Transporter 3

Transporter 3 movie poster

 

Transporter 3, produced by Luc Besson and directed by Olivier Megaton, is an international product tailored for the American market. Despite its French locales, German cars, and adorably freckled Ukrainian hottie, the hero and villain are both quite American. The titular Transporter is Frank Martin (Jason Statham), a fighter and driver par excellence who earns a luxurious but lonely existence as an ask-no-questions courier. The events of his two previous misadventures have reformed his amoral ways and loner habits, as evidenced by his collaborative friendship with former nemesis Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand).

So in order for there to even be a Transporter 3, its plot must corral this reformed man into a caper full of opportunities for carnage and lawbreaking. The villainous American Johnson (Robert Knepper) is conceived as Martin’s evil, less evolved twin: a mercenary like him, but unleavened by conscience. His ill-defined plan involves blackmailing Ukranian politician Leonid Vasilev (Jeroen Krabbe) into allowing a giant corporation to import a tanker full of barrels of toxic waste. At one point Martin is menaced by a truck full of the stuff on land, but the tanker hasn’t docked yet. Confusing.

Natalya RudakovaNatalya Rudakova in Transporter 3

Statham is this generation’s Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Segal. He’s already been typecast as the tough loner in a constant series of b-movies (some more B than others, but The Bank Job is a step up), but usually lightens things up with a hint of Jackie Chan-esque self-deprecation. He’s impeccably tailored, lean, and ferociously fit, looking and moving more like a gymnast than the previous generation of slow-moving bodybuilder action heroes. A good drinking game for any Statham film is to drink a shot every time his shirt comes off. You’re likely to get alcohol poisoning in this case.

One of the reasons I enjoy producer Luc Besson’s Transporter franchise is that I dislike being expected to applaud the typical movie action hero that stands back and shoots bad guys from afar. This applies to pretty much any Stallone and Schwarzenegger film, but is also true of even James Bond (in which his fabled license to kill often translates into mowing down rooms full of extras with machine gun fire – or in the case of Moonraker, laser pistols) and Indiana Jones (audiences applaud him for shooting a scimitar-wielding baddie in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but really, is that fair?). In stark contrast, Martin almost never uses any weapon other than his own physicality. Most of the violence in the Transporter films is in the acrobatic, bloodless rock ’em sock ’em style of kung-fu flicks, liberally seasoned with impressive automobile carnage. The first few minutes of Transporter 3 feature a signature sequence in which Martin dispatches a room full of armed baddies using no tools save his own suit jacket. But I was startled to see Martin actually execute a few evildoers later in the film, something I don’t recall him doing in the previous two. It’s wholly out of character, and spoils the fun.

Jason Statham in Transporter 3It’s never long before Jason Statham’s shirt comes off

What dooms Transporter 3 to be the worst of the franchise is that there are simply not enough action sequences, and what few there are are uninspired. I recall only two more notable action sequences: in one, Martin is tethered to his car by an explosive device (just roll with it), and must catch up to it on foot after it is stolen. Later, he launches it off a bridge onto the top of a speeding train, and then from there smashes it into the body of a detached passenger car. For a movie so concerned with car chases, product it doesn’t help the audience when most of the vehicles are dictated by product placement to be the same brand (Audi) and color (black with tinted windows).

The awkward, eyebrow-raising ending to Transporter 2 left it up in the air as to whether Martin is gay or just an extreme loner. Surprisingly, Transporter 3 actually revives that question and makes it its key subject. When Vasilev’s hot freckled daughter Valentina (Natalya Rudakova) comes on to him, Martin protests he’s “not in the mood” but certainly, absolutely, positively, no way no how, definitely not gay, how could you even ask, good grief. Well, that settles that question, in an rather disappointingly conventional manner. So the end of the film finds Martin not only reconfirmed as a good guy, but also in a steady heterosexual relationship. A key component of both the James Bond and Jason Bourne characters is that their greatest loves were murdered, so they choose to be emphatically alone. Where can Besson take Frank Martin in another sequel? Don’t expect Valentina to last long into Transporter 4.


