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"Life flash before your eyes? Cup of tea, cup of tea, almost got a shag, cup of tea."
"Gentlemen, is this a great moment or a small one? I can't tell."
The elephant thing never happened to the other fella...
Most surreal experience of the week was seeing Sacha Baron Cohen's new exceptionally bad taste comedy Grimsby aka The Brothers Grimsby) in a town that actually changed its name because of him (Staines is now Staines upon Thames to emphasis it's not Ali G Land, the local council presumably oblivious to the joke that the Staines Ali G and his white middle class posse inhabited was definitely not the ghetto or the hood he imagined), which might explain a Saturday evening show not being that busy (though that may be down to it playing in multiple screens). Released with surprisingly little publicity and to generally atrocious worst-film-of-the-year reviews, it's not something you can say is a great movie and how it will play outside the UK is debatable, but the audience laughed a lot and even if it is Viz-level gutter humour, it goes for it unapologetically (and, strangely enough, celebrates as much as it mocks its non-striving parklife).
The spy spoof's plot is a traditional thin comedy coathanger for the gags - what if James Bond had a long lost brother who's a Liam Gallagher lookalike football hooligan on a sink estate? - the villain's scheme vaguely political (to exterminate the working and shirking class to ease overpopulation: you can see David Cameron and George Osborne commissioning a viability study into it already) and the plot progression pretty basic, but there's a level of infantile scatological humour that Deadpool could only aspire to, making it truly amazing it just got a 15 certificate (I can't see anything less than an R in the states, and that with cuts). Many of the jokes are older than the cast's combined age - the sucking poison out of the scrotum gag might be predictable and many of the Bond jokes were old when Connery was still making films for Broccoli and Saltzman most of the cast are reduced to little more than extras (only Cohen and Mark Strong have fully realised parts), the two P.O.V. action scenes don't work and it makes a 70s Carry On film look like Oscar Wilde, but it delivers the laughs even if many of them might have you turning away from the screen even while you're laughing (there's a gag involving the brothers hiding inside an elephant that's one of the most prolonged and outrageous bits of pure bad taste in years), and it constantly has the courage of its convictions. Innocent people die, Daniel Radcliffe and Donald Trump suffer horribly and the Grimsby town elders must already be pondering a name change. It's not smart, it's not clever and it may not be the kind of film you'd admit to liking in polite society, but it still made me laugh.
Everything or Nothing (2012)
The Gospel According to the Broccoli family
Subtitled 'The Untold Story of 007,' Everything or Nothing is very much the Oft-Told Story of 007, and even more the official story according to the Broccoli clan who ended up controlling the movie series: while co-producer Harry Saltzman's flaws are covered in detail and Kevin McClory, one of the first to put his money where his mouth was when he and Jack Whittingham cooked up the screenplay for Thunderball with Ian Fleming several years before Dr. No hit the screen, is not only portrayed as the Devil incarnate but directly blamed for Fleming's death, there's little that reflects badly on Cubby. The closest it comes is the briefest of mentions of Cubby's strong opposition to the casting of Roger Moore widening the rift with Saltzman before reassuring the viewer they became the best of friends and when United Artists' David V. Picker points out that while Broccoli and Saltzman constantly renegotiated their contract with the studio the producers contributed to Sean Connery's growing disaffection and eventual outright hostility by failing to do the same with him. It's significant that Connery remains the only living Bond star (aside from, er, Woody Allen) not to appear in new interviews.
