Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Le Gamin au Vélo (The Kid With a Bike)

PCMR Verdict: Uncomplicated, entertaining character study of an underdog kid who struggles to find his path.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

Conversational filler makes the world go round, especially in Ireland. Consider the sentence "this is it": a classic piece of conversational grout, plugging an occasional silent (potentially awkward) moment in an otherwise pleasant chat about the weather. Example: Paddy Irishman, chewing on a spud, addresses you with the gambit: "The weather's taken a turn today, hasn't it?". The correct response - "Ah, sure this is it." - is polite and deferential, will be appreciated by Paddy, and is more of a social convention than the Incorrect Responses, which include "what? who are you?", stony silence or a bitch-slap, among others.

The point here is that, although on the surface you appear to be saying very little to Paddy, what you are giving him is a familiar social convention to take the edge off a potentially awkward interaction with a stranger. Maddening as it can be to hear this phrase too often, it's providing tiny doses of social anaesthetic in this country, administered many thousands of times a day.

'Le Gamin au Vélo' is similarly deceptive. On the surface, it's a plain, slice-of-life movie, but layered into it there is real depth, subtly delivered. The relevance of this movie is in the characters' reactions to difficult events, and how we learn more about them as a result. Which, you could say, is just like real life really. But sure this is it.

PCMR has banged the drum for subtitled movies in the past, and often defended them against any number of claims from people who "wouldn't watch a subtitled movie". Top of the list of reasons for this wilful ignorance is a perception that French movies are intellectual: this is a generalisation I find difficult to understand, and 'Le Gamin au Vélo' is an example of why. If it is intellectual, it hides it under a bushel, and this makes it a likeable film.

The movie is a window into the life of a kid going through a difficult adjustment. The Kid of the title is Cyril (Thomas Doret), an orphan. As the movie begins, he's in a home, acting up a bit, and is struggling to come to terms with his father running out on him. He's fostered by Samantha (Cécile de France), who bonds with him when she finds his bike, which his deadbeat Dad had previously sold. She takes him out of the home at weekends to her own home, and he gradually gets to know the other boys in the local neighbourhood. As he starts to fall in with the wrong crowd, Samantha tries to protect him, but will she succeed, or will he go totally off the rails?

Gradually, we get an idea of Cyril's character, and how he might turn out at the end of all this. His story is not particularly epic or unusual, but it is realistic and believable, and you can't help but root for him. The kid himself (Doret) is brilliant, simply for not having any affectations, and for providing a totally realistic performance of an enigmatic, testy pre-teen.

If you are to look under the surface, 'Le Gamin au Vélo' is about Cyril becoming aware that he can choose a path. Although initially he's a victim of his father's weakness, he slowly learns, thanks in no small part to an act of kindness, that his choices can play a big part in his own fate.

I will confess to not being on familiar terms with the Dardenne Brothers' other work, although on this evidence, I would definitely watch out for them again. Be clear though folks, don't prepare for explosions or car chases, this is very uncomplicated drama. So, although the rating isn't too high for this one, I would give it a guarded recommendation, perhaps for a DVD night in. If I'm brutally honest, it might be more of a one for the movie buffs really. But sure this is it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Voyez Comme Ils Dansent (See How They Dance)

PCMR Verdict: It's called 'See How They Dance', but PCMR recommends you avert your eyes, and avoid spending two hours in this kind of company.

PCMR Rating: 3/10

Life can't be easy for people who are easily offended. Just imagine being shocked by the simple fact of someone on TV swearing before nine o'clock in the evening. Mind-boggling, really. It's tough to imagine how life's actual hard knocks will impact on people so sensitive. After all, things could be an awful lot worse. For example, only last week PCMR heard one of the kids totally drop the c-bomb on 'DeGrassi'. He didn't even prefix it with a "no offence, but.." or anything! Which of course, would have made it totally fine, because as everyone knows, using that prefix means you can say anything you like to anyone and they aren't allowed to get offended. (Well, duh! - Ed)

The thing is, if you blog regularly, the state of being offended is a useful maguffin, even if it is, let's say, artificially enhanced for creative purposes. PCMR may have even employed such a device on this blog over the years, but recently I've realised that the habit of being offended is something I'd like to try and kick. The thing is, when you're offended by something, where do you go from there? Folks, the journey from measured critic to air-wasting troll starts with one angry review.

