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Rois et reine (2004)
Both moving and irritating : the work of a great auteur
How do you create a follow up to the two masterpieces that were "Comment je me suis disputé" and "Ester Kahn" (we won't talk about the dull "Léo... en jouant Dans la compagnie des hommes") ? You just listen to what your heart has to say, however hard and difficult it might be, and make no compromises. You don't fear to be misunderstood. You care about the audience but do not let them influence your work. You're a genius but you still have doubts, and these doubts make your art even better. "Rois et Reine" ("Kings and Queen"), Arnaud Desplechin's latest film, lasts 2h40mn and, in spite of its length and its harsh contents, is utterly entertaining, fascinating, moving and even funny. It does not fear to be (often) irritating and boring : the burlesque moments, for instance, are quite annoying, but then again, that's a personal point of view. The thing is, the storyline about Nora's relationship with her father and her ex boyfriend and her son, and then again Ismael's relationship with Nora's son and with his family are so powerful, they don't need more. Unfortunately, Desplechin is often reluctant to cut deep in his movie and as a result, "Rois et Reine" sometimes looks like a long, long ride. Add to that some unfortunate flash backs burdened by bad acting (the character of Pierre) and boy does the movie sound dull at times. Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric, finding here the roles of a lifetime, are absolutely fascinating. When in the end, Nora discovers the secret pages of her father's diary, or when Ismael spends an afternoon with Nora's son, it's devastating. I've rarely seen a movie that translates human emotions so beautifully. Just for that, "Rois et reine" is a must see.
The Forgotten (2004)
Dull, boring, highly disappointing movie
After seeing this awful thriller, the first question that comes to mind is : why did Julianne Moore agree to star in this junk ? Just like Nicole Kidman ("The Others"), Naomi Watts ("The Ring"), Halle Berry("Gothika") or Sarah Michelle Gellar ("The Grudge") and before Jennifer Connelly ("Dark Water"), Kate Hudson ("Skeleton Key") and Naomi Watts again ("The Ring Two"), Julianne Moore was certainly looking for the supernatural thriller / box office smash that was lacking in her filmography. Supernatural thrillers are for actresses what Die Hard / Lethal Weapon movies are for actors : a great way to lead a movie with a character that does not require to flash her boobs and is more than the hero's girlfriend. Sometimes it works ("The Others", "The Ring", "The Grudge"), sometimes it doesn't ("Gothika"). Never, however, has it failed like "The Forgotten" does. It's a shame, for Julianne Moore is certainly one of the best actresses working today. There are two overwhelming problems in "The Forgotten". The first is the screenplay, that is such a rip off of a bad "X-Files" episode that Mulder and Scully are probably rolling in their graves. The second problem is Joseph Ruben's direction, who's managed to make Julianne Moore act like a b-movie starlett. Plus, the movie is visually ugly : after "The Others" and "The Ring", two movies that were both scary and visually stunning, the bar has been raised. In the end, "The Forgotten" is often unintentionnally laughable, ridiculous, and frankly, one wishes the director could disappear in the sky (just like many characters in the movie do) and be replaced by Hideo Nakata instead.
Incredibly funny comedy about thirtysomethings in love
God did I laugh all the way through this movie ! I just loved, loved, loved it. I agree it is not as profound as a Woody Allen feature, nor will it be remembered as a masterpiece in sociological studies, but this enchanting comedy manages to be funny and heartwarming without taking the audience for granted. I bet anyone over 30 will recognize something about him/her self in the characters.
