Change of Plans (Le code a change)


When in doubt...flamenco!!!

When in doubt…flamenco!!!

(2009) Dramedy (IFC) Karin Viard, Dany Boon, Marina Fois, Patrick Bruel, Emmanuelle Seigner, Christopher Thompson, Marina Hands, Patrick Chesnais, Bianca Li, Laurent Stocker, Pierre Arditi, Jeanne Raimbault, Isabelle Cagnat, Marc Rioufol, Cyrille Eldin, Michele Brousse, Michel Motu, Guillaume Durand, Zahia Said, Anne Agbadou-Masson. Directed by Daniele Thompson

When I was a kid, my parents used to host dinner parties from time to time – not on a regular basis but at least once or twice a year. When their adult guests would arrive, we’d be ushered off to our rooms which we were frankly happy enough to do – in our view, adults were boring, uncultured sorts who didn’t even have the foggiest idea of the serious intellectual properties of Scooby Doo.

These days, I get the sense that dinner parties are something of a lost art. Four or five couples at a dinner table talking about adult subjects? For one thing, how many of them could stay off of their cell phones for three or four hours? And of course these days opinions on current affairs are mostly excuses for shouting matches unless of course you invite people who agree with you politically and then what sort of fun is that?

The French however have kept this art form alive – and a good dinner party is very much a work of art. ML (Viard), a high-powered attorney, and her husband Piotr (Boon) are hosting such a dinner party and they’ve chosen an auspicious occasion – the celebration of Parisian street music known as Fete de la musique which takes place every 21st of June. Piotr, of Polish descent, will be the chef and has chosen as the main entree a stew called bigos (which in case you’re interested in trying out yourself the recipe is listed during the end credits courtesy of Seigner’s husband, director Roman Polanski).

On the invitation list is Melanie (Fois), a gynecologist who has been carrying on an affair with a jockey and is preparing to leave her husband Alain (Bruel), a kind oncologist who genuinely cares for his patients and who has no idea what is going on behind his back (to be fair, ML is carrying on with the contractor who supervised the remodeling of her kitchen). Lucas (Thompson), an overbearing sort who works for a rival firm and is attempting to get ML to jump ship, as well as Lucas’ wife Sarah (Seigner) who has all the self-confidence of a student driver behind the wheel of their first driver’s education class.

Also on board is Juliette (Hands), ML’s sister who has grown distant from her sibling and who has brought an older gentleman, Erwann (Chesnais) who may or may not be her lover. Arriving late is ML’s flamenco teacher Manuela (Li) who has dreams of opening up her own school as well as Jean-Louis (Stocker), the previously mentioned contractor who is ML’s lover. Arriving unexpectedly is Henri (Arditi), the father of Juliette and ML who has been estranged from his daughters for some time – and strikes up an unsuspecting friendship with Erwann.

Nearly all of the party guests are having an affair, just called off an affair or are thinking of having one. Apparently extramarital sex is much on the mind of the average Parisian and just as apparently most American critics are a bit squeamish about it. Sometimes it is difficult for Americans to look at extramarital sex in the same way that the French do, who are much more pragmatic about it and much less emotional than we Americans are. We tend to use words like “cheating” and “betrayal” in regards to it while the French have looked on it as a natural part of life. It is one of those cultural differences that both sides find the other hard to fathom.

So getting past that can be hard for an American audience, but it isn’t the aspect of the movie that should be dwelled upon. Ms. Thompson uses a flash-forward to illustrate the beginnings of significant changes in the lives of those who attended the dinner party which started as small events at the dinner party, reassembling those who had originally attended the party a year after the fact. It is a bit jarring when the first flash-forward occurs but once one understands that they are viewing two separate parties than it begins to make sense.

This is a very strong cast, with Viard, considered by some to be the French equivalent of Meryl Streep, in strong form as the very much conflicted hostess who is frustrated at being the support of her chronically unemployed husband whom she nevertheless loves. Boon, for his part, is better known as a comic actor but plays it straight nicely, Seigner has a small but juicy role and reaffirms why she is one of my favorite Gallic actresses working today and Bruel also pulls off some decent work.

The drawback to having this many guests is that not all of the stories are as compelling and while they all entwine and enmesh tightly, it does make for a rather ponderous pace as we move from one storyline to the next with the two dinner parties the linking thread. American audiences, used to a different sort of pacing, may grow restless with this. Take your Adderall before you watch it folks.