So, with this alarmingly grown-up resolution in mind, I'll not get too worked up about 'Voyez Comme Ils Dansent', which I should first point out, is completely and unreservedly terrible.

This meandering fluff tells the story (arguably) of a famous performance artist and total douchebag named Vic (already annoying - Ed), and the two women who love him. First, he (James Thiérée) has an affair with his doctor, Alex (Maya Sansa), and divorces his wife Lise (Marina Hands). Then, he emigrates to a remote part of Canada to be with Alex, where he subsequently does something even more douchey to her, which, according to the house rules, I would spoil by telling you about. Considering how bad this movie is, I seriously doubt that, but rules is rules.

So, Lise then somehow contrives to travel across Canada by train, and, lo and behold, her train ends up delayed in Alex's remote tiny village, and she urgently needs a doctor! I know, right? How mad is that? That Lise ends up moving in with Alex for Christmas is probably a low watermark for the bonkers twists and turns that this movie takes. The plot feels improvised and haphazard at best, as if the director would prefer to forget about such trivialities as story structure (pfft!) and get on with filming the Canadian countryside instead.

Given that Vic himself is such a douchebag, it is difficult to sympathise with the two women who fell in love with him. His wife Lise doesn't have too much character to speak of until she gets divorced, whereupon she somehow engineers a work project in Canada. Humm. Her train journey from one side of the country to the other involves carrying a movie camera and smoking the occasional joint. She's complicated like that, you know?

The conceit of her contrived meeting with Dr. Alex is my biggest problem with this movie. The thing is, without it, the film would be dead in the water after about half an hour, and though it pains PCMR to say it, that would improve this film immensely.

Alex (Maya Sansa) probably comes out best from this movie, as she's a more likeable character than Lise, and clearly has better boobs. Director Claude Miller gives us a peek at both female characters' breasts, with both shots comically gratuitous in the style of a lot of French yoghurt and cheese adverts. (Although perhaps Alex needed to go for a naked swim in the lake, and I'm just being cynical). As if to redress the balance of gratuitous nudity before the end of the movie though, we also get a male full-frontal shot, with Vic's junk also put up there on-screen for us, all arty and challenging like.

On the positive side, there are some nice location shots of Canada.

It's pretentious, and a lot of old nonsense, and Maya Sansa is the only one who might come out of it without terminal career damage. 'Voyent Comme Ils Dansent' even has an annoying title!

So avoid this one if you can, but if you do happen to catch it, PCMR asks you to try and imagine the opening credits start with the words: "no offence, but..."

Monday, November 28, 2011


PCMR Verdict: A solid, blue-chip Hollywood product, that somehow never quite reaches the sum of its parts.

PCMR Rating: 6.5/10

Police procedurals are a well-trodden path for movie writers, with some of PCMR's favourite movies unashamedly in the genre. The French Connection, Fargo, L.A. Confidential and Zodiac all earn credibility from their portrayal of policemen at work, and all would be seriously diminished without it. But procedural dramas aren't limited to the cops and the detectives, oh my no. Audiences like watching lawyers too, and politicians and the military, especially once they're played by Hollywood actors with craggy faces and zippy lines, or their veneers and their boobs and their sexy uniforms.. (Steady! - Ed)

Aaron Sorkin is a grand-master of the sexy procedural drama, essentially getting under the covers of a profession for a story, populating it with attractive characters, and penning fizzy, dialogue-driven scenes between them, generally involving dense professional discussions loaded with innuendo and doublespeak. 'The West Wing' should need no introduction (sexy politicians), but also on his CV is 'A Few Good Men' (sexy lawyers, sexy military), the ill-fated-but-very-good 'Studio 60' (sexy TV producers) and most recently 'The Social Network' (sexy, er, programmers?).

