Santa Claus (Le père Noël)


Even Santa Claus has to do laundry once in awhile.

(2014) Family (Under the Milky Way) Tahar Rahim, Victor Cabal, Annelise Hesme, Michael Abiteboul, Philippe Rebbot, Amélie Glenn, Jean-François Cayrey, Djibril Gueye, Naoufel Aliju, Satya Dusaugey, Charlie Dupont, Lou Ballon, Charles Albiol, Steve Tran, Mathieu Lourdel, Yamina Meghraoul, Jérôme Benilouz, Laurence Pollet-Villard, Pierre Core, Dominique Baconnet. Directed by Alexandre Coffre

 

Our heroes don’t always hold up to close scrutiny. Look closely enough and you’ll find faults as egregious as, well, our own. It never occurs to us that those we admire the most are just as fallible, just as flawed as us. And let us not forget, to the average six-year-old there is no bigger hero than Santa Claus.

Young Antoine (Cabal) is just that age and still a believer in Father Christmas. He reads his list of Christmas wishes, certain that Santa can hear them. When his mother (Hesme) urges him to get to bed on Christmas Eve or Santa won’t arrive, he follows her instructions – but going to bed as every child and most parents know is very different than going to sleep.

Antoine hears a clatter out on the balcony of his family’s Paris high-rise apartment building and arises to see just what is the matter. On the balcony he sees such a sight as he never believed he would see; Santa Claus in full red suit and beard. But this Santa (Rahim) isn’t there to deliver presents; he’s there to rob the occupants of the apartment. He manages to convince the wide-eyed tyke that Santa’s sleigh is broken and requires gold to run again – so with no time to return to the North Pole to retrieve some, he needs to take what he can find so that the presents can be delivered around the world by sunrise.

The thief’s glib lie backfires on him when Antoine decides he’s going to stick to Santa like glue. Antoine believes he’ll be rewarded by night’s end with a ride in Santa’s sleigh. Unfortunately, “Santa” is being chased by some real bad men who he owes a lot of money to (hence the need for gold) as well as the cops who have been getting reports of a thieving Santa all night long. As the crazy Christmas Eve moves into Christmas morning, man and boy form a special bond. They may be able to provide the things the other needs – if they both don’t end up in jail.

In case you wondered if lowbrow family films were exclusively the province of American filmmakers, here is the proof they exist in France as well. This French-Belgian co-production has all the family film clichés that it feels like you’ve seen it all before unless you’re Antoine’s age. When they say the plot almost writes itself, well, here’s a case where it probably do – the baseball team’s worth of writers notwithstanding.

Rahim is certainly charming and while any Americans who are familiar with the actor likely know his work in A Prophet, in a much different role he shows he has the star power to carry a film on his own. Unfortunately, Cabal is given a role that has been written as if all six year olds are absolute morons. I know that six-year-olds are trusting sorts but there are things here that Antoine takes on faith that even a four year old might say “Hey now, that just doesn’t make any sense!!!”

Seeing Paris at night during the Christmas season is a joy in and of itself, and the music by Klaus Badelt is truly complimentary to what’s going on in the film. Unfortunately these things aren’t enough to rescue a film that is ultimately one giant cliché written by a committee of folks who think that being a kid with little experience means being foolish and accepting of the laziest plot devices. Your kid deserves a better movie than this, particularly if he/she has the gumption to read subtitles o top of everything else.

REASONS TO GO: The music is nice and the night scenes of Paris during the holidays are magical.
REASONS TO STAY: Cabal is massively annoying and the character dumbed down.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and child peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There are nine writers credited to the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/1/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Santa Clause
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Dark Fortune

Life Feels Good (Chce sie zyc)


Inside me is the universe.

