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Review: The Three Musketeers, Midnight in Paris, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Monte Carlo and Tabloid

By October 20, 2011No Comments

The Three Musketeers posterI don’t know what the French did to be so roundly insul­ted at the movies this week but I’d advise them to steer clear of Wellington cinemas for a while – per­haps until their film fest­iv­al gets under way again next year. Firstly, crass action auteur Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) attempts to reboot a fran­chise from one of France’s most cher­ished pieces of lit­er­at­ure but then makes The Three Musketeers without a single French per­son appear­ing on screen.

Actually, I’m teas­ing a little as neither the 1993 Charlie Sheen ver­sion or the 1973 Oliver Reed one had any sig­ni­fic­ant French involve­ment, but to pop­u­late the latest film with Danes (Mads Mikkelsen), Austrians (Christoph Waltz), Germans (Til Schweiger) and Ukrainians (Milla Jovovich) does seem a bit on the nose.

Anderson takes the bones of Dumas’ ori­gin­al clas­sic story – hon­our­able swords­men fight­ing to pro­tect a king so naïve he barely com­pre­hends the threats against him – and adds some mon­strous science-fiction ele­ments like giant air­ships duelling in the skies over Paris. In fact, there is con­sid­er­able reli­ance on fire­arms rather than sword­play which I sus­pect is because Anderson isn’t quite good enough as a dir­ect­or to bring it to life. He’s much more com­fort­able with explosions.

The movie chooses not to rely on star power for its mar­ket­ing which is for the best as the Musketeers are a fairly bland bunch – I once described Matthew McFadyen (In My Father’s Den) as “doughy” in these pages and he doesn’t appear to have been doing much work in the gym sub­sequently. If you abso­lutely must go and see The Three Musketeers then trade up to the 3D ver­sion. Anderson gets the medi­um bet­ter than most action dir­ect­ors and there are moments when he uses it well here.

Midnight in Paris posterWhile Paris is abused in The Three Musketeers (one of Anderson’s air­ships is impaled on the fam­ous La Saint-Chapelle), Woody Allen attempts to write it a love let­ter in the latest chapter of his European adven­tures, Midnight in Paris. Owen Wilson plays a dis­con­ten­ted screen­writer on hol­i­day with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her par­ents. He wants to live and write in the inspir­a­tion­al city and be a ser­i­ous nov­el­ist but she would rather he con­tin­ue his Hollywood hack­work and build their dream house on the Malibu beach.

At a loose end one night he goes for a walk, gets lost and through some kind of magic­al time portal (or a bump on the head) he finds him­self in the middle of Paris in the 20s – full of bon­homie, joie de vivre and artists and writers soak­ing up the scene. None of whom are French. Still, thanks to Papa Hemingway he meets Gertrude Stein who gives him some tips for his book and intro­duces him to a fledgling fash­ion design­er (and Picasso-muse) played by Marion Cotillard.

If late-period Woody Allen films seem effort­less it’s prob­ably because not much effort actu­ally goes in to them – like Eastwood he has been around movie sets long enough to know how to fin­ish on time every day – but Midnight in Paris has more charm than most while con­tinu­ing to indulge Allen’s usu­al obses­sions. Of all the Allen-proxies we have seen (most recently Larry David in Whatever Works) Wilson is the most nat­ur­al – mer­ging his affable per­sona with Allen’s stut­tery cynicism.

Monte Carlo posterThe greatest insult that befalls the French this week, though, is the truly awful teen-girl-wish-fulfilment-fantasy Monte Carlo in which a young Texan (Selena Gomez) gets a trip to Paris as a high school gradu­ation present and her grumpy step-sister and blousy BFF tag along for the ride. There we get to see the same Parisian tour­ist traps as Allen pho­to­graphed for Midnight in Paris, before Gomez gets mis­taken for a wealthy British society-gal and is spir­ited down to Monaco to live the high life for a few days.

There are actu­ally French char­ac­ters in Monte Carlo but they are almost all either snobs, slobs or buf­foons. I expect the makers got away with this by shoot­ing most of the film in Hungary (a com­mon 20th Century Fox money sav­ing approach). Like a teen ver­sion of Sex and the City, Monte Carlo man­ages to insult everything it touches – includ­ing my eyeballs.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams posterCave of Forgotten Dreams is this week’s oppor­tun­ity to exper­i­ence some­thing genu­inely life-affirming – geni­us Werner Herzog at his idio­syn­crat­ic best. Buried deep inside the hills of the Ardèche are the earli­est human cave paint­ings yet dis­covered, a record of the birth of human con­scious­ness, self-awareness and spritu­al­ity from more than 30,000 years ago. So pre­cious that they are only opened up to sci­ent­ists for a couple of weeks a year, Herzog took a tiny crew under­ground to film these extraordin­ary art­works with mod­ern, hand-held 3D cameras.

But, like any Herzog film, what it’s about isn’t really what it’s about. He’s inter­ested in the paint­ings, of course, but he’s also fas­cin­ated by the people who study them and wheth­er their par­tic­u­lar obses­sions mir­ror those of the artists from mil­len­nia ago. And those of the unknow­able future. For this con­firmed athe­ist, to watch Cave of Forgotten Dreams was to feel the pres­ence of some­thing big­ger than us. Not a God that doesn’t exist of course but … some­thing. Something that I can’t quite, and not sure I want to, put my fin­ger on.

Tabloid posterFinally, from essence to tri­vi­al­ity: Errol Morris’ new doc­u­ment­ary Tabloid about the eccent­ric former mod­el and mormon-missionary-kidnapper Joyce McKinney. In the past, Morris has used his superb inter­view­ing skills to uncov­er some astound­ing truths about our recent his­tory (The Fog of War in 2003 and Standard Operating Procedure in 2008) but for all the pruri­ent interest there might be in Ms McKinney’s strange and fairly self-obsessed life Morris fails to tran­scend the sad and sor­did ori­gin­al mater­i­al and ends up doing not much more than exploit­ing the poor woman – just like the British tabloids he’s sup­posed to be exposing.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 19 octo­ber, 2011.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: The Three Musketeers looked good in 3D at Wellington’s new Roxy Cinema in Miramar; Midnight in Paris was a tired look­ing 35mm in Cinema 3 at the Lighthouse in Petone, Monte Carlo was an even tire­der 35mm print at Readings, Cave of Forgotten Dreams was the gala open­ing night screen­ing at this year’s Wellington Film Festival; Tabloid was a slightly-less-than-HD digit­al file in the Bergman screen­ing room at the Paramount.