Movie Project #1: Breathless [1960, Godard]

Breathless [1960, Godard]

Breathless [1960]
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Genre: Crime/Drama/Romance
Language: French/English
Country: France

Informers inform, burglars burgle, murderers murder, lovers love.

For the first selection in my “50 Movies” project, I opted for Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 French New Wave classic, Breathless. I had never seen a Godard film despite hearing a lot of great things about his work. Breathless is his first full-length feature.

The movie is about a young thief named Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a guy who acts tougher than he is and aspires to be as cool as his idol, Humphrey Bogart. After stealing a car and then murdering a policeman out in the country, Michel goes on the run and tries to get his American on-and-off girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg) to flee with him to Rome. He doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry, however, since he finds time to charm Patricia and lounge around in her apartment. The cops are onto him, but he is more interested in getting laid than anything else. It’s pretty amazing that he is so lackadaisical about, you know, being on the run from the police, but he acts as if there isn’t a care in the world.

Really, not a lot happens in Breathless. This is a film that relies heavily on its dialogue — of which is immensely quotable — and its revolutionary filmmaking techniques. Godard’s usage of jump cuts in this movie is very well documented, and it really works wonders here. These jump cuts keep the film moving at a brisk pace, and fit in effortlessly with the stylish flair from the era. While perhaps not as jarring today, this was a relatively new technique at the time and made some serious waves in the filmmaking world. I also loved how Godard shot the movie on the streets of Paris with many of its citizens unknowingly being used as extras. There are some truly stunning views of the city, and it is a great snapshot of its beauty during that time.

Breathless [1960, Godard]

I was impressed with both Belmondo and Seberg’s performances. Belmondo’s character, Michel, is initially grating since he generally acts like a douche bag with his nonstop attempts to get laid. As the movie progresses, I couldn’t help but to ease up on my view of him, however, and he became, dare I say, likeable by the time the end rolled around. That is a testament to Belmondo’s efforts more than anything. Seberg, on the other hand, is stunning. Her character, Patricia, is quick-witted and hard to read, and she has a mysterious aura surrounding her. She seems to be a strong woman, an American living in Paris who has learned the French language (albeit while still struggling with some slang terms). Her relationship with Michel is intriguing, enough so that a 25-minute-long sequence with the two of them just sitting alone in her apartment is never boring.

While some may dismiss Breathless for its meandering plot, this is still a film classic that is accessible for even non-movie buffs. As one of the most influential movies ever made, it is still remarkable that it feels just as “fresh” today as it did back then. I don’t believe I have any other Godard films on my list, which is a shame because now I would like to dig more into his filmography.

8.5/10

Movie Review: Midnight In Paris [2011]

Midnight In Paris [2011]

Midnight In Paris [2011]
Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy/Fantasy/Romance
Language: English
Country: USA

Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen’s 41st feature film, has a bit of a misleading trailer. This trailer, which can be viewed below, portrays the movie as a simple romantic comedy set in the gorgeous city of Paris. This is not entirely accurate. Sure, the movie is a love story, and it’s true that it is set in Paris, but there is a startling twist that throws everything in a different direction. While many reviewers have found the need to spoil this twist, I feel that it would be an injustice to reveal the movie’s curveball. Consider this a spoiler-free review.

The film stars Owen Wilson as Gil Pender, a bored Hollywood screenwriter who aspires to write a successful novel. Gil and his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), have joined her parents on a business trip to Paris for a relaxing getaway. Gil immediately falls in love with the city, frequently dreaming of walking in the rain in 1920’s Paris. He waxes nostalgic, often thinking of what he assumes to be greater times. Inez, on the other hand, while appreciative of Paris is more concerned about spending time with her old friend, Paul (Michael Sheen), who just so happens to be visiting as well. Paul is the pseudo-intellectual type, a guy who acts as if he knows everything about everyone, and Sheen plays him to perfection.

