Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 23.Jun.05
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The Car Keys   2/5 Les Clefs de Bagnole
They should have just titled this French comedy Dude, Where's My Car Keys? It's merely a series of painfully obvious inside jokes, few which are even remotely clever.
  It opens with Baffie flogging his script for a low-concept film: the average person spends 23 days of his life looking for his car keys, so surely that's basis enough for a movie. But the top film producers and actors turn him down, so he gets his pal Russo to accompany him on a knowingly absurd romp, talking continually about the script and filming process and rampaging through the entire French filmmaking community along the way.
  When he's poking fun at French cinema's pomposity and arrogance, this is actually hysterically funny. But when he's being even more self-absorbed and indulgent than the worst French filmmaker this is as annoying as a pesky little brother. And then some lines ('The keys don't matter, it's an inner journey') have it both ways. The result is an extremely silly slacker buddy comedy that just gets more ridiculous and less sophisticated as it progresses. Most gags are so badly overstated that they're just not funny (the worst is the spot-the-extra running joke).
  Of course, some of this hits the target with deadly accuracy. The pub session brainstorming over essential ingredients needed for a hit movie is goofy and astute, until they start parodying those ingredients even before they're stated. Constant references to the 'pathetic' script acknowledge the inanity of the entire project. And Russo's whinging about the plot (and his promised romance/sex scene) are at least endearing.
  But it's just a relentless onslaught of random, broad wackiness. When they're trapped in a vineyard, Baffie notes, 'If a helicopter swoops down we'll grab it and escape.' To which Russo replies, 'Are you stoned?' But we know exactly what will happen next. And even the sequences shot in black and white and various forms of animation aren't particularly inspired. It's just too smug for words. They were clearly extremely pleased by their wittiness (Depardieu as a cheese salesman!), but it simply doesn't translate to the audience.
dir-scr Laurent Baffie
with Laurent Baffie, Daniel Russo, Alain Chabat, Jamel Debbouze, Jean-Marie Bigard, Gérard Depardieu, Michel Galabru, Pascal Sellem, Daniel Auteuil, Jean Rochefort, Eric Cantona, Sophie Marceau
baffie and russo release Fr 10.Dec.03,
UK 8.Jul.05
03/France 1h30
15 themes, language, violence, vulgarity
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Howl’s Moving Castle 3.5/5
The seemingly boundless visual invention of Miyazaki (Spirited Away) combines with a book by Diana Wynne Jones, clearly one of Britain's more imaginative children's writers, to bring us one of the most unusual and involving animated epics ever put on screen.
  Sophie (voiced by Baisho/Mortimer) is a young milliner in a kind of parallel-universe Victorian England, where two factions are waging a brutal war in the wasteland around the towns. But encounters with the rock-star-like wizard Howl (Kimura/Bale) and then the Witch of the Waste (Miwa/Bacall) leave Sophie cursed to be a 90-year-old. So she goes in search of Howl's moving castle, befriending a mute turnip-head scarecrow, the cheeky talking fire Calcifer (Gashuin/Crystal) and Howl's young assistant (Kamiki/Hutcherson) in her quest to reverse her curse. And possibly end the war.
  Studio Ghibli's hand-drawn animation is absolutely gorgeous, from the expansive scenery to detailed cityscapes to fascinating character design. The use of colour, texture, sounds and light is breathtakingly original. And it's all used brilliantly to serve a story that continually surprises us with its twists and turns, tiny details, sharp humour and clever insights. The visual touches are astonishing--the moving castle itself is an outrageous concoction that seems to have been made up of houses and bits of machinery consumed along the way as it wanders around. And the characters are even more surprising--Sophie's growing pluckiness, Howl's dark secret, Calcifer's odd bond with Howl, the pompous Witch, the conniving Suliman (Kato/Danner) and so on.
  It's such a busy film, with a story we can never remotely predict, that it commands our attention completely. So it's a bit annoying that it's sometimes rather hard to follow, and that it occasionally gets bogged down in repetitive scenes, unnecessary sidetracks or, even worse, impenetrable dialog. But there's enough subtext to keep us thoroughly engaged as we're prodded to think about issues of identity, responsibility and human connection. And it's easily one of the most beguiling films of the year.
dir-scr Hayao Miyazaki
voices Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Akihiro Miwa, Tatsuya Gashuin, Haruko Kato, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yo Oizumi, Akio Otsuka
dubbed voices Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Jean Simmons, Blythe Danner, Jena Malone, Josh Hutcherson
howl's castle
howl and sophie
release Jap 20.Nov.04,
US 10.Jun.05,
UK 23.Sep.05
04/Japan Ghibli 1h59
U themes, some suspense
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The Man Who Copied 3/5 O Homem Que Copiava
There's a scruffy charm to this Brazilian film, combining comedy, romance and crime to tell an intriguing story about people who get increasingly desperate to better their lives. But it drags on far too long, and reveals too many nasty sides to its endearing characters.
