Friday, March 17, 2006

TOP 30, #30: Nueve Reinas, by Fabien Beliensky

The first film in my top 30 (the 30th, really), is for me the perfect example of the power of cinema. It's what has been largely forgotten in this era of special effects and fancy directing: the power of a story. Thank God for smaller countries, and smaller budgets.

Thanks mainly to Fabien Beliensky and Argentine, who made, in 2000, "Nueve Reinas", known in the US as "Nine Queens".

Oh, I know what you'll say. It's precisely because I'm sure most of you have never heard of it that I'm delighted to have it as No 30. And it proves another point I want to make here. Marketing is what makes a movie successful or not at the box-office. Of course, Nueve Reinas had an equivalent to zero marketing push, and did poorly. To that I'll add that in today's world, big-box office is equivalent to quality, and so, this film never made it to anybody's top in 2000. Too bad for them.

Nueve Reinas is the story of two Buenos Aires con men who decide to work in tandem for a day and one big con: the sale of stamps called the Nine Queens, for a few million dollars. Except of course what the two men have is only a fake. The great thing about the movie, and its very twisted plot, is that you know there's a bigger picture, but as hard as you try, you can't see it coming.

The movie succeeds on several levels, which I think must all be present in a great film: it tells you a nice story, and it tells it intelligently, it teaches you, it brings you awareness on an issue you might not have known (here, the economic situation in Argentina), and it plays, one way or another, with the viewer itself. I can't reveal how, but I can tell you it doesn't happen before end credits (Nueve Reinas is, in fact, a great proof that end credits are entirely part of a movie).

A remake was made last year, but I won't even mention it. The simple fact that Hollywood feels necessary to remake foreign movies to reach the american public is disgusting to me.

To conclude, here's a piece of advice: there'll always be at least a few days between two posts, in this blog, of movies from my Top 30 list. Plenty for you to rent the DVD. So, in the next few days, go and watch your first argentinean film.

And remember, Cinema is not about big images, it's about big pictures.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

26 going on 30

Before going to the point, here's a little thing, in case you didn't notice:
Every title in this blog is a reference to a movie, book, comic, etc. A point to who finds it for every post. When this blog will have brought me money and fame, whoever has the most point will win something. Promise! And don't forget to go back to past posts, there's plenty of points to take there too. Haha, that'll make you comment, you little sneacky bastards!

Now, here's today's news: Update!

After thinking about it a little more, the magnificent 26 are now the magnificent 30!
Sooooooo, the list has been updated with 4 more titles, and the stats too! Here they are. If you're crazy enough to compare them with the ones previously posted, you might guess the name of a few new titles. But honestly, if that's all you have to do... Go watch a movie instead! And come back very soon for the number 30. Like, in 5 minutes :)

Now, out of the 30, there are 27 live action vs 3 animation, 24 american vs 6 foreign (but 3 americans have foreign-born directors), 3 Spielbergs, 2 Coppolas, 2 Finchers, 2 Camerons, 2 Kubricks, 2 Scotts (all Ridley, no Tony).
5 of those movies have more than 4 words in their title (not including the-and-of), 5 carry the name of their hero, 5 are sequels,
6 have religion-inspired titles, 2 have numbers in their titles (sequel with the number 2 are not included).
10 are from the 90s, 9 from the 80s, 8 from the 2000s, 3 from the 70s. The oldest is from 1972, the most recent from 2004.
7 are not in IMDb top 250 (including 3 foreign movies).
The only years with two movies are 80, 86, 94, 97, 99, 2002.
2000 is the big winner with three movies! A sign of the times, maybe?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fully baked

Most of you know during the summer of 2004 I worked, as an intern in production, for director Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and some of the best music videos and commercials ever).

In the end of September, as I was preparing to leave, Michel and his assistant, Raffi Adlan were preparing a new movie with Dave Chapelle. At the time, I didn't know exactly what it would be. I knew it'd be a mix of music and comedy, but that's all. Would it be on Comedy Central, out in the theatres? It didn't really matter to me, I was just to happy to just send a Fedex to Dave.

Fast Forward to 2006, and Dave Chapelle's Block party is released nationwide in the theatre. Event though I'm not credited - no reason I should be, really - it thrills me for two reasons.

