dir. Jacques Becker
Plays Fri Nov 28-Thurs Dec 4 at the Varsity.
Near the start of Touchez Pas au Grisbi, Jean Gabin, who plays the aging but elegant gangster Max le Menteur, is led by a beautiful woman to the office of another gangster who owns the nightclub he frequents. Just before entering the office, the beautiful woman stops; from behind, Gabin grabs one of her breasts and asks, "Do you need a hand carrying those?" She slaps his hand away, and he enters the office. The year is 1953, the city can only be Paris, and Gabin, who is in his late 40s, has eyes that have seen it all. He and his also aging partner, played by René Dary, have just pulled a big heist, lifting 50 million bucks worth of gold bullion from an airport. It is now time for the two to retire, and enjoy their young women, cafes, and hotels. But Gabin's partner is weak, vulnerable, and a general blockhead; to impress his much younger girlfriend (he is 49; she, Jeanne Moreau, is 25), Dary tells her that he and Gabin are the ones responsible for the big heist, which has made all the headlines. The girl shares this information with another, younger boyfriend, Lino Ventura, who then sets out to seize their loot.
The story is not extraordinary, true, but it's the touches and the style of the film that make it so wonderful. For example, there is a scene in which Gabin--who has just figured out that Ventura is after their loot (along with how Ventura learned about it in the first place)--is preparing to talk with his dumb partner about the difficulties they now face as a result of his imprudence. But before he gets down to business, Gabin lays out on the coffee table a spread of hard bread, pâté, and a bottle of wine. Only after serving the food and eating does he address the matter at hand. The scene's only purpose is to enhance the style of the film and the cool of its leading actor, the great Jean Gabin. CHARLES MUDEDE
dir. Richard Donner
Opens Fri Nov 28.
Richard Donner's Timeline is the type of spectacular failure one normally finds great joy in coming across; poorly constructed and preposterously acted, it is as close to a drive-in B picture as we're likely to get nowadays. Unfortunately, the film lacks the wit and, quite often, the intelligence of those trashy flicks, leaving behind only a dimwitted, dull exercise in ham-hocked acting and expensive visual effects.
The story: A group of archaeological students (led by the always-vacant Paul Walker) are sent back to 1357 France to attempt a rescue of their professor (Billy Connolly). How did their professor end up in the 14th century? Courtesy of a nefarious billionaire (a slumming David Thewlis) who has been experimenting with a contraption that will ship material--à la UPS--in the blink of an eye. Shockingly, said contraption involves not such sensible time-traveling tools as a DeLorean and a "flux capacitor," but rather--and this is serious--smoke and mirrors. Egads.
And so it goes. The students travel back in time, experience a little culture rupture, get nabbed by the evil British, help out the French, storm the castle, fall in love, rescue their professor, are nearly stranded forever, and yet somehow manage to make it back with important lessons learned. The end--not just of the movie, but maybe for a number of careers as well. One person, however, is sure to survive the entire debacle unscathed. His name: Michael Crichton, whose hackwork of a novel Timeline is based on. Not even all the armies of France could oust his untalented ass. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
The Haunted Mansion
dir. Robert Minkoff
Opens Fri Nov 28.
Disney's third film in two years to mine theme-park attractions in place of recognizable plot structure (see Pirates of the Caribbean and The Country Bears--I'm still waiting to see how they're gonna pull a narrative out of those damned spinny teacups), The Haunted Mansion is an exotic thrill ride of humor and excitement and... oh, wait, I'm sorry--I was thinking of something else altogether. No, The Haunted Mansion is pretty much the same ol' live-action shitfest you've come to expect from our good friends from the Magic Kingdom--chock-full of bighearted parents, wisecracking kids, fancy special effects, a convoluted moral about love or togetherness or something, and at least a handful of befuddling (albeit rhetorical) questions. Questions like: "What the fuck is Terence Stamp doing in this waste of celluloid?"; "How the fuck did Jennifer Tilly ever get nominated for an Oscar?"; "What the fuck happened to that awesome stretchy elevator part of the ride?"; and, the most perplexing conundrum of all, "What is the deal with Eddie Murphy's mustache?" Ignoring the righteous paths of such forward-thinking former lip-carpet proponents as Alex Trebek, Tom Selleck, and "Weird Al" Yankovic, Murphy has somehow managed to remain a member of the Hollywood elite--despite the blindingly evident presence of a dead (and extremely well-groomed) caterpillar prominently displayed on his face. I mean, I'm just saying: If you're gonna sell your soul to Michael Eisner throughout the autumn years of your life, you might as well look good doing it. ZAC PENNINGTON