Paulette
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for drug content and language
Theater: St. Anthony Main

 

That Paulette, she’s a case. In her prime, when she was pretty and married and the crack chef at her family pastry shop, she was one of Paris’ hottest attractions. Now she’s old, widowed and living on a subsistence pension. Her social skills haven’t matured gracefully, either. Her verbal sword fights with the multiracial crew who now populate her neighborhood are the kind of xenophobic tirades that would make Archie Bunker blush. Since she’s played by the uproariously funny Bernadette Lafont, we get it that it’s a joke, but still, that Paulette is a piece of work.

French director Jérôme Enrico’s 2012 crime comedy imagines how the drug mob would react if a stern old dough puncher with sharp survival instincts turned their cannabis into irresistible cookies. At first, the area’s kingpin reacts to her with bemused chuckles and tosses her some samples to play with. Soon she’s his top assistant, and then he’s worried about the competition. Winning hundreds of new customers with her highly flavored highs, Paulette climbs atop the industry’s social pecking order. Lafont plays her as a tough old broad who, despite serious life setbacks, has held onto her soul, her spine, her mettle. There’s hardly a moment of tenderness in Paulette’s eyes, even when she’s babysitting her daughter’s biracial son — especially then. As she wins back ever deeper shares of the self-control that old age had stripped from her, she gets kinder, and the salty antiheroine of the opening becomes hard to resist. Or maybe that’s because she’s cash-flush, or sampling her own wares a little. Whatever the reason, Lafont (who died in July 2013) is a treasure, projecting the fired-up two-strikes-and-you’re-out sass of a French Shirley MacLaine. The movie is pleasantly amusing, but she’s enthralling.
COLIN COVERT

 

JOURNEY TO THE SOUTH PACIFIC 3-D
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: G
Theater: Great Clips IMAX, Minnesota Zoo

 

Did co-directors Greg MacGillivray and Stephen Judson split their film because there were so many hundreds of species of marine life to photograph underwater in Indonesia’s remote West Papua province? Or because the scuba-centric project looked too enjoyable for either one to hand off the duties? This kids’ nature film is a nice blend of oceanic sightseeing, lightweight climate change lectures and pure personal charm. The young hero is Jawi, who adores swimming, singing and strumming the ukulele. The film endorses those values, too, giving dubbed vocals to squadrons of fish just to keep the party-time spirit bouncing along. It makes you wish there were an Oscar best soundtrack category for aquatic animals. Through the 13-year-old’s narration and voice-over footnotes from Cate Blanchett, we learn about the area’s cultural traditions, how commercial overfishing depleted populations the locals used to rely on for food, and how predators make life hard for infant turtles even when Mama swims across the whole Pacific to give birth. As Jawi sails around aboard the Kalabia, a former illegal harvest vessel converted to a floating classroom, his instructors prepare him for his first swim among a non-man-eating variety of shark. (He’s a little nervous about it.) The cinematography positively glows with color, showing the staggering beauty of ocean floors where coral reefs remain thick and healthy. This is the sort of visually overwhelming film where a school of a million anchovies looks pretty beyond description. Even if you think of fish as the species served with chips, this is a delicious treat.
C.C.

 

90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN
⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for intense accident and injury images.

 

Amazing true stories can be remarkable for their sheer wonder and seemingly unbelievable qualities — but those details might not translate into an amazing movie. This is the case with “90 Minutes in Heaven,” based on the bestselling book of the same name by Don Piper. For Christian audiences, the premise alone will be enough of a draw. In 1989, Piper (Hayden Christensen) was in a head-on collision and was presumed dead at the scene for 90 minutes, until a pastor prayed and sang over him. Piper was revived, but not until after he had a vision of the heavenly glories. Upon returning to his life on Earth, Don endured a long path to recovery that tested his faith. For a film that promises “90 Minutes in Heaven,” it’s pretty scant on the heaven — it’s more like “Two Hours in a Hospital Bed.” For fans of Piper’s book, the film will be a welcome treat, with high-quality filmmaking and legitimate stars in Christensen and Kate Bosworth. But as a cinematic story, it fails to create a satisfying narrative with a true arc that pays off; it’s too caught up in explaining its minor details to focus on the big picture.
Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service