SUITE FRANCAISE REVIEW

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Zuts alors! I’ve seen more drama and heartbreak in an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo!

Two stars for two charismatic leads.

During the early years of German occupation of France in World War II, romance blooms between French villager Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams) and German soldier Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts).

Such a shame. I really wanted to like this. It’s not all bad. Just a little disappointing.

For all the hype, I expected something more hard hitting.

The opening 15 minutes were slow burning BUT engaging. The archive footage showing German bombers descending upon Paris. Evacuees fleeing to the countryside in fear and desperation.

Williams’ shy protagonist and her uptight mother in law (Kristin Scott Thomas) trying to stick to their daily routine of collecting rent from their tenants. The tenants including several rather talented actors. Shame they weren’t used to their full potential.

Thomas (The English Patient) was good as the snobby sour faced mother-in-law. Stuck with a daughter who wasn’t fit to marry her valiant son and despised by the tenants for her ever-inflating rates.

However, there is also a little respect for her refusal to accept that the advancing Nazis are encroaching upon their village.

Williams (My Week With Marilyn) was excellent. She played the naive Lucile perfectly. Desperate to have a friend. Reduced to playing for a few minutes on the piano for leisure.

A harrowing bombing sequence in the countryside was unexpected and heart in mouth stuff. Villagers running for their lives. The Nazis showing no mercy. The silence through the aftermath was unsettling.

However, it seemed to take some time for the Nazi regiment to turn up. Despite the radio broadcast declaring France’s surrender. We are left with mindless chatter with the villagers about what the Germans might do.

The sound of the tanks and footsteps from the soldiers was brilliantly juxtaposed against the church singing as the regiment finally arrive.

Schonaerts (The Drop) made an instant impression. A well mannered officer who only wants a room to sleep and the key to the piano.

I expected the inevitable relationship between Williams and Schoenarts to take some time. BUT there wasn’t much else going on in the hour while this innocent encounter blossomed.

The leads had great chemistry and certainly kept me watching.

That’s not to say there wasn’t things going on BUT I couldn’t help question a few of them.

I felt the mish mesh of accents a little off putting. Considering Thomas is fluent in French, I expected her to see to speak a little of it. The only actor who did speak another language other than the Nazis was Lambert Wilson’s (The Matrix Reloaded) Viscount.

Ruth Wilson’s (Luther) broad English and Margot Robbie’s Aussie-Brit accent were a little annoying but alas, that’s Hollywood for you.

Speaking of which, Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street). I couldn’t help but question her relevance by the end of the film. Other than modelling a fetching set of silk stockings that every villager commented on and scowling, she doesn’t actually do anything or contribute to the story in any capacity.

There were a couple of interesting turns. The bureaucracy jibes being one particular highlight. Wilson’s snobby Viscount desperately bribing the Nazi commander just so his wife doesn’t have to keep an officer at their home.

The letters of gossip that were sent to the Nazis to settle old scores among the villagers was an eye opener. Accusing neighbours of being homosexuals, Jews and thieves. Shocking.

Tom Schilling’s introduction as Lieutenant Kurt Bonnet certainly picked things up. His presence soon becomes a problem for Wilson and Sam Riley’s (Control) family. Riley was quite good as Benoit Labarie.

The inevitable tension between him and Bonnet brewing up to a riveting if highly predictable finale.

But for the 107 minute running length, I felt myself wanting more.

Lucile and Bruno’s relationship was dealt with tactfully. Their brewing romance bubbling over music. Lucille’s loyalties soon torn as she finds herself in a position of power to help the community by using Bruno’s feelings for her.

That dynamic was quite interesting BUT not a lot was made of it. Some of the villagers respecting her for the help. Others disgusted for her affiliation with the enemy.

It certainly captures the humanity behind a brutal war and their relationship certainly carried the film.

BUT it seemed to build to a frantic finale after such a juddery pace. Only for it to end so abruptly with Lucile providing a voiceover summarizing what happened after the war.

Thomas was pushed further and further into the background despite being one of the more interesting characters in the piece.

The ending was quite pessimistic without spoiling too much. I understand that there are no happy endings when it comes to war. BUT it was too open ended for my liking.

Arguably, it was as poignant a statement for the time but when you have invested your time into these characters, a little closure (no matter how open or ridiculous) would have been nice.

It was tough not to make comparisons to other war dramas. I still find The Book Thief one of the better war dramas that I have seen in the last few years.

I kept expecting something more to happen. A bigger impact. Anything.

It was all left until the final 15 minutes and then didn’t wrap up well enough.

Disappointing.

2.5/5

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THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY REVIEW

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I wish it was done in 100 minutes. An easygoing feel good movie that is light on the drama but heavy on the cheese. Nice to look at but a little overcooked.

Enough food punnery! Let’s tuck in. It’s Chef meets Slumdog Millionaire in a nutshell.

The opening quickly establishes that from a young age, Hassan has a taste for flavour. A passion for food. It zips along, skimming past all the usual cliches as Hassan (Manish Dayal) tells the story of his humble upbringings from India to an uninterested stuffy French customs officer.

There are some predictable if endearing revelations as to why the family are now emigrating to France. “England was too bloody cold”, grumbles the talented Om Puri (East is East and my personal favourite The Parole Officer). An easygoing half hour has enough to keep me watching as the Kadam family reach the beautifully shot pastoral French countryside and open a restaurant directly across the road from Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren) Michelin-starred eatery.

