Wonder Woman

June 5, 2017 at 9:33 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Wonder Woman in the weekend. Having seen tGal Gado in Keeping Up with the Jones, I knew it wasn’t going to be kitsch.

Warning: Plot elements discussed.

The film presented the director and producers a number of challenges:

  • Telling the back story of Diana to people who were knew it and who did not – how much of the film’s running time to use? what formative events to show?
  • Keeping the character strong despite the amazons wearing ‘scanty’ amount of armour.
  • Telling a creditable main story.

The film is long, it has to be to satisfy the above. I did not notice the passing of time; I only realised the length of the film, when I looked at my watch afterwards.

Director, Patty Jenkins, and editor, Martin Walsh, opted to not tell Wonder Woman’s story in flashback. Wonder Woman’s early life is better told in one go – the audience is spared going backwards in time and holding the story line in their heads. It also sets the norm for what Amazons wear, and how it does not affect their combat effectiveness. No one complains too much when a male actor like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson appears in The Scorpion King wearing a leather apron / skirt.

The Amazon training sequences would have been at home in any action movie; after a while, that absence of men, stopped being noticeable.

No sooner has Diana finished her training, with a final gauntlet, than Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) turns up in German uniform. This was the biggest moment of confusion – in my universe Steve Trevor should appear in an American uniform – circa World War II; not be a German aviator – circa World War I. Diana is fascinated – finally a male specimen to examine, after second hand stories and book learning. For quite a while, Steve Trevor and his world are something to be examined, and it strange foibles to be commented on. at least, it is until, she can kill Ares – the god of war.

Somehow, Diana and Trevor take one night to sail from the Aegean Sea to London in one night. This caused me more confusion. But, I was soon distracted by a restrained comic commentary on women’s fashion – it lack if armour and contraining cut (“how do you fight in this’).

The main story is how Diana comes to connect with the people outside of he magically isolated island, and how she looses he per-conceived ideas. Despite Steve’s doubts, Ares is real, he is manipulating both sides to escalate and prolong the war. There is a dual climax – Steve must put pay to the attempted escalation, while Diana must deal with Ares – with many twists and surprise.

There are some great fight scenes: Wonder Woman’s classical arts of war training makes her unbeatable in the confined space of urban warfare. Just as the shield works for Captain America, Diana’s shield (supplemented by forearm guards, grieves, and armoured headband) works for her – proof against gun fire and small caliber shells.

One scene that I found improbable was the Amazons choosing to close with the german troopers. Their first flight of arrows showed that the troopers had no armour and no shields. Why not just keep it up? Instead, they charge and give up the advantage – the troopers’ rifles give them the advantage outside of sword range.

Once the Amazons were out of the picture, Diana is one of the few women in the story arc. Steve Trevor’s secretary is there almost there for historical contrast. The only other woman is Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) – the chemical genius making chemical weapons for the Germans. There is a glimpse of a Women PC in London – the Women PCs were sworn in during WWI to police the factories employing women, while the men were in the Army.

Marvel has created the beginning of a series of films set in the extended Marvel universe – if they (and Gadot) wish. Wonder Woman will be appearing in Justice League; the question is will she get anymore appearances? Perhaps they could team her up with the Black Widow?

Oh there is some restrained chemistry between Diana Prince and Steve Trevor. At first Trevor is confused ans Diana is not like any woman he has meet before. Then there is a bit of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ ,until she warms to him. Trevor is the more demonstrative one; Diana is the aloof one; a nice reversal of the man focused on duty and the women attracted to him.

Anyway, a film worth seeing.

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Ghost in the Shell

April 27, 2017 at 8:56 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I saw this the other day: being a Wellingtonian, I was curious to see if any of my city was recognisable; I wondered about the story; and having heard about whitewashing complaints, I wanted to see for myself whether if it was justified.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

Firstly, parts of Wellington were still recognisable, under the post-production CGI. Parts of the Central Police Station and nearby carpark were recognisable, despite a whole lot of ‘matt-ed in’ Japanese architecture.

