Skip’s Quips, Part II: ‘Minister’-ing to Movie Wounds

Blog Sketch 082813Well, I saw Bertrand Tavernier’s The French Minister yesterday at Manhattan’s Walter Reade Theater.

Some amusing bits. But it didn’t feel cohesive. Undeveloped characters ran rampant in this tale, the based-on-a-true-graphic-novel-story of a young Parisian speechwriter’s encounters with his blustery foreign minister. Once-funny jokes were repeated all too often, including a running gag in which papers fly each time the public serviceman enters a room and slams the door. Yes, it was too much of a good thing. Then there was the protagonist’s love interest, who remained just that: a love interest. There wasn’t much conflict or development in their relationship as the film proceeded.

Cinematography was conservative, save a few dashing shots and screen slice-ups. And the film was overlong; much of the door-slamming could’ve been cut. Overall a decent film, but not a special one. More appetizing was the fact that Tavernier showed up and took questions afterward. A tall, white-haired gentleman, the veteran director seemed very personable and interested in talking about his film. Sadly, the movie isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s definitely different from the rest of the cinematic fare being shown on Broadway.

If only it were better.

Skip’s Quips: Off to the New Tavernier Flick

Blog Sketch 082813I have never seen a Bertrand Tavernier film. But now I’m going to watch one.

It’s called The French Minister and it’s playing at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. My wife is coming, too.

I feel very ignorant about Tavernier’s body of work. I haven’t even seen ‘Round Midnight. I probably should.

There’s also Death Watch, which I’d heard about and am interested in viewing.

The French Minister should make good blogging material. I am curious about it. Plus, Tavernier apparently is scheduled to make an appearance afterward for a Q&A session. Sounds interesting, right?

All part of the benefits of living in a cinema-oriented world.

Skip’s Quips: Dusting Off the Snow for a Little de Broca

Blog Sketch 082813It’s wintry days like these that make me want to watch movies such as That Man From Rio.

The tropically tinged Philippe de Broca film—a ludicrous and wonderfully affable 1964 romp through the titular city with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Françoise Dorléac and Adolfo Celi—is one of the most chipper movies ever to gild the silver screen … and also one of the most unsung. I’m not sure why de Broca has fallen by the public-estimation wayside; he was a master of light comedy, and That Man is one of his frothiest creations. It’s totally silly, with jewel thieves, egomaniacal archaeologists and other characters pursuing and/or being pursued by Belmondo’s carefree Adrien, who crosses the Atlantic in a mad chase to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend (Dorléac). Plus, there’s some sort of ancient statue that everyone’s after, because it’s the key to getting all of these riches or whatever.

Yeah, it’s a far cry from Breathless, isn’t it?

I’d recommend trying this flick on a day like today. It’s sunny, summery, full of bright music and craziness. And you’ve got the charming Belmondo and Dorléac careening through the picture. True, it’s fluff, but it’s so well done, you’ll remember it, along with vehicular color-and-design-combinations such as “pink with green stars.”

Oui, pink with green stars. That Man will explain all.

Skip’s Quips: Silent Running (of the Mouth)

Blog Sketch 082813Raise your hand if you thought The Artist would usher in a new era of silent, black-and-white movies.

OK, I didn’t, either. But I can’t say I wasn’t hoping. We need a little dose of the past to get us schlepping toward the future, and a retro attitude toward the cinema wouldn’t hurt. It certainly didn’t for M. Truffaut and other members of la Nouvelle Vague.

True, The Artist was a standout—not perfect, but clever and entertaining … like some of the best silent movies. The worst, however, are akin to any other lousy film: awful. Just because something’s silent doesn’t mean it’s good. Or vice versa.

Still, the film showed that the genre could be revitalized for a new audience, with a novelty value transcended by a smart script and direction. The question is, will a few more irises and wipes make for self-conscious cinema? They’d have to be incorporated organically to avoid affectation, and that’s a tall order. Skilled directors need apply.

I’d suggest starting a dialogue about this, but I think I need a title card.

Skip’s Quips: Paris, Je T’Aime … Uh, Most of the Time

Blog Sketch 082813One of my fondest cinematic memories is seeing a line outside a Paris movie theater for a Marx Brothers flick.

The Marx Brothers. A line. For a film that was, at the time, at least 60 years old.

See why I love France so much?

OK, perhaps the infatuation with Jerry Lewis–one of the silver screen’s least funny performers–doesn’t make sense, though I have to admit liking his Gallic equivalent, Louis de Funès, quite a bit. (Watch The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob and see if you agree.) Yet the truth is, there’s a film culture there that pervades the national fabric. Why? More than a century of cinematic prowess is one reason, but I think another is the notion that people just like movies there. Good movies. Old movies. And often new movies.

Many years ago, as I attempted to coordinate a showing of the original 1968 version of The Producers in my college dorm, a friend of mine pooh-poohed the idea, decrying the film’s “old humor.” True, not everyone shares those sentiments, but I wondered then–as I do now–why some feel nothing that’s been around more than 10 minutes has any value cinematically. Doesn’t quality last longer than novelty … at least, in most cases?

I’m not deluding myself: There’s no way every person in France likes the Marx Brothers or, for that matter, any old movie because of its age. Bad taste is everywhere–the admiration of les films de M. Lewis offers evidence of that–yet I think there’s a sensibility in France that suggests its inhabitants often understand what it takes to make a good movie … and why it should be valued regardless of the years behind it. Again, I’m not sure why this is, and I’m not saying one country’s better than another.

But when I summon up remembrance of movies past, I think of the line outside that French theater to see a Marx Brothers comedy. And I can’t help but find a love in my heart for Paree.