Blind Spot 40: ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World’

It seemed appropriate during the month of an epic comicbook movie release I should finally watch one of the most popular entries from the genre I have yet to have seen for my blind spot series: Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

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Released in 2010, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on a graphic novel called Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It tells the story of a dopey 22 year old kid named Scott (Michael Cera) who enters a video game world when he plays with his band the Sex Bob-Omb. He goes through many women, but he in particular loves a multi-haired girl named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In order to be with her he must defeat Ramona’s 7 evil exes in the video game using music and sometimes a little action.

For the most part I enjoyed watching this film. It is very well cast with a crop of young talent that would go places including Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh and Jason Schwartzman. The visual effects and style of the film is unique and continually surprised me. It both feels like you are inside a video game and a comicbook at the same time. scott pilgrim5I also thought Scott Pilgrim vs the World was pretty funny. The big set up jokes like Brandon Routh having super vegan powers really paid off and made me laugh. I also really liked Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate. He was very funny.

What I didn’t like as much is Scott is kind of the worst. He’s selfish, inconsiderate and doesn’t respect women. He goes through them like candy and yet they all seem more than willing to put up with such nonsense. The main excuse the movie seemed to give is he is lovable and nerdy but that’s not a very good excuse. I got the feeling we were supposed to judge Ramona for having so many ex-boyfriends when we saw Scott go through multiple girlfriends in just a few days!

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All that said, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a pretty fun movie. The soundtrack is great and it has a ton of fresh energy to it. If you are tired of the same old story it’s definitely worth a try. I think I prefer it to the other Edgar Wright film I’ve seen Baby Driver.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

(This is my 40th Blind Spot pick! What a fun series it has proven to be!)

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Blind Spot 38: Garden State

The great thing about the Blind Spot project is you get to catch up on movies of great acclaim you missed out on when they were first released. Sometimes I end up loving the film in question and other times I’m left scratching my head at why the film is so beloved. This month’s movie, Garden State, I must admit is the latter experience. I was looking forward to it because I love quirky romances but it just did not do it for me at all.

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Garden State is written and directed by Zach Braff and he plays a young man named Andrew who returns home to New Jersey (hence the title) to attend his Mother’s funeral. While there he becomes reacquainted with his childhood friends including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a perpetually high grave digger who steals jewelry from the people he buries. I know the playful shenanigans of the these stoners is supposed to be charming but I found it very boring and repetitive. I get it. They get high a lot. Let’s move on…

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Then Andrew meets a young lady named Sam (Natalie Portman) who is a compulsive liar but only in the ways that make her adorable and precocious. I think her character literally created the term ‘manic pixie dream girl’. This would all be fine if they gave her anything interesting to do or say (ala Summer in 500 Days of Summer). Portman and Braff have decent chemistry but I just was not interested in their characters or anything that happened to them.

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The best thing about Garden State is the soundtrack featuring bands like Cold Play, The Shins, Simon & Garfunkel and more. That is definitely worth checking out. The rest of the movie you can give a pass too. It was definitely not for me.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Blind Spot 37: Henry V (1989)

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I don’t think it is too controversial to say that in America we are in a bit of a leadership drought these days. Gone is anyone that seems to be able to unite and inspire us to be better than we might otherwise be. You can make the argument this type of dogmatic leader is dangerous, and that is certainly true, but I nonetheless miss it.

William Shakespeare’s play Henry V is perhaps the greatest example of a dynamic leader who through their powerful discourse is able to convince people to do more than they ever thought they could. Now, whether invading France is a good thing is another discussion but Henry still got the men to do it and to win in spite of all the odds. Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 adaptation of Henry V is a visceral and intense version of this story, and I honestly can’t imagine it being done any better.

The film uses elements from Henry IV Part 1 and 2 in a flashback style and adds a narrator billed as Chorus played by Derek Jacobi. This is helpful as particularly the opening actions can be a little confusing.

It always takes me a bit to get into Shakespeare but particularly here as these scenes involve a lot of diplomatic negotiations. I especially found confusing a story-thread with Dame Judi Dench as an innkeeper and Robbie Coltraine as Falstaff. I’m not sure if they are supposed to be comic relief like the Thénardiers in Les Miserables, but I didn’t really get it.