Of course with the creation of Fleming's literary Bond (described by one friend as 'the autobiography of a dream' and by critic Paul Johnson as 'not even the snobbery of a proper snob, it's the snobbery of an expense account man') and what was then 23 EON films to cover in just 98 minutes (the non-EON 1967 version of Casino Royale is not even mentioned), that would have worked out as a mere three minutes or so per film, so this is very much a whistle stop tour. Along the way there's a very good mea culpa interview with George Lazenby (but no mention of Broccoli Sr.'s enduring hatred of him) and an excellent one with Timothy Dalton about the direction his films took but despite amassing an impressive array of Bond movie veterans, friends and associates of Fleming and even Bill Clinton to appear in front of the cameras most of the interviews are not much more than soundbites to keep the success story moving. It's only really when it addresses the problem of keeping the series relevant to the constantly changing political landscape after it had been off the screen for six years that it really starts to take hold. But otherwise aside from some home movie footage of the producers in happier days there's little here that Bond fans won't have seen before and not much that casual moviegoers wouldn't be aware of either. But then, produced to premiere in time for the film series' 50th anniversary and to promote the release of Skyfall, this is very much a celebration of the series' success rather than an examination of the phenomenon (the explosion of lookalike spy movies and TV shows in the mid-60s goes completely ignored), the occasionally vicious battles for control and its ups and downs over five decades.
It's slickly made, but there's really not much to distinguish it from the usual run of 50-minute TV documentaries that inevitably crop up with the release of each new Bond film.
Une affaire d'état (2009)
A join the dots amble through the usual conspiracy clichés
Eric Valette seems the very definition of a hit-and-miss director, making his reputation with the French horror Malefique that was almost entirely confined to a prison cell and then losing it with the American remake of Japanese horror One Missed Call, capable of turning in a superbly directed chase thriller with The Prey and a conspiracy thriller as flat as Une Affaire d'État aka State Affairs. It's not entirely without promise as it follows the aftershocks of the shooting down of a French plane delivering arms as a ransom for French hostages in Africa whose fate could decide the next French election, with Andre Dussolier's government fixer attempting to set up another delivery without the press or the opposition finding out only to leave a trail of dead bodies thanks to informers and incompetents working for him.
To keep things a bit more interesting than men in expensive suits having meetings in isolated places where they talk around the elephant in the room, the film introduces what's become the most overused cliché in French thrillers, the female cop who's harder than the men she works with but is completely devoid of any personality traits beyond scowling or turning down dates, partnered with Gérald Laroche's dead meat spaghetti western fan (and my doesn't the Maurizio Graf's rendition of Ennio Morricone's title song from The Return of Ringo get a lot of play in the film at the most inopportune moments). It doesn't help that Rachida Brakni is so relentlessly one-note and uncharismatic that you can't care about her one way or the other indeed, Thierry Frémont's hangdog-faced security man who keeps on finding himself murdering people to cover up accidentally killing a blackmailing prostitute is a far more intriguing presence. Dussolier's good value too in the kind of part he's played so many times in better pictures that he could probably do it in his sleep, but for the most part it's just a join the dots amble through the usual conspiracy clichés, professionally made but never much more than watchable and at times a bit dull. Still, at least at 95 minutes it's short.
Mort d'un pourri (1977)
The credits ooze quality but the film is a little on the dull side
Mort d'un Pourri aka Death of a Corrupt Man is the kind of French thriller whose credits just ooze quality: Alain Delon starring and producing, an all-star supporting cast including Stéphane Audran (who overplays her drunk scene something rotten), Maurice Ronet, Ornella Muti, Michel Aumont (looking disturbingly like Ron Carey in High Anxiety), Mireille Darc and Klaus Kinski, music by Philippe Sarde with Stan Getz (who can be seen in the film's opening shot) on sax, cinematography by Henri Decaë, dialogue by Michel Audiard, directed by Georges Lautner. Yet the result is more than just a little bit on the dull side as Delon's successful businessman is easily persuaded to provide an alibi for his old Plein Soleil co-star/victim Ronet's politician after he kills the fixer who was blackmailing him in slightly different circumstances to the ones he claims. But the murder is the least of his problems as the victim's incriminating diary also goes astray and everyone who's anyone wants to get their hands on it at any cost. Which just leads to a lot of talk as the various interested parties make promises of wealth or ill health with the odd murder or car chase thrown in to try to liven things up with mixed results.
It wants to be one of those disillusioned state of the nation conspiracy thrillers so popular in the 70s, but despite throwing in talk of right wing movements, organised crime and real life political scandals it's all a bit too staid to keep your attention from drifting, though Rémy Julienne does provide the film's one genuinely outstanding moment with one of the screen's most original assassination attempts involving a low bridge and a car transporter. It's just a shame that getting to that point is so surprisingly uninvolving and that so little that happens afterwards is that interesting (though Kinski does have an interesting approach to motivating Delon to hand over the diary by having one of his business associates 'accidentally' shot at a shooting party).