Official movie site: www.transporter3film.com

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I’ve Loved You So Long

ive_loved_you_so_long.jpg

 

Writer / director Philippe Claudel’s I’ve Loved You So Long is a textbook exercise in the dramatic withholding of narrative information. Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) is released from prison after serving 15 years for an unspecified crime, and is unwillingly housed with her sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein). Léa is initially her only ally, and her husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius) is distrustful for what turns out to be very good reason. Léa and Luc have adopted two children (a big clue to the central mystery of the movie), including their precocious older daughter P’tit Lys (Lise Ségur, a rare movie tyke that is actually endearing). As part of her probation, Juliette is required to sign in weekly with a lonely cop (Frédéric Pierrot) with even more psychological issues than she. The slow leak of information ramps up the drama, but we’re told just enough to see that the movie is actually about Juliette’s gradual, sometimes painful reentry into life, not her mysterious crime.

Kristen Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long

Thomas’s unshowy performance is acting of the highest degree. The British already proved her fluency in French in Tell No One (read The Dork Report review), although a line of dialogue here explains away her accent. She doesn’t distract by inviting the audience to be constantly impressed at how talented she is. But that said, there were a few moments where I marveled at the complex emotions she conveyed. Two scenes in particular stand out: Juliette almost physically recoils when introduced to Léa’s colleague Michel (Laurent Grévill) and when reunited with her estranged mother. Also watch for the almost indescribably complex expression that plays across her face when she meets a sleazy bloke in a pub shortly after her release.

Kristen Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein in I've Loved You So Long

Only two factors kept me from considering the movie more highly. There’s a seemingly extraneous and unresolved subplot about Léa ignoring a student who appears to have a crush on her, and claims he’s a subject of prejudice. Was the point merely that Léa is an attractive, sympathetic person? Secondly, the movie arguably descends into talky melodrama at the very end; without revealing too much, we learn the truth about what motivated Juliette’s crime, and why she stubbornly kept her silence for so long.


Official movie site: www.sonyclassics.com/ivelovedyousolong

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Ridley Scott’s A Good Year

Ridley Scott

A Good Year movie poster

 

Scott returns to France for the first time since his 1977 feature film debut The Duellists (read The Dork Report review) for the fluffy soufflé A Good Year. Maximillian Skinner (Russell Crowe) – hardly the most subtle of names – is a self-proclaimed asshole that inherits his uncle’s winemaking estate in Provence. His Uncle Henry (Albert Finney, who also appeared in The Duellists) raised him there, but evidently failed to impart the kinds of life lessons that would have moulded Skinner into a decent human being capable of savoring the joys of life. The ideal life as defined in the film is essentially everything that a life of leisure in Provence provides: namely, wine and women. But Skinner’s life in London is made up of much of the very same, so the solution to fixing Skinner’s poisoned soul is not to add something that is missing, but rather to subtract something: his assholeness. Skinner does sometimes manifest some self-awareness; one moment he seems to genuinely relish his life as the most venal of London stockbrokers, but the next he professes a love we’ve never before seen for his uncle and the simple life of Provence.

Marion Cotillard and Russell Crowe in A Good YearRussell Crowe views his handiwork, writ large upon Marion Cotillard’s derrière

Skinner’s wavering character complements a number of confusing plot holes. A running mystery is the mysterious provenance of an exceptional “garage wine” (limited batches by tiny operations, sometimes literally in a garage). Didier (Francis Dulot), the longtime tender of the Skinner vinyard, admits to deliberately producing undrinkably vile wine under the vinyard’s banner, in an attempt to run down the value of the place and hopefully disinterest Skinner in selling it. But is he simultaneously directing his real talents into the making of the mysterious garage wine? The plot thread is dropped and we never learn for sure. The cool closing credits make the film seem more entertainingly screwball than it actually was, and there’s also an utterly bewildering coda involving Skinner’s snarky assistant Gemma (Archie Panjabi) meeting a rapper and his agent. Huh?

