Archive for the ‘Foreign’ Category
Monday, June 29th, 2009
“Qui m’a deshabille?”
To hear the review
To hear the review
La Jeune Fille Et Les Loups opens with a pack of wolves visciously tearing apart a deer carcass. Within moments, a pack of human beings appear to massacre the wolves in an even more viscious scene. As the wolves are taken away, the lone surviving member of the pack, a tiny and dreadfully cute black cub, wanders into the town looking for its family, and meets up with Angele, a tiny and impossibly cute little girl. I think the scene where the cub sees the rest of the slaughtered pack hanging in Angele’s father’s house (he is the taxidermist) is supposed to be heartbreaking, but it’s too early in the film, and everyone is so cute that it’s just kind of sappy.
Angele decides to release the wolf cub back into the wild, since she figures it’s his only chance of survival. The young wolf is almost immediately attacked by an eagle – life in the wild is dangerous for a solitary wolf cub, you see. Then some years go by, Angele’s parents die (it’s wartime, no big deal), and Angele grows up to be ridiculously hot. Laetitia Casta hot. So gorgeous, in fact, that she must be played by Laetita Casta. She is now studying to be a veterinarian, but she’s not a terribly impressive intellect – one of the first scenes in which we see her, she is being convinced to pose nude in some kind of “patriotic” photo by some apparently unscrupulous horndogs. This works for me, because I too am an unscrupulous horndog, but I’m not sure it works for the movie.
Oh, I should mention – La Jeune Fille Et Les Loups is out June 30th from Alliance Films, and the DVD is entirely in French. No English subtitles or dubbing available. This isn’t always a problem, because a lot of the scenes with the wolves, and a few of the scenes with the nipples, need no dialogue for explanation. But if you want to enjoy the film thoroughly, it would be best to esnure that you are a Francophone.
Anyway, back to the movie. The first day of veterinarian school involves the milking of a horse for his semen and a big old horse penis flying around. Angele is ridiculed for wanted to become a chick veterinarian, and run out of the classroom, but she shows she has the fire of a young girl who doesn’t care what everyone thinks, and she has a mind of her own, and she won’t let this man’s world intimidate her, and all those other character traits that a young woman needs to exhibit in a lazy movie starring a totally hot chick like Laetitia Casta. You see, she must be more than just a spectacular face. She must also be feisty, and driven, and determined, and stubborn. And so forth.
She soon decides she needs experience with wild animals if she is going to become a real veterinarian, and accepts a ride into the mountains that surround her home town. I guess her idea is that she will just hop out of the plane and ask the bears what’s wrong and check for their heartbeats or something. But of course, the plane crashes. Every plane flown by a guy with a circus-ringmaster moustache, in every movie involving a plane flown by a man with a circus-ringmaster moustache, will always crash. It’s a law. Angele is hurt, and the ringmaster goes for help. But while he goes for help, the wolves close in…but one of them recognizes her…
I like the idea in movies like this, that the one wolf in the pack can prevent the other forty wolves from attacking and eating the obviously wounded and clearly delicious fresh meat with which they have all just been blessed. Like he can just growl and stare at them, and they will back down. OK, leader of the pack. We will not eat this gorgeous, defenseless and obviously tasty hot woman. We will wait until we see a giant caribou, stalk it for hours, expend a ton of energy chasing it en masse, absorb kicks to the face and blows from horns, and make an attempt at taking it down that may not work in the end, instead. I guess you know this woman. And we wolves understand the bond that you formed with her as a pup – we’ll be cool.
From there, the movie actually begins. An hour has gone by, and a ton of stuff has happened, but the real movie actually starts at about the 57 minute mark. Now Angele is rescued by the wolves and their protector, a mentally handicapped man named Giuseppe who lives up in the mountains thanks to the benevolence of an elderly local millionnaire. His existence there is being threatened because the old man is growing incoherent and his son is taking over the business, planning to run a railroad through the mountains. For some reason, this means that he will kill all the wolves and run this nice young man off his land. I’m not sure what one has to do with the other. I guess he doesn’t want the wolves looking pretty next to his train tracks.
Now Angele is involved in this battle, and she fights to help Giuseppe save the wolves and his home. Because she is hot, she is able to convince the bad guy to let her do a few things, and the suggestion is made that she is willing to sleep with him to make those things happen. Of course, she doesn’t, because that would have made this a movie with guts to show questionable behaviour. There is a scene where she is about to give herself to the mentally handicapped Giuseppe, but an attack by the bad guys stops them before they can get naked, which saves the movie from doing something interesting. And in the end, it’s just an hour of pointless plot followed by an hour of after school special, kids-save-the-community-centre stuff.
La Jeune Fille Et Les Loups is better than an after-school special, but it isn’t good. Casta is a good actress, but her talents are wasted here because the film doesn’t let her go all the way in any situation that would make things interesting. The real stars of the movie are the wolves themselves, and they are beautiful and compelling, but they are kind of incidental to the plot. In fact, the whole plot feels incidental. As does the whole movie.
Monday, June 29th, 2009
“Attention, tout va deraper!”
