By Michael Calleri
You’ve got to hand it to the French, they know how to make cinematic bon-bons, and the latest French trifle (or should that be truffle) is a whipped cream delight entitled “Avenue Montaigne.” Why filmmakers in France are able to concoct lighter-than-air romantic comedy-dramas and always make them click is anybody’s guess. The movie is directed by Daniele Thompson and co-written by Thompson and her son Christopher. The film, which won a Cesar (France’s equivalent of the Oscar) and was nominated for four others, introduces us to Jessica, who is played by the lovely and charming Cecile de France, a Cesar best actress nominee for her role.
<P>Jessica is a happy, levelheaded newcomer from the French countryside who arrives in Paris with a smile and a dream. She applies for a job at a Paris bistro on Avenue Montaigne, a place in which there has never been a waitress. But, of course, she will be the first. On the block are a theater, concert hall and an art auction house.
Sooner than you can say Mary Richards, Jessica has turned the world on with her smile. Befriending her customers, many of them famous, she becomes the primary confidant of these celebrities, helping them through personal crises and creative roadblocks. There’s a pianist who feels constricted by the snobby classical music scene. A mentally suspect actress is determined to play Simone de Beauvoir in a biographic film about Jean-Paul Sartre that is to be filmed by an American director, who is actually played by American director Sydney Pollack. Valerie <P>Lemercier plays the actress and won the supporting actress Cesar for her wonderful efforts. There’s also a family squabble wherein a wealthy widower has a disagreement with his son about auctioning off a valuable and sentimental sculpture he owns. It’s “The Kiss” by Constantin Brancusi. Of course it’s called “The Kiss.” It’s Paris. The son is a professor at the Sorbonne, and he’s played by co-writer Thompson.
The ebullient movie builds to events on a special and glamorous evening when all the plot threads will converge, and Jessica will discover that the grass really is greener on the other side. You will discover; if you didn’t already know it, that Paris really is an enchanting place. You may have a justifiable urge to make travel plans upon leaving the theater.
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<P>You’ve got to hand it to director-screenwriter David Lynch. He certainly can’t be accused of copping out. Whether it’s in the haunting strangeness of the groundbreaking “Eraserhead,” the audacious brilliance of the superbly weird “Blue Velvet,” or the black and white hyperrealism of “The Elephant Man,” Lynch puts his unique personal mark on his pictures. Blending visual dynamism with verbal conceits, he challenges audiences. Nobody else makes Lynchian-style features. Nobody.
<P>Lynch is back with “Inland Empire,” which is a wild plunge through his truly fertile imagination. I will say this, throughout it’s nearly three-hour running time, I was never bored, but I was often either dazzled or bewildered. The movie is a creepy (in a positive way) distillation of Lynch’s obsessions, themes, and directing techniques. It was made not to make money, but to satisfy his intellectual curiosity. Good for him.
If you know Lynch’s work, you know that describing the plot is often pointless. His movies are less about the plot and more about the journey. Just when you think you’ve figured something out, he pulls the rug out from under you. Shot on digital video, “Inland Empire” is a trip down a rabbit hole, and I mean that literally. During the film, you watch scenes from a situation comedy starring talking rabbits.
<P>Okay, basically, there’s an actress played by Laura Dern who badly wants an important part in a new movie. The director is played by Jeremy Irons. His weird little producer is Harry Dean Stanton. Dern’s co-star in the movie-within-the-movie is Justin Theroux. Someone may be spying on them. Dern does have a husband who is the jealous type. Dern may or may not encounter nubile prostitutes and a guy to whom she tells her life story. The hookers will dance to the song “Locomotion,” as in “everybody’s doin’ a brand new dance now.” This could be happening in the actual movie you are watching or in the movie being filmed. Homeless people will chat with her and a screwdriver becomes a weapon. There are menacing characters with Polish accents and neighbors who wish nothing but good luck to Dern. Does the entire movie exist only in her head?
<P>Throughout the feature, you’ll hear Lynch’s favored industrial sounds. At the end, watch the credits because, during them, Nina Simone will sing for you. I think it’s best to say to yourself before going into the theater that you will be sitting for 3 hours. Adjust your mind to this fact. Then let yourself become enveloped in Lynch’s world. It isn’t always easy. It sometimes isn’t pretty. But it sure is fascinating.
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<P>The Englishmen from “Shaun Of The Dead” are back with “Hot Fuzz,” and it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely the funniest film since “Borat.” Director Edgar Wright, working with his co-screenwriter (and star) Simon Pegg, has fashioned an hilarious spoof of slam-bang, American-style, buddy-cop movies, while also throwing in sharp comedy about country village British life and taking a poke at Agatha Christie novels. It’s a rich blend and it works. Pegg is a London-based cop who’s too good for the force, so he’s sent to rural England because his superiors are worried about his constantly outshining them. In Sandford, he and his partner, Nick Frost, will chase down missing swans and discover male bonding via the “Point Break” surfer caper movie. You have ever to right to ask what’s up with the two detectives with matching moustaches and why Timothy Dalton’s character is always smiling like a Cheshire cat. Meanwhile, villagers are dropping like flies. What’s going on? Who’s killing who? To find out, see “Hot Fuzz.” If I had less control over myself, I would actually have been on the theater floor laughing.
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<P>“In The Land Of Women” is a movie that belongs on television. It’s something you’d expect to see on the Hallmark Channel, Lifetime Cable, or the Oxygen Network. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these outlets; it’s just that the film is a slight taste of regret with not much oomph.
It’s written and directed by Jonathan Kasdan, who isn’t old enough to have earned his stripes in life experiences; therefore, the movie’s weighty subject matter gets away from him. The mostly pleasing, if unexciting, cast struggles hard to rise above the weak material. Another problem is that Kasdan doesn’t know if he wants his film to be a comedy or a drama. So, we get a bit of both and neither works well enough to hold the plot threads in place.
<P>As played by the laconic Adam Brody, in a silly so-nerdy-he’s-cool manner, 26-year-old writer Carter Webb is given the boot by his supermodel girlfriend. How these two became attached is an unanswered question. But, at the movie’s beginning, he’s out. It seems as if Webb wants to write a good novel, but he’s mostly churning out soft-core porn. He leaves Los Angeles and moves to a suburb in Michigan to live with his quirky grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) in the hope that he will find his inner self. Granny is the typical loveable but nutty, old person cliché. Soon Webb is involved with the neighbors, including a lovely-looking and sweet housewife (Meg Ryan) who is facing down cancer. She has an adolescent daughter who might be underage, but I don’t know the law in Michigan. She and Webb hook up, which leads to a teen movie-style party and typical frat boy confrontation. Remember, Webb is in his mid-twenties.
<P>Kasdan seems unable to choose between high school, college, and adult theatrics. It really doesn’t matter because everything in this movie is so tenuous that it’s like watching puffballs float through space. You don’t know where it’s heading and after it’s over, you really don’t care where it’s been. I don’t know what Webb learned about his experience in Michigan because there are no dimensions to Brody’s acting. This film left my head fast.
A French delight, David Lynch is back, a fuzzy comedy, and a weak weepy
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