Based loosely on the manga comics, of the same name, we see Scarlett Johansson in the lead role – Major Motoko Kusanagi. I say loosely, because the plot doesn’t really follow the comics. The film explores the origins of the Major, and how she came to be a cyborg – the first. Or is she?

The Major and her squad work for Section 9 – a paramilitary force reporting to the Prime Minister. Such a concept may work in Japan, but it does not really work outside of Asia. In the end, the company who made her body, turns out to be the villain. It was good to see Juliette Binoche, of The English Patient fame, again. She plays the cyborg scientist, Dr. Ouelet, who’s concern for her patient leads the Major to a final showdown.

The film breaks the manga esthetic: the cast is not Japanese, nor are their faces in a manga way. It made the use of Japanese, and references to Japanese companies (not zaibatsu),  a bit strange.The mixture of spoken English and spoken Japanese was quite disconcerting. There are English subtitles for the Japanese, but no Japanese subtitles for the English.  I thought that Scarlett Johansson fitted the manga esthetic quite well; much better than most  of the cast. Perhaps some things are better left as comics or full animations.

There is some blatant product placement. It would not be manga without a motorcycle, and I wonder how much Honda paid for the privilege of supplying the motorcycles :-).

 

Le Ride

January 17, 2017 at 7:48 am | Posted in Film Review, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I went to see this film of  Philip Keoghan‘s documentary of his recreation of the 1928 Tour de France. The film tells two stories: the remarkable Australasian team who rode in 1928; and Keoghan’s ride of the ‘same’ route in 2013.

Keoghan is inspired by the 1928 ride of New Zealander Harry Watson and three Australians (Hubert Opperman, Percy Osborn, and Ernest Bainbridge) who competed in that year’s Tour de France. This was in a time when teams normally numbered 10 riders; the Australasians would have to work three times as hard on comparatively primitive bikes – they weighed twice model road bikes and the derailleur gears were still two years away.

Keoghan was so inspired that he decides to ride on the original route, to the same timetable – that is 28 days. Keoghan and his friend, Ben Cornell, procure original 1928 bicycles via the Internet, recondition them, spend at least a year scouting their eventual route, training, getting sponsorship, assembling a team of friends and family, and then doing the ride.

Keoghan and Cornell faced a number of significant challenges: the pair are significantly older than cycling professionals, they can’t train at the intensity and manner that professionals can, because they have day jobs; their bikes for all intents and purposes do not have gears; and there are only two of them, so they cannot rest at the back of a team.

The duo must cycle an average of 150 miles a day, if they are to complete the ‘course’ in the target time; some days they will cycle 200 miles; some days they will cycle for 23 hours. The 1928 route was a circumnavigation of the France’s borders, but starting and stopping in Paris.This includes a stage through the Pyrenees mountains and another through the French Alps! The duo did not take rest days!! they can’t ride the original route, because much of it has been turned into motorways; and despite scouting, getting lost seemed a constant threat. The duo are able to utilise the original start and finish lines. Along the way, local riders ride occasionally ride with them and guide them.

The 1928 era bikes weighed twice as much as the modern bikes that our dynamic duo are use to. The greatest physical challenge is that while the bikes have gears, to change gear requires the rider to stop, get off, detach and re-attach the chain on a different cog!

It is an amazing feat: two middle aged men of above fitness ride 3,400 miles in 28 days. Over some of the most physically challenging terrain for cycling.

It is a great feel good movie: a lighthearted documentary about the duo’s adventure; and a fitting celebration of the original team of four Australasians.

Rogue One

January 2, 2017 at 1:10 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Rogue One, or as I like to think of it: Star Wars III.IX (3.9), the other night.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

The overwhelming question in my mind was: “How many will survive?” Pre-release trailers show a small group of rebels stealing the plans to the Death Star – the plans ‘stolen at great cost’ delivered in Episode IV to the Rebel Alliance. The mission is a suicide mission -a forlorn hope.