The dubbed version available for streaming on Amazon doesn't help - Robert Rietty really camps it up when dubbing Kinski - though it does at least to appear to retain some of Audiard's ear for dialogue, but the film is now available on a Blu-ray-DVD combo from Pathe in France that includes the original French soundtrack with English subtitles (though the subtitles don't make it to the accompanying featurette and trailer).
Pour la peau d'un flic (1981)
A satisfying enough bit of disposable time wasting
Even though the star/director/co-writer/producer's name is all over the credits of Pour la Peau d'un Flic aka For a Cop's Hide as if it were a passion project he didn't want to share the credit for, it plays like a pretty typical 80s Alain Delon thriller running professionally through all the things that worked for him in the past. The dedication to Jean-Pierre Melville seems rather out of place in a film that's more of a playful spin on private eye tropes than a stylised iconic crime movie as Delon's ex-cop naturally takes a missing person case that the police don't want him to and finds himself with a dead client and mixed up with money laundering, Nazi collaborators, corrupt cops, dodgy weight loss clinics and the usual hoods hitting him over the head. Delon cruises through it confidently but the film's real bright spot is an absolutely gorgeous Anne Parillaud as his wisecracking movie buff secretary, the kind of gal Friday who can correct a TV announcer who attributes Heller in Pink Tights to 'John' Cukor but who still describes Vera Cruz as a Howard Hawks film (though that might just be down to the American dubbing, which turns an in-joke about Jean-Paul Belmondo into a comment about Robert Mitchum, while the actress dubbing her at times seems to be giving a different and slightly irritating performance to her).
The plot and the shifting alliances don't make an awful lot of sense even when characters conveniently appear to deliver chunks of exposition to fill in the gaps but it's a satisfying enough bit of disposable time wasting with a decent car chase courtesy of Remy Julienne. Aside from the clumsy Americanised English dubbing that's the only option for the film on Amazon Instant Video there is one huge strike against it Delon clearly loved Oscar Benton's version of Bensonhurst Blues so much that he repeats the same section of it some twenty times in the film until it's like nails screeching down a blackboard.
Un homme est mort (1972)
Ce Pistolet pour la Location en L.A.
Jacques Deray's The Outside Man aka Un Homme est Mort comes from that curious brief period from the late Sixties to the early Seventies when Hollywood studios, United Artists in particular, were investing in French thrillers. This one meets them halfway, with Jean-Louis Trintignant's French gun for hire flown into L.A. for a mob hit only to do the job with ridiculous ease and immediately find himself the target of Roy Scheider's hit-man. Even more curious, as he finds himself adrift in the city he learns that the victim's family have given a completely inaccurate description of him to the police
It's not a very talkative film or overplotted (Ann-Margret gets the only other really substantial role as the topless bartender who comes to his aid), with Trintignant at times wandering silently through it as if in a dream as the plot slowly falls into place until even the police can join the dots. Yet it's increasingly fascinating as it draws you in with its own interpretation of classic American thriller tropes and at times This Gun For Hire in particular, seen through a foreigner's eye (the script was a collaboration between Deray, Jean-Claude Carrière and Ian McLellan-Hunter). The bullets fly, cars crash and the final reckoning's location is especially appropriate for a bloodbath, and there's quite a bit of black humour as well, from a scene with a hitchhiker who's swapped drugs for the cross or a hit-man crossing himself at a funeral and pausing briefly to feel his gun to Ted de Corsia's jawdropping final scene (which is doubly memorable as the last thing he ever shot). There's also a very impressive supporting cast Angie Dickinson, Michel Constantin, Umberto Orsini, Alex Rocco, Felice Orlandi, Georgia Engel and even bit parts for John Hillerman, Talia Shire and a young Jackie Earl Haley watching Star Trek on the TV when Trintignant takes refuge in his mother's apartment. Mind you, it could have done without the blaxploitation-style opening song and closing theme
Best remembered for Borsalino and La Piscine, Deray never repeated his American experiment and his latter films with Delon and Belmondo drifted into mediocrity or worse (it's hard to imagine a worse flic flick than 1987's Le Solitaire), but The Outside Man is a reminder that in his prime he had real talent and could conjure up a film as much mood piece as commercial thriller and make it thoroughly involving. It's the kind of film that deserves to be better know