Marion Cotillard and Russell Crowe in A Good YearRussell Crowe learns what’s important in life: hot French girls

I’m not sure if Crowe has the same sort of Cary Grant-like appeal for women that George Clooney has in spades, but there is plenty of eye candy for male viewers. The luscious Californian backpacker Christie (Abbie Cornish) appears on Skinner’s doorstep claiming to be his only blood relative, and thus a rival to his inheritance of the estate. French actress Marion Cotillard would later disguise herself very unflatteringly to play the frail, sickly Edith Piaf in the turgid biopic La Vie En Rose, but here she uncorks her full-on Gallic gorgeousness as Fanny (again, another of the movie’s unsubtle names – for she rather spectacularly lifts her skirt in an outdoors cafe, to the delight of the entire town and, admittedly, this Dork Reporter). One of the funniest recurring gags is the priapic Skinner’s helpless doubletakes to any of many displays of ripe breasts and bums. But unfortunately, one of the other recurring jokes is his repeated involuntary exposures to animal dung.

Abbie Cornish in A Good YearAbbie Cornish as the cousin Skinner wishes he didn’t have, for more reasons than one

A Good Year takes quite a long time to get going, but does seem to pick up some comedic energy once Skinner’s cold London heart defrosts while courting Fanny in the second act. Ridley Scott can always be counted for fine art direction and cinematography, but here he wields his talents bluntly. Even the color temperature is clichéd, lest any viewers miss the point; Provence is amber-hued, and London is steely electric blue. The right choice for Skinner is never in doubt; living on a winemaking estate in Provence with a beautiful French girl is a fantasy probably every human being on earth shares, asshole or not.


Official movie site: www.agoodyear.com

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Ridley Scott’s The Duellists

Ridley Scott

The Duellists movie poster

 

Ridley Scott’s first feature film The Duellists (1977) is based on the Joseph Conrad short story “The Duel.” Feraud (Harvey Keitel) and D’Hubert (Keith Carradine), two French soldiers serving under Napoleon, become loyal enemies locked in a lifelong adversarial relationship. D’Hubert, eager to appease his superiors and advance his career, volunteers for a mission in which he obliviously humiliates Feraud. Both men are at fault: D’Hubert for his ambition, and Feraud for obsessively nursing his perpetual grievance. Their personal battles supersede French history, with even the reign and fall of Napoleon a mere backdrop to their personal feud.

Harvey Keitel in The DuellistsDon’t let the frilly sleeves fool you, Feraud (Harvey Keitel) will frite your pommes and manger your croissant

The Duellists is respected for the historical authenticity of its French military uniforms and depictions of period wartime conduct, but Keitel and Carradine’s flat American accents threaten to undo its achievements in verisimilitude. Luckily, the important bits, the duels, are staged silently. Scott, with his background in advertising, films everything beautifully, although one does catch glimpses of the occasional lamp and smoke machine. The landscapes during the final duel are especially breathtaking.

Keith Carradine in The DuellistsKeith Carradine is a comin’ ta getcha, Mr. White!

I’ve seen hardly any of Carradine’s movies, but I do have great respect for his brilliant portrayal of one of America’s first celebrities, Wild Bill Hickok, in the HBO series Deadwood. And Keitel gets to show off his serious muscles in a gratuitous arm-wrestling sequence.


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Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One)

Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One)

 

Tell No One enjoyed a surprisingly wide US theatrical release for a French film without huge English-speaking stars (except for Englishwoman Kristin Scott Thomas, perfectly fluent in French). Roger Ebert rightly compared the tightly crafted thriller with The Fugitive, placing it squarely in Hitchcockian wrong-man-accused territory.