To hear the review
To hear the review
The DVD case for Home suggests that a comparison can be made between Home, on DVD June 30th from Alliance Films, and Hitchcock’s The Birds. There’s a quote from Claude Andre from Ici that suggests the connection. Now, I just watched The Birds, so I was paying close attention for any similarities. I can see it in certain shots, but a quote like that on the box can easily lead you astray. Because this movie is nothing like The Birds. It’s a little more like Jean-Luc Godard’s groundbreaking movie about a traffic jam and a bourgeois apocalypse, Weekend. And not just because both films are in French only, but becaause they both involve traffic, traffic jams, and the seemingly natural loss of sanity that comes with them.
The movie starts out, in true European fashion, with parents playing street hockey with their kids while smokes dangle out of their mouths. It may not be good parenting in the traditional sense, but the family seems terrifically happy. The two kids take baths together – the young boy and his older sister Judith (the sensational Adelaide Leroux) spend the entire second scene naked together, while she (of course) smokes a cigarette in the tub. Leroux spends a lot of this movie naked, but this is a European movie which treats that rather remarkable nudity casually, as though it’s entirely natural, and it doesn’t feel gratuitious or exploitative.
This happy family lives their blissful life in a calm and isolated countryside far from the rest of the world, next to an abandoned highway. It appears that construction on this big highway has been ignored for years, but now it has been finished and the freeway is now open to traffic. Which means that Judith can no longer sunbathe by the road and crank up her heavy metal tunes – she can no longer hear them. The two younger kids have to do a daring dash across the road to the field, and their mom has to throw them their lunch across the freeway. Their dad has to park on the other side, across the road, when he gets home from work, and he crosses to home by means of a drainage tunnel beneath the highway.
Of course it’s a little exaggerated, and a little bonkers. The scenes where Isabelle Huppert is hanging her laundry out by the road, and the bras are drawing honks from passing truckers, are a little much. I guess we are to assume this family is incapable of moving their usual operations to another location, or that this house has no backyard. They eat dinner outside in the front yard by the freeway, wearing earplugs. Of course the noise gets to them, which is understandable. And they’ve had such an idyllic life up until now that the idea of moving isn’t even in their minds. But then again, this isn’t a regular movie with regular characters who behave in regular ways.
I feel that I have been unfair in comparing this movie to Weekend. Truly, there is very little that is similar about the two movies, except for the traffic, the craziness, and the occasional absurdist touch in Home. This movie is far more conventional, and has a pretty standard narrative. But it’s not like The Birds either. It’s not really like anything. It’s just a really good movie about a family that must deal with the impact of the hectic pace of the modern world, which is thrust upon them against their will. The movie is funny and strange, Adelaide Leroux is sexy and strange, and Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet, Madeleine Budd and Kacey Mottet Klein are all terrific. And strange.
The movie gets stranger and stranger as it goes on, and that’s a good thing - in one scene, the younger sister (now a maniac germophobe) shares a sanitary mask with her older sister, who cuts a hole in it so she can still smoke while she wears it. There are many great scenes in Home, and although it’s in French only, with no English options, this movie is well worth it for anyone who speaks French and is willing to take a chance on something new and daring. And strange.
Monday, June 15th, 2009
“They’re killing people.”
It seems to come as a pretty big surprise to Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg (Sebastian Koch) when he discovers that his boss, Adolf Hitler, might not be that nice of a guy. He hears reports, in 1943, of German troops engaging in what basically amounts to genocide. And he is shocked! Despondent! Hitler is condoning this? Stauffenberg has been a colonel in the German army since the war began, and only now is he hearing reports of what the Nazis are actually all about? It appears as though Operation Valkyrie wants to make the case that it’s Stauffenberg’s outrage over the genocide and evil of Hitler that leads him to attempt to assassinate the Fuhrer.
Of course, the movie is pretty much sticking to the real story, so they also throw in the fact that Hitler is ordering the German armies to keep going through Russia when the cold and hunger is killing them by the thousands in a war they can’t possibly win. And that has something to do with Stauffenberg’s plan as well. But really, we don’t get to see too much of the plan. Or too much of the man. Or too much of anything. Really, this movie plays more as a documentary than it does as a compelling feature film. Stauffenberg loves his wife. He loves Hitler. Then he finds out Hitler is a bad man. Five years later. He decides Hitler must die. He attempts to assassinate him. He fails. He is executed.
At no point does Koch’s Stauffenberg seem compelling or interesting. We don’t get to know him at all, and we know from the very beginning that he will be executed for his part in the plot. So there is little drama in the thing. And there are already documentaries about this out there, which are better than this film. For example, The Top Secret Trial of the Third Reich came out recently, which told the same story featuring real archival footage, which made it much cooler than this. The story remains an interesting one, but the movie isn’t. I hate to say this, because I am not a big Tom Cruise fan, but you’re better off renting his film.
Operation Valkyrie comes out June 16th from Alliance Films.
Monday, June 8th, 2009
Sunny And The Elephant is a movie set in Thailand, produced in France, and out on DVD June 9th from Alliance Films. It features some great shots of elephants, and jungles, and some interesting dynamics between the elephants and their human companions, called mahoot. However, it just isn’t that good. In fact, at moments, this movie is awful. The biggest problem is that the movie is very juvenile. It’s about a young boy who is desperate to become a mahoot. (To be honest – I have no idea if I’m spelling “mahoot” properly. The movie is in English, and they say “mahoot”, but I never saw it written.)