Rogue One is a difficult film to make: it must fit within the canon of the existing seven films, and not constrain (nor contradict) the two remaining films. It cannot be a re-boot: so the clothes and technology must be exactly the same as Episode IV, V, and VI. This means that the the storm trooper’s armour is useless as ever: it offers no protection against blaster fire, offers no protection against blunt force, and offers no protection against fragments. Also, the storm trooper’s marksmanship is deplorable as ever.

Since Rogue One leads directly into Episode IV, some characters from IV need to appear in this movie – some of the original cast are still alive, and some are there is spirit through CGI. One day, not too far away, CGI will be so good, that once an actor has created a sufficiently large body of work – provided enough samples for the computer – the actor can appear in films forever.

It is not quite ‘The Seven Samurai’, ‘The Guns of the Magnificent Seven’, nor ‘Ice Pirates’, but it is close. A bunch of misfits lead by Jyn Erso (played ably by Felicity Jones), another misfit, leads a bigger band of misfits against the might of the empire – albeit composed mainly of inept storm troopers. The tie-fighter pilots are pretty good though. Despite loosely following a classic plot line, Rogue One makes a refreshing change from the cyclic repetition of episode III, IV, and V; and I, II and III.

So Rogue One  is the back story of how the plans for the Death Star were stolen; the back story of why Jyn Erso is the best operative to steal the plans is the real story of Rogue One. We see the forces unleashed at the end of Episode III continue to fracture the republic. The Death Star is intended to re-unite the republic and bring peace to the galaxy. The rebels disagree!

We see Jyn rescued from an imperial prison colony; a band forms around her; and then a one-way mission to a library archive! It is an information manager’s heaven – the rebellion can only be saved by ‘getting out the right book out’.

The are the obligatory gun fights and space battles; but there are many of the same elements as Episode IV: a switch, trapped in a passage with no other way out, fighter bomber runs on a heavily defended target, trust in the force, a talkative droid, Darth Vader walking through blaster fire (the Force works for him too). It is a prologue for Episode IV.

Felicity Jones is no longer the ‘chalet girl’, but she still wears a helmet, and she still has that determined look – just before the last run down the hill and about to enter the heart of the imperial archive.

As to how many of the little band make it out the other side: go see the film.

Eye in the Sky

May 7, 2016 at 11:41 pm | Posted in Film Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2057392/ ostensively a film about drone warfare, but really, the Trolley/Tram Dilemma brought to the screen – the ethics of killing one innocent in order to save many.

Helen Mirren in Colonel Katherine Powell, British Army, in command of a mission to capture two British Islamic Terrorists in Kenya. The Kenyan Army and Security Services are proving ‘boots on the ground’, and the US Armed Forces are providing air support (a Predator with two Hellfire missiles and amazing optics) and targeting assessment.

Terrorism may have gone global, but so too has the response to it. It is a bit alarming: smiting the enemies of the state as a video game.

The film sets out the issues, and leads the viewer down a nice ethical and moral corundum.

Mirren/Powell is the calm voice in the drone pilots ear: “do it now lieutenant” and “fire again”. The film also explores the outcome versus the process debate; the people participating in the mission are not necessarily bad people, they are doing their jobs, they push back as much as they can. Another chestnut is explored: following orders – legal orders. Being a multi-national mission, there are many outcomes, differing risk appetites, and processes to satisfy. The whole mission is an exercise in consensus building – both before the mission is approve and as the mission proceeds.

The mission moves very quickly from ‘capture for repatriation-and-trial’ to ‘shoot-to-kill’; the terrorists are not just meeting, they are about to launch a multiple suicide-bomber attack.

Worth seeing: the film creates tension through the actors being confronted by an ever more narrow and harrowing set of options, the drone effects are amazing, Mirren does a fine job, and this was Alan Rickman’s last film (before he died).

