenes names are know more well known to me Sally Menke (Editor most known from Tarantino’s works; May she rest in peace), Haskell Wexler (Legendary DP perhaps best known for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Lee Tamahori (Director who broke out with Once Were Warriors)

While the film may not be technically a noir tale, its got many of the elements that I was just recently introduced to and starting to become enraptured by so that most definitely captured my imagination. Aside from the titillating aspects, it’s also the multi-pronged plot wherein Hoover (Nolte) was squared off against the the military and FBI in the interests of solving a case that has personal significance for him. He goes rogue, for lack of a better word; and it’s not like he’s a by-the-book kind of guy as the film takes its name from how he and his team deal with the organized crime element in LA.

Mulholland Falls (1996, MGM)

I enjoyed, and still do, many of the performances. And upon revisiting it not only remembered many of the lines I connected with but the line readings (“They brought me a film” as Malkovich says as he’s sick and “You broke my heart” as Melanie Griffith says to close it out; to name a few).

Aside from using film itself as a storytelling element, the narrative also starts with a simple case and opens up into a more complicated, entangled mystery much bigger than the players involved. The professional and personal co-mingle and the characters take justice into their own hands. All these things and more are what I connected to.

In conclusion, it’s not that I regret this choice, as I’ve stated it was most definitely true and correct at the time (and that’s the least you can ask) but it’s one, perhaps the only one, that I feel really dates me. It is still a solid, entertaining mystery that I believe can pack a punch on first-viewing.

Film Thought: Who Would Play You in a Movie?

How many of you have thought of the hypothetical question of who would play you in a movie of your life? It’s not the most unique query in the world. I assume there are a few. I gave it the occasional thought when I was younger, but never thought about it again until recently when asked.

More often than not I will admit I’ve considered what my life would be rated by the MPAA (can anyone get away without and R or higher knowing them?). I’ve also considered the end credits. Which are both very hypothetical and nearly metaphysical considerations. Who’s watching said movie to rate it or see the credits, is akin to the Theory of Size questions or other existential ponderings usually reserved for the very young.

Theoretically, someone making a movie about your life is a more feasible concept. What’s funny is that I have thought about this question more for people in my life than myself. Maybe the reason for that is how we all view ourselves, but I’ve had certain actors pinned down as certain family members for a long time: Melanie Griffith, Julia Roberts, Steve Martin and so on.

Casting a story based on my family is much easier. Myself? Not as much. If you want a reference point as to what I look like you can check out a photo on my Twitter. Let’s look through some of the ideas. One way to look at it is: who have people told me I remind them of? I can only readily recall two. When I was younger people used to say I reminded them of Fred Savage on The Wonder Years. However, I have a feeling a lot of kids got that around that time. Even if we did look like each other once upon a time, we no longer do.

A few people have told me I seem to resemble Roger Federer. I contest this notion, but even if I do, unless I wrote myself into some weird biopic/Tennis version of Space Jam that wouldn’t make sense anyway. The only actor that ever really came to mind is one I haven’t watched that much of recently, but was one of my favorites growing up, and one I’m looking forward to seeing in Maniac; Elijah Wood.

Now, to state the painfully obvious, I do not look like Elijah Wood. If this hypothetical film were to exist I’d be getting upgraded. If you’ve ever been introduced to a historical figure in a film typically the Hollywood edition is a bit of an upgrade to the original when you discover what they look like. My case would be that to the nth degree. However, another factor would be that we’re very nearly the same age. Yes, actors often stretch their range by a number of years, but since I have no obvious doppleganger I’ll limit it to people around my age. Second, his onscreen persona has always seemed somewhat similar to mine in life I feel. When he angers he may need to get louder, but I’m sure he can manage. Lastly, since he’s become a mature actor and gotten into social media Elijah has proven himself to be quite a film enthusiast. So there’s another reason.

Yeah, my choice isn’t a dead ringer, but it’s one I’d be pleased with. How about you? Who would play you in a movie?

Americanization: How Le Grand Chemin Became Paradise- Le Grand Chemin (Part 3 of 3)

Le Grand chemin

Written and Directed by Jean-Loup Hubert
    

Unlike Paradise, Le Grand chemin takes place in June of 1958. The back drop of the Algerian War will play a role in this film and is a cultural detail that just doesn’t translate to an American version. We open on the much cozier confines of a bus that runs between Nantes and St. Brevin. Louis (Antoine Hubert) is to be left by his mother with her friend Marcelle (Anémone) for three weeks while she waits for her baby to be born. Being that it’s 1958 and post-maternal hospital stays were longer and that anticipated birthdates were a thing of the future this is a much more plausible scenario with which to begin the story. 
    

