2003 February

(3 Feb) Lovely and Amazing (2002, Nicole Holofrener) 74
[ Why is that the most insecure women attach themselves to the most inconsiderate jerks? You want to feel for these characters, but at the same time it’s frustrating how they can’t get over their neuroses or at least try to do something about it. Thankfully, the actresses are engaging enough. There’s Catherine Keener doing her usual fuck-off thing, Emily Mortimer offering a brave/vulnerable performance as a self-deprecating actress and Brenda Blethyn breathing decency as the other two’s hapless mother. Writer-director Nicole Holofrener lays it on thick and her film can be obnoxious at times, but it’s got a sweet core. ]

(4 Feb) The Recruit (2003, Roger Donaldson) [ review ] 57

(4 Feb) Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 93

(5 Feb) Chasing Amy (1997, Kevin Smith) [ review ] 87

(6 Feb) The Favourite Game (2003, Bernar Hébert) [ review ] 80

(6 Feb) The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Movie (1979, Chuck Jones) 88
[ Compilation films are often a cheap marketing ploy, but you must appreciate the opportunity to watch all your favorite Looney Tunes cartoons back to back. Is there anything as hilarious in its cruel fatalism as Wile E. Coyote’s vain attempts at capturing the Road Runner? Or what about “Duck Amuck” in which animator and character collide in a manner as wonderfully meta as anything Charlie Kaufman has ever written? Didn’t “What’s Opera, Doc?” introduce generations of kids to classical music? Has there ever been a more accurate depiction of the exquisite agony of unrequited love than Pepe Le Pew’s? And most importantly, is there anything sexier than Bugs Bunny in drag? ]

(7 Feb) Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale) 91
[ A moving story, gorgeous animation, catchy musical numbers, barely a hint of condescending kiddie stuff… This just might be Disney’s best film. ]

(7 Feb) The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor) 93
[ Katharine Hepburn as a spoiled socialite about to get remarried, Cary Grant as her bitter ex-husband and James Stewart as a snobbish tabloid reporter: quite the cast, isn’t it? This old-fashioned yet incisive romantic comedy is a bit stiff, looking every bit like the filmed play it basically is, but the flawless performances and the wise and witty dialogue more than make up for it. And this that rare movie romance where you actually don’t know who will win the woman’s heart until the very last minute. ]

(7 Feb) Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock) 95
[ Another great James Stewart film but in quite a different register. Stewart plays a wheelchair-bound magazine photographer who fights boredom by looking out the window into the apartments of his neighbours: the newlyweds, the sexy ballet dancer, the lonely single woman, the pianist… the murderer? This makes for one of the most voyeuristic and suspenseful films Alfred Hitchcock ever directed. “Rear Window” is packed with virtuoso visual storytelling, managing to remain absolutely engrossing even though we never leave Stewart’s tiny little apartment. It doesn’t hurt that his girlfriend is played by the most beautiful woman in the world, Grace Kelly, who never looked better than in this movie. That first close-up of her when she bends to kiss Stewart would make anyone’s heart melt. ]

(11 Feb) To Catch a Thief (1955, Alfred Hitchcock) 90
[ Cat burglar John Robie has been clean for fifteen years but a new wave of jewel robberires has started and, to prove his innocence, Robie must catch the copycat thief himself. Cary Grant came out of semi-retirement to star in this Hitchcock caper, and who could have resisted such an offer? A location shoot around the beautiful beaches of the French Riviera, endlessly clever and amusing dialogue, cool cars and the prettiest woman in the world as his romantic opposite, Grace Kelly. That ain’t work, that’s the best vacation you could wish for, and so is watching this wildly inconsequential but utterly entertaining film. ]

(11 Feb) Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi) [ review ] 85

(12 Feb) The Street Fighter (1974, Shigehiro Ozawa) 92
(13 Feb) Return of the Street Fighter (1974, Shigehiro Ozawa) 48
(13 Feb) The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge (1974, Teruo Ishii)
25
[ My thoughts on the Street Fighter trilogy can be found h e r e ]

(13 Feb) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937, David Hand) 86
[ I remembered how beautiful and colorful the animation is (gotta love all the cute animals) and how goofy them dwarfs are, but I’d forgotten how evil that Stepmother Queen is: “Kill Snow White and bring back her heart in this box”? Damn! And is it just me or Snow White sounds like she’s a “very special” princess? In any case, this remains a truly charming picture. ]