WHY RENT THIS: What could be more entertaining and stimulating than a French dinner party? Well-acted and well-written.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the storylines are less diverting than others. An occasional excess of fluff.

FAMILY VALUES: There are adult situations and some sexuality and occasionally foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Daniele and Christopher Thompson are mother and son; she is the daughter of director Gerard Oury and actress Jacqueline Roman. She also was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar in 1976 for Cousin, Cousine.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a fairly lively interview with actor Dany Boon.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $46,714 domestically on an unknown production budget (the film’s international totals were unavailable).

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mid-August Lunch

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT; H

Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)


Adeste fideles.

Adeste fideles.

(2006) War Drama (Sony Classics) Diane Kruger, Benno Furmann, Guillaume Canet, Gary Lewis, Dany Boon, Daniel Bruhl, Alex Ferns, Steven Robertson, Bernard Le Coq, Lucas Belvaux, Natalie Dessay, Rolando Villazon, Ian Richardson, Thomas Schmauser, Robin Laing, Suzanne Flon. Directed by Christian Carion

 The Holly and the Quill

We live in an imperfect world, one in which man’s inhumanity to man can be staggering. Yet sometimes when it’s least expected in conditions that would seem to be non-conducive to it, our higher selves show through.

In December 1914, World War I rages in Europe. Trench warfare is at its height which to modern audiences means nothing but picture this; seven to eight foot-deep trenches filled with soldiers and machine gun nests separated by literally the length of a football field under consistent bombardment by artillery shells. Men would be ordered periodically to charge out of one trench to attempt to take another; those that rose out of the trenches would be slaughtered horrifically, often caught by barbed wire where they’d be picked off by snipers or machine gunners. The casualty rates were staggering.

German tenor Nikolaus Sprink (Furmann) has volunteered to serve his country in uniform. His wife Anna Sorensen (Kruger), a Danish soprano, has been commissioned to perform for the Crown Prince Wilhelm (Schmauser) and is allowed to bring her husband from the front to perform with her. Sprink, disgusted by the comforts that the generals are enjoying behind the lines, resolves to return to the front to sing for the troops. Anna resolves to go with him which he is less enthusiastic about but eventually gives in.

Brothers William (Laing) and Jonathan (Robertson) enthusiastically enlisted when war broke out because they saw their lives as boring. Father Palmer (Lewis), the parish priest in their small Scottish village, goes with them as a stretcher bearer. During an assault on the German lines, William is mortally wounded and Jonathan must leave him behind to rot in No Man’s Land.

Lt. Audebert (Canet) is the son of a general (Le Coq) who has shown signs of brilliance as a commander in the trenches. He inspires his men who would walk through Hell for him, but he holds inside his own grief at having left his pregnant wife behind, not far from where the men are fighting – but behind German lines. His aide Ponchel (Boon) can almost see the farmhouse where he was raised from the trench he now fights in.

Horstmayer (Bruhl) is in command of the German trench and is Jewish. Following the Allied assault on his trench, he discovers a wallet with the photograph of a lovely woman. It belongs to none of his men and so he deduces that one of the French or Scottish soldiers dropped it during the fighting.

As Christmas Eve deepens, Anna and Nikolaus arrive and begin singing Christmas carols to the German troops. Their lovely harmonious voices carry through the crisp, bitterly cold night air across No Man’s Land to the enemy trenches. Moved by the songs that remind them of the season back home, Scottish pipers accompany the singers. Nikolaus is touched by this and impulsively carries a Christmas tree, one of thousands provided for the German troops by their command, out into No Man’s Land while singing “Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful).”

Following his lead, the French, German and Scottish officers also proceed out into No Man’s Land and agree to a one-day cease fire. The men slowly venture out into the cratered field between the lines and exchange chocolate and presents. Horstmayer returns the wallet to Audebert and the two find common ground in their memories of life before the war. Palmer celebrates Mass in Latin on the field which affects the soldiers profoundly.

The next day the soldiers engage in an impromptu soccer match while the officers agree to bury their dead on the day Christ was born. The officers and enlisted men assist each other in creating a field cemetery for their valiant dead. A connection has been made and friendships formed so that when the artillery shelling resumes, the men shelter each other in their trenches.

Of course when word of this remarkable truce filters back to the generals, they are furious and the Germans are mostly sent to the Eastern front. Ponchel, who had snuck back home disguised as a German soldier to visit his family during the cease fire, is shot by Jonathan after being ordered to do so by an officer who was offended by the truce. Before dying, he brings word to Audebert that his wife has given birth to a son.

