Monday, February 13, 2006

Pour la Plaisir (2004)


A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Originality, which appears to be very scarce commodity among Hollywood comedy screenwriters, still could be found among European filmmakers. One of them is Belgian director Dominique Deruddere, whose 2004 comedy EVERYBODY IS A KILLER combines French farce with certain plot elements seemingly more suitable to classic westerns.

The film begins in a Ferrari driven by Dr. Vincent Moreau (played by Samuel Le Bihan), psychiatrist and film's narrator. Flashback introduces us to small northern French town where Dr. Moreau has established a practice. Citizens are mercilessly bullied by local sociopath Maurice Weckman (played by Harry Cleven), but nobody dares do anything about it. Local mechanic François (played by François Berleand), on the other hand, is more bothered with his beautiful wife Julie (played by Nadia Ferres) and her lack of passion in bed. He confides to Dr. Moreau, his most loyal client, and says that his wife has bizarre fetish on murderers. Dr. Moreau tells him to try adapting to Julie's fantasy and François does so by bragging about committing murder. At first this works wonders for their marriage, but his confession has coincided with Weckman meeting violent death. François immediately becomes murder suspect, but his arrest makes him the most popular man in town. As he struggles to prove innocence while his town creates personality cult around him, Dr. Moreau and Julie discover that they are attracted to each other.

Guy Zilberstein's script borrows elements from classic western THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and skilfully combines them with murder mystery, social satire and black comedy. Qualities of the script are well-matched with the qualities of director who keeps the right pace of the film, right until the excellent surprise twist at the end. The film is relatively short, but the plot and characters are well-drawn.

The casting is also very good, most notably in the case of François Berleand, French character actor specialised in the roles of villains. In this film he is very effective and much more convincing pathetic middle-class husband. Casting against the type works well also in the case of Samuel Le Bihan, whom few people would imagine as psychiatrist. Nadia Farres, on the other hand, wasn't fortunate casting choice, mostly due to lack of chemistry with Le Bihan. Belgian actor Olivier Gourmet was also somewhat over the top in his role of police detective.

Despite that, POUR LA PLAISIR deserves recommendation as very entertaining and effective combination of rarely mixed film genres.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Island (2005)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

At the end of 19th Century many scholars believed that the science found its limits and that there were few new discoveries to look forward to. These days, Hollywood producers appear to harbour similar sentiments towards science fiction. It seems that each new science fiction film is nothing more than repackaging of the older classics. One such example is THE ISLAND, 2005 film directed by Michael Bay.

The film begins in a huge underground hich-tech facility, which is supposed to protect survivors from the effects of environment disaster that has ravaged the Earth. Inhabitants of this new world live comfortable lives, albeit under ever-present control of their mysterious and sinister handlers led by psychiatrist Doctor Merrick (played by Sean Bean). The only exciting thing is the Lottery, with winners earning the right to travel to the "Island", the only unpolluted place on Earth. Lottery is source of intense speculation among Lincoln Six Echo (played by Ewan McGregor) and his friends. His curiosity leads to discover the unimaginably cruel truth behind the Lottery - he and thousands of other people are nothing more than clones, bred and raised in order to provide their "originals" with compatible organs. When Lincoln and his love interest Jordan Two Delta (played by Scarlett Johansson) escape, they discover that the world is actually intact and that they might find shelter in Los Angeles. Merrick, in the meantime, hires former French commando Albert Laurent (played by Djimon Hounosou) to bring back fugitive clones.

THE ISLAND starts promisingly, which is a rarity for Michael Bay's opus. First half of the film, set in the seemingly utopian futuristic facility, might bring back memories of LOGAN'S RUN, THX 1138, COMA and other science fiction classics. Unfortunately, when the protagonists leave this setting, Bay sees this as an opportunity to transform potentially intelligent science fiction drama into just another series of chases, fights, shootouts and explosions that don't make any sense. The acting talents, just like the basic idea behind the script, are wasted. That includes Scarlett Johansson's assets, which can never be properly exploited in film rated PG-13. Needless to say, all the difficult ethical questions concerning the cloning or true nature of human identity are completely ignored.

Another annoying element of THE ISLAND is in Bay never failing to conform to unwritten "politically correct" laws of Hollywood screenwriting. Sean Bean's character starts as benevolent character, but has peculiar English accent. Djimon Hounosou starts as sinister villain, but happens to be black. It doesn't take genius to predict whether each of them will have their moral alignment altered before the film ends.

Due to intriguing premise and solid opening, THE ISLAND is watchable. But this failure to build anything valuable on the basis of genre legacy is going to be heart-breaking experience for all the fans of classic science fiction films.

RATING: 3/10 (+)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Grand Theft Parsons (2003)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

History of rock music is rich, and, sadly, some of this richness comes from many tragic tales of talented artists ending their lives prematurely. Among those sad stories few are as bizarre as the tale that inspired the plot of GRAND THEFT PARSONS, 2003 film directed by David Caffrey.

The film begins with Gram Parsons (played by Gabriel Macht), brilliant country and rock musician, fatally overdosing in September 1973. The news prompts Parsons' road manager and best friend Phil Kaufman (played by Johnny Knoxville) to act upon the pact he had made with the dead rock star and have his body cremated in Joshua Tree National Park. At the same time Parsons' father Stanley (played by Robert Forster) wants to have his son buried in Lousiana. Before that happens, Phil enlists the help of hippie hearse driver Larry Oster-Berg (played by Michael Shannon) and steals the coffin from LAX. As they drive towards Parsons' resting place in the desert, they are pursued not only by police and Parsons' father, but also by Parson's gold-digging ex-girlfriend Barbara (played by Christina Applegate) who desperately needs a proof of Parsons' death in order to claim his fortune.

GRAND THEFT PARSONS is shot with low budget and it shows through rather un-spectacular and over-used sets and locations. The filmmakers nevertheless made the decent job of recreating the period. The plot - although not particularly strong nor very funny, despite some truly bizarre situations - flows nicely. More importantly, characters look human and audience can sympathise with them. Johnny Knoxville is impressive in one of his first "real" roles. Michael Shannon and Robert Forster are also good in their roles, preventing the film to overdose on comedy or tragedy. Christina Applegate and her annoying character, on the other hand, is unnecessary addition to the film. Probably the biggest flaw of the film is failure to introduce Gram Parsons' music to the younger audiences. However, those who watch GRAND THEFT PARSONS might conclude that there are worse ways to pay respect to music legends.

RATING: 5/10 (++)