Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Graduate

Released in 1967, The Graduate was directed by Mike Nicholas and stars Dustin Hoffman as young graduate Ben Braddock, Anne Bancroft as Ms Robinson, and Katherine Ross as Elaine (who played Etta in Butch Cassidy!), and is ranked number 7 in the AFI 100 Greatest Movies of All Times.

Recently graduated, Ben returns home, confused about his future. Shortly after his return, he is seduced by Ms Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner, and the two start an affair, up until Ben falls for the Robinson’s daughter Elaine. From there onwards, Mr Robinson will do anything to ruin Ben’s life.
The film is more complex than it looks. For one thing, I wish I had been born when it was released – the 1960s were a time of change and, although sex with an older woman before marriage is pretty common, even boring, in our society, standards existed at the time, and the film must have been pretty shocking when it was released. It’s almost like an historical document.
There is also quite a lot of psychology involved. Ben is lost, confused, and awkward. His confusion is portrayed (I think) through the various images of water in the film: he is often seen drifting in the pool, symbol maybe of his drowning? He says it straight at the beginning, that he imagined his future would be different. Lost and confused, he is no match for predator Ms Robinson, who undertakes his sexual education and almost does not give him a choice. I really think the poor guy does not see it coming. He is so inexperienced and strange, the seduction scenes are hilarious.

Benjamin: For god's sake, Mrs. Robinson. Here we are. You got me into your house. You give me a drink. You... put on music. Now you start opening up your personal life to me and tell me your husband won't be home for hours.
Mrs. Robinson: So?
Benjamin: Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me.

Benjamin: Look, maybe we could do something else together. Mrs. Robinson, would you like to go to a movie?

Ben evolved throughout the movie, and becomes a man. Confused, he realizes he loves Elaine, and does not give up. On the other side, deep down, Ms Robinson is a woman unhappy with her life, jealous of her own daughter, looking for her lost younth back, who did not get the life she wanted and is therefore determined to make anyone around her miserable, which I think transpired the most at the very end. Well, that’s my take on it anyway.

Mrs. Robinson: Elaine, it's too late!
Elaine: Not for me!

On key element that make the film pleasant to watch is the soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, with great tunes, although I got to admit when I heard Sounds of Silence for the third or fourth time I got a bit tired of it.
The characters are developed enough for my personal taste, and I thought some of the scenes took too long (at the beginning when Ben blankly stares at his fish tank) while some others would have deserved more time: the revelation of Ms Robinson affair with Ben to Elaine for instance. I also had an issue with the choice of Dustin Hoffman: I realize I may be biased, but to me he’ll always be RainMan, and in this film he did have some rain-man-y moments which I found slightly disturbing: the guy’s a successful graduate who’s confused, not an idiot. Anyway, although probably many people won’t agree on this, that was my impression. Which does not mean that I don't absolutely love Dustin Hoffman! I am glad I got to see this film though, don’t get me wrong, it certainly falls in the “Classic” category, and I did have fun. Scenario is less complex than what we’d see in today’s films, but all in all an enjoyable moment.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

All the President’s Men

Based on the book of the same name by journalists turned investigators Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, All the President’s Men, released in 1976 and directed by Alan J Pakula (Sophie’s choice) and starring Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man) and Robert Redford (The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), is an account of the coverage by The Washington Post of the Watergate scandal.
The story of their investigation is told step by step and is not easy to follow, better be quick and have a good memory of names…..While you can probably read and get information about the Watergate scandal, the film is mostly about how to turn a hunch into a big story that eventually leads to Nixon’s resignation. It’s about journalists methods, tricks, relationship with their sources, how to connect dots, how to convince, both editors and readers. All in all, I have to admit this is a great version of what investigative journalism is.
Bernstein and Woodward, the reporters who covered this story, are played by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford respectively and we follow them from day 1, the day of the Watergate burglary, treated as insignificant by other press, until Nixon's last day in office. We see a lot of the day-to-day life in a newsroom, and not computers :) Old fashioned typewriters, it was, at the time! We see the inside politics of the newspaper, with Executive director Ben Bradlee (played by Jason Robards) making the final decisions. Jason Robars won the Oscar of Supporting Actor.
Bradlee: Bernstein, are you sure on this story?
Bernstein: Absolutely.
Bradlee: Woodward?
Bernstein: I'm sure.
Bradlee: I'm not. It still seems thin.
Simons: Get another source.