Nikolaus and Anna, wishing to remain together, ask Audebert to take them prisoner which he does. Father Palmer is ordered back to his parish and the regiment of Scots disbanded in shame. A vitriolic bishop upbraids the troops, ranting about the intrinsic evil of the German people and reminding them that it is their duty to kill them all. Father Palmer, hearing this, removes his rosary in disgust.

The Christmas Eve truce of 1914 actually happened and that it did happen in those circumstances is nothing short of miraculous. While this is a fictionalized account of the cease-fire, many of the incidents depicted here are documented to be true.

The movie’s one mistake is that writer-director Carion takes a story that really needs no embellishment and lays on the sentiment a little too thickly. He is trying to make a point, I believe, about the nature of faith in an atmosphere of cruelty and horror and that point tends to be drilled into the audience ad infinitum until there’s a tendency to say “OK, we get it. Can you please just tell the story now?” Even despite this, France submitted the movie as their entry in the 2007 Academy Awards field for Best Foreign Language Film where it was selected as a finalist although it did not win.

Fortunately, Carion makes a lot of really good decisions. Rather than showing the story from one perspective, he tries to get all three from a microcosmic stretch of trenches. He weaves together the stories of the main participants skillfully not only showing how unique they are but also how similar. This is a more delicate balancing act than you can imagine.

While Kruger is probably the best known actor to American audiences, Canet, Bruhl and Furmann all fare the best in my opinion. They give impassioned performances which I suppose given the background isn’t a hard sell. If they descend into occasional over-sentimentality that is the fault of the script and not so much of the actor.

We often in our zeal to defend our individual nations forget that at the end of the day are all one people who are more alike than un-alike. It is those similarities that bind us together, that give us hope that one day we can stop slaughtering each other and learn to help each other. Perhaps it’s a pipe dream but on this Christmas Day one can’t help but hope that one day it comes to pass. As the events of December 24, 1914 in a war as hellish as any ever experienced in human history proves, we have the capability inside us all to say “enough” and lay down our weapons, even if for only a brief moment.

WHY RENT THIS: A powerful story based on actual events. Exceedingly well-acted, particularly by Canet, Bruhl and Furmann.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Occasionally schmaltzy and sometimes overly repetitive about its message.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a bit of war violence and a little sexuality with some brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The MPAA originally gave the film an “R” rating but when film critic Roger Ebert protested it was eventually reduced to a “PG-13.”

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: An interview with Carion discusses the real 1914 truce, which elements were used for the film and how they were chosen.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $17.7M on a $22M production budget; the film wasn’t a box office success.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: War Horse

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Hyde Park on Hudson

Micmacs (Micmacs à tire-larigot)


Micmacs

The wild world of the Micmacs.

(2009) Crime Comedy (Sony Classics) Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau, Julie Ferrrier, Omar Sy, Dominique Pinon, Michel Cremades, Marie-Julie Baup, Urbain Cancelier, Patrick Paroux. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

For the most part we have to pick our battles. Getting upset over little things is a sure way to angina. However, some offenses require a response, preferably one which is justified by the offense. When the offender is rich and powerful, it requires a great deal of shenanigans to get even.

Bazil (Boon) is a sad sack video clerk whose father was killed by a land mine when Bazil was a boy. He steps out of his video store one night to investigate a commotion and is promptly shot in the head, the bullet lodging in his brain. The surgeon is left with the choice of removing the bullet which might well render Bazil into a vegetative state or to leave it in with the possibility that the bullet might kill him at any moment. The surgeon, not the most decisive of men, flips a coin and the bullet remains where it is.

When Bazil recovers, he discovers he’s been fired from the video store (and given the shell casing from his shooting as a parting gift) and evicted from his apartment. Homeless, he tries to earn his way by stealing (which makes him feel too guilty) and by being a street performer (which he kind of sucks at). Despondent, he meets Slammer (Marielle) who brings him into a cave created in a trash dump where a group of misfits, presided over Mama Chou (Moreau), so named because she does the cooking.

Also in the troupe are Elastic Girl (Ferrier), a contortionist; Remington (Sy) who speaks only in hoary old clichés; Buster (Pinon), a human cannonball; Tiny Pete (Cremades) who creates amazing Rube Goldberg-esque machines and Calculator (Baup) who can measure and calculate things with a single glance.

