#235: Roman Holiday. Princess Ann, her Royal Highness, favourite of the people, is touring Europe and fortuitously finds herself in Rome. Being relatively young, she is bored stiff with the formal protocol of her duties. One night she escapes her golden cage but falls asleep on a bench, having been earlier sedated by her doctor. She happens to be found by an American news reporter who takes her into his apartment and is at first oblivious to her real identity (so basically, he’s pretty useless as a reporter). When he is shown a picture of Ann the next day he realises that there is a potential scoop napping away on his couch. Having promised an exclusive interview with her to his editor he takes her on a tour through the city, without disclosing his occupation to her, of course. Roman Holiday was Audrey Hepburn’s first major role, but one that earned her an Academy Award as Best Actress. She might have wanted to thank Roman Holiday’s director William Wyler for enhancing her performance. During a scene at the Bocca della Verita (the Mouth of Truth that is supposed to chop off the hands of liars) Gregory Peck, playing the reporter, hid his hand in his sleeve when he pulled it out of the Mouth. Since nobody had informed Hepburn beforehand, she was genuinely surprised and her acting was accordingly authentic. Remember what I said about Spielberg last week? This appears to be a recurring technique. I might just call this move “pulling a Wyler” from now on.
#234: The Help. I suspect not many of our films so far pass the Bechdel test, but The Help would certainly bechdel the kitten out of every other entry in that respect. It’s the story of Eugenia Phelan, who’s called Skeeter by everyone who knows her. Growing up in 1960’s Mississippi, she is aggravated by the poor conditions that black maids have to work under all around her. As she is aspiring to become an author, Skeeter decides to recount their stories and surreptitiously contacts and meets with her friend’s housekeeper Aibileen. As word passes from mouth to mouth, their timid gathering of anecdotes soon gains momentum and other maids start opening up. The cast is predominantly female and in fact, men have little impact on The Help. To Skeeter, they are mostly a nuisance as she is continuously urged by her mother to finally get one of her own. Bryce Dallas Howard does a marvelous job presenting herself as an abhorrently racist gobshite, and yes, sometimes it’s those detestable characters, who make you want to reach out and strangle them on-screen, that make a movie memorable. Metaphorically, The Help is about bursting a bubble, and her acidic behaviour is precisely the valve we need to blow said bubble up before it bursts with a satisfactory *plop* right at the end.
#233: The Graduate. After his college graduation, Ben gets a sense of foreboding that he might not be able to fulfill his parents’ expectations. He instead begins an affair, first with a married woman and then with her daughter Elaine. I’ve reviewed a couple of comedies so far, but The Graduate is the first film to introduce intricate situational comedy, most of it derived from Dustin Hoffman’s mightily awkward acting. As with most motion pictures of quality someone did, as connoisseurs of the arts now tend to call it, pull a Wyler. When Ben meets Mrs. Robinson in their hotel room for the first time he cheekily grabs her breast, a move that was completely improvised. My personal experience on the topic slightly points towards women rarely approving of this approach and to make things worse, director Mike Nichols immediately started laughing off-screen. Hoffman, to keep himself from doing the same in front of the camera, turned around and banged his head on the wall.
#232: The Truman Show. Sometimes I wonder whether I should hate this movie as it might have inspired the reality TV craze that we still have to put up with today. Jim Carrey is Truman Burbank, a guy whose whole life in a model town specifically built for him is broadcasted without his consent or knowledge. The Truman Show is a satirical and very ethical film. I would argue that out of all the movies that I’ve reviewed so far it has the strongest apparent message, though it never turns into a preaching session about how abominable our viewing habits are. The only implausible aspect is its extent. Firstly, there is money. Truman is almost thirty, which means that during the course of his life he must have met thousands of people, all of whom have to be paid by the company. He meets quite a few of them on a daily basis over the course of decades which means that they have to be compensated for setting their own life aside for… work. How much money do they have to get to keep going? All of them have huge leverage on their hands when it comes to pay raise negotiations as well, since they’re not replaceable and all of them might compromise the operation by letting Truman in on what’s happening to him. By the way, why hasn’t that ever happened in thirty years, by someone he trusts? Secondly, there’s the audience. Frankly, there is no way that the fickle viewers of today would endure watching a show for thirty years, and it’s not like watching a normal man’s life was a particularly interesting format to begin with. Okay. Apart from that, I was surprised this movie wasn’t higher up.
#231: Her. Joaquin Phoenix is playing Theodore, a lonely, and evidently sexually frustrated, writer. His life suddenly changes for the better when he discovers modern technology’s newest gadget: an operating system with artificial intelligence. Upon installing it, he is amazed how alive his personalised version of the OS turns out to be. It decides to call itself Samantha and behaves like any normal human would, except that it’s irresistibly charming, funny and has access to every piece of learning known to mankind. Much like Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, Samantha does not have a body but exists and communicates with her owner solely by means of her voice. It goes without saying that Theodore falls in love with her regardless of such minor impediments. It was a late realisation, but when the credits finally let it slip that Samantha’s voice was that of Scarlett Johansson I decided that her vocal performance in Her exceeds anything she’s ever done in persona, at least for me. Do I need to mention that you’d better not change this movie’s language settings? Apart from this, Her offers interesting scenarios when it comes to speculations about artificial intelligence. Samantha is ever evolving and seems to gradually develop a conscience and desires that prove to be infinitely more complex than that of Theodore. Everyone watching a film about someone falling in love with a computer will be able to predict that it’s not going to work out in the end. However, not many will rightfully suspect that it will be because the AI at some point can’t be satisfied by the comparably clumsy human wit and starts having affairs… with 600 other people at the same time.
NEW #249: Trois couleurs – Rouge. As you can tell, there must be two other films, namely Bleu and Blanc, though I haven’t seen them. Why do we get those specific colours? First, their unison creates the French tricolore. As a standalone, Rouge couldn’t convince me, I found myself unable to be sympathetic to the characters and caught myself thinking “What of it?” every time something significant happened to them. Once I did get to know the motivation behind making three “differently coloured” movies though, it was a lot easier to appreciate. The director didn’t just want to paint a flag, but every colour also signifies one of the ideals of the French Revolution. Rouge being the last one in the trilogy consequently deals with fraternity. A model discovers that the retired judge living next door spies on people’s conversations in his free time, and that is the whole plot. The young woman and the judge have little to nothing in common, in fact, she rejects his attitude towards others quite forcefully. But still, they somehow manage to connect and by the end have formed a bond between their two characters. Some critics despise the decision of the jury in Cannes to have awarded Pulp Fiction instead of this film in 1994. I would rather call it unfortunate timing, as 1994 just happened to be a year when a lot of good better movies were published.