Laura's Review: B+
Boy Meets Girl: Back in 1984, twenty-three year-old Leos Carax entered the film scene with what would become the first of what has become known as 'The Alex Trilogy,' three wildly romantic films all starring Denis Lavant ("Beau Travail") as Alex, a man living increasingly on the edges of society falling for the woman of his dreams. The first, "Boy Meets Girl," shares the punk sensibilities of other films, like Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise" and Alex Cox's "Repo Man," which came out that year but also establishes themes and stylistic choices, many borrowed from the French New Wave, which would carry through Carax's own filmography. Alex, a young man with a violent streak ('5/23/83 first murder attempt') whose girlfriend has left him, is immediately drawn to Mireille (Mireille Perrier, "Toto the Hero") when he eavesdrops on a conversation being held on her apartment's intercom speaker. When he first sets eyes on her, she's spinning in an embrace with another man on the Pont Neuf. Alex crashes the party of a wealthy American woman, Helen (Carroll Brooks), who tells him it is a gathering of important people - a child with a 250 IQ, an astronaut, Miss Universe - and it is here that he finally meets the suicidal Mireille. Carax, together with cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier (who would complete Carax's trilogy, creates gorgeous black and white images of Paris featuring the twinkling lights, rippling water and tracking dance shots that would appear in later films. Alex's checked jacket will become diamonds, then triangles in the second and third, as will a very deliberate use of primary color. We will also see female physical imperfections (Mirieille's odd teeth in a perfect face, Anna's eye disease in "The Lovers on the Bridge") marring perfect beauty; muteness, sometimes via external sound drowning out dialogue; blindness (Alex walks along the bridge with eyes closed and arms outstretched) and Lavant's incredible physicality and array of vaudevillian/circus talents. The director indulges his love of the music of the time, most notably with the Dead Kennedys' 'Holiday in Cambodia.' The film, which is quickly paced and edited, slows down dramatically for a long dialogue scene a la Godard's 'Breathless,' in which we cannot but help be drawn into the large depths of Perrier's eyes. Later, we watch Lavant play pinball from the rear right of the machine and somehow Carax and his star project the game itself. A climatic zoom, framing Lavant and Perrier within a window, anticipates a similar shot near the end of "Holy Motors" almost thirty years later. "Boy Meets Girl" is a little rough around the edges, establishing a filmmaker who is at once not very experienced and yet precocious, an auteur in the making. It's a dazzling first work, funny, romantic and tragic. B+ Bad Blood (Mauvais Sang): Like his last, in this film, set in a near future, Alex is not the first character we meet. Instead we have Hans (Hans Meyer, "Brotherhood of the Wolf") and Marc (Michel Piccoli, "Belle du Jour"), in a panic having learned that Jean committed suicide by jumping off a subway platform - or was he pushed? They suspect The American (Carroll Brooks of "Boy Meets Girl"), they owe her money, do not know where it went and have two weeks to pay. They discuss Jean and Valerie's long ago love affair and its progeny, Alex, who then comes into view, in "Bad Blood (Mauvais Sang)." He's living outside the city and has a much younger, besotted girlfriend, 16 year-old Lise (Julie Delpy), to whom he's promised his motorbike when he gets his new one. What Lise doesn't expect is that she'll be running after him when he leaves her, gone to join Hans and Marc to take a job to help them get their funds. They plan to steal a serum which cures a fatal disease incurred when people make love without emotion (an uneasy AIDS metaphor?) and 'Tongue-tied,' as their friends' son was nicknamed, has the small size and physical agility to do it. When Alex arrives, he's immediately taken with Anna (Juliette Binoche), Marc's much younger lover and Carax explores a love triangle through the lens of Truffaut, Godard and his own evolving skills. There is also Thomas (Jérôme Zucca), the friend whom Alex entrusts Lise to who just happens to be the Peeping Tom haunting Anna. Maternal and paternal themes also come into play when we learn that Alex only courts women whose fathers have died and that The American has been growing sentimental. Once again we have the dancing tracking shot (to Bowie's 'Modern Love'), ventriloquism, fire breathing and a masterful, allegorical parachute jumping sequence. A protracted romantic sequence between Alex and Anna crosses the line into cutesiness, only to be yanked back by Alex's imagined silent film which reminds us that there is a caper going on. Carax's smash cuts to black remain jarring, but his sound transitions, not unlike those used by Alex Cox, are more elegant. This time the director also utilizes a romantic genre score and Jean-Yves Escoffier's color photography emphasizes the color red. The film's heist will once again call to mind "Holy Motors," just as its ending does "Breathless." "Mauvais Sang" is arguably the best of the trilogy. A- The Lovers on the Bridge: A homeless man staggers up a Parisian street and is hit by a bus. A homeless woman with an eye patch observes the man lying in the road. Alex (Denis Lavant) is picked up and taken to a shelter. When he returns to his home on the Pont Neuf, his friend Hans (Klaus-Michael Grüber) informs him that another guy has taken his spot, but Alex discovers that it is a woman, and while she sleeps, rifles through her artwork and finds a portrait of himself. Alex and Michèle (Juliette Binoche) are "The Lovers on the Bridge." Five years later, Carax's third film almost seems to pick up where "Mauvais Sang" left us off. Alex is at his lowest point yet, but finds love once again with a damaged female artist. This film put Carax into filmmaker's jail for quite some time due to his extravagant budget overruns. Despite its centerpiece, an eye-dropping spectacle that is like "An American in Paris" crossed with "Apocalypse Now," however, the romance is less satisfying, the film's conclusion less earned, because of the sadistically selfish behavior Alex exhibits. Michèle's introduction to Alex is a humorous fakeout, but her story is tragic. She does not speak of her past, but she is suffering from a degenerative eye disease. Bright, flashing lights and the concentration needed for her art cause her to lose consciousness. Gradually we learn more about her, but her attempts to connect with her past are thwarted by Alex at every turn, even when it means her salvation. More sympathetic than Alex is Hans, whose motivation for wishing to ban Michèle from the bridge is a real heart breaker when it is revealed. But there is no denying the utter romanticism of the film. If Alex saved Anna during a parachute jump in "Mauvais Sang," here he helps her experience life with by taking her water skiing on the Seine, all lit up for the French bicentennial celebrations. (This scene is paralleled later when Alex denies Michèle a shot at life by burning the missing posters which line a subway pedestrian tunnel.) Dancing to Bowie ('Time Will Crawl'), fire breathing, nightmares of death, the Pont Neuf, violent crime and other motifs are present. The primary colors of red, yellow and blue predominate and once again, Alex will sport a geometrically patterned jacket.
