Pierre Kubel

Pierre Kubel

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Wah-Wah Review


OK
The obvious risk with autobiographical films is that audiences just might not in the end be interested in the same sort of story that the filmmaker wants to tell about himself. So it is with Wah-Wah, written and directed by Richard E. Grant, who based it on his own childhood growing up in Swaziland in the years leading up to the end of British rule - Grant might want to focus most on the film's dysfunctional (though fun in its own way) family and its effect on his young stand-in, but viewers may be left wondering what's going on outside that melodrama. It's a big world out there, and Grant only gives us teasing glances at it.

The boy at the center of everything is Ralph Compton, 11 years old in the film's preamble, in which he watches (once literally, from the back seat) as his mother Lauren (Miranda Richardson) screws a married man and then takes off with him. The divorce proves ugly and Ralph is sent off to boarding school, leaving his devastated father Harry (Gabriel Byrne) behind, fending off the occasional advance from local females. The film starts properly three years later with the return home of Ralph, this time played by Nicholas Hoult, sprouted quite a bit from his About a Boy days. Ralph comes back to find Harry just remarried, this time to an American stewardess he's known for six weeks, Ruby (Emily Watson). She's a breath of warm air, waltzing right into this snobbish little colonial backwater and immediately breaks practically every one of their thousand little etiquettes - night and day to the waspish, scathing Lauren. But yet it's not enough to keep Harry from hitting the bottle hard. Harry drinks, Ruby frets, Ralph fumes, and occasionally Lauren returns just to stir things up to an even higher pitch.

Continue reading: Wah-Wah Review

Monsieur N. Review


Bad
No movie to my mind has made such a disaster of the voiceover device as Antoine de Caunes' Monsieur N. In fact, the movie should be cited in Screenwriting 101 courses as an example of how, when in the service of a poorly conceived story, the voiceover can become a go-to device for filling in expository and emotional nuances that the script fails to convey. The voiceover in Monsieur N. belongs to a young British aide-de-camp, Basil Heathcote (Jay Rodan), who is assigned to monitor Napoleon's (Philippe Torreton) daily activities during the latter's imprisonment on St. Helena between 1815 and 1821, the year Napoleon supposedly died. Manzor intersperses the script with Heathcote's voiceover, favoring his intimate impressions without sufficiently fleshing him out as a character or developing any sense of why he particularly matters. In director Antoine de Caunes' fidgety hands, what is meant to be a suspenseful lark into historical revisionism quickly becomes an earnest and thudding bore.

Manzor's script grafts upon this movie a Citizen Kane-type structure as it shunts us between the occasion of Napoleon's exhumation in Paris in 1840 and 20 years earlier, during Napoleon's island imprisonment. Upon his exhumation, the question is raised of how Napoleon died -- from an ulcer or slow poisoning? -- and whether Napoleon died at all -- or, as rumor has it, he foisted his butler Cipriani's body in place of his own and escaped to an anonymous life elsewhere. To find out, Heathcote questions Napoleon's mistress, Albine (Elsa Zylberstein), and the few officers who attended to him on St. Helena, as well as the British governor, Hudson Lowe (Richard E. Grant), once in charge of Napoleon's imprisonment and now reduced to an aging and disgraced wreck. Their reflections -- alternately wistful and caustic -- cue us to extended flashbacks of those island years and of Napoleon's shrewdly enigmatic persona. There is also the question of Betsy Balcombe (Siobhan Hewlett), an English merchant's daughter on St. Helena with whom Napoleon has an affair -- much to Albine's chagrin and Heathcote's too, for we're meant to believe that Heathcote's also smitten with her. But his gambit, at one point, to express his feelings to her is laughable, because it's such an obvious ploy by Manzor to bring his character to some turn-of-fate, having arrived here using voiceovers as a shortcut device and never treading the hard road of character development to earn his way.

Continue reading: Monsieur N. Review

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Pierre Kubel Movies

Wah-Wah Movie Review

Wah-Wah Movie Review

The obvious risk with autobiographical films is that audiences just might not in the end...

Monsieur N. Movie Review

Monsieur N. Movie Review

No movie to my mind has made such a disaster of the voiceover device as...

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