Bradlee: Now hold it, hold it. We're about to accuse Haldeman, who only happens to be the second most important man in this country, of conducting a criminal conspiracy from inside the White House. It would be nice if we were right.
We see Deep Throat, the mysterious informant who helped the story to be made public, whose name inspired many of sources in different films over the years (even in TV show X-Files, if I remember correctly!) with his famous clue about who is involved: "Follow the money!". Nowadays we know he was a FBI director but at the time only Woodward and Berstein (nicknamed “Woodstein”) knew of his identity. The meeting scenes in the parking lot give just the amount of tension and suspense that is needed. While the danger is very palpable, it is also a refreshing change from current films: nowadays to show danger and suspense you’d had have least a few shots and maybe a bomb set off somewhere, for good measure. Maybe some beating up scenes, too. Or menacing phone calls. But here the enemy lies in the shadows, present, but impossible to be seen, impossible to be detected, not moving. Which makes its presence even more real.
Hoffman and Redford are both great, embracing their characters and giving them just that accent of authenticity. They’re equally great, impossible to say who’s best. The only critic I’d have is that I found it a bit slow generally, and was disappointed by the ending, which I felt was wrapped up very quickly. I understood the irony of seeing Nixon’s acceptance speech in 1973 while the two journalists keep typing away, but I thought the link to Nixon was made explicitly. Other than that, nothing bad to say. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Away We Go

 What a better way to start yet another year with an inspiring movie. I had much expectations about Away We Go, directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road), released in 2009.
They say “journey is the reward”, and what a journey! Vera and Burt are very much in love and expecting their first child. An eccentric couple, they embark on a journey to find the place where they want to raise their child, and visit different friends and family across the country. From one disaster to another, from one gag to the other, they keep moving.
Key message: the rules and expectations of society do not drive to happiness and balance. Tthe compatibility between people and their tolerance to matter more, and make the relationships they form richer, as they appreciate people for themselves and not for the function or money.
MayaRudolph (Vera) and John Krasinski (Bert) have great chemistry and shine. Vera doesn’t want to marry Bert, in spite of being repeatedly asked, and it kind of makes sense: someone once said to me: “it’s more beautiful to stay if you don’t have to”. And that’s exactly what happens. Their conversation (below) is touching and means more than empty marriage vows. This scene was very well constructed, and remains one of my favourite moments in the film.
Burt: Do you promise to let our daughter be fat or skinny or any weight at all? Because we want her to be happy, no matter what. Being obsessed with weight is just too cliché for our daughter.
Verona: Yes, I do. Do you promise, when she talks, you'll listen? Like, really listen, especially when she's scared? And that her fights will be your fights?
Burt: I do. And do you promise that if I die some embarrassing and boring death that you're gonna tell our daughter that her father was killed by Russian soldiers in this intense hand-to-hand combat in an attempt to save the lives of 850 Chechnyan orphans?
Verona : I do. Chechnyan orphans. I do. I do.
The rest of the cast makes brief appearances. In spite of only appearing briefly, Burt’s parents (Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Bridges) are just right, outrageous, brilliant. The character played by Alison Janney is scandalous and fun, although maybe a tad over the top. I still can’t make up my mind about the character played by Maggie Gyllenhall (LN), over-stereotyped, completely over the top, but fun nevertheless, if you take it with a pinch of salt.
LN: [to Roderick] They bought us a stroller.
Burt: What's wrong with a stroller?
LN: I LOVE my babies. Why would I want to PUSH them away from me?
I was not too sympathetic about the Montreal couple, their story was more tragic than fun, not developed enough, and kind of killed the mood for a while.
Interesting fact: this was a green movie, ie (well, officially at least!) no carbon footprint left by cast and crew.
One critic though is that I found the pace of the film was a bit slow, but I’d say it’s because of the director: after all, Revolutionary Road too was extraordinarily slow, to the point of being boring, and as I remember event American Beauty had its boring moments. Cannot be perfect all the time!
All in all, a worthy film, a subtle comedy. A classic, a must? Maybe not, but definitely something to enjoy.