  Andre (Ramos) is a 19-year-old comic-book artist trying to help pay his way in life. But he feels trapped in his dead-end job as a photocopier operator. He becomes obsessed with a girl (Leal) who lives in a building opposite him. While he works up the courage to talk to her, he goes out with a vampy colleague (Piovani) and her date (Cardoso), and through a series of events these four people are drawn to work together to get out of some seriously sticky situations.
  "How many brain cells do you need to be a photocopier?" Andre asks, before turning his intellect toward an escalating series of outrageous ideas to make more money. Ramos is extremely likeable, and his narration wins us over with a Holden Caufield-like aimless ambition, along with flashback and fantasy sequences animated in a variety of witty styles (from The Simpsons to Terry Gilliam). We can identify with his desire to find money so he can convince the world he's not a loser. But eventually his incessant voiceover and increasingly bad decisions seriously undermine this sympathy.
  Furtado's writing and direction are solid, establishing a strong tone that makes the film feel like a sweet variation on Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, putting not-so-harmless innocents into a corner they must find an improbable path out of. The resulting plot alternates between goofy, ludicrous and surprising, which is good and bad news. Furtado's sense of irony is a little bit on the obvious side, but at least it strengthens the film's underlying message about the hopeless aspirations of the under classes. And references to artists from Shakespeare to Haring add resonance. But despite the often-criminal behaviour, the film lacks both sharp edges and a real sense of Brazil's overwhelming physicality--two things that would have really made it sing.
dir-scr Jorge Furtado
with Lázaro Ramos, Leandra Leal, Luana Piovani, Pedro Cardoso, Júlio Andrade, Carlos Cunha, Heitor Schmidt, Paulo José, Janaina Kremer, Gregory Garcia, Kike Barbosa, Felipe Mônaco
ramos, leal and cardoso release Br 13.Jun.03,
US 22.Apr.05, UK Sep.05
03/Brazil Globo 2h03
12 themes, language, violence
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Who Killed Bambi?   3.5/5 Qui a Tué Bambi?
For his first feature as a director, writer Marchand manages to capture the measured, quiet atmosphere of a hospital perfectly on screen. This is a sleek and cool thriller that never quite boils over into all-out suspense, which feels enticing but also a bit dull and overlong.
  Isabelle (Quinton) is a doe-eyed nursing student working in a futuristic hospital that sets off an inner dizziness that will require surgery to correct. Seeing her wobble on her feet, handsome Dr Philipp (Lucas) dubs her 'Bambi'. The two flirt shamelessly, but Isabelle starts noticing odd things about him. Then patients start disappearing, someone might be tampering with the anaesthesia, and Isabelle wonders if Philipp might be up to something sinister. Or maybe she's just dreaming it all.
  Marchand maintains a dark, shadowy tone that nicely augments Isabelle's increasing unsteadiness. Her mysterious encounters in various corridors, patient rooms and operating theatres combine to keep us off balance along with her. All of the characters send mixed messages--teasing, hinting, betraying, dismissing. It's disarming and involving at the same time. And the cast play it well, maintaining cold exteriors that mask all kinds of secrets and suspicions. And with apparent deception on every side, it's hardly surprising that no one seems to have a clue what's really going on at any level. Including us.
  This level of cinematic misdirection would work much better if the film weren't so aloof. Marchand simply refuses to clarify things until the very end. And it's a long wait! It's exceedingly subdued, scenes are subtle and controlled, with a dreamlike visual style that keeps us wondering what's real and what's not--kind of like Isabelle herself. This creates a cleverly palpable sense of paranoia and disorientation, with the Hitchcockian subtext of an innocent caught in something deeply dangerous. The film also taps into the untouchability of doctors; if anyone could get away with murder, they could. And as it progresses, the film gets increasingly creepy. But it's never actually scary.
dir Gilles Marchand
scr Vincent Dietschy, Gilles Marchand
with Sophie Quinton, Laurent Lucas, Catherine Jacob, Yasmine Belmadi, Michèle Moretti, Valérie Donzelli, Jean-Claude Jay, Aladin Reibel, Thierry Bosc, Sophie Medina, Fily Keita, Jérémie Elkaïm
lucas release Fr 24.Dec.03,
US 12.Nov.04, UK 1.Jul.05
03/France StudioCanal 2h06
15 themes, language, violence, nudity
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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall