Thursday, 30 March 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: GHOST IN THE SHELL



9/10

The Major is a cyborg made of titanium, but with a human soul (her "ghost"). She works in Section 9, an anti terrorism unit, which is also her family, as she remembers nothing from her previous life. When a dangerous hacker starts killing the members of Hanka, the corporation of artificial intelligence technology, the case quickly becomes personal for the Major as one of her makers is on the hit list. But in the world where everyone holds bionic parts, and can be hacked and manipulated, who can she really trust?

Original movie GHOST IN THE SHELL is a world phenomenon that has spawned a successful franchise, but also served as a topic for some philosophical dissertation. The animation by Mamoru Oshii that was an inspiration for the new film starring Scarlett Johansson, acquired a cult following and director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) had to play very safe, trying very hard to please everyone (old fans and new). Mostly it works.

The truly exciting thing about GHOST IN THE SHELL is the environment ( the same could also be said about the original animation). Digitally enhanced Hong Kong is breathtaking. The giant holograms invade the streets, the atmosphere is authentic, the rain and the moisture are so real you can feel them in the air (you can almost smell the boiling noodles on the side street). Some of the scenes are frame by frame recreated from the original. The battle in shallow waters, the diving, the tank duel - all look gorgeous. The broken glass spraying out of the screen, the water pouring out and the jellyfish flying just above your head - a 3D ticket on this occasion is really worth an extra buck. 

Scarlett Johansson gives her all to the role, she does inhabit the spirit of Motoko Kisangani even with her European looks - fans should be pleased. The origin story of Motoko is a nice touch and does not contradict the original movie in any way.

Takeshi Kitano, as the boss of Section 9 boldly speaks Japanese all through the film , and why not? Language is no barrier for the nation where everyone's brains are wired with wi fi? His performance is a real gem and shows how clever the casting was, despite all the controversy of choosing Scarlett Johansson for the main role (originally her character is Japanese) 

GHOST IN THE SHELL is an almost perfect remake of a cult animation. The only flaw of the film may be its straightforwardness, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. I have seen the original ten times or more and some questions still remain unanswered.  GHOST IN THE SHELL was made with love, putting some bold ideas in place, and it's one of these films you can watch again and again, and still find something new and exciting.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

MFFF REVIEW: MAX & LEON


 

6/10

Max and Leon are two orphans who have been best friends since early childhood and both are nothing but trouble. When the Second World War kicks in they are both summoned to serve. Their little town gives a sigh of relief as the two troublemakers are about to be dispatched, hopefully for good. Thus begin the adventures of Max and Leon as they go to war with Hitler, the French, the English, the Arabs and themselves. Here comes trouble!

MAX & LEON is a fine example of what French comedy is about. Echoing the classical film with Louis De Funes "La Grande Vadrouille" (The Grand Promenade), MAX & LEON is a combination of famous French farce, over the top satire and even a musical (a three minute song of dancing German prisoners who tell you why the French people are the worst nation on earth). The jokes come fast and sharp, but some of them do not translate well into the English speaking world. 

The duo of MAX & LEON (French comedians Gregoir Ludig and David Marsais) lacks charisma but the guys have good timing (this is not the first film where they are together). The rest of the cast all seem to be having fun, and this is more important for comedy than polished performances. The film is quick, loud and silly, which makes it an easy watch. For every joke you might have missed two new ones are on the way. Many scenes are borderline embarrassing, but it is still better than the average American sitcom. 

With all its silliness and madness MAX & LEON has a good soul at its core. The film may be less funny for a non French speaking viewer, but if you love a good laugh and are ready for something different, MAX & LEON may just hit the right spot.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

MFFF REVIEW: MOKA



7/10

Diane is grieving, but it's time to stop and act. Her son has been killed by a speeding car that didn't bother to stop. Using a private detective Diane locates the woman who was driving, but facing her nemesis turns into a strange surprise. Do the two women have too much in common? Now that Diane has located the villain, what will her next step be?

Moka is a stove-top, or electric coffee maker that produces coffee by passing boiling water pressurized by steam through ground coffee. This could be the perfect description of the protagonist Diane. She is ready to explode under pressure, but she is keeping it all inside, boiling and keeping a poker face. Emmanuelle Devo has an unusual face, definitely not a classical beauty, but she is definitely elegant. She awards her heroine the perfect mixture of fragility and strength, but she ever remains a mystery and always make us wonder what is happening behind her big deep eyes that on the surface reveal nothing. Her counterpart Natalie Baye, as a probable culprit, is a little older but plenty glamorous, confident on the outside, but  hiding deep insecurities about her family state of affairs. The two leading ladies are like Atlases and carry this film on their shoulders. The film, which has a great premise, struggles, however, to be engaging.

Living in the age of TV on demand, independent films have to prove themselves by either telling an irresistibly interesting story or being truly original. MOKA, unfortunately, doesn't tick any of these boxes. It is visually beautiful and tense but utterly predictable, at least in the mystery department. This one will not make you stop binging on the latest Netflix series.

Based on a bestselling book MOKA does many things right. It has an intriguing premise, it is interestingly shot and has some good performances. Unfortunately, in this particular case, it is just not enough to make it a great film.