Unfortunately, auteurship isn’t what makes the original better. Both films have auteurs at the helm, Hubert and Donoghue respectively. In the remake’s case the difficulty was in that she was writing an adaptation and transplanting the story from one culture to another. The true auteur of this film is Jean-Loup Hubert who originally wrote this film, spawned from his own imagination. At best Donoghue saw the film and thought it was underappreciated in the States and wanted to bring it to a wider audience. In all likelihood a studio executive bought the rights and hired her to adapt and direct.
    

The title of this film has been loosely translated as “The Grand Highway.” While Grand may be kept the same it can also be ‘large’ or ‘great’ but chemin was definitely mistranslated it’s either ‘path’ or ‘track.’ I had learned that chemin was a path but it was clear to me visually that the translation was wrong even if I had no knowledge of French. Hubert frames the street passing under the bus after the driver yells out ‘Le Grand chemin’ obviously making it a metaphor. This is the path that is leading Louis into this couple’s life, a convergence, and it’s also life passing us by. Pello, who was Ben in Paradise, is introduced in much the same way talking bad of the couple and then surprising Louis by being at the house.
 
I take issue with the Billie character in Paradise. In Le Grand chemin she is Martine (Vanessa Guedj) and her character is a lot more rounded and intelligent. She is the grounded realist for having grown up in the country. Martine never doubts that her father walked out on her mother for a younger woman and towards the end of the film her bluntness causes Louis to run away being that he’s a dreamer from the city. While we may even dislike her for some of her actions, like when she shoves civelles down Louis’s shorts as a joke, she is strong and independent and not weak like Billie.
    

In this film, we see Marcelle knocking a rabbit out cold and skinning it. I’ve already discussed the animal rights concerns this was likely to cause if attempted in the U.S. and the studio was probably unwilling to shoot in another country to do something that may offend the audience. However, there is a purpose to this scene. Louis witnesses it all. This serves to reinforce his bad feeling about the trip which is prevalent at the beginning of this film. While Pello did deceive him, he is the first to earn his trust when Pello winks at him so he’ll pretend it’s their first meeting. In Paradise, Willard was merely afraid to say otherwise and a bond forms later in the film amongst less natural circumstances. 
    

The involvement of the Catholic Church also occurs earlier and more frequently in this film than it does in the American version. Actually, in the classic American tradition of watering everything down the Reeds attend a Protestant church of unknown denomination. In France, there is a greater acceptance of criticism of the Church. In the revolution the Church was under attack and to be abolished, later France was the nexus of the existentialist school of thought in the 20th Century. These interpretations of the Clergy are not necessarily as negative as we may interpret them, but rather an attempt to help humanity cope when they feel religion has failed them. In Le Grand chemin, Hubert frames the priest in a high pulpit above the parishioners. He is speaking of God and the saints and of lofty things and boring everyone to death. Later, when Louis is walking around on the roof and Martine is seeking help he makes jokes about them. All this is saying is that the Church and its clergy have begun to lose touch with the reality of worshippers’ lives. It’s not done in poor taste and it does in the end serve the story. The challenge Martine placed to Louis is that he couldn’t urinate down the gutter which leads out of a gargoyle statue’s mouth. When Louis is missing at the end he is found when a nun gets a “shower.” Now a nun is a human being just like you and me, thus, imperfect and not a religious icon and it escapes the dangerous realm of blasphemy. In Paradise, the preacher is merely a talkative dolt and the challenge is merely a high wire act because I guess Americans don’t urinate until they’re of age. 
 

Another aspect in which the French film excels is in the score. The French score is evocative of childhood whimsy and wonderment as need be. It is touching and extremely moving towards the end and put a great emphasis on the ending. And it highlights the moments of high drama perfectly without overshadowing the action.

In contrasting the actors ‘The Bedroom Scene’ is where we can most easily draw comparison between how each version of the story was handled. Jean-Loup Hubert frames his actors together with minimal cutting and the tension is so thick it hits home. You hear it almost as if you’re there. Richard Bohringer’s performance as Pello in this scene is absolutely raw, you can see there’s no stopping him, there’s nothing contrived here, no acting – that we can see. Hubert also excels here at writing putting this in a more emotionally vulnerable point in the film.


 
In Le Grand chemin, we see the following scene unfold: Pello and Louis have just spent a day together. In a very warm and touching shot Louis reaches out and takes Pello’s hand. Shortly after Marcelle arrives worried about whether or not he has eaten. Later she has to go pick Pello up because he’s drunk. Here we see them really butt heads. Because Pello has made a connection with Louis and he’s always been the more forward looking of the two he pushes the issue of Jean-Pierre, their dead child. He misses her as a wife and feels she’s playing the martyr and tries to take her physically. “God won’t help you, let’s do it in the wheelbarrow,” he says. He then chases her into the house and she locks him out of their room. Upon falling to the ground drunk he finds the key to Jean-Pierre’s room. He goes in and starts demolishing it, as he expected Marcelle comes out to stop him and again he attempts to rape her. This is high drama and great conflict. Pello is living in the moment and Marcelle in the past; we see the metaphorical struggle enacted physically. 
    

Even if the American film had reached the same amount of drama that the French film was able to they still undercut the tension. In the French film we discovered the room in that scene. In the American we had a sentimental and non-essential wandering into the room by Lily. The woman’s role in this scene is the same in both films; she must be resistant, in fear, fighting back and in hysterical shock at her husband’s actions. Melanie Griffith holds her own but is unable to live up to Anémone’s example. Don Johnson, on the other hand, fails miserably in this scene giving her nothing to work off of. His diction is poor, his tonality is all off and he is scarcely believable. He comes off as a man who may be a jerk but would never be thought of as being that passionate.
 

The French film also makes the connection between Pello and Louis and it’s made in not a more subtle but a better way. In Paradise, all the bonding occurs during a fishing trip both the forming of the friendship and the big question about the dead child. In Le Grand chemin, first Pello shows Louis how to sand by letting him watch how it’s done. Here we also see Pello give Louis a makeshift wagon where he carries around the scrap pieces of wood. This allows a visual representation of the bond they had. When he gets upset near the end we see Louis leave the wagon behind in the shed. Later, we have the fishing trip where they are already friendly and he asks about the baby after a long talk. 
    

What really works well in Le Grand chemin is the story arc. He may not be the most involved character but Louis is the catalyst of this film. In one scene Pello refuses Marcelle’s idea of a bedpan and takes Louis outside to urinate against the wall. He says to him “If you can hit the wall you’re ready for girls,” and in a very humorous turn Louis leans forward trying to hit the wall. The scene begins with Pello arguing with Martine and ends with his getting closer to Louis. He sharpens the conflict between the couple and then ultimately brings them closer together at the end. In the closing scenes, he climbs into bed with them because he had a bad dream and ultimately for the context of the film he sees them as his parents. He also affects Martine while they are quite different as Louis is timid and Martine is outgoing to the point of being brash she is very saddened by his leaving. When Louis is saying his goodbyes she is squeezing grapes and mixing them with rum to drink away her depression. This is another scene American audiences would have trouble with. We’d be willing to accept underage drinking in a movie, but only at a certain age even though much the same thing must happen here. The ultimate visual representation of how he affected everyone was when he was standing atop the church and the whole town is watching him.
    

In what is a very affective sequence, Louis’s character is pushed too harshly to the truth and lashes out. First, he is listening to a letter his father wrote him, a father he always believed was a head waiter in Nice. He asks Marcelle to see the postcard he sent and sees it’s blank. Marcelle was instructed to make up a message for him to hear. He recognizes the postcard from the year before. Marcelle tries to play it cool but Louis isn’t going to believe the story anymore, he calls her a liar and then he gets slapped. He runs off and consequently meets Martine who speculates that he must have met a younger woman. While Louis is ready to accept his father is gone he doesn’t want to hear anything negative either. He calls her a liar as well and then disappears to the church. What I like about this film is that it’s one without a ‘hyperplot’ but it does move and it is very well told. The characters come together bit by bit, and you get to slowly find out what they’re all about. If this film where made in the US it would be independently produced and most likely fall through the cracks, but in France it won many awards.

Of course, the way in which this film handles both sensuality and sexuality, while also dealing with death is very adept. Love and death are dramatic foils that writers have been toying with since time out of mind. In Le Grand chemin, the theme of death is more readily handled. Pello is not only a carpenter but he makes all the caskets in the town and he is best friends with the gravedigger, Hippolyte. Combine this with the fact that they had lost a child some years ago you get quite an odd little circle. It’s psychologically subtle. When you think about it Pello in all likelihood fitted his own son for a casket, he literally buried his own son. While his best friend, who may have been the godfather for all we know, buried him in the ground. So the impact on them must have been twice as hard in this film. As for Marcelle, no one can say how hard it is for a mother to lose a child unless they’ve ever been in that situation. So the film opens with characters that are deeply bruised. The connection between life and death is blood. In Pello’s shop we see Marcelle’s ‘monthly rag’ here blood is signifying the inability to create life. And it also ties in with sex. When dealing with a scene of attempted rape it’s hard to keep sympathy for a character but Pello never really loses our respect because once we realize he’s drunk and not his usual self (not that his usual self has been that nice) we almost understand his actions. We also know that all he wants of his wife is some affection. He feels that she died with their child and he hates it. Between the children the scenes of discovery are obviously better handled than in the American version. The scene where they discuss the clap in the French film isn’t as shy or prudish as the American. Martine is a tomboy and Billie is not. She doesn’t sit like a girl or talk like a girl. She offers Louis a look up her skirt which is something which is only clumsily suggested in the American version; Martine says it with bravado and pride. Billie only wears a dress when looking for her derelict father while Martine flashes a priest. The scene when they spy on Martine’s older sister is also quite differently handled in the American version.
 