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

March 28, 2016 at 1:25 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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As I watched the movie, I wondered why Dawn of Justice? It became clear at the end of the movie. I hadn’t thought too much about it prior to sitting down, focussing on Batman v. Superman.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

Batman (played by Ben Affleck) thinks that Superman (reprised by Henry Cavill) is too powerful; that being capable of burning the Earth to a cinder, makes him an existential threat to mankind, and needs to be killed. This is not the classic Batman of old; who when he finds the robber who killed his parents, spared the man. Affleck does a good job, but this is a harder Batman than ever before – he routinely employs deadly force, he is prepared to execute someone (Superman). There is one scene where he disables a roomful of bad guys, 13, but it looked too choreographed. Interestingly, Superman considers that Batman’s vigilante actions lead to unnecessary harm.

The film does a good job of showing the elements that created Batman: his parent’s death during a botched robbery; his discovery of the bat cave; and his need to protect the vulnerable. Superman is shown are as someone searching for themselves; someone who is unsure of his place in the world. He is adored everywhere; but there are those who think he causes as much destruction and death as he averts. It is a strange take on ‘blame the victim’.

Throughout Superman’s angst, he is ably supported by the two people most dear to him: his girlfriend, Lois Lane (reprised by Amy Adams); and his adopted mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane). More on this ‘support’ later.

This film has a number of threads: re-boot Batman; use Superman to re-introduce him to a new audience; introduce a new ‘Alfred’ (played by Jeremy Irons); re-boot Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg); and re-boot Wonder Women (Gal Gadot). Here’s where the Dawn of Justice comes in: apparently DC is using this film to launch a franchise; to launch the Justice League of America.

The original DC storyline was very different: Batman’s beef was not with Superman, but with an increasingly authoritarian government; Batman never set out to kill Superman, he just wanted to distracted him long enough for ‘some’ people to go into hiding.

I don’t mind the change in storyline too much; but re-making Batman into a killer? Batman was always different kind of superhero: he had no super powers – just will power – and he never ever used lethal force.

The film makers missed an opportunity to re-make Lois – to give the character a more modern spin. At the end of the film, during the various fights and what-have-you, Lois could have done more; but her character is left in the past. Adams does her best, but the script doesn’t give her much. This is the 21st century, why should she plead with Batman? she should just have a go kicking his butt! Why couldn’t she retrieve the spear and pass it to Superman? No the script chooses to perpetual the idea that women need protecting: Lex Luthor successfully manipulates Superman through threatening Lois and his mother.

Wonder Women doesn’t get enough screen time. She is almost an after thought. When she first appears in a red dress, to thwart Bruce Wayne’s hacking attempts, there is no real chemistry between her and Bruce Wayne; it was all a bit hurried. Remember, last time we saw Bruce Wayne and a mysterious women – she turned out to be Cat Women.

This is a long and at time very violent film – there is a lot of anger going around – so not the best for young children. At times, the film got a bit laboured – some of the fights went on too long, and the conversation between Wonder women and Bruce Wayne – after Clark Kent’s burial – seemed unnecessary.

But worth ago if you have not read too much of the original comics; and if you have, go anyway – that what being a fan means. The bat gadgets are really cool.

Lastly: there may have been a burial, but no true fan of Superman believes he is dead; especially when the director helpful shakes the dirt off the casket.

Back Beat

June 6, 2015 at 12:15 am | Posted in DVD Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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I watched the DVD (2007) of this [1994] film the other night and it really added to my understanding of the origins of the Beatles.

The film revolves around John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Astrid Kirchherr. Sutcliffe is Lennon’s best friend; Sutcliffe was also a member of the band that would go onto become known as the Beatles. In all, there have been six musicians who at one time were in the band – Sutcliffe left and Pete Best also ‘left’. Ringo was the ‘latecomer’.

Much of the film takes place in Hamburg; this is where the film really lets one know how formative Hamburg and Astrid for the Beatles.

Hamburg in the early 60’s, compared to Liverpool, was a cosmopolitan centre of new ideas – fashion, artistic, social, etc. Astrid a photographer was woed by Stuart; and inevitably they became lovers. It was she, who gave the Band their haircuts, and influenced their choice of clothing. After their second stint in Hamburg, the Band was recogisable as the Fab Four, and the jeans/blue-shirts/leather-jackets were gone.