Number one: for the past two years (starting with my internship at Partizan, really), I've had the chance to see how "entertainment stuff" gets created. It might be art, it might be someone's vision, but at the start, there's always business. And somehow, from a few talks, an idea, some money (lots of money), movies are made. When I left my internship just a few phone calls had been made, and next thing I know, I'm seating in a theatre watching a feature-length film.

Number two: I've been a huge fan of Michel Gondry since "Eternal Sunshine" hit me in 2004, a few months before I got the chance to work with him - watch out for it way up in my top 26. I've since discovered with amazing videos (Bjork's "human behavior", Daft Punk's "Around the World", IAM's "MIA"), his insane genial mind and openness to all kind of art.

He proves it once more here, with a film like no other. Part documentary, part concert, part comedy, "Block Party" is the ultimate feel-good, socially aware american film.
It's entertaining, thanks in part to Dave's personality and humor, and in part to the amazing lineup of musicians: Kanye West, Common, The Roots, and a reunion of the fugees - by the way, I'm no hip-hop die-hard fan, but I've discovered Kanye West recently, and I can't stop listening to it. His performance here is fantastic, with great vocals by John Legend as well. And hear Lauryn Hill sing "Killing me softly" again could make anyone cry.

But more important, it's a great reflection on the state of America. It shows a part of New York you probably won't see when you visit, with a population 90% black and poor, but more importantly so happy to be there. The reaction of a Ohio Marching Band - with their poor means, and obviously usually unknown performing place - when they learn they'll travel to New York is priceless, definitely the high-point of the movie.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The magnificent 26

Have I already told you what I think of reviewers?
Well just in case, let me do it again. In my opinion, there's nothing worse than telling people what they should or should not watch, what is good and what is bad. Whenever I read a review that says: "this film is crap, don't go", I stand up and yell (except if I'm reading already standing and singing Barbra Streisand, in which case I seat down and shut up).

Of course, there are movies I love, and others I hate, but I know - from being French, from being Jewish, from my passion for Survivor - that different people have different taste (different strokes for different folks, right?).

That's the thing about art: you can always judge the technique, but you can never judge the impression it leaves on people. That's why there's a not so subtle line between saying "I hated it" and "It's not worth shit". For example, my least favorite movie of all time is Avalon, by Mamuro Oshii, a Japanese movie shot in Poland and in polish. I swear, It almost made me faint, I could not look at the screen, I was dizzy, sick... And yet, someone I know said watching this same movie changed his life forever - and yes, for the better. So who is anyone to say "Don't go see it!" ?

OK, I know, some reviewers are smarter than that. But the readers being usually even dumber, they're often ready to believe whatever Erbert, Roeper and Travers have to say.

Alright, now that half of the civilized world hates me, let's get to the point. During the next few weeks, I will slowly unveil my Top 26 list of movies of all time. The top 26 (or top 10, or top 5, or top 100) exercise has existed as long as there have been movies. It's a fun exercise to complete, and there's few easier ways to expose one's taste.

But if you've read the first part of this post correctly, you'll understand that I'm not telling you those are the best movies, ever. They're just the movies I personally enjoyed the most, or respect the most.

So, come back soon to know who made it and who did not. Let me just give you some clues:

- Out of the 26, there are 23 live action vs 3 animation, 20 american vs 6 foreign (but 3 americans have foreign-born directors), 3 Spielbergs, 2 Coppolas 2 Finchers, 2 Camerons, 2 Kubricks. 3 are sequels.
- About the titles: 4 have more than 4 words (not including the-and-of), 4 are the name of the film's hero, 6 are religion-inspired (titles, not movies!), 3 include numbers (but they're not all 3 sequels).
- 8 are from the 90s, 8 from the 80s, 7 from the 2000s, 3 from the 70s. The oldest is from 1972, the most recent from 2004. The only years with two movies are 86, 94, 99, 2000 and 2002
- 5 (including 3 of the foreign movies) are not in the IMDb top 250 , widely consider to represent the world's taste .

Start guessing!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Some like it gold...

I got lots of things on my to do list. One of them is to write a post about the obsession of America with Pop culture, entertainment and celebrities. One thing is for sure: all those elements come together once a year for the biggest event of all: The Oscars (r) - or, as they're officially called, the Academy Awards (r).