So this young boy tries and tries to impress his adoptive father, who is powerfully bound to tradition, and so will not make the young man his succesor as a mahoot for his elephant, Dara. As the movie goes on, the young man is like a kid in an episode of Degrassi, who just wants his father to notice him. Boo-hoo and so forth. Also belonging in a cheesy TV show is the elephant herself. Dara appears to be incorrigible! She doesn’t take direction, she keeps screwing up – will she EVER be able to be a part of the herd? Oh my. This one is like an episode of Home Improvement. Only, the kids get an elephant instead of a dog.
Also making appearances in the movie are some poachers straight out of a bad MacGyver episode, some evil businessmen in league with the poachers who would not be out of place on Get Smart, and a suave yet rugged naturalist who wants to save the elephants, the mahoot, and their way of life. The whole thing is just so simple, and child-like, that it really appears to have no imagination at all. There are a few interesting scenes, like the one where the elephant is raised out of a crater with a crane, but those scenes are few and far between, and the rest of the time I felt like I was watching a Thai version of Happy Days.
Thursday, June 4th, 2009
There is not much different about The Bodyguard 2. It’s pretty much the same movie as The Bodyguard. Petchthai Wongkamlao plays the same vaguely bumbling but inordinately skilled killing machine, Tony Jaa shows up in a very brief cameo making reference to The Protector before being told “wrong movie” and leaving, and the guy who played the silent Mexican wrestler in the first film plays a silent henchman in this one. Once again, the funniest dialogue in the movie comes during the final credits, where the guy who has been silent all movie gets into a screaming match (again) with Wongkamlao (also the director) over the fact that he once again had no lines.
The Jaa cameo, the shouting match over the closing credits and the vaguely stunned look on Wongkamlao’s face throughout the movie are once again the best parts. In this sequel, though, the plot is way different. Wongkamlao now exists not as a solitary bodyguard, but as an elite military man who spends a lot of time being mercilessly henpecked by his mean-spirited wife. He goes undercover with a music production company who are into some kind of shady illegal business in some way. It’s never really clear what that illegal business actually is, or what makes these people so bad, but all we need to know in a movie like this is that they are bad. And Wongkamlao is good.
His “undercover” assignment leads him to become, bizarrely, the most popular pop star in Thailand. Now, I have no idea how funny these scenes are in Thai. But in English (once again, watch this movie with subtitles and not with the dubbing), the songs are hilarious. They make about as little sense as the actual plot does, he appears to be a terrible singer (although the music is a little atonal, and I don’t know if that is the style in Thailand. Maybe it’s supposed to sound like that. I hope not.) The whole pop-star thing just makes the movie Bigger and More Ridiculous and Sillier than the first one, and I like that just fine.
Oh – and I thought I ought to mention, because the kids loved it too – this movie features the all-time greatest board-smashing-a-shin scene of all time. And, I know, I can’t think of another one in another movie either. But it’s awesome, so I thought I would put that in.
Thursday, June 4th, 2009
“Don’t stare! I’ll kick and break your eyebrows!”
The subtitles in The Bodyguard are far funnier than the poor dubbing, so I recommend going with the Thai language and the subtitles, rather than choosing the dubbing that automatically pops up when the DVD begins. Some of it is utterly bonkers and makes no sense, but carries with it a terrifically funny poor-translation sensibility. Much like the rest of the movie. English audiences may be familiar with Tony Jaa, the sensationally athletic ass-kicking muy thai fighter who brought such incredible energy and badassery to Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior and The Protector. Those audiences may be tricked into renting The Bodyguard by the picture of Tony Jaa on the cover of the DVD. I count myself among their number.
The fact is, Jaa is a good way to sell a butt-kicking action movie. He really is spectacular. But he isn’t the star here. In fact, he is barely in the movie at all. He shows up for one scene, where he’s listening to an ipod in a grocery store. And yes, he does kick a lot of butt in that one scene, but it lasts about one minute. Then he makes some vague reference to Ong-Bak, someone says “wrong movie”, and Jaa goes on his merry way. It’s actually pretty funny, but only those familiar with the badass works of Tony Jaa would find the humour in the scene. So, all of Thailand, and me. And three other kung-fu movie fans who will likely never read this review.
I hate the fact that DVDs like this one assume that we want our ass-kicking to take place in English. A movie like The Bodyguard is far better in Thai with subtitles, because more than being an action flick, it’s a comedy. Petchthai Wongkamlao might be familiar – to everyone in Thailand, me, and those three other guys – as the comedic sidekick in both Ong-Bak and The Protector. He is the star and the director of The Bodyguard, playing a…well…bodyguard who must protect a high-powered company CEO. Despite some implausible action sequences, ridiculous gunfights, and a scene where four cars going full speed go off four ramps at the same time and collide simultaneously in midair in a massive fireball, Wongkamlao does not, sadly, successfully protect his charge in the opening scene.
So now a brazenly out-in-the-open cadre of bad guys takes over this company, and pursues the son of the murdered tycoon. The son hides out in the slums of Bangkok, off the radar of the gangsters, and gets taken in by a kind family of thieving miscreants. Of course, he falls in love with the daughter. He was already in love with her by the time I realized she was the daughter and not the son. Only a brief moment where the bumps in the front of her shirt were apparent made this clear. Which was kind of creepy. But whatever – it’s a comedy.
