À Bout de Soufflé / Breathless
A common experience, when we sample important, classic material, whether a novel or album or film, is that it hasn’t aged well: it’s all too common to find flaws of the time have become too obvious, or that the works built as a result of its influence have so exceeded the original that it merely seems at best quaint or, at worst, unformed. It’s not uncommon to be disappointed by the classics, because so often they are remarkable only in their own context.
Breathless didn’t suffer this at all; in fact it had the opposite effect: instead of feeling that it’s rather overblown in light the work inspired by it, I found myself frankly rather let down by its descendants. Pulp Fiction’s cafe duo seem rather light by way of comparison, and I am forced to lean to the view of critics who are underwhelmed with the pastiches that Tarantino has built using this as a source, because he’s done little to go beyond it. Instead, the hand-held camera work, the dialogue, the characters, they all seem remarkably fresh for a movie that is now more than sixty years old; if there’s a disappointment, it’s that so many films that reference it haven’t come especially far from this source.
Jean Seberg’s American in Paris is perfect; Belmondo’s perfect physique, ugly-handsome face, and manipulative personality are compelling and repulsive - and I found his realisation of Michel’s manipulative, abusive thug so perfect that it was, at times, hard to watch him.
Kubo and the Two Strings
Stop-motion animation has long gone from a mainstay of fantastic film-making; Studio Laika are the notable exception, and Kubo is a masterpiece told entirely through that medium, with models of staggering size at one end, and intricate detail at the other; Kubo is no mere technical tour-de-force, though: it’s a wonderful fantasy tale set is a medieval Japan. Like Western fantasy stories, it’s not an actual medieval period, but rather an approximation. And it’s a great watch, with a solid story and lovely realisation.
From Up On Poppy Hill
Rosa and I watched this with both the English audio and the subtitles, and boy is there quite the difference between the two; I don’t know which is closer to the original Japanese, but I can tell you that the audio track takes every opportunity to be dramatically more sexist than the subtitles, which is disappointing, to put it mildly.
That said, it’s overall a great slice-of-life movie if you track the subtitles.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold
This was the best spare change that I’ve spent on a movie for quite a while; if you’d asked me whether I thought that it was possible to do a “ten years later live action version of Dora the Explorer” I would have wondered what you’d been smoking, but it’s a little gem of a film. It manages to be a funny teen adventure film, placing Dora as a teen whose unusual childhood as the daughter of explorers, with a highly active imagination, is mis-matched with approaching adulthood and high school; it quickly pivots into an adventure with treasure thieves, puzzles, and a humour that laughs-with, not laughs-at the source material. There’s a love for it, rather than mockery, and the result is a very fun film.
It seems untenable to try to make a film out of this book; the original is slender enough that it seems as though you’d struggle to stretch it out to a feature-length piece; certainly this was my thinking, but it turns out that I was wrong: while the film contains significant extra material, it dovetails in with the original story surprisingly smoothly, unlike some other, terribly clumsy attempts to stretch short children’s classics.
The core of Coraline is a faithful adaptation of the original, while the extensions to the story - a broader community that Coraline interacts with, who help and hinder the button-eyed mother - feel like a natural extension. The use of stop-motion is done in a way that facilitates the shifts from natural to supernatural to horror (hardly surprising, given that it’s Studio Laika’s stock-in-trade in any case).