As Mark Kermode put it in his typically succinct terms, 'The Social Network' was about as entertaining as a movie about a bunch of men in offices arguing about copyright could be. Harsh perhaps, as the Social Network was a very good movie, but Kermode nailed the fact that when he took on 'The Social Network', Sorkin took the procedural drama to precarious places, and wrote a Business Procedural. He came out the other side of that unscathed, but the question with 'Moneyball' is: can Sorkin make the world of baseball interesting and sexy, and resist falling into cliché?

Well, no book is unfilmable, but Moneyball must have been a real challenge, even for Sorkon. Adapted from the Michael Lewis's book, it tells the story of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics baseball franchise, and how they introduced statistical analysis to baseball in 2002, in order to better evaluate players... and Brad Pitt's in it! (Phew, nearly lost me there! - Ed)

The interest in a story like this lies in the fact that Beane achieved amazing success against the odds on a shoestring, and radically changed the sport he loved in the space of a single season, by taking a big chance on using these statistical techniques pioneered by Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). You don't necessarily need to love baseball - or statistics - to enjoy watching this story unfold, in what is an extremely solid package of a movie.

On the package: director Bennett Miller is formerly responsible for Capote, Stephen Zaillian also worked on the script with Sorkin, and his last gig was American Gangster. Brad Pitt - looking more like Robert Redford every day - is good in the lead, ably supported by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and Jonah Hill, and the Cinematography is by a certain Wally Pfister. Now this last detail might not seem that important, but let me tell you: this movie looks beautiful, and Pfister takes a lot of the credit for that, just as he did for much of the look of Chris Nolan's Batman movies.

Unfortunately, despite the presence of all these heavyweights, Moneyball never really enters the stratosphere for me. It's entertaining, sure, and the story is great. Pitt is very solid in the lead, and delivers his acres of dialogue capably enough, as we know he can. In particular his scenes with his young daughter, and with the unrecognisable team manager Hoffman, are good, but Jonah Hill was a little wooden for me. The story is the real star, but the movie also looks just amazing, so it is never a chore to watch.

At just over two hours, it's quite long, but the time never really drags. It would be harsh to describe it as 'about as entertaining as a movie about men introducing statistics to baseball can be', but I'm afraid some element of that is true. To its credit, it never lags into lazy sporting cliché, but does suffer from being a little, well, dull.

If you're a fan of baseball, or lived through the story and watched it happen, you'll probably love Moneyball. If on the other hand, like me, you're a fan of sport, or management, you'll probably just like it, maybe even a lot. If this had been a similar story, but set against the backdrop of the football world cup of 2002 for example ('Saipan - The Movie!' Yes! - Ed), I might have been a bit more invested, but it just didn't grab me. Dunphy would say "no, Bill, no, it's a good movie, not a great one."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Poupoupidou (Nobody Else But You)

PCMR Verdict: Suspicious suicide is investigated by a novelist in a wintry setting in this decent noir drama. Features a very creative cheese advert.

PCMR Rating: 6/10

Some icons are built to last. Their impact is so far-reaching, their stars shine so brightly, that they live on long after they've stopped working, after their death even. Marilyn Monroe is one such mega-star, and somewhat improbably, she is enjoying something of a mini-resurgence on cinema screens of late. To some acclaim, Michelle Williams is currently filling the shoes of the original sex symbol in 'My Week With Marilyn', and here, in Gérald Hustache-Mathieu's noir drama 'Poupoupidou', Sophie Quinton's character channels Marilyn to create a persona, and just might believe herself to be Marilyn reincarnate.