   
While the American version starts off imitating the French version with identical framing of the kids on the upper level of the barn how the coital relationship is filmed is quite different. Why it is so I have no idea? In both cases, there are shots where the children would have to be there, unless there was some sort of processing. In the French film, the boyfriend moves up from performing cunnilingus and we see him on top of his girlfriend. In the American version, they are already engaged in intercourse and we see the couple sideways. Even when depicting sexuality we must be the example of prudery and puritanical ethics.
    

Simon, Solange’s (Martine’s sister) boyfriend, is about to go off to Algeria. This was a war that was a backdrop to many French films. It was a war that eventually ended French colonialism in the nation. Many films, including Godard’s Le Petit soldat, have used this war as central themes yet in this film it’s more a background issue but I don’t believe it represents any larger symbol here but is merely a plot element. If the American version had some kind of backdrop it may have been better but it doesn’t; it’s flat and it’s all surface.
 

   

Le Grand chemin is triumphant filmmaking in which all the elements work together smoothly. Jean-Loup Hubert gets a wonderful performance out of his son that ranks amongst the great performances by child actors alongside Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun and Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense to name a few. For the adult roles, Hubert had actors who were confident enough to be able to take a scene of such intensity and absolutely live it, the chemistry was there and it was shot to perfection. The story is well-written and simply done. The music and cinematography in Le Grand chemin are far superior. If we learn anything in comparing these two films is that the original work, especially if foreign, loses a lot of it’s spirit in switching countries its culture and in many cases its talent.
 
Le Grand chemin is a beautiful film that should’ve been left alone. Some stories are only meant to be told once. And many must stay where they are born and are never meant to be imitated overseas.  

Works Cited


Chemin Grand, Le. Dir. Jean-Loup Hubert, 1987. Perf. Anemone, Richard Bohringer, Antoine Hubert

Éloge de l’amour Dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 2001. 
Atkins, Beverly T, Alain Duval, Rosemary C. Milne et al.,

Le Robert & Collins Poche Dictionnaire Français-Anglais Anglais-Français. 2nd ed. Dictionnaries Le Robert: Paris, 1996.

Paradise Dir. Mary Agnes Donoghue, 1991. Perf. Melanie Griffith, Don Johnson, Elijah Wood and Thora Birch.

Americanization: How Le Grand Chemin Became Paradise- Paradise (Part 2 of 3)

Paradise

Directed by Mary Agnes Donoghue 
Touchstone Pictures   Jean Francois Lepetit

Paradise begins at a private school where Willard (Elijah Wood) meets Clay and they talk about where they’re going for the summer. Clay is going to his summer home in Colorado. Willard lies and says he’s going to Africa. We then follow Willard home and see a very conventional scene establishing him as unpopular and lonely when he passes a pick up baseball game and is harassed by bullies. This scene is so common in American cinema (i.e. sports as a proving ground of childhood acceptance) that it fails to achieve its goal: creating sympathy for the protagonist. 
    


We are introduced to Willard’s mother and instantly pass judgment on her. Willard comes home and she is on the phone. She closes the door in his face because she is talking about a private matter. Later, we find Willard is being sent off to the country to stay with her friends as she gives birth to a new baby and can’t take care of him. As we will find later, the American version of the film will become overly-obsessed with justifying why a mother would send her only child to stay with her friends for a few weeks. Ironically, this justification is needed because this version of the film takes place in the present where childbirth is less difficult, thus making it more implausible than in Le Grand chemin.
   


Willard pleads with his mother that his friend’s mother gave birth and he didn’t have to leave but to no avail. The absolute lack of subtlety, which is another problem many American films face because commercial appeal is so crucial, creates some of the worst lines in this film. When the bus arrives at their destination Willard’s mother says ‘We’re here?’ Willard says ‘Where?’ and the response is ‘Paradise.’ This is the reason so many people joke ‘That’s where they got the title from!’ with mock-enthusiasm. Le Grand chemin is not as heavy handed in revealing its title as it’s the bus driver who yells out the stop their making. 
 

Upon leaving the bus Elijah Wood uses quite a good facial expression to show his disappointment with his surroundings. Wood was one of the most talented child actors to ever grace the silver screen, he and Melanie Griffith’s talents were utterly wasted in this poorly directed adaptation, whether or not Wood’s adult career will be as spectacular is yet to be seen. He will be in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and I found the first film overrated, which means in my opinion, his last great film was Black and White, an ensemble piece in 1999. [Clearly all of this is accurate as of this writing. Since the completion of the trilogy he has done little to live up the promise he showed as a youth, Maniac may change that.] 
   


