LIFE OF CRIME
Directed by Daniel Schechter. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Isla Fisher, Tim Robbins, Will Forte, Jon Hawkes, Mos Def, Mark Boone Jr
Club, IFI, Dublin, 94 min Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) is a socialite who has learned to live with her husband’s many failings, including drunkenness, skirt chasing and poor parenting skills. When Mickey is snatched by doofus criminals Ordell Robbie (Mos Def) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes), the horrible hubby (Tim Robbins) is in no hurry to cough up the ransom fee. His scheming mistress, Melanie (Isla Fisher), isn’t going to encourage him, either.
Louis soon develops a soft spot for his unwanted victim and takes care to shield her from the predatory advances of his Nazi-loving cohort Richard (Mark Boone Jr). Maybe, just maybe, Louis and Mickey can help each other out.
Daniel Schechter’s adaptation of the late Elmore Leonard’s novel The Switch is as good an adaptation of Leonard’s comic crime milieu as we’ve seen. The screenplay is deft. The characters are inhabited by people who can act, and, more importantly, who understand the source material.
Aniston makes for a wonderful archetypal Leonard dame. Playing the dissatisfied housefrau of bullying former tennis professional, we’re never in any doubt that there’s a smart cookie lurking under all that pragmatic passivity. Mos Def, Hawkes and Fisher are so damned good we forget they’re playing low-lifes first made famous by Samuel L Jackson, Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda back in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997).
So why is such a star-studded affair receiving such a small release almost an entire year after it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival? Timing, alas, is not on its side. For all the quality on offer, there’s little here that we haven’t seen many, many times before. In fact, an earlier adaptation of The Switch that was to star Diane Keaton, was abandoned due to the plot’s similarities to Ruthless People. For good reason.
The beats and tics will seem awfully familiar for anyone who has seen Jackie Brown or, indeed, the Leonard-influenced Pulp Fiction. Schechter works hard at making the picture look like a genuine 1970s artefact, only to end up repeating David O Russell’s American Hustle and Tarantino (again).
Directed by Sylvain Chomet. Starring Guillaume Gouix, Anne Le Ny, Bernadette Lafont, Hélène Vincent
Paul (Guillaume Gouix) is a cosseted and mute piano prodigy who lives with his two maiden aunts in a heavily stylised version of Paris. Paul’s life is regimented and dull until one day he runs into his eccentric upstairs neighbour, (Anne Le Ny,), a witchy herbalist with a big dog and a brew that, when ingested while listening to meaningful music, conjures memories from the deepest subconscious.
Paul is soon visiting Madame Proust, as she is tryingly called, on a regular basis as he attempts to recover fragments concerning the parents who disappeared when he was still a baby. But perhaps there’s a reason why his aunts never speak of them.
Oh dear. Writer-director Sylvain Chomet is the Oscar-nominated animator behind the delightful Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist. Occasionally one can discern the film-maker’s presence in the woefully misconceived Atilla Marcel. As with Chomet’s doodles, the film plays out in a strange, timeless, parody version of France populated by odd-looking people. Unhappily, Chomet’s brand of bittersweet whimsy doesn’t translate well into live action.
Scenes and transitions that might be quirky and arresting if drawn by hand are unsettling and sometimes ghastly to watch when re-enacted by actors. Wobbly rolls of fat and swooshing patterned skirts don’t look nearly so jolly in the corporeal dimension. Behaviours, such as compulsive eating and spitting the stones from brandied cherries, are too cartoonish to ever allow us to emotionally connect with anything on screen, even when the loosely assembled plot parachutes in a tragedy or two.
These failings might be forgivable if the songs that pad out Chomet’s quasi-musical weren’t quite so abysmal. Perhaps something has been lost in the translation, but the lyrics are even more tuneless than the droning ditties that support them.
Madame Proust serves madeleines (of course) to lessen the bitterness of her tea: “They’re plain,” she explains to Paul. “Some add orange flower water, but that’s a bit gay”.
What an interesting pejorative use of that word to find in a film peppered with allusions to Marcel Proust, of all people.
Club, IFI, Dublin, 102 min