(13 Feb) Daredevil (2003, Mark Steven Johnson) [ review ] 68

(14 Feb) The Heroic Trio (1993, Johnnie To) 39
[ Maggie Cheung is an amoral superwoman-for-hire, Anita Mui is a cop’s wife who moonlights as vigilante Shadowfax and Michelle Khan is a kung fu expert with an invisible cloak who kidnaps infants for an evil wizard. There’s some kind of absurd plot linking the three together and by the end they do form a “heroic trio”, but for the most part what we get is a lot of idiotic nonsense devised only so everyone will get to fight everyone else. The cheesy dialogue, campy acting and the uneasy mix of goofiness and ultraviolence add up to something pretty crappy, but it’s amusing crap. ]

(14 Feb) Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock) 96
[ Hey, I didn’t know John Woo’s “M:I-2” was a remake! Seriously, doesn’t its plot bear striking resemblance to this Hitchcock classic? An American government agent recruits a woman with a shady past, he falls in love with her in the process and is torn apart when he must assign her to seduce and spy on one of the bad guys. Switch terrorists based in Australia for Nazis in 1946 Rio and they’re the same film… Except that “Notorious” favours complex and provocative drama instead of over the top action scenes and it presents a much more affecting couple with the great Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Espionage thrillers have hardly ever felt this intimate and devastating. ]

(14 Feb) Possession (1981, Andrzej Zulawski) 94
[ So Andrzej Zulawski wrote and directed a film about his marriage’s break-up in 1981… It’s a tale of love and betrayal, desire and jealousy, obsession and madness… Sam Neill is the husband going nuts over the departure of his wife, played by Isabelle Adjani, who’s taken not one but two lovers: a slimy guru-type man and, mmm, how do you say… Oh, yeah, a freaking octopus/lizard creature! Andrzej, dude, what kind of break-up was that?!? “Possession” is a relentlessly over the top, unflinching look at utter madness. The nervy camerawork, the inescapable brightness of daylight and the bizarre lounge-from-hell score all work at creating a riveting surreal atmosphere unsettled increasingly often by outbursts of ultraviolence. Isabelle Adjani will creep the hell out of you with her disturbing and hysterical performance. This has got to be the most fucked up film I’ve ever seen; it makes David Lynch’s movies look like fairy tales. ]

(15 Feb) High Society (1956, Charles Walters) 82
[ This musical remake of “The Philadelphia Story” is not quite as insightful and involving as the original, mostly because Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra don’t have half the screen presence that Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart had. Grace Kelly doesn’t quite match Katharine Hepburn’s performance either, but the gorgeous actress is endearing and funny nonetheless. And how can you not get a kick out of a movie featuring the always enthusiastic Louis Armstrong and his band jazzing things up? All of the Cole Porter songs are a treat, really, especially the irreverent Crosby-Sinatra duet “Well, Did You Evah”. ]

(16 Feb) Perfect Blue (1997, Satoshi Kon) 77
[ Japanimation more concerned with psychological drama then post-apocalyptic mayhem and rapist creatures? That’s already interesting. “Perfect Blue” tells the story of a pop star struggling to make it as an actress who is stalked by a mysterious webmaster… But it’s more twisted than that. Think of a cross between “Mulholland Dr.” and “Psycho”, for better or worse. I particularly liked the insights into the exploitative nature of an actress’ occupation, which reminded me a little of parts of “Lovely and Amazing” (the main character is even drawn like Emily Mortimer!). What doesn’t work so well is when the film trades gritty realism for surrealism and extreme gore. Still, overall this is a picture that looks great but is also supported by an involving enough script that could have worked as live action. ]

(17 Feb) Satchmo (1989, Gary Giddins) 84
[ Engrossing documentary about the unique Louis Armstrong packed with film clips showcasing the trumpet virtuoso’s musical genius and charisma. The filmmakers and the interviewees (Tony Bennett notably) argue that Armstrong was one of the driving forces of 20th century pop culture and a pioneer of jazz. It’d be hard to disagree after these toe-tapping, uplifting 90 minutes. ]