Willard then meets Ben, played by Don Johnson, who pretty much only knows two emotions (straight and angry) and can’t act in either of them. And we get the same game of deception as we did in the French version. Remaking a film is truly a catch-22. When scenes were simply translated from the French I wanted new material and where there were new wrinkles added I thought they were covering the wrong ground. A perfect example is when we are introduced to Sally Pike (Sheila McCarthy) who is a waitress in a local dinner who is talking to Lily (Melanie Griffith) about how she has decided to get married. Sally’s marriage proposition will be one of two flimsy, underdeveloped and unnecessary subplots that Donoghue thrusts upon this once simple and beautiful film.
 

At the Reed home, we see Lily chop the head off a dead chicken. This scene is a microcosm of the difficulty in remaking a film that was originally the product of another culture. In Le Grand chemin Marcelle (Anémone) skins a rabbit which shocks the young Louis. Here it’s a chicken getting its head chopped off, while animal rights activists might not allow for an animal to be skinned French audiences wouldn’t be as queasy as to disallow even a simulation of the event. The context in which the action occurs justifies it whether you agree with it or not. They live in the country, thus, don’t buy clean pre-prepared chicken. However, just that little change when having the original niggling at the back of your head makes it an annoying occurrence. It makes you realize this movie is French. It was told from a French perspective yet something about that experience made it universal, by transplanting and Americanizing it we are ruining what made it wonderful. While certain cinematic experiences are ‘indigenous,’ meaning they have a greater significance to the culture that created it (i.e. Central do Brasil [Central Station]) there is still something about the film that made it renowned worldwide. The formulizing and studiofication of Le Grand chemin is sadly not the worst English translation but the fact that it was made at all is bad enough. Why couldn’t the general public just go to see the original? It makes Americans seem not only elitist but ignorant that we can’t go en masse to hear a new language and read while at the theatre. Read in the movies? God forbid!
   

The lack of subtlety strikes again when Willard meets Billie Pike (Thora Birch). Her first line is ‘Have you ever seen a dead body?’ This is a blunt insertion of the theme of death that runs throughout this and the original, again Jean-Loup Hubert handled the subject with much more delicacy than did Donoghue. We also then get the introduction of love and sex as themes in an equally amateur way when Billie asks if Willard would like to see her sister with ‘her clothes… off’ (Emphasis from film). This line shows the director’s fault in so many ways. First, this is terrible acting on Birch’s part (She would go on to be decent in her later films such as Now and Then and American Beauty). Second, this is obviously in the director’s opinion the best take of the line which I don’t find in the least bit amusing. Thus, Donoghue is also at fault for having emphasis added in the script. It might have worked on paper but when she realized what she was dealing with the line should’ve been re-written. 

And lastly, this also tends to point out the glaring yet unexplainable phenomena that many American directors have such a difficult time getting quality performances out of child actors whereas we see many fine performances by youths from all around the world. I believe part of the problem is that we as Americans coddle the child actor and view them as inferior giving them stupid and/or annoying roles and the directors seldom have enough understanding of these performers to guide them when a role does require more out of them.
   

Rosemary (Eve Gordon) is talking to Lily on the stairs about how her husband has left her and she doesn’t know how to tell Willard. This is implied in the original and its insertion here further divides our attention away from what the two main storylines really are and they are the relationship between Lily and Ben and between Billie and Willard. We do then switch to them and hear another gem (For some reason most of the poor dialogue in the film, if not all, is reserved for Billie). They are up in the tree and she says ‘I come here when I’m mad which, is most of the time.’ This is such lazy writing we get two major pieces of information which can be conveyed, and is conveyed, through the action of the film at various points. We understand this very quickly in Le Grand chemin mostly because Vanessa Guedj’s performance is much better than Thora Birch’s; the casting director of the French version also deserves kudos for a wise decision.    
 

In this version of the film we also get Billie being somewhat more ignorant than Willard on matters of sex. This coming from the use of a modern setting combined with the switch in what kids from the country and city know depending on country and on time period. We then go to a somewhat of a bonding moment between Willard and Lily in which they are picking string beans and preparing them for dinner. When Ben comes home he utters dialogue that is transplanted and meaningless given the context and Johnson’s lack of talent. His being cast makes me start to wonder if the casting was a marketing gimmick pairing real life spouses at the time (Johnson & Griffith). Ironically, on screen they were as mismatched as in real life.

