Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not So Foreign Film - Un Prophète - An Oscar Awaits

Just saw the most amazing film, Un Prophète from director Jacques Audiard. First, I saw Avator in Paris in French without subtitles. Now I am in London watching the biggest French film of the year, Un Prophète, with English subtitles. English translation - A Phophet. I predict Un Prophète will win this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Movie.

If you like crime/gangster films (AND I DO) you will not want to miss A Phophet when it comes to a cinema near you. In the brilliant company of Good Fellas, The Godfather, Scarface, Menace II Society, The Krays, Mean Streets, Carlito's Way and City of God, The Phophet presents the contemporary strife and gritty realities of the business of crime from a complete outsider who gets involved and does bad things; however he never quite becomes bad. He really is surviving in a world where his behavior is acceptable and even his life of petty crime could never foreshow the life he would come to know.

The protagonist in The Phophet, Malik. Malik is the most unlikely criminal you will ever see - and this may just be why the film is so engaging. Malik el Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is a young man of North African origin but estranged from the Muslim community. The film begins with Malik being sentenced to six (6) years in prison. Once inside, Malik does not fit in with the Muslims or the Corsicans who rule the prison. Young, attractive, and alone -- a boy has got to survive and get himself protected.

Forced to kill another inmate, Malik gains unbridled protection by the Corsicans. This opens up a shady world of risky and dangerous behavior but lucrative with long-term career opportunities to Malik. As he is takes advantage of all things in his way, including learning to read and write for the very first time at age 23, Malik meets another inmate Ryad. Ryad seems to be Malik's first and only real friend. They quickly bond and form a brotherly relationship. Ryad (Adel Bencherif) is the real standout in The Phophet. His performance is well crafted and like Malik, you really like this guy. You know he is a good person with a petty criminal record that really translates like getting Ds on your 10th grade report card. There is hope.

Director Audiard executes some fantastic scenes where Malik interacts with the ghost/soul of his victim. One of my favorite scenes is where Ryad returns to the prison to visit Malik with his infant son and proclaims Malik as the Godfather. This is not The Godfather; however, Malik probably represents the new godfather. A real regular boy next door type who just happens to kill, rob, steal, sell narcotics, conduct insider trading deals all the while learning to read and write and precisely done by COB - closed of business 7:00PM.

Un Prophète really is great filmmaking and storytelling. There are cultural, ethnic and religious presentation, however, this is a film about prison culture, crime, mobsters and business. It is not about all Arab men or the behavior of Muslim men. It is a film about one young man's raise to the top of his unchosen profession because he is smart, resourceful and surrounds himself with a capable team. Malik is good at what he does. A goal we all strive for in whatever we do.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

All About Eve - Oscar Ladies Face-Off!

ALL ABOUT EVE. . . . IS one of my all-time favorite films. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring an electrifying Bette Davis as the ripe mega star, Margo Channing, with many ingénues hot on her aging heels and one particular thespian, Eve, right by her side and just a bit out of Margo's blind spot.

In 2010, when all eyes are on the ladies for their 2009 acting performances, I thought I would tell you something about All About Eve. In 1951, All About Eve received a staggering 16 Oscar nominations including two for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Bette Davis and Anne Baxter. While Anne Baxter’s Eve was the impetus for the flow of the central theme of All About Eve. It was Bette Davis as Margot Channing, which steam rolled and elevated what could have been a laughable melodrama into an amazing tale of young versus old, star versus want-to-be and stage versus screen.

Davis’ delivery of now classic lines like “Fasten your seatbelts it’s going to be a bumpy ride,” are nearly spellbinding, while her gradual and unfolding gaze onto the psyche of her young star, Eve, is watching a true master at work. There are way too many memorable scenes and lines from All About Eve that even the longest, chicest dinner party would not facilitate the witty banter. The lines from 1950 still sound fresh and full of purpose – even if first uttered in 1950. Some things hold up. We call it a classic.

Unfortunately, just as in the movie, the younger star wanted things her own way. Rather then accept the Supporting Lead Actress, Ms. Baxter pushed the studio for Lead Actress, which she shared with Ms. Davis. In the end, both lost to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday. Later, Ms. Baxter would confess she had made a big mistake. For me, however, Bette Davis was the biggest loser as All About Eve was a comeback of sorts. Davis worked endlessly, helping to re-shape the dialogue and re-arrange the wardrobe, both of which won Oscars. Indeed Davis definitely deserved to win an Oscar for Margo Channing, it is a performance young actors should study. In the end, All About Eve won six (6) Oscars including Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing (Screenplay).

Now when we have all heard about or have seen Mo’Nique’s stellar performance in Precious, let’s not forget there is a first time actress, Gabourey Sidibe, who morphs into Precious and allowed Mo’Nique to have a performance to shine in.

And, YES, Bette Davis is my Best Actress forever!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Miranda Priestly - I'm In Paris

Having been in the city of lights for two weeks now, I finally pulled out "The Devil Wears Prada." Unfortunately, my fabulous and very large Parisian apartment did not come with a large flat screen to match. My only alternative was to plop it into the MAC PRO and let it go. And I did!

Seeing Andy's rise to the top of the bottom was quite amusing. I reflected over being in fashion for roughly 27 seconds and got over it very quickly when I looked beyond the screen out my window and saw Paris! Unlike Andy, the only thing I'll be tossing into the fountain is a coin for bon chance, that somehow I might maintain this chic simple life when I get back to America.

No holding out for a cube of cheese for me Emily! Paris is so wonderful, you'll want to walk everywhere and lose 5 pounds in a few days just as I did. Now, all of my skinny jeans are falling off just like those American boys I left behind (NO PUN INTENDED). This under the buns pants phenom is here is Paris. PHEW & YUCK!!!

I was looking forward to Paris Fashion Week and maybe trying to attend a show, but now that Alexander McQueen is dead, it is just another reason to shed a tear in fashion memorial and keep it moving.

So I say it back to you Ms. Priestly, "THAT'S ALL!"

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Seeing Avatar In Paris

Today I saw James Cameron's 15 years in the making mega Hollywood blockbuster saga Avatar in Paris, in French, in 3-D at 17:15 with a near capacity audience from age 5 to age 75.

Just as I struggle with my knowledge of French and often have to say, "How do I say," mais oui, it's a great cinematic triumph forging the technological art of filmmaking; however the story is as old as D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation.

By now most have seen Avatar, I'll just sum it up. Greedy American businessmen in the year 2154 go to another planet (Polyphemus) and steal it's natural resources -- again. A big altercation takes place and Jake saves the day -- again. Of course there is a love story between Jake and the prettiest bravest Na'vi female. Polyphemus is inhabitant by the Na'vi.

Avatar is a complete visual feast. The story is completely conventional and that would be its chief deficiency. Are you engaged in the story or the visual effects creating the story? Or both? Or neither?

I'd rather watch 80s throwback Flashdance - what a feeling!