by Bill Hawk
Cecile De France: "There's
two kinds of people. Those who say, when the phone rings, 'Who the hell's
that?' And those, like me, who say 'Hey, who can that be?'"
Ah, to be young, optimistic, and dirt poor
in one of the most celebrated artistic districts of Paris, where the rich and
celebrated are even more unhappy with their lot in life than you are. De France
manages to land a job in a popular café as a triple-threat looms- a concert,
a stage play and an art auction are all scheduled for the same day. And before
long, De France has crossed paths with the major players in all three events.
There's concert pianist Albert Dupontel, who feels straightjacketed by his demanding
schedule and the stuffy world of the concert hall- not to mention his wife Laura
Morante's desire for fame and fortune. There's "Difficult" actress
Valerie Lemercier, who sees her new stage role as a step towards breaking away
from the tiring soap opera which has made her rich and famous. And there's oldster
Claude Brasseur, selling off his art collection to facilitate a new life with
his much younger girlfriend, Annelise Hesme- who just happens to have a connection
to Brasseur's unhappy son, Christopher Thompson. All of them will engage in
assorted acts of human folly as the big day approaches, and all of them will
experience some changes. Such is life in the City Of Lights.
Co-writer (with her actor son Christopher) and director Daniele Thompson's story takes a relatively restrained approach, with a slow rhythm that isn’t afraid of taking the time to set a mood or to let an actor play something out. Amongst those actors, De France creates a likeable enough waif, but the real attraction of the female cast is Lemercier, whose bipolar antics culminate in an ad-libbed showstopper of a performance on her opening night. Old pro Brasseur has some nice moments explaining his outlook on the golden years, and Dupontel has the soulful suffering thing down pat. The idea of wishing for something different in your life, whether it's ultimately about constructive or destructive change, is a very human one, and you can't fault the characters for their desires- especially since they're in a land that celebrates such things. If you're interested in a mildly charming diversion, and you don't mind working your way through subtitles to get the jokes, you'll probably enjoy this. The only notable extra is a making-of documentary that focuses on Thompson's filmmaking process.
Toby Jones: "When they telegraphed
me that you were coming out, I was astonished. I imagined you might be
a grim-visaged old nurse with thick legs and a moustache."
Well, Jones old man, sometimes you're stuck with the scary old gal, and sometimes
you're lucky enough to have Naomi Watts show up. British lass Watts, fleeing
from a family that was only too happy to see her married off to government-employed
bacteriologist Edward Norton, finds herself somewhat at sea in Norton's workaday
world of 1925 Shanghai. Bored, and dissatisfied with the husband she hardly
knows, Watts is easily led astray by overly friendly British consular attaché
Leiv Schreiber, and the resultant marital strain leads to an unpleasant change
of circumstances for her. Accompanying Norton to a village plagued by cholera,
Watts meets local Brit consul Jones and Catholic orphanage/infirmary Mother
Superior Diana Rigg. Laboratory man Norton and social flower Watts both get
a hard dose of reality in the remote, primitive epidemic zone, but their struggles
bring out the best in them and they start to put their past aside and really
connect for the first time. But between the disease and the anti-British feelings
coming from angry mobs, there's a good chance that their happiness will be short-lived….
This adaptation of a W. Somerset Maugham tale is old-fashioned in a good way, providing a handsomely-mounted entry in the troubled romance category. Director John Curran and his team take full advantage of some lovely unspoiled locations, but they also don't shy away from the nastiness of the Cholera outbreak and, more importantly, the unpleasant ways in which flawed and wounded people can treat each other. As always, the majority of the story's heavy lifting has to be done by the people on the screen, and there's a pretty talented bunch at work here. As an actress, Watts is nothing if not game, and whether she's moping around or cheering up a bunch of orphans or dodging a would-be lynch mob, her quietly-suffering wife holds the viewer's interest and sympathy. Norton's peeved hubby character traverses a bit of the darker territory that the actor is known for, but he balances it out with a generous measure of altruism seen in the anti-cholera battle. The odd-looking but compelling Jones is a classic "Gone native" type with a keen eye and an unusual romantic situation of his own. Schreiber doesn't have as large or as flashy a role, but it's interesting to see him with his real-life mate Watts. Rigg has some nice moments where she shows us the person inside the nun's habit. And for Hong Kong film fans, veteran star Anthony Wong does a turn as a military man who aids Norton. Toss the actors and the settings together, add some crunchy script croutons, dribble a nice musical score onto it, and you've got an enjoyable melodramatic salad. Just don't wash it down with any of the local water- could be cholera bacteria in it, you know. There are no extras of note on the disc.
THE BIG BAD SWIM
Four Act Films, 2006, 93 mins.- Echo Bridge DVD
Jeff Branson: "If
I didn't have to work, or take that dog for a walk, I, ah….I don't
even know ifI'd get outta bed."
Former high diver Branson has been in an extended funk after an accident that
derailed his life plans, and now he's getting itchy as he nears the big three-oh.
He decides to get a dog, ditch his antidepressants, and quit his adult swim
class teaching gig- which may not be such a good idea, seeing as how it provides
pretty much the only human interaction that he gets. Of course, some of the
folks in his class have their share of problems too, in addition to their embarrassing
lack of drowning-avoidance skills. High school teacher Paget Brewster has a
hubby who's stepping out on her with another teacher at the same school, causing
friction with the administration and leading her into thinking her own extramarital
thoughts when she meets younger guy Michael Mosley. Brewster bonds with the
younger Jess Weixler, who's got a dual career track going- casino card dealing
and stripping. Weixler's brother Avi Selton and his pal Ricky Ullman are budding
filmmakers who try to fulfill a class assignment by interviewing people about
Weixler, which annoys her to no end. As the aquatic training continues, lives
will intertwine, decisions will be made, somebody will get trigger-happy with
a can of mace, and a dog will resist becoming housebroken- but everyone will
make it to a climactic "Big bad summer pool party."
This film from freshman feature director Ishai Setton is your typical indie item- a simple character-driven narrative with some engaging performances, done quickly and inexpensively by a close-knit crew, which went on to win some film festival awards and get a video release. The filmmakers do a good job of utilizing the resources available to them, and the movie avoids the aura of cheapness that sometimes plagues low-budget efforts. More importantly, the script by writer Daniel Schechter, while treading a familiar path, has enough good character moments and humorous twists to hold your attention. The performances fit right into the quirky goings-on, with Brewster's spacey sarcasm, Mosley's oddball cockiness, Weixler's slightly beaten-down decency and Ullman's socially maladroit antics being standouts. Overall, it's not strikingly fresh material, but if you're looking for some indie action as an antidote to the usual overblown Hollywood stuff it's worth a try. Disc extras include audio commentary and featurettes which display some more of the filmmakers' sense of humor.
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© Melt Magazine 2007