By G. Michael Dobbs
Two wonderful foreign films are featured in this week's DVD review column.
French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of my favorite filmmakers. Americans best know him from his 2001 film "Amelie," and his take of the "Alien" franchise with "Alien: Resurrection." His dark comedy, "Delicatessen" and his wild fantasy, "City of Lost Children," are fantastic films as well.
Jeunet's film may vary in story and theme from picture to picture, but his use of color and his visual style are consistently engaging and inventive. I love a filmmaker who is willing to take risks to do something very individual, something one sees less and less in mainstream Hollywood product.
"Micmacs" is a homage to silent comedy and one can easily see inspiration from both Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Dany Boon plays Bazil, a man who lost his soldier father to a landmine and who, as an adult, winds up with a bullet lodged in his brain due to a shootout between two criminals.
Out of work and out of a place to live, Bazil is adopted by a group of highly eccentric people who make their home in a junkyard and repair salvaged items to sell. When Bazil discovers the manufacturers of the bullet and the landmine that have changed his life are competitors, he enlists the aid of his adopted family to destroy the two men.
The result is a highly entertaining and beautifully improbable scheme that sets both weapon CEOs against one another.
There isn't a lot of dialogue in the film and so much of the film's story moves ahead through visuals. Jeunet uses several animated sequences especially when Bazil, who is in danger of passing any minute, does mental images to calm himself down.
Frankly, I loved this film. It is sentimental and does have an anti-gun message, which some people might find a little corny. Jeunet handles the softer parts of the story well.
Put this on your Netflix list, as you would never find this film at a Red Box, but perhaps a copy will pop up at a brick and mortar video store.
Warning for the subtitle haters: this film is in French.
A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop
The Coen Brothers came to prominence with their 1984 thriller, "Blood Simple," and acclaimed Chinese director Yimou Zhang debuted his own version of the story last year.
To say it is a delicate operation to remake a film that has both critical acclaim and fan support is an understatement. In the past 15 years or so, the urge to remake movies deemed classics in some sense has grown and grown.
In part, filmmakers so enamored with a particular film that they wish to make their own version of it have fueled the trend.
Another part of the motivation comes from studio execs who want to bankroll movies that have built-in name recognition. I believe this explains mis-fires such as Gus Van Sant's version of "Psycho" or Adam Sandler's take on "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town."
Zhang has made some of the best know Chinese imports to this country in recent years. He directed "Raise the Red Lantern," "Hero," "The House of Flying Daggers," and "Curse of the Golden Flower." He is known for both his action sequences, his ability to handle epic stories and his use of color.
"A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop," is a real departure from this previous work. Zhang understands the foundation of the Coens' story and plays with it. The Coens essentially created a farce in which the main characters didn't know what was going on only the audience did. They used the format for a story about murder and intrigue.
Zhang decided to keep part of his story dramatic, but he used the farce structure for comedic effect.
Set during ancient China at a successful noodle shop and inn in the desert, the proprietor suspects his young wife is cheating on him with an intern.
He engages a member of the local police force to find the two lovers and kill them.
It should be easy, but it isn't.
If you've seen "Blood Simple," part of the basic plot will be familiar to you, but don't let that stop you from trying out this film. The photography of the landscape is beautiful, the performances are fun and the film as a whole escapes the remake curse so many other retreads have encountered.
The film is in Chinese with English subtitles.
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