(2013) Drama (Under the Milky Way) Dawid Ogrodnik, Dorota Kolak, Arkadiusz Jakubik, Helena Sujecka, Mikolaj Roznerski, Kamil Tkacz, Tymoteusz Marciniak, Anna Nehrebecka, Katarzyna Zawadzka, Anna Karczmarczyk, Agnieszka Kotlarska, Janusz Chabior, Gabriela Muskala, Lech Dyblik, Izabela Dabrowska, Marek Kalita, Witold Wielinski, Teresa Iwko. Directed by Maciej Pieprzyca

 

A young man intones, quite seriously as young men will, that “tits and stars are two of God’s greatest inventions.” Although I know of few young men who would disagree, the man uttering this bit of wisdom is about as extraordinary as he gets.

Young Mateusz (Tkacz) is diagnosed by an officious state doctor (Muskala) as mentally retarded and little more than a vegetable. “You’ll never be able to communicate with him,” she bluntly tells the boy’s frazzled mother (Kolak) and whimsical but loving father (Arkadiusz), “You must learn to accept this.” She recommends putting him in a state facility where he can be cared for properly, but his parents won’t hear of it Dad, a day laborer who has a tendency to put off home projects in order to go out drinking, talks to his son as if his son can understand what he’s saying and shows him how to build things. What nobody realizes is that Mateusz understands every word being said to him.

His father dies young and it is left to his mother, his indifferent sister (Sujecka) and his younger brother (Roznerski) who joins the Polish navy, while the sister gets married and criticizes her mother for dealing with Mateusz so long. Eventually his mom realizes she is no longer physically capable of caring for her son and reluctantly has him sent to a state facility where he’ll be treated as a vegetable.

Now a young man (Ogrodnik), Mateusz is in the process of discovering girls – in particular neighbor Anka (Karczmarczyk) whose stepfather is abusive. Frustrated and unable to do anything about the violence he sees through the window, he manages to figure out a way to get the stepdad out of the way but as Mateusz ruefully notes in a voiceover narration (a very clever device the way it is used here), things don’t work out as Mateusz hoped as Anka and her mother move away.

Still, Mateusz is a handsome young man and he eventually finds another girlfriend – a pretty young aide (Zawadzka) who allows Mateusz to delve into more sexual exploration than he ever has. However, it turns out that she has an agenda of her own and soon Mateusz is alone again, visited only by his mother. Will he ever be able to communicate with the outside world? It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal the answer to that.

Movies like this are often disdained as manipulative tearjerkers, but this one has much more going for it than merely an emotional wallop. For one thing, it’s beautifully shot – the vistas of Poland’s countryside and villages are made pure magic by cinematographer Pawel Dyllus. For another thing, the score is far from maudlin and beautifully underscores the scenes and scenery – you can thank Bartosz Chajdecki for that.

Best of all it has an astounding performance by Ogrodnik who is perfectly healthy although his noises and movements are very realistic for someone who has cerebral palsy (as the real Mateusz actually wound up having). Much of his acting must come from his eyes as his twisted limbs don’t always communicate much, although his facial expressions sometimes reminded me of silent movie actors.

He is well-supported by those who play his mother and father, as well as the redoubtable Anka who has a moment when the two touch fingers beneath a closed door which is all the goodbye the two lovers will get. The scene in which Mateusz communicates with his mother for the first time in his life is absolutely beautiful and any mother of a disabled son will appreciate it, not to mention any moviegoer with any sort of empathy. Believe me, tears will flow.

Poland has been a source for great movies for decades now, and this one is yet another one to add to the list. For my money, it’s likely the best Polish movie to hit these shores since Ida and while it is only getting a direct to VOD release here, it’s one any good cinema buff worth their salt should seek out forthwith.

REASONS TO GO: This may be the best film to come out of Poland since Ida. Tremendous performances abound, particularly from Ogrodnik, Kolak and Zawadzka. The film is beautifully shot.
REASONS TO STAY: It’s a little bit long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is nudity and sexual content as well as some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone was attached to the movie before she was. When Julianne Moore who was originally cast as Lee Israel backed out over creative differences, Falcone recommended his wife for the role.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/13/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: My Left Foot
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
3100: Run and Become

10 Billion – What’s On Your Plate? (10 Milliarden)


There are all sorts of hungry mouths to feed.