At the time, Stuart was John’s best friend, and Astrid came between them. John is portrayed as ‘an angry young man’ – though preferred to think of himself as ‘desperate’. He did not like Astrid taking Sutcliffie, a very talented painter, away from music, the band and him, into the arts world.

The three leads are played by Ian Hart, Stephen Dorff, and Sheryl Lee. Gary Bakewell chips in as Paul McCartney.

Things I never knew: the Beatles started out as a cover band; their first recording work was as a backing band for Tony Sheridan; the 5th Beatle was actually Sutcliffe; and Ring was the 6th.

Worth watching for the history and the times.

The Hundred Foot Journey (Film)

September 6, 2014 at 4:33 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I saw the film of the book – The Hundred Foot Journey – the other day and really liked it. I like films that involve food. The film is also a romance – between two chefs.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

The film is many things: a new immigrant story; a romance (more than one romance); food and cooking; things that divide; and things that unite.

The film starts violently, political unrest in Mumbai (India) causes the Kadam family to flee to the West. A timely brake failure sees them settle in the south of France. This violent beginning introduces a violent undertow that takes some time to dissipate – but things do settle down for the good.

Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is literally a gift to cooking from the gods; trained by his mother in their famiy’s traditional methods and recipes; he is the creative force behind the family’s newly opened restaurant – the Maison Mumbai; he is also able to teach himself cordon bleu cooking from books; and so cross over to a totally different style and tradition of cooking. Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who cooks in the one Michelin star restaurant across the road lends him the books. As per the title, the film is full of crossing over scenes and analogies. The various characters are forever crossing the road to each other’s restaurant, on some mission or other. At times, “two houses steeped …” seemed to be burned across the screen.

When Marguerite and Hassan meet for the first time, at the Kadam’s broken down van, one knows they are destined for each other and that they will be together: when Marguerite introduces herself to Hassan, she is side lit by the sun, and she is radiant, and he is of course breathless.

Food is important to the Kadams – especially to Hassan – the texture and the taste. They have much in common with the French – who at first don’t know what to make of them. Marguerite’s causal supper that she serves up to the Kadams, after rescuing them, is full of colour and flavour – and it is all local. The audience can tell that the Kadams have food a place they could find many affinities.

For migrants, food is a link to home, to memories of family and friends. The Kadams cling to their traditions. Only Hassan seems willing to try things French. Hassan ends up cooking in the French restaurant – his gift is shared with the world. His fusion of two cooking styles sets the gastronomic world on fire. But in the end it is a traditional Mumbai dish that reminds him of who he is and what is important.

The film is about many journeys: the Kadams physical travels, the Kadams integration into the local village; the locals’ acceptance of these new arrivals; and the journey of food, of east meeting west.

Helen Mirren and Om Puri play the heads of the two respective maisons – to a slightly predictable outcome.

A must see for foodies.

Quai d’Orsay (The French Minister)

September 4, 2014 at 6:05 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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Another day, another film; this time is was Quai d’Orsay. For those of you familiar with Yes Minister, The thick of it, The Hollow Men, and their American clones, I don’t really have to say much. Even in France, the same mix of bureaucratic and political behind the scenes goings-on go on.

However, Quai d’Orsay is more subtle; maybe because the Minister’s chief-of-staff is not a shouty person and he sets the tone for the Minister’s office – and the film. Claude (Niels Arestrup) is quiet and soft-spoken – not very french! The Minister, Alexandre Taillard de Worms (Thierry Lhermitte) is much more sterotypical french – shouts, demonstrative, etc; or is it because he is a politician? Claude, like all harden public servants, and good parents, is endlessly patient, and speaks slowly and calmly. Claude does all the real work; like: divert a burning ship to avoid a war, using two telephones. The Minister supplies ideas, directions and principles “responsibility, legitimacy, unity”.