There is a corporate executive who, for some reason, keeps dressing as a Mexican wrestler. Or rather, for no reason at all. There is a foul-tempered, potty-mouthed, wife-beating dwarf. There are bizarre dancing sequences, a mentally handicapped guy, and many homophobic lines and references. Which means that some of it is bonkers, and some verges on the offensive. Fans of action movies and gangster movies will pick up on several references (a slo-mo Reservoir Dogs scene is unmistakable), but more than anything they will laugh. The over-the-top fights, the over-the-top gun battles, and the over-the-top acting make The Bodyguard insane, and occasionally terrible, but a lot of fun.
Monday, June 1st, 2009
“La pitie, faut le garder pour ceux qui ont plus d’espoir”
Comme Une Etoile Dans La Nuit opens with a scene of a hot woman getting naked. So far so good. At the same time, a man is getting naked. Well, you take what you can get. Salome Stevenin is certainly gorgeous, so the movie starts off exceedingly well. However, it just can’t live up to the promise of that opening scene. Oh, there are more sex scenes, and there is more nudity, and there are moments of solid moviemaking. But it’s remarkable how quickly this movie loses steam. Comme Une Etoile Dans La Nuit comes out Tuesday, June 2nd, from Alliance Films. It’s the story of a man diagnosed with cancer, and the woman who loves him and must deal with the consequences.
The opening scene is impressive not just for the nudity, but for the lack of dialogue. There is no dubbing available, and no subtitles on the DVD. Which means you must be fluent in French to understand it. For the most part, the dialogue is fairly easy to understand, so that’s a plus. But it isn’t very good. The thing about a movie like this one, about a terminal illness and the people confronted with it, is that it’s an easy movie to make, and there is a tendency to just go through the motions and emotions – there is grief, and people cry, then they go through the various stages of anger and pity and finally acceptance, and they find a new happiness amidst the sorrow, and so forth.
So this is what we get. And in a movie like this the bulk of the drama rests on the people who act in it. In this case, Salome Stevenin is very, very good. She is convincing in all the stages of grief and anger and acceptance and so forth. She’s strong, and charming, and interesting in every way. However, a movie like this is only as strong as its weakest link. And Nicolas Giraud is not nearly as strong as Stevenin. He’s good – but not great. And that makes the movie good. But not great. And in many scenes, it becomes amply clear that Comme Une Etoile Dans La Nuit is just going through the motions.
The opening scene has the young couple having sex. The next scene sees Marc (Giraud) declaring his undying love for Anne (Stevenin). She seems a little perplexed, but caught up in his enthusiasm. It seems as though the two of them have gone from a one-night stand to eternal love a little quickly. Marc decides that they need to get married and have a family and some kids, starting immediately. Soon he is in a clinic getting tested, I assume to find out their prospects of conceiving children. However, the tests discover something else – he has Hodgkins disease, which appears to be in an advanced stage. Soon he has an operation, must learn to walk again, then begins the painful radiation therapy he needs to fight the cancer.
There is a little bit of a point made about Marc’s lifestyle – he lives clean, eats healthy, doesn’t drink a drop, and yet this has still happened to him. There is a little bit of a point made about Anne’s strength, which wanes understandably at certain points when she sees herself tied to Marc for better or for worse in his weakened condition. And there is a bit of a point made concerning Anne’s happiness – when Marc spots her having flirtatious, slightly inebriated fun with one of their friends, he tells her that he understands, and that he doesn’t want to hold her back, and so forth, but it still seems like he may be laying a substantial guilt trip on her.
This is all paint-by-numbers stuff for a movie about terminal cancer, and on occasion it’s great and on occasion it’s, well, paint-by-numbers. There is nothing particularly fascinating about the film, nothing transcendant, but it has some quality moments, some decent emotional scenes, and it ends up being good. But not very good.
Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
“I was born to be kept.”
To hear the review
To hear the review
Kept And Dreamless, out May 19th, is the latest edition to First Run Features‘ excellent Global Lens collection. The film, from Argentina, is a terrific story of the love and struggles of a mother and a daughter during Argentina’s economic depression in the 1990s. Eugenia is a nine-year-old girl whose mother, Florencia, is addicted to drugs. In the movie, it appears that she is addicted to cocaine, although her coke addiction is different than most others I have seen on film. Florencia appears to sleep almost all day, never gets up for anything (especially for her daughter), and is in a constant state of lethargic stupor. I suppose what kind of drugs she takes isn’t a particularly important detail, but her state reminds me more of heroin addicts than of coke heads.
Young Eugenia is basically the mother in the house, while Florencia is the daughter. Eugenia makes tea for her mother, wakes her up, cleans the house, makes her own food and coffee and gets herself to school and back. They live in a slum, where neighbours stop by. There is a nice old lady who lives nearby, who stops in frequently to hang out with Eugenia, mostly because she misses her own children and grandchildren so much that she projects a lot onto Eugenia – yet another strange situation that puts pressure on this poor nine-year-old. Then there are the men, some of whom deal drugs, others who pay Florencia for sex.