Fortunately for us, Branagh quickly moves on to the soldiers and the battlefield, which is easiest to understand and become engrossed with. First, we get the rousing speech at the city of Harfleur:

“What say you? Will you yield?” I would yield. I can tell you that right now! Then the army continues to struggle through Calais where a member is hanged for stealing from a church. In a great scene Henry goes amongst the soldiers to see how they are feeling and they tell him ‘if his cause be wrong…it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it”:

Then we get up to the battle where they are outnumbered by the French 5 to 1 and it is there that Shakespeare gives Henry one of the most powerful speeches of all time:

“But we in it shall be remembered- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother…” That’s a leader! With such leadership they fight and defeat the French with Henry becoming King of both nations. It’s all quite riveting and while Branagh’s version is very violent it works to draw you in and build up the stakes of the story.

The easiest modern example to compare Henry V with is obviously Braveheart which follows very similar beats and executes them well. Some may cringe at the glorification of war but where is leadership more crucial (especially in this ancient age of intimate conflict) than in war? Do we honestly believe we would have gotten the Abraham Lincoln or the Winston Churchill in an era of peace and serenity? Not so much. The great leaders are great because they inspire us to be better and to gather together as a ‘band of brothers’ to face the struggles of the battlefield and of life.

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As far as technical prowess of Henry V it holds up quite well. The acting is great across the board (we even get to see a young Christian Bale in a small role). The sets, action and cinematography are all great. The music is soaring and draws you into the battle. Aside from the confusing scenes with Falstaff, it all works very well and is very impressive considering it is Branagh’s directorial debut (he was nominated for best actor and director for Henry V). I think it is even stronger than his a bit bloated version of Hamlet.

It is definitely smile worthy!

8.5/10

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What do you think of Henry V? Do you find it inspiring or is it too violent for your taste? Let me know in the comments section. What is your favorite Shakespearean adaptation?

2019 Blind Spot Picks

Since 2016 I have participated in the Blind Spot project, which is a monthly series where I watch and review a popular film I haven’t seen yet. So far I have reviewed 36 films in the series and it has been an amazing experience! Some I have loved like Tron and others weren’t for me like The Green Mile. Nevertheless, it is always interesting to watch and review these classic films.

So it is with great pleasure I announce my 2019 Blind Spot Picks:

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January- Henry V

This Shakespeare adaptation put Kenneth Branagh on the map and got him 2 Oscar nominations. I’ve seen the play once at the Utah Shakespeare Festival but it is not one I am super familiar with so I am looking forward to watching this film.

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February- Garden State

Hailed by hipsters everywhere as a classic, it’s about time I saw Garden State. I’m hoping for a fun sweet romantic comedy for the month of love.

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March- The Usual Suspects

I know this movie has a double bad name to it with Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer in it but they won’t make much money from my rental so I figure it’s time to check this ‘neo-noir mystery film’ off of my list.

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April- Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Directed by Edgar Wright this quasi comicbook movie/romance (it’s a genre mashup I am told) should be a lot of fun to finally visit.

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May- Brief Encounter

For May I am going to be checking off the art house favorite 1945’s Brief Encounter starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. It’s about a bored housewife who happens to meet a doctor while doing errands and the brief encounter turns into more than they bargained for. Sounds intriguing!

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June- Gidget

Sandra Dee became the ultimate girl next door in Gidget. She plays a young woman who finds surfing and a handsome surfer named Moondoggie Matthews all in one summer at the beach! I love the beach and romances so this should be a lot of fun.

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July- The Best Years of Our Lives-

Hailed as one of the greatest films to win best picture, The Best Years of Our Lives has long been on my radar. It’s just so long at nearly 3 hours that I hadn’t gotten around to seeing it but I am really looking forward to checking this post-World War 2 family drama off of my list.

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August- Take Shelter-

I love director Jeff Nichols films but I haven’t gotten around to seeing his film Take Shelter. It tells the story of a man played by Michael Shannon who starts getting apocalyptic visions and what he does to protect his family. Jessica Chastain is also in it and it looks very intriguing.