An inevitable war brews between the restaurants as they compete for custom. Mirren plays the stubborn snotty French hostess with aplomb. Even if she had her upper lip pumped (tut tut tut Madame). It’s all quite tame and silly, with the odd chuckle as Mallory buys all the food in the local market so the Kadams have to drive 50 miles to the next village, for example. Inconveniences and minor scrabbles is as far as the tone of the film will allow. Puri delivers some cracking one liners and is instantly love-able. A character you’re happy to see more of.

However, he doesn’t quite get the screen time or depth to really make as much of a impression as you first thought or expected. A shame for a talented actor who has proven successful with comedies. He works well with Mirren and they have good chemistry. However, not enough was made of the tension between them and it all wraps up so predictably.

Dayal plays the role of Hassan brilliantly and is a very charismatic lead. More to see of him in the future, methinks. Inevitably he falls for fellow chef, the adorable Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). For me, it all felt a little tame. Every obstacle felt more like a hiccup in which the family stumble but get back on their merry way with a cheesy grin.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still some surprises along the way. Especially in the brewing spat. Moments that I thought this fluffy film may not have touched. An event that resolves itself all too quickly, which leaves little for conflict after. Hassan and Marguerite’s ambition for becoming a renowned chef soon puts the sprinklers on their spurning romance. However, you just know how that story is going to end.

Hassan soon has to deal with the stress and pressure of fame as his cooking soon boasts his reputation among the cooking elite. As much as we can feel and relate to Hassan’s frustrations, you can’t help but know and predict how it’s all going to pan out with everybody smiling by the end.

For me the length was questionable. It meandered along way too much like the picturesque lake that Hassan and Marguerite share their picnics. There just wasn’t enough being made of the story or the talented cast with their loveable characters to justify it. Amit Shah, an up-and-coming comic talent was wasted in his role as Hassan’s brother-in-law Mansur. He has proven how funny he can be in The Infidel and the ITV sitcom Honest. Restricted and unmemorable.

It just about keeps you going but the tone of the film indicates what film you’re in for. An easygoing, nicey-nicey film, which isn’t a problem BUT it’s a shame because it could have been a lot more hard hitting and done in less time and been better for it.

You just can’t help but feel that if Mirren wasn’t attached to this vehicle that it might not have made the big screen altogether. The ingredients enough to serve as a ITV TV movie, at best. Uplifting, certainly. Funny, so-so. Easygoing? Yes plus it makes you want to go to France. But drama, tension and intrigue, it seems that the chef Lasse Hallstrom skipped a few steps in the cook book.

3 (just) out of 5 for me.

GRACE OF MONACO REVIEW

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Nicole Kidman pouts and frowns away as former Hollywood star Grace Kelly. Not as bad as you think but certainly not that good either. A film that questions its own relevance as its draws nearer to its pretentious finale.

We join Kelly as she deals with the crisis of marriage and identity during a political dispute between Monaco’s Prince Rainier III and France’s Charles De Gaulle in the early 60s. With the threat of a looming French invasion, Kelly must deliver her best performance yet. The premise really sounds a lot more interesting than this film actually is. I mean it zips along well enough to keep you watching. But it seems ridiculously exaggerated to keep you entertained and less dramatic than it should be.

I know there was a little controversy around the film’s release. However, it is done in such a light, fluffy style that you feel like you are watching one of those films on the True Movies channel. Kidman does her best but the material is corny, clichéd, predictable and all a little nothingy.

I was a little anxious on how Tim Roth would convey the Prince after his random twitching and creepy face pulling from the cancelled TV show Lie to Me. However, he was very good and played a much more revered role. To be honest, there is a great supporting cast and they do their best to bring this bumbling biopic to life. Parker Posey (Superman Returns) plays the sour faced cow of a personal assistant to perfection.

The eloquent speaker that is Frank Langella (Robot and Frank – He will always be Archer, Leader of the Gorgonites) providing his supporting gravitas yet again, even if I couldn’t determine what position in the papacy he actually had.

It was great to see Robert Lindsay (My Family) given the platform, even if his accent was a little wishy washy. However, there were a few duds. Roger Ashton-Griffiths (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover) certainly looked like Alfred Hitchcock but his manner was all wrong and incredibly droll. Terrible. Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) was a very weak and passive character. Anyone could have played him.

It’s beautifully shot. Kidman does her best. The fact that Kelly’s career was used against the Prince which put her in a state of isolation was an interesting angle that did deliver some watchable moments.

However, addressing the people and learning to act like a Princess came off very hammy. The training montage in which Kidman is pulling faces to convey emotions in a certain way was hilarious. It felt like a parody of The King’s Speech with Derek Jacobi (Gladiator) being a flamboyant Geoffrey Rush.

The whole crusade in which Kelly must choose between her acting career and family did make engaging if predictable viewing. However, the film gets a whole lot sillier and Kidman’s Kelly soon becomes a martyred Diana.

And that’s kind of the problem. The pressures of being a Princess and having a family is a good topic but it was always done so cheesily and predictably that it doesn’t amount to much. Kelly’s closing speech was merely an elongated collection of words with some operatic music for dramatic effect.

It made no sense. Kidman might as well have said this is the part where I say something that will inspire the people and help the nation. That naff, I’m afraid.

This film very much follows the vein of Diana. Corny, predictable, the cast do their best but for all its efforts, you can’t help but feel what the point was in the first place. 2.5/5 for me.

Currently ranks #144 out of 182!