For a movie with such dark subject matter, Kept And Dreamless manages to maintain a reasonably light tone, and there were moments in the movie where I actually laughed. Young Eugenia, in a sweet touch, draws on her passed out mother’s face – it seems to be a way for her to lash out angrily while still remaining tender and gentle. But soon it becomes clear that these two young women (and her mom is still a young woman) can’t keep going like this for long. Florencia makes a half-hearted attempt to get a job, getting hired on by an old school friend of hers, a beautiful and seemingly successful “kept” woman. Of course, her life is not as rosy as it appears to be either.
In the end, Kept And Dreamless loses a little steam. The colourful characters, and the warm yet disastrous and destructive relationship between Eugenia and Florencia, are glossed over a bit as the movie makes an effort to end on a high note with a hopeful and happy tone. I suppose I don’t want a movie to end with a brutal death or something dreadful, but I thought this one could have ended stronger. The fact remains, however, that the bulk of Kept And Dreamless is strong, moving and powerfully dramatic. Highly recommended.
Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
To hear the review
To hear the review
Bunny Chow is a film from South Africa about three stand-up comedians and their buddy who go on a road trip to the Oppi Koppi music festival. Buddies-on-a-road trip comedies are nothing new. Remember Road Trip? That was one…but rarely are they this smart and compelling. There is nothing terribly ambitious about Bunny Chow (named after a sandwich crammed with curry sold in South Africa). It doesn’t re-write the book on comedy, on road trips, on sex-crazed young men or on humorous dialogue. But it works, and it works well. This movie is very funny, thanks almost entirely to the three comedians, David Kibuuka, Kagiso Lediga and Joey Rasdien.
Bunny Chow comes out May 19th from First Run Features, and it is charming, funny and vivid. I say vivid, even though it is filmed in black and white, because the movie crackles with a youthful energy as these guys meet girls, get girls, lose girls and bond with one another over the course of 95 minutes. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and on occasion absolutely hilarious in a 40 Year Old Virgin sort of way. Most of the dialogue is in English, although there is a little bit of Afrikaans and Tsotsi Taal that comes with English subtitles. Although the characters have thick accents and occasionally need subtitles even when they speak English, most of their profanity-laced banter requires no translation.
The characters do all the things comedians on road trips are supposed to do – have sex with women, get chased by husbands and hot chicks with guns, do drugs and argue about sex. But most of that stuff is incidental and doesn’t form the entire plot of the movie, like so many of Bunny Chow‘s American and Candian counterparts. Instead, the movie rests on the charm of the actors, the bond between the characters, and some funny and insightful dialogue. And on those strengths, without breaking any new ground, this movie works and works well.
Tuesday, May 12th, 2009
“You can find the sea everywhere. But there’s only one Faubourg.”
To hear the review
To hear the review
Faubourg 36 comes out on DVD May 12th from Alliance Films. It’s a foreign film, with involvement from the Czech Republic, Germany and France. It’s in French, but comes with English subtitles. And it’s good. It’s about a small opera house in Paris in 1936, struggling to make ends meet while the Third Reich rises in Germany and the labour movement gives workers power they have never had before. The central character in the film, Douce (Nora Arnezeder) is a gorgeous young woman with a remarkable voice who becomes a singing superstar at the Faubourg. She is beholden to a local gangster who has hopes for making her his bride, and when she falls in love with a young man at the theatre company, it could spell disaster for everybody.
Really, there are many central characters in the movie, not just Douce, and they are all charming and wonderful. Germain Pigoli (Gerard Jugnot), the man who runs the vaudeville house, has just lost his wife, who ran off with her lover and took his son. He is the most interesting person in the movie, as he tries to reconnect with his son and fights to save the theatre while trying not to lose heart. The funniest actor in the movie is Kad Merad, who plays Jacky Jaquet. He’s an old-school vaudevillian whose talent is…well…limited. But his love for performing can’t keep him down, and despite the fact that he is, for the most part, dreadful, he keeps going with more enthusiasm than anyone else.
The nice thing about Faubourg 36 is that although it’s set in 1936, and there is a huge amount of stuff going on outside the theatre (aryan rallies, and labour disputes, and so forth), the movie remains very much character driven and engaging. The outside factors play into the story only a small amount, and they serve only to place the movie in the context of the times in which it is set. The actors drive the story, they’re all wonderful, and the story is charming. It’s funny, it’s dramatic, and it’s totally worthwhile.
Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
“Les vrai policiers vont arriver, cette fois.”
To hear the review
To hear the review
I was going to write this review in French, because I may as well. Affaire De Famille comes to DVD April 28th from Alliance Films, directly from France. It is, I assume, released in Canada strictly for Francophones, since it does not have any English at all. It doesn’t have a dubbed version (thank God) and it has no subtitles (too bad). It really is too bad, because Affaire De Famille is pretty good. And the reason I didn’t go ahead and write this review in French was that I was going to read it in French, and I speak it (at least a little bit) better than I write it.
