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Our Paradise Review


Good
Gifted French filmmaker Morel explores fairly dark themes in his films, refusing to make things easy for his characters. And this strikingly involving film is no exception, following a relationship that starts out rather bleakly and gets increasingly unnerving.

At age 30, Vassili (Rideau) works the streets in Paris but finds that his clients are getting older. So he starts quietly killing them. When he rescues 20-ish Angelo (Durdaine) after an attack, the two start to fall for each other even as they continue pulling tricks. And although Angelo asks him to stop, Vassili continues murdering their johns. So they leave the city to see Vassili's friend Anna (Dalle)and her young son (Morisset). Together they head to an idyllic mountain cabin to visit Vassili's mentor Victor (Flamand), where Vassili has a terrible idea.

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Factotum Review


Good
While Bent Hamer's Factotum isn't equal to the source material, it's a must-see for all of us fascinated by Charles Bukowski, by his persona as much as his words. Adapted from the namesake novel by Hamer and Jim Stark, Factotum's central character is Henry Chinaski, Bukowski's fictional alter ego who, like its author, is a shambling, hard-drinking writer, slumming away at odd jobs, quartering in hole-in-the-wall apartments, while he scrawls away at poems and stories every chance he gets.To watch Matt Dillon personify Chinaski/Bukowski is thrilling: At least from outward appearance, the actor has nailed the role, and, at times, he seems to be channeling Bukowski from the grave. It's an eerie simulacrum: Dillon skulks about the screen, slouch-shouldered, sporting a scruffy beard, a mane of combed-back hair, wearing the short-sleeves and slacks that was Bukowski's standard wardrobe, regarding the world with hangdog eyes and a jaw jutting outward in a subtle show of defiance.Equally arresting is the always-fantastic Lili Taylor, playing Chinaski's on-again, off-again girlfriend, Jan. She's his kindred spirit, which means the two get along best with a jug of wine between them. As Jan, Taylor projects a mannish energy. Wearing a perpetual sneer, keeping her frayed hair and shoulders tossed back, she enters any room like she's spoiling for a fight. Jan is also fiercely possessive of Chinaski and panics whenever any windfall threatens their low-rent, booze-sodden lifestyle. She's also the only person who can push the bearish Chinaski's buttons. When they break up, their trails lead back to each other and entwine, as before, then wind apart again, exactly like twin DNA strands.Chinaski's search for work and his rocky relationship with Jan form Factotum's nominal narrative thread. No sooner does Chinaski land a job that he gets bored with it or chafes under the authority of white-collar boobs, and leaves. He hates them so much -- in the same way he hates his father (as one scene implies) -- that he defies their authority in ways both direct and passive-aggressive: After one boss, finding him at a local dive instead of on the job, fires him, Chinaski calmly replies by offering him a drink. Midway through Factotum, we get a romantic interlude of sorts involving Laura (Marisa Tomei), a gold-digging floozy. Laura's got her hands in the pockets of a moneyed, European eccentric (Didier Flamand) who offers wayward women asylum in his morgue-like home. Chinaski's sojourn with Laura and her ilk takes Factotum into outer David Lynch territory, and, somehow, we're glad when Chinaski breaks free of them and returns to his sunnier, native habitat of the urban jungle.Like Post Office and Ham on Rye, Factotum is ultimately a chronicle of its author's anxious, unconquerable desire to write, to transcribe his toils, obsessions, and pains into the stuff of art. Beneath Bukowski's reticent surface, fires raged -- stoked by the man's angry, lustful, transgressive emotions. Words plucked from those fires were then hammered into shape and branded onto the page. It's that smoldering quality in the prose that missing in Stark and Hamer's handling -- the contradiction between the inner and outer dimensions of the writer. Rather than finding an expressive style that rendered the world as grotesquely as Chinaski sees it, a style to counterpoint the character's calm, composed exterior, the material settles for a safe, neutered approach. This Factotum is more eager and willing to put Bukowski's words in prettily composed frames. Hamer and Stark only get the outlines of Chinaski's life right -- the hand-to-mouth living and boozing in which all that spiritually sustains the writer are the hours spent hunched over his notepad with a ballpoint pen. Finally, Dillon and Taylor are the sources of Factotum's vitriol and sharpness. They seem willing to delve where Hamer's direction dare not go.Last call.