Diamant 13 (2009)
Less than sparkling
Gilles Beat's Diamant 13 sees Gerard Depardiueu as our old friend the burnt-out cop who just doesn't care anymore (his motto: "I don't need anybody's help to fall"), insulting hostages and encouraging would-be suicides to jump, drinking himself from night to day before going home to his lonely apartment like he was a character in a 1970s Joseph Wambaugh novel relocated to France. Maybe someday someone will break the mould and make a movie about a cheerful cop with a happy home life and plenty of friends who follows the rules, has the full support of his superiors and still gets the job done, but in the meantime we've got another run through all the usual modern downbeat cop movie clichés. The result is watchable but hard to summon up much enthusiasm for despite a script touch-up by co-star and 36 Quai des Orfevres/MR73 writer-director Olivier Marchal, who plays a dying corrupt cop who tries to rope Depardieu into hijacking a drugs shipment only to go it disastrously solo when his ex-partner finds himself up on disciplinary charges and offered a deal by unlikely public prosecutor and even more unlikely ex-wife Asia Argento - his hide for Marchal's. But this being the kind of film that never sticks with a single moral dilemma when it can throw in another plot to try that on for size before its attention strays to something else, he soon finds himself the target of a drug lord who wants the drugs and cash Marchal stole back - or else. And then finds himself on the trail of documents incriminating most of the city's rich and powerful in one of those vague conspiracies in high places that French films habitually never bother to properly define. And then finds old friends and a hooker he's befriended targeted by a killer who may be... you get the picture. You've seen it all before often enough.
A Franco-Belgian co-production shot in tax-shelter-friendly Luxemburg, Diamant 13 is seemingly an attempt by the usually classy MK2 Productions, whose idea of a crime movie usually didn't extend far beyond Claude Chabrol's petit bourgeoisie affairs, to get down and dirty, but it simply embraces a different set of unconvincing clichés. It's set in the kind of police stations where they only use 20watt bulbs and streets where the streetlamps give no light, but its aspirations to gritty realism are belied by surveillance videos that are of theatrical quality complete with professional editing and camera movement and the kind of zoom lenses that NASA would envy. There are some promising ideas that the film never really follows through, and Anne Coesens gives a better performance as Depardieu's partner than the underwritten part demands, but mostly this is just tired and uninspired. Depardieu himself hasn't looked this unhealthy for years, and you get the impression it's nothing to do with the part, but then maybe he just couldn't get any more excited about the film than audiences or critics. Workmanlike stuff.
Despite decades of tax incentives, in terms of international visibility the Canadian film industry still lags behind most central African and Islamic states (surprisingly few Canadian films are released outside their native shores), and Nouvelle-France aka Battle of the Brave is another example of why. More than any other country, commercial Canadian cinema seems unable to develop an identity of its own and is stuck in pale imitation of other countries' failures. On paper this historical drama could look vaguely promising. There's certainly a rich vein of untapped material in Canada's history as the French and English warred over and bought and sold the colony, though none of it makes the cut here unless you count the odd blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene of characters saying "Wolfe is dead" or "Nouvelle-France is no more" before getting back to the soap operatics. But while this isn't a history lesson, it isn't a drama or the epic adventure the new title promises either: there is no battle in the film unless you count 10 seconds of shelling by a half-dozen re-enactors and one collapsed shed. The town square that is all we ever see of Quebec is a rather obvious flatly lit studio interior, giving many scenes an old TV miniseries look, as does director Jean Beaudin's reluctance to offer much in the way of long shots or even exteriors. What you do get for your money is a simple but drawn-out Harlequin romance about doomed lovers constantly separated by events beyond their control where the biggest surprise is that Fabio doesn't turn up in the cast. It's the kind of film where whenever two characters are about to make the beast with two backs the camera pans over to a convenient raging fireplace or waterfall.
