Movie Review: Molière

Molière is a French period movie set in the 17th Century and starring the wonderful Romain Duris, puppy eyed lead from The Spanish Apartment (L’Auberge Espagnol). The story follows the life of the French actor and playwright Molière through a period of his life that historians don’t know much about, imagining what happened based on his own plays. So Molière gets thrown in debtor’s gaol in Paris, only to be rescued by a rich benefactor, Monsieur Jourdain, who wants to learn the fine art of acting in order to impress a woman he’s fallen in love with. Taken out to the country we meet the other players in this act, Jourdain’s wife and daughters, and members of the French royal court – nicely setting off the beauty of the sets with their internal ugliness.

Molière is a great movie, deep, visually stunning, yet hugely funny and moving. Romain is at times dark and brooding, then generous and funny, and all fully fleshed out by his highly talented portrayal of a complex character. Definately a must see, even if you’re not a great fan of sub-titles. Read my full review of Molière here.

Movies: The Fountain & Mighty Wind

A movie night last night, starting with Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Fountain’, filmed here in Montreal three years ago, and Mighty Wind.

The Fountain got mixed reviews which stopped me seeing it in the cinema, and after Requiem for a Dream Aronofsky had a lot to live up to, and having watched it I can see why – it’s not easy going, and not a cheerful, Hollywood movie that’s for sure – but then when are Aronofsky’s movies ever like that? Cut to the chase – the movie is stunning in places, dramatically wrenching and beautiful with some great acting. So I highly recommend it to everyone.

Onto Mighty Wind, another ensemble comedy piece from the team behind Best in Show and the folks from Spinal Tap. With those credentials you would expect some laugh out loud faux documentary moments and it doesn’t disappoint there, however overall the film left me un-satisfied. Mighty Wind seems to lack any real drama and just meanders along like a folk Spinal Tap that only goes to 6, not 11. There is some standout acting in there but don’t expect too much.

You can read my more detailed reviews here: Mighty Wind and The Fountain.

More Gaiman Stuff in the Works

After many years of wishing everyone would hurry up and put Neil Gaiman’s excellent Sandman books out there as a movie, I’ve now decided that it would probably just upset me and most other folks who have their own Sandman vision in their heads. It’s funny how with books you’d expect this concern, but with Sandman being a comic you might think they’d be no issues – but having seen a few comic conversions recently I’ve realised how much editing they’d have to do and the story is the thing. So I’m happy not to hear of any Sandman movie news. Ever.

That said I’m always happy to hear of more Gaiman related movie news when I’m not so emotionally invested in the books. I loved Stardust, I’m much more tempted to go see Beowulf now I’ve found out Gaiman worked on the script and soon we can see Coraline – an adaptation of one of his wonderful children’s books.

What I’d really love to see out of Sandman is a stand-alone movie, penned by Gaiman and using the characters without impacting the main storyline. That would be awesome.

Ick to the nth degree.

As part of the extreme moviefest I’m in at the moment I just saw possibly the most cringe-making scene ever. Let me just saw that if you thought Indiana Jones was bad for insect scenes then don’t watch King Kong. No way. Or at least stop watching about 2 hours 45 minutes in for about 15 minutes. Ick.

I guess my disgust stands as testament to the talented folks over at the Weta Workshop, responsible for this movie’s special effects along with those from most of Peter Jackson’s movies. Amazing stuff indeed – if it didn’t make me cringe so hard I could hardly watch it. Thanks for that.

The Darjeeling Unlimited

It’s been a few years since genius film-maker Wes Anderson’s last film, The Life Aquatic, so it was with great pleasure that tonight we went to see his latest, The Darjeeling Limited. Unsurprisingly we weren’t disappointed, Anderson’s trademark visual style has been transposed effortlessly onto an Indian continent backdrop and the story, written by Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, is wonderfully uplifting and melancholic at the same time.

The movie centers around three estranged brothers on a journey across India on the Darjeeling Limited line. Each brother has his own character flaws, and the inter-play between them all is wonderfully engaging. As their journey progresses across the country other colourful characters are introduced, each with varying impact on the brothers and their life trajectories. Family relations, trust, spirituality and escapism are all investigated as the brothers continue their journey, and by the end of the film they are all changed – but for how long is the question given the embedded character flaws that have kept them going up till now.

Darjeeling Limited is a another great film from Anderson, perhaps not his best but it’s hard to tell these things on first watching. The dynamic nature of Life Aquatic is missing somewhat, being replaced more by emotional tones than melodies. If you love Anderson, you’ll love this – and if you’ve never seen his films then this is a great place to start.

Oh, and as a bonus before the main feature there’s a short – Hotel Chevalier – which fills out a sub-plot of the main movie, plus gives you a chance to how short both Natalie Portman and Jason Schwartzman are. Amongst other things.

America’s Sicko Health System

Just saw Michael Moore’s latest expose on the American health system – Sicko. A great film from Mr Moore, incisive, emotional and as usual he manages to bring up 9/11 as often as a Republican Presidential candidate, hopefully to more positive ends. The subject of the film is America’s singularly unique approach to healthcare – privatization to an extreme degree. Every US citizen has to pay for their healthcare in monthly payments to private organisations, although more normally this is through their employer. Should the inevitable happen and they need to go to the doctor, their HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) has to pre-approve any charges raised, from the consultation, ambulance trips, x-rays and everything. This all sounds a great win for private industry and free choice (the positive view on HMOs) until it goes wrong and the company’s bottom line becomes more important than saving lives – the situation Moore says now exists.