Much has been said about the futility of watching multi-millionaire celebrities get together and congratulate themselves in a party so expensive and private that you couldn't even afford the prada-designed socks of the doorman. As a matter of fact, try to even approach the red-carpet leading to the above-mentionned door and you'll be taken care of, manu-military, in a fashion whose description would fit more in the "guantanamo" section of the NY Times than on "E! the exclusive coverage of your stars' arrival".

Then why, oh, why, do I watch every year?
Well first, I'm a sucker for award shows. Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, Raspies, Indies, MTV European Music awards. Gosh, I'd even watch the Baftas if I could - even though Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sean Connery are the only thing of cinematographic interest to ever come out of Great Britain (please send your hate letters to

I even used to wake up, in the middle of the night back in France, to watch the Oscars broadcast offered by Canal+. The good thing was the absence of commercial interruptions, during which Canal would instead run movie trailers. On the other hand, the translation of the jokes and speeches was so atrocious that I usually preferred to hit mute and read the lips of the host, presenters and winners. Talk about a way to learn english.
I won't even mention the disaster that is Isabelle Giordano, the french commentator. A quote will suffice: "This year, someone received his 37th nomination in the best original score category. Some guy named John Williams. No idea who he is." (note: this year, John scored his 44th and 45th nomination.)

But let's move on.
The truth is, we like to watch people we'll never meet do stuff we'll never do. It's a wide awake dream, as well as an emulation. If we work hard enough, if we pursue our goals, then maybe, one day, we'll get there. It is, in that sense, just like religion. Celebrities are our gods, inaccessible beings we don't always understand, yet providers at the same time. And we feel like if we worship them enough, they'll grant us access to heaven.
That's where the oscars are great. Imagine a service where the like of Billy Cristal and Jon Stewart are officiating, with Charlize Theron and Halle Berry as Chorus girls. Even better, imagine if service was only mandatory once a year - oh, wait, that's catholicism. (Note: I gotta say, I would trade watching Gigly against 5 ave maria and 3 pater noster any day.)

So yes, I confess. I watch oscars the way people eat chocolate or sniff coke. They crave black or white, I crave gold.

And so, Crash crashed the party and won in place of favorite Brokeback Mountain.
Here's a prediction: people are gonna argue about which issue is more important: racism or homophobia. And they'll also wonder if the academy is homophobic. So let me tell you right now, even before the controversy starts. This is crap. Those are movies, and I think Hollywood is smarter than most people think. They voted for the picture they liked most.

Now, here's a theory of mine on why Crash won: it's a movie about Los Angeles. Academy people live in Los Angeles, they were happy to see a movie about something they know (I don't think lots of Academy members know anything about gay cowboys, but then, they didn't know much about Middle Earth two years ago either).

It's the same reason why "Sideways" got amazing reviews last year. A movie about depressed 40-something who realize they missed their true-calling in life? That's the best definition of a reviewer I've heard in a long time.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ben Zona, Year One

In the last scene of "Batman Begins", Gordon tells Batman: "I never said thank you". Never mind the fact that he never said please either, the dark knight answers: "And you'll never have to".

This new blog works the same way. It's the vigilante of blogs, always awake when everyone else sleeps, watching over the world of pop culture, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next post will be the post home... Oops, wrong analogy. And no, I don't wear tights - or a cape.

But count on me for being on tops of things, whether it's the latest:
- Jackson family scandal
- Stupid decision by the FCC
- Mariah Carey Album. (note: I won't comment on Fox or Fox News when they air trash. I don't have that much time).

Sure, you never asked for it. But you won't have to thank me either.

Well, that's not exactly true. There's one way for you to thank me, and that's by posting comments, tell me what you think, if you share my ideas, if you disagree, or if you've thought of something so incredibly smart you need to tell me - but be warned, I probably thought it first.

So, what subjects will be discussed here?
Mainly, the world of Media, Film and Television, but also music, books and comic books, anything related to pop culture in general, with the added value of my fresh, french, superior mind (no cause-effect relation between french and superior).

Before I close this first post and let you comment (or, more probably start waiting anxiously for a first comment that won't come for a few weeks), I want to say hi to the one who inspired the creation of this blog with his bi-monthly column in Entertainment Weekly. Hi Stephen.

Alright, your turn.