Robin's Review: B-
Director John Lee Hancock took on the task of helming this epic tale of courage and bravery after Ron Howard passed on the project. While Hancock did a credible job with his previous work, the more personal “The Rookie,” he doesn’t have quite the range, yet, to give an ambitious film like “The Alamo” a firm imprint. As such, the film is a by-the-numbers account of the unevenly balanced battle between the 186 Texian (American-born Texans) and Tejano (Mexican-born Texans) men, led by Lt. Col. William Travis (Patrick Wilson) and Jim Bowie (Jason Patric), and the army, numbering in the thousands, of General Santa Ana. The story begins at the end of the historic battle as Santa Ana’s men check the bodies of the Alamo defenders. It segues to before the battle with hard drinking General Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) as he is building up an army set to declare Texas independence from Mexico. He assigns Lt. Col. Travis to take his men to the fortified mission in San Antonio and, if possible, remove the cannon and return them to the army of independence. But, Travis and Jim Bowie, the leader of the volunteer troops, are not able to fulfill the request before Santa Ana’s army descends upon their small but dedicated troops. The plan changes to one of defense as the town folk and soldiers move into the mission and prepare for the onslaught – with hopes that Houston and his army will afford a rescue in time. Anyone with an interest in America’s history will be familiar with the legend surrounding the Battle of the Alamo, but Hancock (working with a script by the director, Leslie Bohem and Stephen Gaghan) takes a more realistic approach to the subject. William Travis, when we meet him, is signing divorce papers for his wife on the grounds that he is abandoning her and their children. Sam Houston is constantly in his cups as he tries to pull together an army from the bickering factions Texas independence. The legendary Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) – Indian fighter, scout and former US Congressman – heading to San Antonio with his Tennessee volunteers, hopefully asks the question “Isn’t the fighting all over?” The very human faces of these men help put their titanic struggle in perspective. To try to describe the events up to and through the battle would be redundant. The outcome is a foregone conclusion with 10 to one odds against the Texas rebels who realize they have little hope for reinforcements. The tiny troop faces, every day of the siege, Santa Ana’s cannon bombardment while his army band plays the defenders’ death song. When the 13th day of the assault culminates in an early morning attack by the Mexicans there is nothing left for the Texans to do but fight and die. Unlike other versions of the famous battle, Davy Crockett is captured by Santa Ana and executed instead of being depicted going down swinging his beloved rifle, Old Betsy. Acting is earnest at the top level, particularly from Thornton an Wilson, but there is little character resonance beneath the lead players. Billy Bob fares best as the charismatic and all-too-human Davy Crockett, a man capable of being both afraid and courageous – and play a mean fiddle as he challenges the Mexicans to a musical duel during the siege. Patrick Wilson puts an interesting arc on his William Travis character, coming off at first as an arrogant dandy but rising to the position of a leader of men during the course of the Mexican assault. Jason Patric, as the dying, consumptive, knife-wielding Jim Bowie, gets little to do but go physically down hill as the story, and the battle, progresses. Dennis Quaid gives a disappointing, two-dimensional performance as Texas icon Sam Houston, making the man look like a mere drunkard and not a leader. Emilio Echeverria is also without dimension as General Santa Ana, a man who fashioned himself as the Napoleon of the West. As portrayed by Echeverria, the general seemed more a buffoon than an iron-fisted dictator (which may have been the case). The rest of the cast looks the part but gets little, if anything, to do during the course of the film. “The Alamo” does try to steep itself in reality rather than legend. The leaders of the rag-tag army are not larger than life. They are depicted as ordinary men who must perform extraordinary deeds. Hancock and company eschew the legend in favor of giving the characters truly human faces. “The Alamo,” like the overblown “Pearl Harbor,” does not end with the famous battle. Instead, like Michael Bay’s exaggerated account of the Japanese sneak attack on the Pearl, a coda depicting Santa Ana’s defeat by Houston six weeks later – hundreds of Mexican troop died in a brief 18 minute fight – at the Battle of San Jacinto to the cries of “Remember the Alamo!” Although an exciting epilogue, this tacked on ending diminishes the drama of the loss of the Alamo and the defenders heroism against overwhelming odds. Techs are very well done across the board. Dean Semler’s keen camera eye, especially when capturing the heat of battle, lends a crispness that brings out every detail. Daniel Orlandi does a remarkable job costuming the vast cast, from the backwoodsman look of the Tennessee volunteers to the elegant opulence of Santa Ana’s gold braided uniforms. Production design by Michael Corenblith puts you back nearly two hundred years in showing the rural rusticity of San Antonio and the Spanish mission of the title. Original music by Carter Burwell mixes traditional American folk music with the south of the border sound of Santa Ana’s musicians as they play the Alamo defenders death knell. Hancock and company’s attempt to give fact to the Alamo legend is a plus. It may have been more stylishly handled by the likes of Ron Howard but the honest effort make this a solid, though not great film.