Friday, 24 March 2017

MFFF REVIEW: POLINA



7/10

Since ever she could remember, Russian girl Polina always wanted to dance. When anyone asked, she always said that dance happens all by itself. But does she want to be a classical ballerina at the  Bolshoi, as her down on his luck, gangster father dreams? When time comes to choose there'll be no compromises.

POLINA is based on a comic book by French graphic novel writer Bastien Vive. Spanning across several countries this multi-national production nailed the atmosphere of each city and place; and nailed the competitive spirit of the dance world, whether it is a classical ballet or a contemporary dance troupe. The music of Philip Glass and original score by 79D gives a very modern feel to the movie.

The film has a sketchy narrative and many daily life decisions of the characters and their motivations are left unexplained, but what matters here is dance and the way to succeed is to be perfect.

The dance sequences sometimes balance on the edge of fantasy and the viewer is left to decide what really happened and what was just a dream.

The main star of the film, Anastasia Schvetsova, is an experienced dancer with some good dramatic techniques. She feels organic in the role, creating a character slightly at odds with the world and someone who truly comes alive when she dances.

Juliette Binoche in the role of the modern dance teacher is the big surprise of the movie, proving once again she could play anyone and anything. Who would think she could dance like that?

The film lightly touches upon what its like to be a real artist, where hard work is merely a means to the end. What really matters is bravery.


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

MFFF REVIEW: THE INNOCENTS


 
8/10
 
Mathilde is working for the Red Cross in post war Poland. One day a nun knocks at her door, begging for help. Mathilde reluctantly agrees. In the reclusive convent she stumbles on a terrible secret the nuns are hiding - as a result of the brutality of war many of them are pregnant. Putting her life on the line Mathilde becomes their saviour and protector. But she is not yet aware that the true evil lives at the core of the convent she has vowed to protect.

Lou De Laage, the rising French star, may be too young to play the experienced war scared veteran nurse. While keeping the innocence of her character, she manages to add intensity and depth and is believable as the determined young woman who doesn't see any other way but to save lives if they need saving.

The script is intense, with danger lurking around every corner. The tension builds even during the tranquil convent scenes when the nuns are resting, singing and playing cards. The movie is not fast paced but there are questions that need answering and curiosity will keep you interested. The cinematography is beautiful but bleak, winter forests and snowed under city streets don't hold the promise of a better future, so the brighter colours are welcome when they finally light up the screen.

Most of the horrors of war are left out, but what is implied is unnerving enough. However none of it can compare with the brutality of what we see every night on the evening news.

THE INNOCENTS tells an interesting and original story apparently based on true events, and feature a brave protagonist who faces an impossible situation. If the pacing was a little faster it could have been a perfect movie. As it is, if you enjoy dramatic thrillers with dark atmospheres and interesting characters THE INNOCENTS may be for you.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

MFFF REVIEW: PLANETARIUM



5/10

Laura and Kate Barlow are two American sisters travelling to Paris in the early forties. They perform at a local cabaret, where their act is talking to the dead. During one of the performances they are noticed by the famous producer Andre Korben. He invites them to his house and into his life. His aim is to capture a ghost on film...

The genre of PLANETARIUM is hard to define. Is it a love story? A ghost story? A war time drama? The movie moves at a leisurely pace, focuses only on a handful of characters and it devotes the screening time to somewhat disjointed scenes that one would expect to come together at a later stage. But that moment never comes.

Natalie Portman is a fine actress, but her duo with Lily-Rose Depp lacks credibility. They are, however,
 both wonderful to watch. The real star here is Emmanuel Salinger as an eccentric millionaire obsessed with spiritualism. He is odd and charismatic, the way characters in David Lynch movies are. He is based on the real producer Bernard Natan, the man responsible for the creation of the famous studio Pathe. The film follows his real life with such precision it could have been a biopic.

The film is intriguing, to say the least, but the intrigue is drowned in disappointment. Director Rebecca Zlotowski is an engaging storyteller,  even when she has no real story to tell, so the film is never boring.

It is hard to understand where the name PLANETARIUM came from. Is it the allegory of the movie business, where all one does is watch the stars on parade? One can only wonder. Everything that happens in the film seems to be detached from reality, but at the same time it is too grounded to be surreal. The pointlessness of PLANETARIUM is its enigma but it is also its downfall.

Friday, 17 March 2017

MFFF REVIEW: JUST TO BE SURE (OTEZ-MOI D'UN DOUTE)


9/10

Erwan has a problem. His opinionated and free spirited daughter is pregnant and won't reveal who the father of her child  is. During a visit to his daughter’s GP, Erwan receives stunning news – the man he always thought to be his father is not his father at all. On his quest to discover his real dad (and also the daddy of his daughter’s baby along the way), Erwan gets himself tangled in situations of mistaken identity; meets an impossible lover; and discovers that a blood relationship is not as important as a human connection is.

JUST TO BE SURE is another example of why dramatic comedy by the French is so good  and the real reason why I fell in love with French cinema in the first place. Director Carine Tardieu has made the genre her specialty and this latest movie is a real gem. 