'Poupoupidou' is a slow-burning noir drama, and tells the story of the apparent suicide of local starlet Candice Lecoeur (played by Sophie Quinton). The story begins with novelist David Rousseau returning to Mouthe (pronounced mooth) - his rural home town on the Franco-Swiss border - to hear a reading of a will. Rousseau is prompted to investigate Lecoeur's death, after her snow-covered body is found clutching a pill bottle in the no-mans-land between the French and Swiss borders, and he slowly becomes tangled up in a web of intrigue, corruption and the desire to find out the truth about what really happened to Candice.

The lead character Rousseau is likeably played with a touch of humour by Jean-Paul Rouve, who sports a salt and pepper beard in this movie and bears an uncanny resemblance to Tommy Tiernan. There is a fair dose of dry humour in a lot of Rousseau's dialogue with the residents of Mouthe as he learns more and more about the demise of Candice. There is also humour in Candice's rise to fame, such as the cheese advert that launches her career, which is a genuinely funny sequence.

Rousseau gets his hands on Candice's diaries, and through the diaries we learn the story of Candice's rise to fame. We learn early on that Candice Lecoeur is a stage name and apparently comes with a built-in blonde bombshell persona, assumed by local weather girl and aspiring actress Martine Langevin as she rises to fame (or local notoriety at least). Rousseau also gradually wins over local copper Bruno, who shares Rousseau's curiosity, and worries about a cover-up.

Poupoupidou is a classic French polar: a noir police story involving corruption, intrigue and lots of twists and turns. The sure-footed script and generally likeable main characters mean it is a comfortable journey for the audience, and the unconventional setting mean it avoids too many clichés of the genre, until the third act at least, when the investigation comes to a head.

The wintry setting and dry, gentle sense of humour throughout prompted memories of Fargo for me, and although Poupoupidou never outright imitates the Coen Brothers' masterpiece, it is probably fair to say that it has taken some inspiration from it. This is a plus point for me.

Rouve is likeable company in the lead role, but Quinton is excellent as the fragile starlet who channels Marilyn Monroe for her ego, her confidence. Her story is nicely told through her own voice, and there is enough humour in the narrative to keep the tone from becoming too dark. Of note too is the prominent soundtrack, which features some off-beat contemporary choices a la Quentin Tarantino, but the music fits the mood of the movie, so it never jars.

On flaws, I've mentioned some clichés in the third act, but there is also a strange theme of mysticism in this movie, involving details such as repetitive numbers (the number 5 in particular), fate, and the reliving of past events that is never satisfactorily resolved for me, but that certainly adds an interesting element to Poupoupidou.

All in all, it's an enjoyable story, and despite its flaws, it's a neat movie that should hold your attention. Not a classic by any means, but a nice character-driven tale with enough personality and twists and turns to keep it a level above bog-standard fare.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


PCMR Verdict: Not straight, but very forward, 'Weekend' is intense, intimate, tightly scripted and beautifully realised. Features two excellent central performances and tells the story of a single weekend that will change two lives.

PCMR Rating: 8.5/10

'Weekend' is the story of two guys who meet on a night out, sleep together, and spend an intimate weekend in each other's company. Russell is a quiet, unassuming, straight-acting lifeguard, while Glen is confident and extroverted, and although he is fully comfortable in his homosexual shoes (You can get gay shoes now? - Ed) he's perhaps not so happy in his professional life as an aspiring artist.

After waking up together the morning after a meeting in a night-club, they initially bond after an early exchange involving one of Glen's art projects, where he puts a tape recorder under Russell's nose and invites him to describe their more intimate moments from the night before.

This is a pretty intense form of ice-breaker, but it sets the tone for much of the exchanges between the two as the weekend progresses. Their chats cover a lot of personal ground in quick time: previous relationships, coming out, confidence, the desire to settle down, but all these discussions serve to ramp up the intimacy between the two, as they quickly learn about each other, and grow to realise that they might be genuinely compatible.