What we then get is perhaps the biggest fumble of this film which is the exposition of the Reed’s dead child. One of the problems that haunt this version is that in the American version we find this information out too early in the film. This comes from our cultural imperative that films must be about ‘something’ right away. While there’s nothing wrong with that in theory, in this instance we ruin the simplicity of the film and also create a paltry melodrama by making Lily go into the baby’s room to hold things and cry. This makes all the emotions we feel in this film absolutely manipulated and contrived. Whereas in the French version all we see is Pello going into the room after a fight to destroy it. This is our first exposure to the room and we instantly see that is a museum of sorts for their dead child. The emotions elicited by his actions are real because as soon as we see it: 1) We know why Marcelle kept it unchanged. 2) we see Pello trying to destroy it to hurt her. This is the fault of the American studio because they underestimated the audience’s intelligence, which is always a sinful act by a filmmaker which sadly is committed all too often.
 

Billie at one point insists on finding her father who it turns out works at a roller skating rink. She goes there and is rejected. Paradise also on a few occasions tries to make Billie’s mother, the waitress, a central character. These are two inventions of the American version of this film which water down and show weakness in their filmmaking. Not only are the makers of Paradise unwilling to tell a simple story but they cannot even be subtle and they throw in unnecessary scenes of expositions amongst newly created adult characters who have never existed in the framework of this story. Even when a child actor is given a large role in an American film here we still find reticence to let the weight of the film rest on his/her shoulders. Something the French are extremely adept at doing. 
   

Paradise is not a bad film. Considering it is a remake of a French film I saw prior, it’s decent. It is, however, nothing to write home about. It misses the elusive magic and perhaps indigenous uniqueness that Le Grand chemin had. And it was doomed to be inferior from the start taking that into account which makes me wonder why a remake was allowed to happen in the first place.

My Year in Film: 1994

First, a tip of the hat to @bobfreelander who was the first I saw doing retroactive year-in-review posts and why I will do a few. Now, while I will be able to contextualize my picks to an extent I cannot be as anal retentive as I wanted to. Ideally, I would’ve loved to say I saw these movies in the year in question and these later, but I cannot with any degree of accuracy. The reason this matters to me is that I was 13 to 14 when these films were being released. Now I, unlike many students around me when I was in school, have been able to exonerate many films I saw before studying films formally from over-analysis. So while many are getting a pass or some sentimental value attached to them I shall not disown them, they are still me. Much in the way I am no longer making BAM Awards for years where I didn’t actively track releases, I am also not changing winners as I did on rare occasions in my teens. This list like those awards are a snapshot, time can reshape one affection for a film, whether heightening or lessening it but the films that mark that year for you mentally remain pretty much identical.

I start with 1994 in part because it was a great year for me in general, I was out of sixth grade and into 7th and 8th and I rather enjoyed Junior High where using your mental faculties to achieve a heightened sense of immaturity was rewarded, at least amongst my circle of friends. Sports-wise it was a great year as my faith in my beloved New York Rangers was rewarded, I knew it’d be a championship season in pre-season and it was. Then not too long after I saw Brazil win its 3rd World Cup while visiting my family.

Not that movies lagged that far behind, if at all. Many of these films, whether I saw them during the calendar year or soon thereafter, have been favorites for many years.

The films are in no particular order.

1. Satantango

Sátántangó (Kino Lorber)

I’ve been meaning to give this film an annual viewing but at 7+ hours in length it is very hard to schedule. I first heard about this film in college when it wasn’t readily available on DVD but I hunted it down. Having it was like having gold such that I even loaned it to a professor once. It’s an impressive example of story-telling muscle-flexing as it goes back and forth in time with many events repeating at intersecting points of perspective, as we follow characters and see certain events over through their eyes. Its ending is a shocking as such a minimalist ending can be and gives me goosebumps every time.

2. Milk Money

Milk Money (Paramount)

Here’s one I could’ve seen in ’94 but didn’t. In a world where I didn’t have a computer or access to the IMDb I couldn’t confirm my casting misconceptions, namely at the time I confused one of the girls in a quick shot in the trailer with Anna Chlumsky. I did eventually see it on HBO and this was where my admiration for Melanie Griffith originated and I hunted down practically everything she did after seeing it. Now hooker with a heart of gold stories weren’t new to me even then but the context and the slightly verboten yet laissez-fair handling of this one along with its outcome are a major part of what won me over.

3. Once Were Warriors

Once Were Warriors (Fine Line Features)

When the Independent Film Channel (IFC) first hit the airwaves I watched it practically every night for a week, and as an atypical teen movie fan I craved something different and I got it. This is a harrowing tale of a Maori family in New Zealand. I’m not even sure if I’ve even revisited it. Even if I have it could surely qualify as a film you only need to see once.

4. Disclosure

Disclosure (Warner Bros.)

This is a great film. Yes, it’s true Michael Douglas gets Michael Douglas-ed in it, if you’ve seen enough of his films you get what I mean, but sexual harassment was a hot button issue in the country as there was a politically correct renaissance about and to flip expectations to have an actress like Demi Moore, in likely her best role, in that position make it a compelling drama.