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September- The Pianist-

I have avoided this movie because of my distaste for director Roman Polanski but it seems like a perfect choice for the blind spot project. Adrien Brody won an Oscar for his role, and I know it is a moving Holocaust story which are always edifying if difficult to watch.

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October- Cowboy Bebop: the Movie-

Now that I have finished the Studio Ghibli films it is time to expand into other anime and Cowboy Bepop: the Movie is definitely something I have been curious about for some time. The story of intergalactic bounty hunters seems very creative and I look forward to checking it out.

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November- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance-

I like to have a good variety in my blind spot picks so why not pick a classic western! The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance stars 2 of Hollywood’s greatest leading men in Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne and it is directed by the master John Ford. That’s enough to sell me!

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December- Tokyo Godfathers-

My Christmas pick for blind spot is the anime film Tokyo Godfathers. It has been one I’ve been wanting to watch for a while. I’m just always so busy during the holidays to watch it! The story of 3 homeless people who find a baby on Christmas Eve is supposed to be really special and I look forward to seeing it.

So there you have it! What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of these films and are you going to participate in the Blind Spot project? You all should! It’s really fun and rewarding

Blind Spot 36: Desk Set

I must admit I was a little unsure what I was getting myself into when I put Desk Set on my 2018 Blind Spot list. I needed a Christmas movie I had yet to see (a tough task when you are dealing with me, the Queen of Christmas movies), but I didn’t enjoy the much heralded Hepburn/Tracy film Adam’s Rib. Despite their chemistry, it just didn’t work for me (been a while since I’ve seen it but that was my experience at the time). Fortunately my experience with Desk Set, was much better, and I thoroughly enjoyed this bubbly Christmas romcom.

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Desk Set was the 8th of 9 pairings between Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and it was directed by the great Walter Lang and written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (parents of my literary hero Nora Ephron!). They built the lead roles with Hepburn and Tracy in mind and you can tell- especially for Hepburn the lines feel like they are almost improv it is so natural.

Heburn plays a woman named Bunny Watson who works as a researcher that answers questions for reporters. She is a very modern woman who has been dating her boyfriend Mike for 7 years and leads an office of 3 other women (Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill and Sue Randell). These women are strong, yet feminine and can definitely hold their liquor. If you made a version of Desk Set today you wouldn’t have to change much of the behavior of the women, which considering this was made in 1957, that is saying something.

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Unfortunately, the perfect office is disturbed when Spencer Tracy’s Richard Sumner comes in and announces they are replacing the researchers with 2 EMERAC computers. Richard then works with the women to make the transition to the computers as seamless as possible. Of course, it is fascinating to see the effects of automation and computers on a 1957 workplace when the same issues and workplace dynamics exist today. We just call it google instead of the EMERAC!

Desk Set is not a movie that is going to have you in stitches laughing. It’s more a pleasant workplace comedy starring two Hollywood greats with terrific chemistry. Hepburn’s Bunny can be quite sarcastic and snarky with Tracy’s Richard, especially when she is drunk. She even laughs so hard in one scene she snorts, which I’m sure was unplanned!

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It did take me a bit to get into Desk Set (the first act is pretty slow) but once the computer arrives and they have their Christmas party it gets cracking! If you like romantic or workplace comedies you will enjoy it. It doesn’t have the emotional heft of something like The Apartment but it’s a delightful little comedy with a hint of Christmas in it for the holidays.

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If you’ve seen Desk Set what did you think? Do you like it better than Adam’s Rib or is there another Hepburn/Tracy pairing you prefer over both of them?

Thanks for joining me in this 3rd year of Blind Spots! I am excited to start a new series for 2019 and if you have any suggestions please let me know! Merry Christmas!

Blind Spot 35: Whisper of the Heart

This month’s blind spot pick marks a big accomplishment in my animation blogging career: I have now seen every Studio Ghibli film! I’ve even seen the obscure 2 shorts Panda! Go, Panda! (adorable btw). This month’s entry Whisper of the Heart is my final film to check off the list and fortunately it marks another solid entry from the studio. Not my favorites but perfectly amiable animated film with some great messaging.

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Whisper of the Heart is by one-time only director Yoshifumi Kondō. It also marks the only Studio Ghibli film to have a spin-off or sequel. Covered earlier this year, The Cat Returns is about a minor character in a fantasy story that the lead character Shizuku writes.

In the movie Shizuku is a 14 year old who loves reading and writing. She loves going to the library but she starts to notice that all of the books she is checking out have already been read by a boy named Seiji. What she doesn’t know is Seiji is a young man who she is annoyed with and has to work on a school project with singing ‘Country Road, Take Me Home’ by John Denver.

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Seiji is learning to make violins and even goes to Italy to study under a master. Meanwhile Shizuku spends time with Seiji’s grandfather Nishi, who owns an antique store. He shows her the statue of the cat Baron and she decides to pursue her dreams of writing.

The romance between Seiji and Shizuku plays out like a classic romantic comedy, which I really enjoyed. I also thought the sequences with the fantasy story with the Baron were a lot of fun. As a big fan of homeschool, I also like that Shizuku decided when she wanted to focus on her writing and when she wanted to attend the public high school.

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The animation is nice and it feels like a Miyazaki movie with a young heroine, trips to Italy, flying sequences and talking cats, so you can’t go wrong there. I also enjoyed the music and overall it’s a fun little movie.

I guess what keeps it from being a favorite is at nearly 2 hours it feels a little drawn out for the plot. It would have been a little better at the 90-100 minute mark and some might find it boring.

Aside from that I would definitely recommend Whisper of the Heart. Watch it and then watch The Cat Returns and you will be delighted!

Smile Worthy

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So there you have it! My last Studio Ghibli film to watch. What other anime films would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section.

Blind Spot 34: Scream

As I was planning my blind spot picks for 2018 I wanted to challenge myself with a few picks and step outside my comfort zone. And no pick did that as much as this month’s pick Scream. Directed by Wes Craven, Scream has become an iconic slasher film which went on to inspire 3 sequels and the Scary Movie spoof series.

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One of the interesting things about Scream is it is not just a scary movie but it is a critique of the horror genre. There are many references throughout the movie both visually and in the script to classic horror franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. Unfortunately since I am a newbie to the genre a lot of the references were lost on me, but I can see why many fans really enjoyed them.

The story to Scream is simple. A man in a scream mask (called Ghostface) is calling teens, talking to them in an increasingly chilling manner and then stabbing them with a knife. Most people are probably most alarmed by the killings in the movie, but to me, the phone calls were the creepiest part. It is especially chilling in an opening scene with Drew Barrymore when the caller is giving her movie trivia to keep her and her boyfriend alive. That was pretty scary!

Most of the violence is done with a wink and isn’t especially scary. It’s more meant to be fun and silly. It’s not the kind of thing I am going to get nightmares of because it is very over-the-top.

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Neve Campbell plays a girl named Sidney who is hesitant to give up her virginity because of her Mother being murdered (and raped I think) a year earlier. Her boyfriend Billy struggles with her choice but seems to respect it. There is also a sheriff (David Arquette), a reporter (Courtney Cox), a principal (Henry Winkler) and friends (Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, and more).

The last act of Scream is a bit chaotic for my liking. I prefer the opening scene with Drew Barrymore over the messiness. It’s  much scarier when tension has time to build and bubble up until you can’t help but respond. The never-ending mayhem gets tired even as it is increasing in violence. The only thing that really creeped me out (or grossed me out) in the last part is a death involving a garage door.

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But that said, Scream is an enjoyable film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has a winking sensibility to it and while I think I would enjoy it more if I knew what the jokes were referencing it still was a fun enough ride.

Of course, Scream is rated R so it won’t be for everyone but if you are up for a light-hearted slasher movie (such a weird description but it’s true) than this is the movie for you! I’m glad I saw it even if I don’t think I’d ever watch it again. Always good to get out of your comfort zone!

Have any of you seen Scream? What do you think of it and its sequels?

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Blind Spot 33: Ikiru

Ikiru marks the 3rd film I have seen from acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa (I’ve previously seen Throne of Blood and Seven Samurai) and of the 3, it might be my favorite. In what feels like a Japanese version of Death of a Salesman, Ikiru paints a fascinating portrait of business life in Japan and how one man tries to stand out after learning of his imminent death.