Juggling the handful of eccentric characters she manages to reward each and everyone of them with a unique identity, depth and charm. The leading couple Erwan (Francois Damiens) and Anna (Cecile De France) are as believable and intense as would be (could be) lovers, but the real chemistry is between three men: Erwan and his two dads; the real and the adopted one.


JUST TO BE SURE delivers the messages of love and companionship without being dogmatic, and is fast, funny and spirit lifting.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

MFFF REVIEW: ODYSSEY (L'ODYSSEE)



9/10

The year is 1949. Jacques Cousteau had just finished with the army and dreaming of a life full of sea exploration, diving and travel. Armed only with his grand ideas and little money he is ready to make his dreams all come true. But when you sacrifice everything for the greater purpose, does the purpose itself become hard to see?

Director Jerome Salle, who has a few well received French comic book adaptations under his belt, takes on a family saga. An ambitious project about a character many in this world grew up with, the plot focuses on Jacques' relationships with his two sons, following his rise and downfall between the early fifties and the  late seventies, when he is facing a crises in both his personal and his  professional life.

In biopics the cast is what usually makes it or breaks it. Lambert Wilson has the looks of Jacques Cousteau, but he also seems to embody his spirit. His co-star Pierre Niney had already proved he could do a biopic in the role of Yves Saint Laurent a few years back. The leading men look natural together as a father and a son, united by love and respect, but divided by their outlook on life.

The make up is fantastic, the brilliant visual effects are beautiful and tense (the shark scene will have you clinging to your seat), and the shots of the most exotic parts of the world are stunning. The outstanding soundtrack by Alexander Desplat deserves a praising article of its own.

ODYSSEY manages to capture a perfect adventure spirit but at the same time keeping it real all the way. The script is competently written with interesting accents and never glamorises the life of Captain Cousteau, who was unfaithful to his wife and, at times, was too self centred to see the bad things happening all around him.


ODYSSEY is a very complete and satisfying piece of movie making that deserves all the praise and attention it can get.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

MFFF REVIEW: SOUVENIR



9/10
Once upon a time Liliane was a famous pop singer and almost won Eurovision once. Now she is working in a pate factory, packing boxes all day long. Her life is suddenly changed when she meets Jean. Jean is a boxer, half her age and completely besotted with her. When Jean asks her to sing at his local club Liliane reluctantly agrees. The attention from the press that follows , she did not ask for. Would Liliane be able to make a come back? And if she succeeds, what is the price to pay?

The main titles of SOUVENIR appear on the background of beautiful bubbles. The bubbles look surreal, something of out of space, a promise of something magical. When the camera draws backwards we realise that the bubbles are nothing but the aspirin dissolving in the glass of water. This is an allegory - SOUVENIR is about the secret beauty  of everyday things.

Isabelle Huppert, who won an Oscar nomination for her part in ELLE is indeed one of the most significant modern living actors. Only Huppert can effortlessly pull out a pop siren at sixty three! The script is simple, but this is LA LA LAND type of simple, and just like LA LA LAND it has plenty of music, but not quite enough to be a musical.

SOUVENIR Is a subtle comedy, but typically for French cinema - funny and drama are always side by side. The film has a great premise, but with its limited budget it would never have worked without its star. Huppert is magnificent and her performance here should not be missed.

The Supporting cast does its job well, but they are here only to be a background for the main star. SOUVENIR is a crowd pleaser. It is funny, uplifting and a little sad at the same time. For those who were disappointed by LA LA LAND, this is the musical (that's not really a musical) for you!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

MFFF REVIEW: COUNTRY DOCTOR



8/10

Jean-Pierre is a country doctor, which includes much more than being a good physician - dealing with people in the provinces requires different kinds of skills. But when Jean-Pierre himself is stricken by a serious illness he cannot do it alone. The help comes by the way of the beautiful Natalie. She has a lot to learn, but is tough enough to take on the job. She also has to deal with Jean-Pierre's insecurities. He thinks he is is still very capable and can do it all by himself. How will their relationship work out?

Francois Cluzet is an actor in a league of his own and his involvement in the project is all that it needs to be successful. COUNTRY DOCTOR is a low key drama with comedic elements that don't break any new ground, but delivers what it’s supposed to -  lighthearted entertainment and a heartwarming story with the flavour of the French countryside.

One of the patrons, a lady in her sixties, summed it all up for me as the credits rolled by, saying,
"I did not want it to end!"

COUNTRY DOCTOR is unapologetic in appealing to its target audience, but it delivers the goods in spades. We are introduced to a handful of quirky characters, a few uncomplicated subplots and a lot of cosy French countryside delights  - enough to seduce a movie goer of any age.

Cluzet, as he often does, creates a reserved, brooding character, but somehow this one is  irresistible to the ladies. His co-star Marianna Denicourt feels natural in the role of the strong willed, but big hearted Dr Nathalie Delezia. The chemistry between the two of them works perfectly and carries forward this simple feel good movie.

COUNTRY DOCTOR is "what you see is what you get" sentimental drama at its best. Nora Efron used to do it in Hollywood. Nowadays the French do it better.