However, when Glen reveals that he is moving to the States on the Monday, the two men are faced with some difficult choices, especially as their meetings and discussions increase in their intensity, and they become closer. Gradually and inevitably, Monday morning begins to loom large between the two. Will Glen pluck up the courage to leave for the States to follow his dream, or will he stay and take a chance on this fledgeling relationship? Will Russell ask Glen to stay at the expense of his dream move, or risk losing the first man he has been genuinely intimate with? Whatever the outcome, the two men both gradually begin to realise that this will be a defining weekend for both of them.

What Andrew Haigh has crafted with the script of Weekend is a real achievement. These two characters are so finely nuanced that they are true and real, even in the brief time we spend with them. Cullen and New are both excellent, with Tom Cullen in particular providing an understated, but affecting performance that should comfortably provide a platform for a career. Chris New is also excellent though, and the portrayal of their gradually developing relationship is a credit to them both. In what is essentially a romantic drama, the success of the movie depends on their chemistry, and they certainly embody a completely credible couple, complete with fragility, fights and, well.. the physical side! It's all unashamedly up there on screen.

I'll be honest folks, I really loved this one, and heartily recommend it. I can only compare it to 'Lost In Translation' as a reference point, but this is a far braver, more honest piece of cinema, and genuinely deserves your attention. Two central performances of genuine courage and a tightly directed, beautifully realised script make this unmissable for PCMR. Trust me, it's going to win some awards.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

La Guerre est Declarée (Declaration of War)

PCMR Verdict: Intimate, affecting and entirely believable, France's official submission to next year's Oscars has a real chance of winning.

PCMR Rating: 7.5/10

Funny, you wait weeks for an intimate character driven portrait of an ill-fated couple, and two come along at once. (Hilarious - Ed) Purely by coincidence, PCMR has been to see 'Declaration of War' and 'Weekend' in the last few days, and they are a remarkable duo, companion pieces with more in common than might first appear. But anyway, more on 'Weekend' to follow, maybe tomorrow. First, 'La Guerre est Declarée'.

This film is the story of a couple whose only son (Adam) is diagnosed with cancer, but it's by no means a weepie, as from very early in the film, we learn that Adam pulls through. So, what does this leave us with? Well, interestingly, the movie becomes more about Roméo (Jérémie Elkaïm) and Juliette's (Valérie Donzelli) struggle to stay together. With knowledge of Adam's safety in the bank, we can concentrate on the two main protagonists, and whether they will be able to survive as a unit.

The film is also scripted by the pair, and directed by Donzelli, and it must be said, they are a remarkable duo. Their on-screen characters are very likeably played, if a little saccharine sweet while they fall in love in the first twenty minutes. However, while some of the early musical interludes might jar a little, they don't feel entirely out of place with the scenario. Their relationship forms the beating heart of this movie though, and they play off each other beautifully, gradually winning the audience round, and permitting forgiveness for the conceit of their characters' names!

Bringing a rather sudden end to the romantic beginnings, new baby Adam arrives on the scene, and all is not rosy in the garden from very early on. Parents beware, the quarter of an hour that gradually builds up to Adam's diagnosis is as genuinely affecting a movie sequence as PCMR can remember from any recent movie outing (and I'm only an uncle!).

And from there it becomes about coping, about managing, and about survival. As I said, the audience is blessed with the foreknowledge that the couple do not have, so we're in a privileged position, but as Roméo and Juliette soldier on, rising to every new challenge and facing up to every fresh heartbreaking piece of news, you are still right there with them. Their support networks too, play an important role in the movie, but really this is the story of Roméo and Juliette's struggle to survive.

If cinema is about escapism, then 'Declaration of War' will certainly transport you, placing you right in the middle of this young couple's lives as they battle with something you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

I can't recommend it highly enough for lovers of French film, or possibly even just for parents who need a reminder of how lucky they are. It's bordering on stereotypical, picture-postcard French in the opening twenty minutes as the two central characters tombent amoureuses... but kind of suits the mood and is perhaps intentional. Two excellent central performances make it very watchable, but an excellent narrative device elevates this story from a traditional weepie into entirely more interesting territory. PCMR's current front-runner for the Oscar nod next March.

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