Pediatrician Alex Beck (François Cluzet) finds himself the prime suspect of his wife’s murder, eight years prior. This being a French film, the fortysomething Beck was married to the utterly gorgeous younger Margot (Marie-Josee Croze, great in Julien Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – read The Dork Report review). One might accept this as a given premise of the story, for sometimes old coots really do bag hot young wives, had the film not ruined it by demonstrating via flashback that the characters are supposed to be the same age.

Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One)Run Beck Run

I found Tell No One more focused and engaging before the conspiracy widens to an almost absurd degree, enveloping even a Senator in a vast cover-up. I will admit to being confused at times; to grasp the details and convoluted timeline, viewers will have to remember character names, not faces, as the chronology of some key plot points are conveyed via exposition (that is, told, not shown).

Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One)Funny how bad things happen to people who skinny dip in movies…

Hints of the recent race/class tensions in France are built into the plot: Beck’s equanimity as a pediatrician earned the trust of some less privileged thugs on the wrong side of the law. That they will aid him when no one else will ironically demonstrates his essential goodness.


Official movie site: www.tellno-one.com

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Le Scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

 

Julian Schnabel is an artist turned filmmaker, evidently preoccupied with the lives of other artists and writers: Jean-Michel Basquiat in Basquiat, Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls, and now Jean-Dominique Bauby in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Several years ago, This Dork Reporter designed Fine Line Features’ official website for Before Night Falls. But frankly, I had trouble working up the enthusiasm to watch a biopic (absolutely not one of my favorite genres) about a tetraplegic. But please do not be dissuaded by the admittedly depressing subject matter. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is utterly beautiful in every way, and moved this hardened Dork Reporter to tears in the end.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Mathieu Amalric (who resembles a more symmetrical Thom Yorke) plays the real-life Bauby, a fashion magazine editor who suffers a stroke. He survives with “locked-in syndrome,” the proverbial fate worse than death: near-total physical paralysis but with full mental faculties intact. In the true spirit of a French film, Bauby is surrounded by beautiful women. No less a French hottie than Emanuelle Seigner plays Céline, the estranged mother of his children. In a moment of bittersweet humor, the despondent post-stroke Bauby is partially consoled when he first meets his two utterly gorgeous physical and speech therapists (Marie-Josée Croze and Anne Consigny).

The Diving Bell and the ButterflyThe camera loves Emanuelle Seigner

According to the DVD bonus features, screenwriter Ronald Harwood conceived of the powerful visual device of using the camera as Bauby’s point of view, simulating his sole means of communication: blinking. He is, blessedly, able to move one eye, and painstakingly dictates his biography letter by letter.

The soundtrack is excellent, including Tom Waits, Joe Strummer (a really great song, new to me, called “Ramshackle Day Parade”), and the best possible use of U2’s “Ultraviolet.”


Official movie site: www.thedivingbellandthebutterfly-themovie.com

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Banlieue 13 (District B13)

Banlieue 13 movie poster

 

To the editors of Time that picked District B13 as one of the 10 best films of the year, I can only ask, dude, Que la baise vous pensaient-elles? Yes, granted, it touches on some extremely sensitive and timely issues in a racially and culturally divided Paris, but those moments are bolted-on and heavy-handed, serving as mere filler between admittedly awesome parkour sequences. I had more fun at The Transporter.

Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain

Amelie movie poster

 

One of my favorite films of all time. It’s just such a movie, you know? The same is true of virtually all of Jeunet’s films; I have such fond memories of seeing Delicatessen on a crappy 16mm print at college, City of Lost Children at the Cambridge Film Festival, and Amélie and A Very Long Engagement at the Paris Theater in New York City. We won’t mention Alien Resurrection, OK?

Although a big hit in France, my understanding is that there was something of a backlash against it, due in part to its literally candy-colored portrayal of a storybook Montemartre far removed from reality. Also, a reviewer in Sight & Sound (a film journal whose opinion I nearly always respect, if not agree with) utterly slammed the film, apparently personally offended by the sexual politics. But I find Amélie so delightful, inventive, and so full of feeling that I can confidently state anybody that hates this movie just hates movies period.