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A Monster in Paris: Immensely Charming Animation
It’s the year 1910; the Seine is overflowing and Paris is drowning. Shy filmmaker Emile (Harrington), and cocky inventor Raoul (Goldberg), get into trouble while delivering a parcel to a genius scientist’s lab. Instead of the scientist, they find his pet monkey waiting for them with orders to take the parcel from Raoul without allowing him inside. Raoul barges in anyway, tells Emile to film him, and he proceeds to tinker with the various concoctions and potions while completely ignoring the various warnings inscribed on their tags.
His meddling results in an explosion, a worse-for-wear lab and a red-eyed flea, which is magically engorged to over six feet and promptly leaps out of the lab to stalk the streets of Paris. The monster manages to throw the city into a tizzy, making the front page and causing Maynott (Huston), a senior government official, to start a vendetta calling for the monster’s death.
Enter Lucille (Paradis), the star singer at the local cabaret that Maynott takes a fancy to. She encounters the monster outside of her stoop and after being momentarily terrified, is swayed by the flea’s beautiful voice and gentle lyrics. She invites him into her house, outfits him in a suit and hat to make him less conspicuous, and gives him a job as a guitarist in the cabaret. However, his disguise doesn’t hold for long, and soon Lucille is forced to enlist Emile and Raoul’s help to keep the monster, now named Francoeur (Lennon), from being killed by Maynott.
The film is charming and has a lot in common with classic Disney musicals, but it never reaches the heights of films like Beauty and the Beast. Set in a vaguely art nouveau-flavoured France, the film is visually very simple, but it owns its simplicity so it never once feels like a shortcoming. The songs are gorgeous in their sparseness. They don’t get the audio/visual bombastic treatment that Disney gives its songs, but they’re nearly as magical anyway and every bit as catchy. Paradis and Lennon’s voices go together perfectly and the scenes in which Lucille and Francoeur perform together are probably the most charming. The script is pretty funny and Raoul’s lines in particular illicit some of the biggest laughs. A special mention has to go out to the monkey’s character that, armed with note cards for every occasion, is probably even more amusing than the humans.
A Monster in Paris is sweetly old-fashioned to the point where it may not grab the interest of younger viewers, who are probably used to the whole razzle-dazzle quality of animations nowadays. It should warm the hearts of older ones, though; especially those immune to Parisian charm. It’s quaint, a little rustic but magical in its own way.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.