An Anglo-Canadian-French co-production that doesn't so much unite once-warring nations as throw any country with a decent tax break into the stew, this massive box-office disaster was clearly intended to be Canada's Titanic - though someone neglected to tell the producers they meant the film, not the ship - but turns out more like Revolution done on the cheap without the battle scenes, crowds or the few moments that threaten to briefly work in the face of overwhelming odds. The Montreal Mirror described it as "so bad that one can't even find the strength to mock it." That's rather unfair, because while for most of its running time the film looks like a below-par 80s miniseries, the last half hour suddenly becomes very funny, with characters accidentally putting their legs in bear traps, dastardly husbands declaring "You'll never see your handsome lover again, cuckold's honor! You'll pay for this, both of you!" and our heroine accused of murder and - gasp! - witchcraft in a trial funny enough to have been in Demi Moore's version of The Scarlet Letter. Throw in caddish British governors, devious slaves and Celine Dion singing at the end and you've got something that at times almost feels like the kind of film that Timbo Hines was aspiring to (and still managed to miss wildly) with his legendarily inept period version of War of the Worlds, albeit without the staggering technical incompetence.
Leading man David La Haye's versatility seems limited to the number of other actors he can look like throughout the course of the film: he starts out looking like Andy Garcia, briefly adopts the Al Pacino Revolution look, flirts with the clean-shaven Tchéky Karyo style before turning into a younger Ted Danson as his character ages. While his opening scene where he reacts to news of his father's death with an expression that looks like he's waiting for the director to tell him he can go home now promises a feast of bad acting, in reality he gives the impression more of a mediocre supporting actor who's lucked into a lead at the last minute when whoever was originally cast finally read the script and bailed. He shows willing and gives it a go but the grace and charisma the part needs just isn't there. Billie Piper lookalike Noemie Godin-Vigneau's leading lady doesn't exactly set the screen alight either despite occupying center-stage as the peasant girl who is the prey of giggly Vincent Perez's corrupt and perverted Intendant Le Bigot (that really is the character's name), the duplicitous goateed drunken lackey Sebastien Huberdeau and, saddest of all, Gerard Depardieu's bedridden revolutionary dirty old priest in a manky grey-haired wig. It's a truly pitiful sight to see a once great actor at the absolute rock bottom of his game as he shuffles through the motions looking like he's not just lost the will to act but the will to live along with it. He clearly couldn't be bothered to stick around for the English dubbing sessions (or even a couple of long shots where he is very noticeably doubled). Small wonder he talked of retiring around the time of the film's brief release.
Some brief comic relief is provided by Jason Isaacs in his default Patriot mode who overplays Wolfe of Quebec rather like an asthmatic Alf Garnett/Archie Bunker played by Timothy Dalton on speed while Tim Roth's William Pitt stands on the sidelines with the occasional bemused smile of one who's being put up in a rather nice hotel with excellent room service and plenty of days off, though like Colm Meaney's Benjamin Franklin they're both in the film for less than three minutes. (Voltaire and Madame Pompadour pop their heads around the door for a couple of minutes as well but fail to make any impression, comic or otherwise.) The supporting actresses are generally better: Juliette Gosselin and Bianca Gervais as the heroine's real and adopted daughters and a strikingly beautiful Irene Jacob looking for all the world like a young Fanny Ardant are all refreshingly good and deserve much better.
Le dernier vol (2009)
"I'm afraid I've taken you nowhere."