So this is an English-language review for a French-language only movie, which means it will be useful only for those who are fluently bilingual. And the audience once again gets smaller…seriously. At least throw in some subtitles. That can’t be too hard. Anyway, the movie involves the Guignebont family – father Jean (a former soccer star), mother Laure (played by an actress with a toddler-esque name, “Miou-Miou”), and hot young daughter Marine. One night, during a big soccer match near their house, there is a robbery in the betting room, where masked gunmen make off with hundreds of thousands of euros.
The movie is told in several stages. We see a series of events, then the movie rewinds to the beginning and shows us those same events from the perspective of a different character. At first, we think one thing, then realize something else is actually going on. The film is extremely well constructed, in that everything we see seems plausible, until the entire plot is turned on its ear moments later. The plot twists rely on a few character traits – Miou-Miou (the mother – I like using her actress name because it’s so silly) is almost dithery, and tends not to trust her husband, so she is easily convinced (as are we) that he is getting ready to leave her and run off.
Her daughter Marine has a lot of trouble trusting her boyfriend, who is involved in the heist and the attempted cover-up as well. Her mistrust is essential to the story line as well, since she does things that she would never do if she knew what was really going on. And that’s the best thing about the movie. All the characters act upon their preconceptions, which happen to be the same ones that we, the viewers have. And when we find out what is actually going on, we see how foolish their actions really are, and we laugh. Or, we are relieved, or we’re upset that we’ve been duped by perspective.
There are some fantastic scenes – Jean, the father, decides that being involved with this scheme means that he really should have a gun, and since he already has one he goes to a gun shop to get bullets. The scene is very funny, with this old man not understanding anything about the gun culture, about guns themselves, or about the corrupt and underhanded intentions of the people behind the counter. He is so clearly in over his head that it’s hilarious. The performances by the actors are good, they are all believeable and their timing is excellent. The ending is obvious and we can see it coming from miles away, but that’s the only thing in the movie we DO see coming, so it’s OK.
It really is too bad that Alliance Films (or maybe it’s the French distributors who have) decided to release this movie without English subtitles. It’s good enough to make an impact, in English or in French, but this way a fine film will be seen only by Francophones in Canada. Lucky Francophones.
Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
“J’aime toutes tes sourires.”
To hear the review
To hear the review
Once again, this is a film I thought about reviewing in French. After all, this is once again a film that exists in French only, with no English subtitles or dubbing. Toute La Beaute Du Monde is a film from 2006 from France that comes to DVD April 28th from Alliance Films. And once again, it’s one that is available only for the Francophone market here in Canada. In this case, unlike Affaire De Famille, it isn’t a big loss, because it isn’t a good movie. It certainly has moments, and the camera work is exceptional, but the movie just isn’t very interesting.
Marc Lavoine and Zoe Felix star as Franck and Tina, a pair who meet while Tina is on vacation in Bali. Her husband has just died, and she is grieving heavily. So, to clear her head, she visits Bali, where Franck falls head over heels for her the moment they meet. Why, I’m not really sure. She is reasonably attractive, and she’s clearly fairly smart, but she’s also sour and quiet and bitter and sad and standoffish. Maybe he likes hard to get, but she has really never given him any indication that getting the hard-to-get girl would be worth his while in any way.
The big question the movie asks, and the dramatic tension that exists, is simply “will Tina be able to love Franck the way he loves her before she goes back to France?” I think we can all assume, given the fact that it’s a “romantic movie”, that she will. But I have a different question. IF, indeed, Tina DOES fall in love with kind, earnest Franck, will it actually be real love? After all, they are bonding on motorbike rides on the beach in Bali while she is on vacation. While they are on mushrooms. I happen to think, and I really did contemplate this, that there is a chance that I could fall in love with Marc Lavoine were I to share motorbike rides down the beach in Bali with him. While on mushrooms.
It would only be once I got back home that I would have second thoughts, and remember that I am heterosexual and I don’t like men that way. And I would have to have that awkward conversation explaining that it was just the beach, and the motorbike, and the mushrooms, and the crashing surf and the beautiful trees and the sand and the foliage that led me to believe that I might well be in love. And (judging by this movie) he would probably cry. And if we were still in Bali, I would feel bad and I would do anything I could to comfort him. But were we back home, I would not feel the least bit bad. I would just feel like never doing mushrooms again.
Well, mushrooms or no, this “relationship” of course does indeed blossom in Bali, as any “relationship” would under similar circumstances. Which means we get to see long shots of beaches and oceans and beautiful trees and foliage, and all of that is very impressive. But Tina and Franck are not that impressive, they’re just two people in a tropical location, and by extent the film is boring. In French or in English, this one isn’t worth the time.
Tuesday, April 21st, 2009
“I was full of despair for the miserable bit of life in front of me.”
To hear the review
To hear the review
Despair is a very prominent theme in House of the Sleeping Beauties. Despair, and old age, and youth, and ugliness and beauty and all sorts of other things. This film is clearly meant to be an allegory. Of what, I’m not certain. But it certainly contains many contrasting themesthat are quite clearly supposed to create a greater metaphor when combined. I couldn’t quite understand, mostly because I had completely stopped caring about halfway through. Initially, I was creeped out by the concept, and when I finally got over that I was just bored by the despair. Endless, painful, old-man talk of despair. Of dreams unfulfilled and a life almost over and the memories of childhood and of course…despair and lots of it.