(2015) Documentary (Under the Milky Way) Valentin Thurn, Liam Condon, Johan Botterman, Andreas Gansie, Gutshof Habitzheim, Felix zu Lowenstein, Bangardswami Soundaratajan, Karl Schweisfurth, Jes Tarp, Bernd Schmitz, Haruhiko Murase, Ronald Stotish, Dawn Runighan, Mark Post, Jim Rogers, Rob Hopkins, Fanny Nanjiwa. Directed by Valentin Thurn

 

There are a lot of scary things happening in the world. The climate is changing; arable land will soon be at a premium. On top of that, the world population is exploding beyond our capacity to feed everyone and deliver drinkable water to them. Less farmland, more people – does anyone see this is a recipe for disaster?

Actually, many do. German journalist Valentin Thurn went in search of solutions to the coming food crisis which one scientist called “the greatest crisis man has ever faced.”

The changes in the weather don’t just affect cellphone reception. Many parts of the globe are experiencing extended droughts while others are getting too much rain. Crops that aren’t resistant to these changes will fail. Scientists are trying to create hybrid seeds that will grow plants that are drought resistant and deliver a more efficient yield. These efforts are being spearheaded by big companies like Bayer and Nestlé. However, it is somewhat disconcerting to learn that just ten corporations control more than three quarters of the world’s seeds.

Most of us are aware of GMOs which have been sold to us as bad things, but some scientists caution that without them we may not be able to feed everyone within the next 20-30 years – yes, that soon. Is it a choice between a rock and a hard place that we’re facing? Well, Thurn doesn’t think so.

One of the big culprits behind worldwide food shortages is meat. Cows, sheep, pigs and chicken require enormous amount of resources to maintain. On top of that, the middle classes of developing countries – including traditionally vegetarian India – are craving more and more meat, copying the demographics of Western nations including Europe and North America. The oceans are also becoming dangerously over-fished. Sustainable sources of meat are almost a must if we’re going to continue to enjoy hamburgers, sushi and McNuggets.  Some scientists are looking to grow meat substitutes in various labs. Alternative sources of protein are also being explored; insects, for example. Don’t turn that shade of green; in several cultures in Asia and Africa, insects are part of the daily diet. Chocolate covered ants, anyone?

Thurn seems to think that the answer lies in thinking locally rather than globally. Big multi-national food providers see food as commodities rather than a human right; food that is grown locally is affordable to nearly everyone as costs in transportation and preservation can be prohibitive. Small, organic farmers who have been practicing the same land stewardship techniques for ages may provide the answers for the coming food shortage crisis.

Thurn admirably keeps ecological sustainability part of his equation; solutions that may provide food but destroy the ecology are not viable and Thurn makes sure we know that. However, he has a tendency to be a bit of a tunnel-visionary; while he explores technological advances, he tends to criticize them with missionary zeal mainly rejecting them out of hand as being too expensive for the impoverished to explore. The thing is about technology is that as it becomes more commonplace, it tends to fall in price. Electricity, indoor plumbing and computers were all once only affordable by the very wealthy; now they are all everywhere used by all but the most impoverished.

Thurn is a very thorough investigator and he tries to look at every aspect of the problem – and it IS an important problem, one that is going to affect all of us. We all need to eat, right? However, there is an awful lot of information being presented here, a lot of it technical and after awhile it becomes somewhat brain-numbing. There is also a scene set in an Indian chicken factory farm in which the poultry is being slaughtered; those who are sensitive to such things may be disturbed.

Still, this is an important topic and anyone who wants to see the human race continue knows that keeping it fed is going to be a priority in the next century. Some of the technology and practices seen here may fall by the wayside but some of it is almost certainly going to become part of our lives. It is inevitable and although we may not like to think about it, we need to consider these possibilities nonetheless Our descendants are counting on us.

REASONS TO GO: This is a sobering but important topic for a documentary. There are a variety of viewpoints presented.
REASONS TO STAY: A definite case of information overkill.
FAMILY VALUES: The dire predictions may be troubling to some; there is also a scene in which chickens are slaughtered which may upset the sensitive.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: If current birth rates hold true, the world population will hit ten billion by the year 2050.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Film Platform, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/22/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Last Supper for Malthus
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Unsane

Django (2017)


Django Reinhardt doing what he does best.