When boiled down to a synopsis, Karim Dridi's Le Dernier Vol sounds like the kind of film that could go one of several ways: a grand romantic adventure a la English Patient, a story of westerners drawn into obsession and self-destruction in an exotic land they don't belong a la The Sheltering Sky or a critique of 20th century French colonialism a la Fort Saganne with elements of Antonie de Saint-Exupéry's semi-autobiographical writing, but it doesn't really do any of them with much enthusiasm, passion or conviction. Instead, it just drifts aimlessly through nicely photographed Saharan dunescapes as Marion Cotillard's pilot searches for her missing lover and forces her way into a punitive expedition led by the ambitious by the book Guillaume Marquet who mistakenly thinks he's oozing refined charm. Luckily Guillaume Canet is there as well as one of those experienced and vaguely spiritual-yet-cynical soldiers who understands the desert and the Taureg why, he even sleeps with one of them he treats as an equal to emphasise how unlike his unthinking fellow officers he is and whose advice is therefore routinely ignored by his mistrusting and inexperienced superiors who have been de rigueur in desert epics since Lawrence of Arabia. No prizes for guessing what will happen or that it won't end well for anyone.
The story is vaguely based on a true incident (albeit with nationalities and details changed and anything worthy of note removed), but the life of the real-life missing pilot, Bill Lancaster, is so much more colourful and exciting than anything that happens in the film you're just left feeling they pointed the camera at the wrong people. A big part of the problem is that the characters just aren't interesting and the actors seem to be unable to bring them to life or carry the audience's sympathy on a largely uneventful journey that feels a lot longer than the film's 94 minutes, none more so that Cotillard. Unfortunately her passion and frustration simply translates on screen as the kind of aloof surliness that some French actresses in particular mistake for strength of character as she goes about losing friends and failing to influence people: you almost feel sorry for Marquet, and that's clearly not the idea at all. She doesn't even display any chemistry with Canet (her partner offscreen as well as on), who at times give the impression that it's one of those family outings he didn't really want to go on and is making a show of stoically putting up with so that everyone knows it. You could almost imagine him wearing a T-shirt saying 'My girlfriend went to the Sahara and all I got was this lousy part in a movie.' The one interesting thing the film does is show that his 'two-bit humanism' is just as disastrously misjudged as Marquet's euphoric embrace of the white man's burden, but the film never bothers to explore the consequences, resolving his conflict with Marquet in the most infantile way possible and simply treating it as a means of getting the two leads alone so the last third can turn into a love story.
It's the kind of film you might be tempted to excuse as a well-intentioned misfire if only you could work out what the film's intentions actually were, but it's got precious little story to tell, few incidents to liven up the trip, no atmosphere or sensuality and has no discernible point to make or even any real point of view. It's something Cotillard, who was nominated for the French equivalent of a Razzie and described the film as the worst experience of her career, was all too aware of: "I fought for a project and I fought for the director because he was the one that brought the project and I fell in love with it, and then I spent two months in the middle of the desert wanting to kill him and wanting to beat myself because I fought for him and he was so bad. He had no idea of what we were doing, he had no idea of what he wanted to do." It's one of those films that's not terrible and not good but just sits there on the screen taking its time doing nothing in particular. One flight that just never takes off.
Woman after the war
A Very Long Engagement does a surprisingly deft job of balancing the absurdities and horrors of war with the absurdities of everyday life and the tenuous nature of hope and history, both ever changing and prey to the unbalancing influence of the smallest detail. More than most, this is really a film about the enduring pains of war that linger long after the last shots are fired and the battlefields are grown over as Mathilde's journey for her lost love goes from hospitals to widows to cripples to the thousands of official forms that once meant life or death. It's here that the film's lavish budget is really felt, allowing the story to span a wounded country eager to forget but unable to, as well as recreating the front lines. The reconstruction of the trench scenes are similarly impressive, although, as in Jasprisot's novel, the attitude of the poilous is much more sympathetic than it would have been in reality (deserters and self-inflicted wound cases were widely hated by soldiers at the front, who generally felt they should take their chances alongside them).
Its use of narration pays dividends, establishing that each of the five condemned man has a life and people that care about them. It's still done with Jeunet's characteristic quirkiness and black visual humor, but that's all too the good. And while there are some similarities, Tatou is not exactly Amelie here, all-too-ready to dismiss a helpful source as a slut in her own small-minded determination. The little games she plays with fate might seem whimsical, but she loses as many as she wins. Even the ending that proved so unacceptable for US audiences by opting for neither an obviously happy/unhappy ever after ending is just right, leaving its characters in limbo but not without hope.