Raphael (Edouard Baer, France's answer to Hugh Grant) is in his mid thirties. He's writing famous people's autobiographies -- and obviously his name never appears on the book's sleeve. And he's fine with that. His girlfriend, Muriel (Marie-José Croze, a character actress with girl-next-door appeal) doesn't understand his reluctance to publish his own works under his name : what is he hiding from and what exactly is he scared of ? One day, Raphael's boss assigns him to write the biography of a dumb, ultra famous football player, Kevin (Clovis Cornillac, hilarious). When Raphael realizes that Kevin's girlfriend is his former college flame, Claire (Alice Taglioni, playing the high powered bitch you can't help falling for), things go reaaaaaally ugly... and incredibly funny. Add to that Raphael's two buddies, neo hippie Jeff (Eric Berger) and yuppie Max (Jean-Michel Lahmi), and you've got a movie that's really hilarious in its depiction of french thirtysomethings searching for the true meaning of their lives.
The film has already been despised by some movie critics and intellectuals who wrote in their columns that the situations are so exaggerated that they build an unbreakable wall between the movie and the audience. But that's the point of a farce, actually. And when deep within the farce and the absurdity of the comic situations you can still be moved and you still recognize yourself, then the director's won the game. And I totally surrender to Laurent Tirard (the director)'s talent : the movie's a knock-out, albeit a funny one.
The Butterfly Effect (2004)
An excellent surprise
I went to see "The Butterfly Effect" with few expectations and, to be honest, the one expectation I had was rather low. Could Ashton act ? The answer is a surprising YES, and the movie is far superior than one might expect.
Not only is this movie well written (with a screenplay far more original than I thought it would be), but the directing is clever and delivers some pretty good thrills. I was often scared and actually did care about the characters, which is not really something you might expect from a teen thriller movie. And it's not just that : "The Butterfly Effect" is at times moving and also has its funny moments. The supporting cast is good too : Amy Smart does an excellent job portraying different versions of the same girl, according to the way events happen.
I guess "The Butterfly Effect" will become one of those overlooked movies that gain cult status as years go by...
El abrazo partido (2004)
Young Woody Allen in Buenos Aires
I thought this movie was a delightful surprise. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. I was charmed and moved by the story of this young man searching for his identity when everyone and everything around him seems to dictate who he should be and how he should behave. It is funny and touching in the way real life is -- and all the characters of the movie are so real. I felt like watching a Woody Allen movie -- without the bourgeois New-Yorkers' concerns but with more humanity. Maybe the movie should have been less fearful of its characters' inner feelings -- sometimes the director chooses to just play for laughs when the storyline should go deeper within the emotions and contradictions of its characters. But all in all, it is a beautifully crafted piece of entertainment. Plus, it feels so good to watch a movie from a country that gives us so few occasions to travel in its cities via celluloid.
Agents secrets (2004)
A spy story with a realistic point of view : take that, James Bond !
Frederic Schoendorffer directed 4 years ago a great serial killer movie with a realistic point of view, "Scenes de crimes". And now he does it all over again with "Agents secrets", a sharp, always surprising look at the world of spies. Like, a James Bond movie directed by Ken Loach (well, sort of). Of course, when you decide to take a movie genre and break all its rules one by one, it helps to have two major movie stars by your side. Our American friends may not realize how big Vincent Cassell and Monica Bellucci are in France. They're, like, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, only more rebellious and real and glamorous and daring and hip. When you look at their respective filmographies, you know for sure that "Agents secrets" won't be a "Troy" or a "Along Came Polly" (though I do respect and love Brad and Jennifer, their career moves are sometimes, well, surprising). Now, Vincent and Monica are a real life couple and they do not play a couple in "Agents secrets", but two spies who pretend to be a couple on a mission that will go awfully wrong. Don't expect too many visual effects here : the suspense is intensely psychological and the cast does deliver, even though the screenplay sometimes doesn't (to be honest, the story is not always clear). When I saw the movie, most people in the audience were very angry by its ending. Without giving it away, I can tell you it is daring : the director wanted to make a movie about the extraordinary life of ordinary people who have no choice, once they've chosen such a lifestyle, but to live this way till they die. Their whole life is a mission, and it has no end.