I’ve had to go through US medical treatment a few times now, with varying levels of medical cover. The first time was due to an icey slip into a puddle which resulted in a sprained tendon that took an age to heal but no major operation thankfully. The slip also resulted in about $5,000 in medical bills from a few hours of emergency room checkups (that weren’t even that quick). Luckily this was all covered, but it would have been an unwelcome cost should my HMO have decided not to pay out. In Moore’s movie the many ways that HMO’s avoid payouts and the impact on peoples’ lives is gone into in detail, often heart wrenching detail as death is regularly involved. Unsurprisingly the government’s link with big business is singled out as a driving factor by Moore, and his old pal George W comes in for the usual treatment.

Having revealed the warts of the US system, Moore then proceeds to wax lyrical about overseas systems based on ‘socialist’ practices – ie, taxes pay for everyone’s health cover however poor, all are equal. Canada, Britain, France and Cuba are examined and Moore acts out his country’s amazement on how well these systems work. As a Brit I know the British system isn’t as wonderful as Moore makes out, but I’m glad we have that rather than the US system. Equal healthcare for all is a wonderful thing, as none of us know who will be unlucky in the good health lottery.

Sicko is a great film, more emotionally wrenching than his previous offerings and a lot more human while staying political as only Moore can. Generally the US doesn’t get much sympathy these days due to its oil driven global policies, but this film reminds us that the citizens of the US are often the ones who suffer. Hopefully this movie will help drive positive change for all.

Disclaimer: Many years ago I did some work for Humana, one of the HMO’s mentioned in the film. In fact when you watch the film and see the ridiculously huge and be-marbled Humana offices in Louisville, look at the small brick building to the right – that’s where we were working.

Stardust – An Epic Gaiman Movie

Last night we went to see Stardust, the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess’ same titled graphic novel. Gaiman’s last foray into movies, MirrorMask, was interesting but somehow un-engaging, but Stardust is an absolute delight all the way through. A fairy-tale love story, set in a world alongside England – reached through a hole in the wall next to the town of Wall (near Ipswich). Once the protagonist, Tristran Thorne, sets off on his quest to find a fallen star the action comes thick and fast, with twists and amazing characters on the way that keep you constantly engaged and smiling.

My personal highlights are the ghostly chorus of the dead princes, all named based on their order of birth, from Primus to Septimus, and all vying to be the next king by dint of being the last one alive. The already dead brothers includes David Walliams and Rupert Everett, and en masse they inject a wonderful note of humour into a Shakespearean tradition. The special effects are also fully integrated, never too showy just there in subserviance to the story as they should. Plus you have Robert deNiro as a flying ship captain with a hidden secret, Ricky Gervais with a brief cameo as a salesman plus a panoply of other famous actors from both sides of the pond – thankfully a lot are British given that’s the general accent. Even Claire Danes’ accent is reasonable, if a little too plumy in places.

You know this movie would never have gotten made were it for the success of Harry Potter, so for that we owe J K Rowling another thanks. Gaiman is an amazing author and explorer of the imagination, but his popular success is still limited even after the oustanding Sandman graphic novels and a selection of successful novels. Indeed, rumours of Sandman’s movie debut have been around for many years now, but it has yet to appear. Fingers crossed that Stardust has enough box office success to put some steam behind other Gaiman adaptations. So go see it!

John Hannah (& The Mummy 3) in Montreal

Another usual morning in the Old Port, Montreal. While waiting for our usual morning coffees at the splendid Olive et Gourmando, M noticed John Hannah checking her out from the corner. His hair was pretty long so we weren’t 100% sure at first, but it turns out he’s in town for the filming of The Mummy 3, along with Brandon Fraser, Jet Li & Michelle Yoeh, but unfortunately not with the ever stunning Rachel Weisz. Ah well.

And no, yet again I did not take a photo, but suspect John Hannah pics ain’t quite as valuable as one of Brad. Sorry John, I prefer you to Brad but somehow I don’t think posters of you adorn as many walls as his do.

Oh, and Rowan Atkinson is floating around town somewhere today prior to presenting his latest Mr Bean flick this evening. Not to mention the other assorted global comedy stars for this years Just for Laughs festival.

Get Smart, not Buttons

Well there’s been no sign of Brad Pitt or the film crew of ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘ over the last few days, but that doesn’t mean the fun is over. Oh no. Today’s random Old Port film set is for ‘Get Smart‘, a remake of the classic TV series starring Steve Carrell. Looks like they’re shooting over night (till 5am tomorrow morning) so hopefully they’re not shooting any gun fights or car chases! Still, can’t be any more noisy than the usual drunken shouting/throwing things at shop windows we get on the weekend.

Brad Pitt in Montreal

Yep, Brad Pitt is now officially in Montreal, as I just watched him film a scene in an Old Port alley way for his latest movie – Benjamin Button. No pics this time I’m afraid, as it was a very dark alley way and there was an over-anxious security guard who made grumpy faces and used pointy finger tactics every time someone reached for a camera. Plus he had a scary beard.