(2017) Biographical Drama (Under the Milky Way) Reda Kateb, Cécile De France, Beata Palya, Bimbam Merstein, Gabriel Mireté, Johnny Montreuil, Vincent Frade, Raphaël Dever, Patrick Mille, Xavier Beauvois, Esther Comar, Jan Henrik Stahlberg, Hugues Jourdain, Hono Winterstein, Etienne Mehrstein, Levis Reinhardt, Nestle Sztyglic, Ulrich Brandhoff, Clémence Boisnard. Directed by Etienne Comar

 

Django Reinhardt was one of the greatest jazz guitarists – jazz musicians of any instrument in fact – of all time. His music has helped define the music of France in the decades since he burst onto the club scene of Paris in much the same way as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Chuck Berry defined American music.

Django (Kateb) is really a pretty laid back guy; before a big concert in Paris in 1943 he is late arriving because he’s too busy fishing in the Seine. Once he gets there, he captivates the crowd with his virtuoso style, fingers dancing over the fretboard in his unusual style (he didn’t have the use of two fingers on his left hand after his hand was burned in an accident as a young man, so he had a peculiar three finger style). We are reminded that this is occupied Paris with all the Nazi uniforms in the audience and a stern admonition of “No Dancing.”

Django is married to Naguine (Palya) who is devoted to him; his mother Negros (Merstein) also lives with him. Django was born in Belgium to Romani (what some would call gypsies although that’s a politically incorrect term these days) and the gypsies, along with the homosexuals and of course the Jews were being persecuted by the Nazis. One of Django’s fans is Louise de Klerk (De France) who as it turns out is part of the French resistance and she warns Django that the Nazis are rounding up the Romani all over the country. She admonishes him about a German tour he’s about to undertake; he responds that he doesn’t care who’s in the audience so long as they respond to his music.

Soon Django’s apolitical stance is put to the test as it becomes clear he needs to get his family out of France and that his protection because of his international stardom wouldn’t remain for much longer. He heads to a Romani encampment near the Swiss border and his perceptions of politics are changed forever.

Kateb took some intensive training to learn how to duplicate Reinhardt’s distinctive style and he looks pretty authentic on-camera. Oddly, a modern jazz group dubs the sound of Reinhardt and his Paris Hot Club Quintet; neither the on-camera musicians nor Reinhardt are heard on the soundtrack which seems a little odd that in a movie about a great musician we never actually hear his work.

Kateb is a fine actor and he does a decent job here but he isn’t given a lot to work with. There’s little character development for anyone else around me, including the fictional De Klerk (who for the purposes of this film was also his mistress) and the very real Naguine. The music is amazing but you’re never given the opportunity to care about the people playing it.

Mostly we get a generic World War II suspense piece that has elements of Casablanca (not a bad thing), music documentary (not a bad thing) and Schindler’s List (still not a bad thing) but never quite pulls together as a movie that grips and excites the viewer. I don’t feel like I know anything more about Reinhardt than I would if I just listened to a couple of his albums.

On the positive side, the filmmaker does call into focus the persecution of the Romani people which other than the Jews suffered the most in terms of the number of dead. There is a chilling but moving photo collage of the missing that is the last image shown in the film and a fitting memorial for those who died. Django no doubt would have approved.

I don’t think he would have approved of this movie which lacks the passion that he consistently displayed in his music. Certainly the musical sequences are dynamite and there are also some really nice camera shots in the film but overall, you would profit better by downloading some of his songs onto your playlist and giving them a listen.

REASONS TO GO: The music is incredible. Some of the cinematography is spectacular.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is surprisingly pallid and uninspiring. The soundtrack could have used some actual recordings of Reinhardt.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is based on the fictional novel Folles de Django by Alexis Salatko.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/5/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: La Vie en Rose
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Battle of the Sexes