Along Came Polly (2004)
Stupid is as stupid does
"Along Came Polly" is very stupid. Which does not mean that it's not funny. Actually it is a very enjoyable comedy which is always on the verge of being plainly awful, but never really is. I guess it's, really, thanks to the cast. Jennifer Aniston (who plays Polly, who is, basically, a cross between Rachel and Phoebe in "Friends") and Ben Stiller (almost reprising his character in "Meet The Parents") have great chemistry together. Which is not the case, say, of Hank Azaria (VERY funny) and that girl from "Will & Grace" who, when they are together, seem to play in a different movie. The screenplay tries to follow the "There's Something About Mary" rules : a bit of romance, a lot of heavy gags. The heavier, the funnier ? Not always but here, it works more often than not. I only wish Ben Stiller could be serious sometimes, like he was in Neil La Bute's "Your Friends & Neighbors", in which he was amazing.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
So cute !
I just loved this movie for what it is : a cute, humble coming-of-age story with exquisite romantic comedy moments and a delightful cast. Jennifer Garner proves with her irresistible charms that she can go from Alias's bruises to romantic comedies giggles with grace and humility. She will definitely be a major A list star within the next two years. And Mark Ruffalo is probably one of the best young actors in Hollywood. It seems he can do anything, from troubled souls in "You Can Count On Me", "In The Cut" and "We Don't Live Here Anymore" to perfect prince charming with guy-next-door charisma in "My Life Without Me" and "13 Going On 30" (and I do not mention the incredible sexual appeal he displays in both genres, which makes him all the more intriguing).
Now, I know thousands of people complained about the "Big"-oriented screenplay but, frankly, who cares ? As long as we've got the laughs and the tears and the cast, they can make the same movie endlessly -- that's what romantic comedies are all about. And this one actually plays by its rules and does not pretend to be anything else than what it was marketed for -- we're not in Shyamalan's territory, "I'm selling my movie like a huge creepfest when in reality my movie's just a dull love story". Here, the audience knows what to expect and what it will get. Which is : 2 hours of pure happiness and nothing more.
The Village (2004)
What a shame !
This movie is simply awful. I just don't get it : how could such a great director do such a lame movie ? I had guessed the whole plot and the so called shocking ending just two minutes after the movie had begun. Plus, this is absolutely not scary at all. I know Shyamalan says everywhere that he didn't plan to make a scary movie but a love story, but the thing is, when your whole marketing campaign is based on the "horror of the unseen", that's a pretty lame argument and an awful way to fool the audience. And I'm sorry to say, the love story, as it is, is a sad bore. We've been told this kind of love story a thousand times, and most of the time it was better than this. Now, the acting : Adrien Brody is not going to prove he deserved his best actor Oscar with THAT. He's completely ridiculous in a role that's, sadly, completely pointless and was probably written to fill all the holes in the screenplay. Poor Joaquin Phoenix has not much to do and he disappears in the middle of the movie (maybe he begged the director for that ? "Please, write me off this movie !!!"). Sigourney Weaver is non existent. The only good thing of "The Village" is the luminous Bryce Dallas Howard. You can say she's going to have a great career just for being able to go through this whole movie with dignity and grace. Now, Shyamalan, enough with so called twisty endings and pseudo thrillers that scare no one. Even Steven Spielberg knew that the miracle that "Jaws" was could not be made twice. So stop doing "The Sixth Sense" all over again and try something new !
Cabin Fever (2002)
Probably the dumbest horror movie ever made
This movie is awfully stupid. I just can't believe all the positive response it got from movie critics. Even the "I know what you did last summer" movies are scarier and smarter. "Cabin Fever" is full of bad acting, bad writing and is as scary as a Teletubby episode. The flesh eating virus was a good idea. Trying to play it for laughs is obviously not a good one. Why don't they make truly scary horror movies anymore, without the irony that worked so well in the Scream series but so not in all the dumb movies that followed ? In Cabin Fever you just don't care about what's gonna happen to these kids. And if you don't care about the victims in a horror movies, what's the worth watching it ?