5. The War

The War (Universal)

For those of you who may have been asleep during the 90s and didn’t know, Elijah Wood was one of the most prodigious child actors who ever graced the silver screen. This film of his is his most criminally under-seen. It’s a great allegorical tale wherein Wood does his most serious work as a youth but he’s supported by Kevin Costner, Mare Winningham and Lexi Randall. If you’ve never seen this film do yourself the favor.

6. Little Giants

Little Giants (Warner Bros.)

G-Men! OK, if you read my intro you probably surmised I’m a native New Yorker, however, that’s not the only reason that this film makes the list, there are some others. It is smart that this film does play into actual NFL rivalries and takes the Bad News Bears motif to football but there’s some more to it. Part of it has to do with seeing Ed O’Neill in a movie and perfectly cast, it being one of Rick Moranis’ last theatrically released films plays into it some. Yet it’s also about the team, which plays into the appeal of any underdog story, and also it may be the most effective rivalries in terms of having certain off-the-field relationships with the opposition.

7. A Feast at Midnight

A Feast at Midnight (Live Entertainment)

This is a film that I found a few years later. One thing that’s refreshing about it is that it’s a tale of boarding school mischief that doesn’t get too dark. Essentially the boys at this school are tired of their crap food. They learn to cook and bake and sneak about in the dead of night to have proper feasts. More comedy and tension are added by Christopher Lee who plays the headmaster who they refer to as a dinosaur and many scenes play out as homages to Jurassic Park, which are just brilliantly done.

8. Vanya on 42nd Street

Vanya on 42nd Street (Sony Pictures Classics)

If I recall correctly this was an impromptu purchase. I typically used my weekend allowance to take a bus to the multiplex and then to the mall after to pick up another film. This was likely one of them. It didn’t lead me to instantly pursue more Chekhov but it was the spark that opened the door for my appreciation of his work.

9. The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption (Columbia Pictures)

What could I possibly say about this film that hasn’t been said before? I didn’t see it in 1994 as it was slightly before I discovered Stephen King, and my life forever changed. I saw it later and I saw it before I read it, and I learned Frank Darabont is a King adaptation master, and this is his best work.

10. North

North (Columbia Pictures)

Here’s the section of the list where I’ll place a couple of movies you likely hate and I hope you’ll do me the kindness of scrolling past them if you do hate them rather than closing your browser window. For those of you who are still with me, I can even understand how you can dislike North and It’s Pat, the latter much more than the former. However, with this one I really don’t get how some claim its one of the worst things ever. Yes, it’s another Elijah Wood title and while here he’s more comedic this one really does have more to do with the concept than him or the supporting all-star cast. It’s a wish-fulfillment story and yes, based on the tale you know where it’ll likely end up, but that doesn’t stop it from being a very effective fantasy in my estimation.

11. It’s Pat

It's Pat (Touchstone Pictures)

I get it on this one, OK? Pat is gross, that’s what makes the sketch funny for those who do think it’s funny. I’d say this is likely the most avoided and reviled SNL-sketch based feature of them all, I will not claim that it’s the best, but I do like it. Julia Sweeney is a very underrated comedienne and this is her best character.

12. The Little Rascals

The Little Rascals (Universal Pictures)

I can’t remember if I ever consciously wanted to see this movie but having younger siblings it was acquired on home video and I ended up watching it many times and I ended up liking it quite a bit also. Looking back you could almost draw a parallel between this and The Three Stooges in as much as those actors were The Little Rascals, so theoretically a remake shouldn’t work but it was cast so well and the story was very much in the spirit of the original with minor updates such that it works very well.

13. Airheads

Airheads (20th Century Fox)

When you rely on cable television for your viewing you can end up watching things over and over whether you want to or not. An example or not would be Empire Records, I have no idea what convinced me that seeing it over and over would change my opinion of it. It just kept getting suckier. This I liked right away and wanted to see many times over, it’s just a hilarious and well executed premise.

14. The Client

The Client (Warner Bros.)

Joel Schumacher can be very divisive and I certainly cannot defend all of his films. However, those that I can I will tooth and nail. This is one of them. I watched The Client many years later and it has in it perhaps one of the tensest first acts I can recall. It doesn’t let up much from there.

15. Speed

Speed (20th Century Fox)

Here’s a film that’s become a bit of a punching bag in hindsight. I will grant there is a level of silliness to it, however, if you get past the whole 50 MPH thing, (which I have) it rather works. Also, one must bear in mind that this was really Sandra Bullock’s breakout role so she was new to us and about to be beloved by many. Also, this is Keanu many roles before we saw that being Keanu is about the extent of his range.