While out scavenging, Bazil discovers that the arms makers responsible for the land mine that killed his father and the bullet embedded in his skull have factories directly across from one another and are the greatest of rivals, each one suspicious of the other. Bazil sees a marvelous opportunity to pit one against the other, Marconi (Marie) against de Fenouillet (Dussollier). It will take meticulous planning and the unusual skills of the Micmacs to pull it off.

Jeunet has a marvelous visual sense as shown in Amelie and City of Lost Children. He doesn’t use a lot of CGI (although he does digitally manipulate the color and composition of certain scenes) but he has a love for things that are quirky and a sense of humor that recalls the exploits of silent comics like Chaplin, Keaton and to a lesser extent Jacques Tati.

Boon is amazing here. He is one of the top comic actors not just in France but anywhere. He has a very expressive face and impeccable timing for his physical stunts. He is the heart and soul of the movie and stands in for every little guy who ever stood up to the man.

Those who love the inventions of Rube Goldberg will be in heaven here. Some of Tiny Pete’s sculptures are a hoot. Those who love French comedy will also be in heaven. Some of the jokes take a sub-orbital flight over the heads of the mainstream American audiences but by and large the humor here is universal.

There is a bit of an allegory going on about might versus right, but the substance is surprisingly light. It’s quirky and eccentric like the aunt who wears too much lipstick and talks way too loudly. It has a terrific imagination and while it didn’t do gangbusters box office business, it still is worth checking out for adventurous viewers.

WHY RENT THIS: Incredibly charming and clever and Boon is one of the great screen comedians working today.  The Rube Goldberg devices are inventive.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The sense of humor is very broad and some of the French pop culture references might go over American heads.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of sexuality and some violence, as well as a few adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Jeunet has said that the film’s characters were defined by counterparts in Toy Story.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a Q&A session from the Tribeca Film Festival with director Jeunet and actress Ferrier, and also a feature on the progression of animations of the deaths of famous figures from history shown during the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16.3M on a $40M production budget; the movie didn’t make back its initial investment during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Killer Inside Me

New Releases for the Week of September 3, 2010


September 3, 2010

Drew Barrymore doesn’t think it’s so funny when Justin Long brings up the David Letterman thing.

GOING THE DISTANCE

(New Line) Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jim Gaffigan, Kelli Garner, Rob Riggle, Christina Applegate, Ron Livingston. Directed by Nanette Burstein

A young couple gets into a summer fling they both expect will end once the girl returns home across the country to San Francisco. When something meaningful unexpectedly develops, they decide to give a long distance relationship a go. When long hours on the cell phones, an abundance of text messages and vague plans to meet again aren’t enough, things begin to heat up, alarming the friends and relatives of the couple who appear both are on an express train to yet another doomed relationship for the both of them. Can anyone really make a long distance relationship work?

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content including dialogue, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity)

The American

(Focus) George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli. An American assassin, weary of death, holes up in a bucolic Italian village. He receives an assignment to assemble a weapon for a contact there, but a friendship with a local priest and a torrid affair with a beautiful woman put him in more danger than he can imagine. It is never a good idea for an assassin to have any sort of relationship with anyone – they can be deadly to everyone involved.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Suspense

Rating: R (for violence, sexual content and nudity)

Machete

(20th Century Fox) Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez. Based on the faux trailer that appeared before the B-Movie homage Grindhouse, an ex-Mexican federale roams the streets of Texas after being double crossed. That’s a bad idea when it comes to a fellow named Machete, particularly when the name is well-earned. Plenty of carnage, plenty of babes, plenty of Latin spice and a heaping helping of B-Movie oeuvre will  be sure to delight fans of action movies from the ‘70s which ultimately inspired this.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity)

Micmacs

(Sony Classics) Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle. A man whose father was killed by a roadside bomb is struck by a stray bullet in a freak accident. When he emerges from the hospital, he takes in with an ex-con who lives in a dump and has assembled an eclectic group of friends to make up an odd family. When they find out about his plight, they plot to take revenge against those responsible. This, the most recent film by visionary director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who also directed City of Lost Children), opened up in limited release on May 28.

See the trailer, clips, and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: French Crime Comedy

Rating: R (for some sexuality and brief violence)

We Are Family

(UTV) Kajol, Kareena Kapur, Arjun Rampal, Nominath Ginsberg. A divorced Indian woman living in Australia with her family seems to have everything under control. However, when her ex-husband brings in his new girlfriend, a career-oriented woman, into the picture, things get complicated, turning even worse when they are all forced to live under the same roof. This is loosely based on the American tear-jerker The Stepmom.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Indian Drama

Rating: NR