The Chorus Review


Grim
Manipulative, maudlin filmmaking knows no cultural boundaries, and further proof of imports' potential for derivative corniness can be found in The Chorus (Les Choristes), Christophe Barratier's directorial debut - a runaway hit in its native France - about an inspirational music teacher at a boarding school for delinquent kids in 1949 France. An embarrassingly mushy story of an ordinary guy's yeoman efforts to change the world one rebellious rascal at a time, it's a movie that disingenuously invokes and exploits Nazi war crimes and child abuse in service of a feel-good fable. Cloying from start to finish, it's so drenched in syrupy sentimentality - from its plethora of quaint small-town Parisian details to its bludgeoning good vs. evil set-up - that one barely needs to read the subtitles to recognize its utilization of every convention found in Mr. Holland's Opus, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Dangerous Minds, and innumerable other films in Hollywood's trite, faux-uplifting "good teacher-bad student" sub-genre.

Former aspiring musician Clément Mathieu (a charismatic Gérard Jugnot) is the new instructor at a school for uncontrollable adolescent boys which - under the strict orders of dastardly principal Rachin (François Berléand) - punishes bad behavior with swift violence in a policy referred to as "Action - Reaction." Such abuse doesn't sit well with Mathieu, a sensitive soul who believes that there's goodness hidden underneath these wayward kids' rough exteriors. Naturally, The Chorus wholeheartedly subscribes to this romantic theory, characterizing each and every pint-sized punk as an angel in disguise. Though initially intent on terrorizing their new teacher, Mathieu's students see the light once the music-loving professor turns their unruly class into a disciplined choral group, their vocal training indirectly inciting them to study, reconnect with their families (in the case of Jean-Baptiste Maunier's star singer Morhange) or find surrogate parents to embrace (such as with Maxence Perrin's impish Pépinot). As far as Barratier's rose-colored fairy tale is concerned, every bad seed - regardless of his vileness - is redeemable with a little Do-Re-Mi and TLC, and thus The Chorus goes to great lengths to play up the central conflict between compassionate care and corporal punishment embodied by the kindhearted Mathieu and wicked Rachin, a villain so groaningly cartoonish it's a wonder he doesn't twirl his graying moustache.

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The Château Review


Good
Director Jesse Peretz scores some major laughs in the delightful, shrewd, and cozy French farce The Château, a cross-cultural comedy which can be considered the eccentric and frothy version of Gosford Park. Peretz, who helmed the arbitrary and forgettable First Love, Last Rites, serves up an energetic and irreverent examination of class study in a wickedly humorous charmer. The film was shot, to mixed results, with a hand-held digital video camera to give the movie an informal, spontaneous feel, and Peretz's ensemble cast were all encouraged to improvise without the safety net of a solid script. Although The Château at times appears as a scattershot project, the spry storyline more than compensates for the minor drawbacks. This is one small-scale satire that certainly knows how to celebrate its off-kilter conventions.

All is quaint at the titular chateau amongst the chief manservant and his intimate staff until a sudden shockwave rocks the establishment. Suddenly two adoptive American brothers arrive, one a Midwestern white, frumpy bohemian type (Paul Rudd) and the other a black, balding, sharply-dressed businessman (Romany Malco). The siblings are there in the scenic French countryside to claim the expansive deteriorating estate left to them by an unknown departed great uncle.

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The Crimson Rivers Review


Good
Judging from comments strewn across the web, I'm not alone in my bafflement over The Crimson Rivers' subtext and meaning of its ending. It begins with two apparently disparate crimes, the neo-Nazi desecration of a dead girl's mausoleum and the discovery of a mutilated body on a mountaintop -- and the two crimes inexorably draw each other's investigators (Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel) together. But the cat-and-mouse game of Rivers quickly becomes so convoluted that I still don't quite know what to make of the mountaintop showdown at the end.

Still, this French thriller is so stylish it transcends its numerous problems. It has nail-biting suspense and some great performances. It's the kind of movie America remakes -- think George Clooney, Ben Affleck, and Catherine Zeta-Jones while you're watching -- but of course, Hollywood will screw up the ending even worse, I'm sure.

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