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Ikiru is about a middle-aged man named Kanji Watanable. He has worked as a bureaucrat for 30 years and with a dead wife and selfish son/daughter-in-law he doesn’t have much to live for or be excited about. One day he finds out about a proposal to turn a cesspool into a community park and he thinks he might be able to make a difference.

Then he finds out he has stomach cancer and decides to make the building of the park his legacy. Unlike America, Japanese society often values group effort over individual accomplishment. This makes Watanabe’s subordination to get this park an extraordinary effort. His coworkers are shocked by his actions and after he dies they marvel at his boldness.

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Watanabe also receives inspiration from a young girl who he has drinks with. He asks her ‘how do you have such love of life?’ and she says she simply loves her job making toys because the toys make children happy; thereby, giving her life the value of making the children of Japan happy (you see more of a group rather than individual accomplishment).

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Like Death of a Salesman there is a melancholy to Ikiru because his accomplishment (especially to modern American eyes) is so small; however, I related to the emotions that Watanabe experiences. It reminds me of the great quote from You’ve Got Mail ‘I lead a small life. Valuable but small and I don’t know if I do it because I like or because I haven’t been brave?’ That is the question of Ikiru and to his credit Watanabe decides to be brave.

At the end of the movie his associates enthusiastically determine to follow his example and do bold things; however, upon returning to work they lose their conviction and life continues on as before. It’s sad how often the road more traveled, not less, is the choice of so many.

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The cinematography in Ikiru is stunning. The way Kurosawa and cinematographer Asakazu Nakai use the black and white to capture loneliness and melancholy is breathtaking. I loved the way rain and snow looks in contrast to the black sky. Beautiful.

I also thought all of the acting was strong especially from the lead Takashi Shimura. Again, he has a Willy Loman quality to him with his shoulders slumped over at all times except when he is swinging in his park.

As for downsides, the film does lose steam when Watanabe dies and becomes a little repetitive. Also I wasn’t crazy about the music, which seemed a bit too bubbly for the sober story. Other than that, it was a great film! I definitely recommend it!

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Blind Spot 32: Young Girls of Rochefort

I’m really glad I decided to make Jacques Demy’s classic The Young Girls of Rochefort  my August Blind Spot pick because it seems like such an interesting forebearer to films such as the recent Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and certainly the Oscar winning La La Land. In fact, after seeing it, I almost feel like Damien Chazelle took the happy moments from Rochefort and the sad moments from Umbrellas of Cherbourg and birthed a movie. They are so similar it is weird- even the score sounds the same.

Anyway, it’s easy to see why filmmakers like Chazelle would be inspired by Jacques Demy as both Umbrellas and Rochefort are incredible films. Rochefort like Mamma Mia 2 is an effervescent bubbly celebration of love, and I kind of loved it! (Obviously Mamma Mia 2 isn’t near as good but it does have a similar tone)

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The story isn’t very important to Rochefort but it follows twin sisters Delphine and Solange (Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac who are real life sisters) as they meet 2 carnies Etienne and Bill (George Chakiris and Grover Dale) and have a romantic adventure for the weekend.

We also learn about their mother Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux) who had a love that she foolishly let go as a young woman because she didn’t want to have his last name. She meets her former love Simon (Michel Piccoli) and his American colleague Andy (Gene Kelly) and has her own romantic adventure.

And that’s about it. The movie isn’t about the story. It’s about the continual singing, great choreography and an overall feeling of joy. Just look at the opening ballet number and how much fun it is (and how much La La Land used for its opening number!)

I love that this movie took real care to make the singing and dancing great. It does not feel half-baked at all.  They dubbed all the singers so that the singing would be good. They have very impressive dancing throughout and all the costumes and colors are so dazzling.

Look at this effervescent delightful scene with Gene Kelly. The tap dancing at the end is perfection

I probably still like Umbrellas of Cherboug a little better because it is so moving but The Young Girls of Rochefort has definitely taken a place in my heart. I can watch Cherboug when I want something deep and watch Rochefort when I want to smile. Well done Jacques Demy!!

The Young Girls of Rochefort is definitely smile worthy!

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