The film follows Arthur (Raphaël Personnaz), the Minister’s new speech writer, over the course of a few months. Arthur is new to government and at first he just does not know how to fit in: from wearing the wrong clothes to actually believing what people say. It is all a bit of a steep learning curve, but eventually, he is wearing black shoes, coloured ties and dark suits, like everyone else – except the body guards who do wear black ties. Arthur’s first day is a shock: the Ministry building is like a palace, with its uniformed messengers (in combo morning suits), and everyone is elegantly dressed (this is France). Arthur has no office (or a diplomatic passport) – something to do with him being a contractor – he perches for awhile at the end of a secretary’s desk.

The Minister has an important speech at the UN; all against the background of the looming Second Iraq War (though a mythical country is used to avoid naming Iraq). Poor Arthur ends up re-drafting speeches over and over again, as the Minister changes his mind (or has it changed for him by senior advisors – who remind him of his commitments, the President’s commitments, and France’s commitments), or has to work in ‘helpful’ suggestions from the Minister’s intelligentsia friends.

The Minister is a powerful figure: every time he walks through the Ministry, he is preceded by a sonic boom – the result of the floor to celling doors and the energy with which he opens and closes them – that sends papers flying. The Minister has vision. The Minister is guided by a book (on philosophy). The Minister maybe an idiot, but he has his heart in the right place (procures a residency permit for the parents of one Arthur’s girlfriend’s students), and does not lack for physical courage (he confronts a mob in a former French colony).

There are subtleties (constant references to Belgium and Germany) and non-subtleties (constant refernces to America) throughout the film. Whenever a delegation travels outside of France, they are accompanied by a cryptographic technician – to encode/decode any cables – but who’s services are never required! The english translation of the title – Quai d’Orsay – may be calculated insult to France! Quai d’Orsay is a street in Paris; the whole complex is occupied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So, a more appropriate translation might be “The Foreign Ministry” or “The Foreign Minister”.

The film is not laugh out loud – LOL – funny; it is funny, because the only other response is to cry: that a powerful member of the non-aligned west (France has nuclear weapons) is seemingly guided by someone like Taillard. In reality, it is guided by his sleepless chief-of-staff and Pol Pot (the cat that lives in the Ministry and is inherited by successive chief-of-staff’s). There are some amazing moments. A must see for students of government.

La Grande Boucle (Tour de Force)

September 1, 2014 at 11:00 pm | Posted in Film Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I went to see this film set around the Tour de France last week, and really enjoyed it.

Clovis Cornillac plays François Nouel – a man obsessed with ‘Le Tour’. It must be many a French boy’s dream to take part in ‘Le Tour’, and François never let go of his dream. François works in a cycle store (part of an global chain of stores); his garage is a ‘bike room’. When events conspire against him and he ends up loosing his job, his wife, his son, and his sobriety, it seems the most natural thing to go for bike ride.

It just so happens that ‘Le Tour’ starts near his town and he ends up riding on the course – one day early. Despite feeling awful (hungover) he manages to finish the section. And decides that he will do ‘Le Tour’ one day ahead of the official riders: having lost everything, he can do anything.

So one ordinary man’s attempt to ride ‘Le Tour’ becomes the film and the vehicle for showing what is good and back about sport and professional sport. At first it is all about the ride – his ride. But he builds up a following – first word of mouth, then national television – and next thing you know he has sponsorship; so much so that he has obligations again! François becomes a mobile billboard – just like his heros! The professionals are a little piqued, but the big sponsors and ‘Le Tour’ are not amused at all. Even drug doping gets a look-in.

Some of the scenery is magnificent. The effort required to ride day in and day out is staggering. This requires the biggest suspension of dis-belief, can a slightly chubby, albeit cycle-fit middle age man ride every day for 20-odd days covering 3,500 km, sleeping in a tent, and relying on the help strangers (in lieu of a support team)? But who cares – films are dreams given form.

Along the way François: re-discovers himself, gets his son back, gets his wife back, and fulfills his most cherished dream.

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