Midnight In Paris [2011]

In fact, the acting is pretty damn good all around. I am not an Owen Wilson fan at all, but I enjoyed him here. This might very well be the best role I have seen him in. Rachel McAdams does well as Gil’s bitchy fiancee, although I get the feeling that anyone could have stepped in for this part with little difficulty. The supporting cast, however, is what really helps this movie. Corey Stoll, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard and Tom Hiddleston, to name a handful, all have fun roles of varying degrees of importance. Cotillard, in particular, shines as the beautiful and charming Adriana. Without getting too much into their actual characters (for risk of spoilers), let’s just say that the cast fits their counterparts perfectly, which is an admirable feat.

Midnight In Paris [2011]

It’s clear from the film’s opening three minute montage that Woody Allen is enamored with Paris, and this is basically his love song for the city. There are some truly stunning shots of the City of Light, and this movie really makes me want to go back and visit.

Unfortunately, while Midnight In Paris has a strong cast and some marvelous shots of the city, the movie itself feels a bit flat. The aforementioned “twist” is initially intriguing, but the jokes and running gags related to it grow old after a while. I didn’t find the movie as funny as others did, although Adrien Brody’s cameo had me cracking up. Also, even though many of the small roles were entertaining, it felt like the movie introduced way too many characters and gave them little to work with. Even some of the more “important” characters kind of disappeared into the background after originally being introduced.

Essentially, Midnight In Paris is a good, but not great, movie. It has some interesting ideas, but never quite lives up to its potential. However, this is a must-see for those who fancy American literature and European artists as there are numerous references to Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso and Dali, to name a few. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then you may want to pass.

6.5/10

The Saboteur [Xbox 360, 2009]

The Saboteur [Xbox 360, 2009]

The Saboteur
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Release Date: December 8, 2009

One of the most criminally overlooked games to come out in the last couple years.

The Saboteur is a Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox adventure game that is set during World War II in Nazi-occupied Paris, France. It also happens to be Pandemic’s last game before the studio was shut down for good. You play as Sean Devlin, an Irish racecar mechanic who gets cheated out of a race and subsequently becomes involved in a serious revenge plot against the Germans. The story revolves around a number of ethnic stereotypical characters, but this never becomes an issue since it is presented in an easygoing “adventure movie” narrative. Some liberties were taken with the realism factor, but it is all done in the name of making this a fun video game.

Other than the 1940’s France setting, which is really freakin’ cool, what sets this game apart from other sandbox titles is its style. The Saboteur utilizes both color and black & white to its full advantage. In areas of heavy Nazi occupance, the game’s world turns black and white. As Sean helps areas of the city fight back and resist the Germans, color slowly starts to seep back into the locales. This transformation is so simple, yet so utterly brilliant. I can’t think of any other games that do something like this, and it’s amazing that merely a different palette can evoke such power in a video game.
The Saboteur [Xbox 360, 2009]

Whether you want to play through the story missions or just blow up Nazi installations is entirely up to you. You have the freedom to do whatever you please, and you are given the entire city of Paris (as well as some of the countryside) to do it in. The game takes pride in the fact that you can play through guns-a-blazin’ or opt for a stealth route by sneaking around in Nazi gear. While this option is nice, it is much more fun to run around Rambo-style than it is to sneak past guards. The stealth mode is actually a lot more difficult than it should be, as the enemies are often way too quick to sniff you out and blow your cover. It’s possible to get through the game this way, but not really optimal.

In terms of pure gameplay, The Saboteur is a blast. The 1940s setting is perfectly encapsulated with music from the era, classic vehicles and old-style fashion. Devlin has free reign and can steal any car he wants, climb any building (with slick Uncharted-esque controls) and purchase weapon upgrades from a number of black market dealers. When you tack on the side missions and hundreds of “freeplay events” scattered around the game world, it could take a good 40 hours or so to 100% the game (it takes roughly 10 hours to complete just the story on its own). In a world like The Saboteur, it is easy to get sucked in and not want to leave.

It amazes me that this game flew under the radar when it was released in December 2009. I didn’t know anything about it until just recently myself. The Saboteur is an all-around fun game with a good amount of depth, and it excels partly because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While the stealth features could have been polished up a bit, this is still one of the best sandbox games I have played. Definitely a steal at the $20 or so it runs for these days.

8/10