16. Trading Mom

Trading Mom (Trimark Pictures)

This is a film that it took me a while to track down, eventually it debuted on cable. My willingness to see it was mostly due to Anna Chlumsky’s involvement. It would be a great double-feature with North as there are similar themes to it, Wanting to Change Parents but Realizing Yours Are the Best, however, it also features a great performance by Sissy Spacek in many incarnations. Its a more down-to-earth and stripped-down version of the aforementioned premise that still works rather well.

17. Serial Mom

Serial Mom (Savoy Pictures)

I’ve seen this movie a lot of times but none very recently. This could be John Waters at his demented best. This is where I not only learned a rule of fashion but also got “Day Break” stuck in my head for life. Kathleen Turner is incredible in this.

18. The Hudsucker Proxy

The Hudsucker Proxy (PolyGram)

I avoided this film for a long time for a number of reasons. I like Coens films when I watch them but my viewership of their filmography is very incomplete, the title and description also made it seem like it couldn’t be that interesting. It’s perhaps the best argument for just watching the movie. I love it.

19. Major League II

Major League II (Warner Bros.)

As opposed to the sequel later in this list this is one that I think I like more than the original. It’s sillier, funnier and doesn’t take the high road in the ending but those are all things I like about it. Plus, taking the approach that this team overachieved and now rests on its laurels and struggles is pretty smart and true to life.

20. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (Warner Bros.)

It’s a very simple discussion when dealing with Jim Carrey: Either you love the over-the-top end of his comedic repertoire or you hate it. I love it and Ace Ventura is the prime example of this facet of his gifts.

21. Trevor

Trevor

This film I first saw only last year. It’s the only short on this list. It’s almost more important for its significance than the film itself for this film is what spawned The Trevor Project. Perhaps what’s most impressive is that it really was ahead of the zeitgeist in terms of a hot button issue. It deals with a youth struggling with his sexuality and is suicidal. It won an Oscar after it was made and was re-introduced in a TV special hosted by Ellen DeGeneres but now it has a third incarnation as The Trevor Project is one of the most notable and active NGOs in the nation right now. Granted its a film buoyed by its message and its significance but few films, especially shorts, have this kind of track record so far as reemergence and staying power are concerned.

22. Menino Maluquinho- O Filme

Menino Maluquinho - O Filme (Filmes Europa)

Below you will see another comic character that I love come to life. I saw this a few years after the release of the film. This film benefits from the fact that though this character is featured in Brazilian comic strips he originated in graphic novels and this film tackles the story told in the first of those books for the most part and that streamlines things and makes the interpretation very pure.

23. Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump (Paramount)

This is another film that has become somewhat of a punching bag over the years. Taking the visceral arguments out of the equation (for I do like and connect to the film) the significance of this film in certain cinematic is in fact that it breaks rules about a passive protagonist, in that it employs one, and it works very, very well. You’d be hard pressed to find many other situations where it would but here no doubt it does. I predicted Tom Hanks would win the Oscar on the eve of the show when asked, and not only was I right but I was pleased. It’s another question of time. Hanks has become more interested in producing and has become an Oscar ceremony staple but I’d never question his merits in the roles that won him statues.

24. Little Odessa

Little Odessa (Fine Line Features)

Here is another IFC special. I did revisit this one at least once. It’s a tremendously underrated film and features a great turn by Edward Furlong before his depressing decline.

25. Richie Rich

Richie Rich (Warner Bros.)

Macaulay Culkin is precisely 364 days older than I am, so his stardom was kind of a big deal for me growing up for he was, and is, essentially my age. Furthermore, add the fact that here he was interpreting one of my favorite comics characters of all time and this was going to be a must see for me. Now, here’s an example similar to one you’ll see below where the star and the involvement in a project is more significant to than the film, for I definitely nitpick this one and the follow ups (though they be Culkin-less) it wasn’t an interpretation completely without merit, I did like a lot of it.

26. Blue Chips

Blue Chips (Paramount)

Another cable special and another I’ve given many viewings. Nick Nolte is, as he tends to be, brilliant in this film. However, what really elevates this film for me is the great examination of the moralistic quagmire that amateur athletics are. Nolte’s confession speech while rather unrealistic in a real context, as sports fans know all too well, allow for the film to really expose the inevitability of star athletes getting perks and incentives to go to certain colleges.

27. My Girl 2

My Girl 2 (Columbia Pictures)

Alright, no My Girl 2 is not a great film, there are a few entries on this list I wouldn’t call great. As I mentioned in my introduction that’s not quite the point of this post. It was a film that was overly delayed, in my estimation, and brought a new writer into the fold but the fact of the matter is it’s the sequel to what was at the time my favorite movie ever, and a film I still have a great affection for, so that makes this notable. It’s a film I do pick nits with endlessly but the fact that it matters to me cannot be denied.