The idea of the film is that there is a brothel where men can pay to spend the night lying next to beautiful naked young women. Vadim Glowna (also the director) plays Edmond, a rich old man who becomes addicted to the place, but begins to question their practices as he goes more and more. How do they keep the girls sedated? Why can’t he talk to them outside the brothel? Are they willing participants in this night-time ritual, or are they kidnap victims? How far can he really go with the sleeping beauties? And where do they all come from?
These are Edmond’s questions. My questions were a little different. Like, isn’t this worse than prostitution? Isn’t Edmond basically paying to molest young women? These women have no idea what’s going on around them, they are somehow drugged and just sleeping, and the old men come in and molest them. There is just something so heinous and powerfully creepy about the concept that I had a hard time getting past it.
Once I did get past that (a little bit), and tried to look at the film as an art piece rather than an excuse to show a bunch of unknown young hotties in full frontal and an excuse for Glowna to touch them, I still didn’t like the movie. Edmond is so morose, and so moribund, that it drags the movie down. He spends an awful lot of time with these sleeping naked women, so there isn’t much opportunity for dialogue. So what we get is a series of in-his-head monologues, where he meditates on the moroseness and the despair that permeate his life. And it’s boring. And sad and annoying.
There are two terrific European actors who join Glowna for this movie. Maximilian Schell (who won an Oscar in the 60s for Judgement At Nuremberg), and Angela Winkler, who was fabulous in 1979′s The Tin Drum. But they are given little to do. Schell points Edmond toward the brothel, Winkler runs the brothel, but for the most part we are treated to depressing and boring soliloquies in Glowna’s head. And the sight of naked women rolling around and sighing. And it isn’t hot at all, because the idea behind this is so disturbingly creepy. House of the Sleeping Beauties comes out April 21st from First Run Features.
Monday, March 30th, 2009
To hear the review:
“Cover that up, or someone will cut himself.”
How often does a line like that come up in a horror movie? Well…all the time. And whenever it comes up, how often does this foreshadow the scene where someone does, in fact, cut themselves? Or, where some crazy slasher actually uses that piece of broken glass to cut someone? Well…every time. In slasher movies, how often is there a creepy guy in the high school who scopes out the stars and stalks them from a distance? Almost all of them. And when that character shows up, how often is he actually the slasher when the movie is over? Never!
So, hopefully, there will be something new, or good, in Dead In Three Days. And there is. Well, something good, if not something new. The movie falls into similar territory to many recent horror movies which may be familiar to horror buffs. The Ring and One Missed Call leap to mind. The basic premise in this Austrian movie is that five attractive young friends, on the verge of graduating from high school, each receive a text message that says they will be dead in three days. What the messages really mean, however, is that they will be dead within three days, since the killings start almost immediately.
After the first two deaths, and the convenient disposal of that red herring creepy guy by the 45 minute mark, the final three characters must decide what to do – and of course they all head to the place where they know they are supposed to be killed. This assumes a great deal of foresight on the part of the mysterious text-messager. If I send these kids a message, saying I will kill them by a certain time at a certain location, then they will almost certainly show up at that specified location, without police or backup, just in time for the killing! Either this killer is a psychic, or they’ve seen a bunch of movies just like this one and they know exactly how the kids will behave.
There are some neat things that make the film a little different – it is well shot, for one, and some of the characters are a little unusual. There is the bad-ass girl who is actually a secret lesbian, lusting after one of her friends. She has some connection to the creepy stalker red herring guy, but what that connection is we never really know. erhaps she just identifies with him because they are both smitten with the same girl. The soundtrack is good too – although all the dialogue is in German, the songs are English, and they are good ones, well chosen.
Then, despite the small quirks that make Dead In Three Days initially interesting, it quickly moves on to the standard horror fare that I was absolutely certain was on the way. The girl in her underwear doing the run through the woods away from the demented killer. The killer who never shows his (or her) face, because then we would know whether it was a him or a her, and we might even recognize him or her…or not. Maybe (and this is more likely), there will be a convenient story told that explains who this killer is, why the killer wants to kill these particular five people, and the killer will likely be someone we have not met during the film. And the finale will likely be terribly anticlimactic with the revelation of the killer. That’s probably how this one is going to go.
What won’t be explained is why the killer has waited for fifteen years to exact bloody revenge for the events of fifteen years earlier. Or why the killer uses the disguise that he or she uses. Or how the killer could possibly have the strength to subdue each of the kids solo, and heave them into the water to drown them or toss them through the windows of the creepy cabins, and so forth. There are leaps in logic that are infuriating. After a surprising and ironic scene where the girl in her underwear is hit by a cop car and ends up in the hospital, the cops are waiting outside her room. When the call comes in on the radio that more people have been brutally murdered, they rush off to investigate, knowing full well that it is the same killer who attacked the girl in the hospital.
What reasonable cop would just run off? He could have just opened the door of the hospital room and asked her who attacked her. It’s a small town – she would have just said “oh, it was Jim”. And then they could have arrested Jim, and then investigated the crime, which would make sure Jim was not left free to continue killing the other kids. Right? But then, horror movies such as this one are not long on logic, and their effectiveness comes more from the camera and the pacing, both of which are pretty good in Dead In Three Days. If only the script and the plot were as effective.
I must mention the ending, which is disappointing in many ways. Well, that’s all I will say. It is disappointing in many ways. The revelation of the killer is disappointing and verges on nonsensical. The way it leaves the five teenagers is disappointing and unfortunate. And there is nothing new or interesting about it. Even if you have been sucked in by the first eighty minutes of the film (and it is possible), the ending can’t help but leave you, well, disappointed. Dead In Three Days came out February 24th from Alliance Films.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
To hear the review:
“You’ll help a dog, but you won’t help me?”
Usually, it is pretty difficult to figure out a movie based on the cover of its DVD. Generally, the cover does not depict the scenes in the movie, and the write-up on the back is done by someone who has perhaps not even seen the film. (Take a look at the cover of the DVD for Logan’s Run – it shows Michael York, which makes sense, pulling Farrah Fawcett behind him. Which doesn’t. Fawcett is in that movie for about nine seconds, and she certainly doesn’t get dragged anywhere by Michael York. The actress who actually starred in the film gets dragged by Michael York, but she is not nearly as big a name as Farrah Fawcett. Which is sad in itself.)
At any rate, enough about Logan’s Run. I’m talking about the DVD case for Protege now. It depicts the star, Daniel Wu, holding a gun. I’m not sure that, at any point in the movie, he is ever carrying a gun, much less holding one. But that’s not the most misinformative thing about the DVD case. The back of the film has a little laurel that indicates an award nomination. Protege was nominated for nine Hong Kong film awards, the equivalent of the Oscars or Canada’s Genies. One of those nine nominations was for Best Picture. And yet the little laurel that advertises this movie to North American audiences…I quote directly…NOMINATED “Best Action Choreography” HONG KONG FILM AWARDS.
Yes, apparently the only reason North American audiences will purchase or rent a Hong Kong flick is for the kung-fu action and the blazing gunfights and the acrobatics of Jet Li and Jackie Chan. Best Picture? Who cares? Best Action…well, okay! This is akin to advertising No Country For Old Men in Sweden with the caption “NOMINATED for Best Sound Editing Oscar, ACADEMY AWARDS”. How about, instead of advertising the action sequences, advertise that Protege is a very, very good film? How about that? Because Protege is, in fact, a very very good film. Not only that, but there are almost NO action sequences to speak of. At all. There is a scene where three guys jump from one balcony to another on the eighth floor of a building, another where a few people ride very slow elephants, and that’s about it.
There are no crazy martial arts moments. There is one beating, of a suspect by police, and there is one punch thrown, where a cop punches a junkie. That’s it. There are no crazy gunfights. I think two guns are actually fired, both by police at a locked, impenetrable steel door, with comic results. There IS a dismemberment-by-hammer, which is both brutal and humorous, but that’s about it for action. Instead, we get the other thing Hong Kong does extremely well – the undercover-cop police drama. Remember Infernal Affairs, that spawned two sequels and was remade as The Departed? Well, you should. It was great. And Protege is almost at that level. Almost.
The film opens with a beautiful woman doing hard drugs with her kid in the room, and some cops losing the van they’re tailing in a sting operation. Soon we learn that Nick (Daniel Wu) is a member of the drug gang, is actually an undercover cop, and lives across the backyard from the gorgeous junkie. The leader of the gang is Kwan, played by Andy Lau. I am a big Andy Lau fan, ever since the amazing Fulltime Killer. In this movie he is a sympathetic character – although he is a major crime lord, and a distributor of heroin, and a killer, there is really only one short scene that shows his bad side, just to remind us that he really is a bad dude.
As Nick becomes more and more involved with the drug gang, he also becomes more and more involved with the junkie Fan (Zhang Jinchu) and her little daughter. There are now three facets of his life that he must keep separate at all costs. He doesn’t want Kwan to know he is taking an interest in a junkie, and he doesn’t want his police bosses to know either. At the same time, of course, he can never let Kwan know he is a cop. Nick has spent seven years working undercover in this gang, and has worked his way into Kwan’s inner circle, to the point where he is now the heir apparent to the entire drug empire. Of course, as with all movies of this ilk, there are conflicting emotions leading to a big showdown final scene.
But the final scene in Protege is better than most – at least, the final showdown is. The movie goes on about three minutes too long, and the postscript is pretty hokey and a little contrived. Also, it’s unnecessary. The rest of the film is taut, tense, and exciting, despite the lack of gunfights and action. There are some close calls with Nick and Kwan, and some freaky moments where we see Fan using drugs. The camera work in those scenes is terrific, director Derek Yee using brief shots of clouds and shots of Fan to really convey the rush of the drug and the dependance. The same camera shot is repeated later on, this time in a slightly different context.
There are a few problems with the film – the vaguely schmaltzy coda after the movie is over being only one of them. The biggest problem is the addition of another character, Fan’s junkie loser violent husband. Of course, this sets up a few confrontations between Nick and him, but they aren’t essential to the story and they sometimes get in the way. And the final fate of Fan’s husband is a little out of character with the rest of the film. Overall though, Protege is an excellent Hong Kong film, well acted (especially by Jinchu and Lau) and the camera work is top-notch. Well worth checking out, it hits DVD March 24th from Alliance Films. Just don’t be fooled by the guns and the Action Awards.