(17 Feb) La Jetée (1962, Chris Marker) 93
[ This is the short film which inspired Terry Gilliam’s brilliant “Twelve Monkeys”. The same brilliance can be felt here, as we can see the basic ideas that were developed in Gilliam’s film. “La Jetée” is actually a photo-roman, i.e. a novella put in images. The narration tells the story of a time-traveller from post-apocalyptic Paris who gets to relive a childhood moment which stuck in his head his whole life, all of which is shown through a series of still black & white photographs. The film is drenched with melancholy and lyricism and is a must-see complement to “Twelve Monkeys” (or is it the other way around?). ]

(18 Feb) Some Like it Hot (1959, Billy Wilder) 94
[ This is the best comedy of all time according to the American Film Institute. That might be pushing it a bit (I’m partial to “Dr. Strangelove” or “The Producers” myself), but there’s no denying that this is an incredibly witty and enjoyable flick. It starts off like a gritty gangster film in prohibition era Chicago with car chases and shoot-outs and a raid on an illegal booze joint, but the tone lightens up considerably when the story shifts to Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as musicians who escape all the surrounding mayhem by taking a gig in Florida… in an all-girl band! The back-and-forth between the two actors in drag is very amusing and supporting actress Marilyn Monroe? Zowie! Now that’s a woman! But she’s also got great comic timing, overflowing charm and a great singing voice to boot. ]

(19 Feb) Exit pour Nomades (1992, Pierre Bastien) 49
[ Lucien Francoeur is one of the most fascinating/ridiculous public figures in Québec. From his bad spoken word over slightly better rock music to his current gigs as a morning man on Cool FM and as a French Literature Teacher, Francoeur is all about contradictions. Poetic or vulgar, a Rimbaud wannabe working as a spokesperson for Burger King, a would-be Jim Morrison that’s fat, balding and can’t sing, a Beat biker who thinks he’s Billy the Kid who lives in the suburbs… This 1992 documentary is as laughably pretentious as Francoeur himself, but in an endearingly naïve way. ]

(20 Feb) Rashomon (1950, Akira Kurosawa) 93
[ A priest, a farmer and a vagrant meet in rain-drenched ruins and discuss the day’s court hearing regarding the murder of a samurai. We hear and see what happened according to the accused, the widow and even the victim himself speaking through a medium. It is clear that the bandit raped the woman and that this lead to the death of her husband, but no one can agree on the details… Akira Kurosawa’s film is rather slow, with sparse dialogue and intentionally non-spectacular scuffles, but where it becomes riveting (aside from the superb b&w cinematography and Toshiro Mifune’s gleeful overacting) is in the way the story is structured. By having each protagonist’s testimony contradicting the others, “Rashomon” sets up an ambiguous morality tale in which one’s truth is another’s lie. The sexual politics are questionable (“Women are weak by nature”) but probably reflective of Japan at the time, and the conclusion is underwhelming (“Thanks to you I can keep my faith in men.” “Don’t mention it.”) but this remains a masterful picture that’s still influential to this day. ]

(20 Feb) Glengarry Glenn Ross (1992, James Foley) 91
[ This adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play still feels staged, but who cares that it’s not particularly cinematic when you’ve got such sharp dialogue acted out by three generations of the best American actors? Jack Lemmon is a real estate salesman who lost it and is so desperate that ethics and dignity hardly matter anymore to him, Alan Arkin as a slightly less hopeless loser, slow-burn Ed Harris and explosive Al Pacino as loud mouths with their own insecurities, Kevin Spacey as their relaxed asshole manager and Alec Baldwin tearing them all down as a big shot from the downtown office who comes in to give them a pep talk. This is pure, brash, foul-mouthed, adrenaline-fueled Mamet, and everyone in this great cast sinks their teeth into it with relish. ]

(21 Feb) Old School (2003, Todd Phillips) [ review ] 73

(22 Feb) Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz) [ review ] 100

(22 Feb) A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies (1995, Martin Scorsese)
86
[ In this fascinating exposé, Martin Scorsese takes us through his lifelong infatuation with cinema, recounting the history of the art form and discussing various aspects of it through the point of view of the director, naturally. How D.W. Griffith brought film its grammar, the eternal conflict between Art and Commerce, the evolution of genres like the Western, the Gangster film and the Musical, the impact caused by the introduction of sound, Technicolor and Widescreen, the way some filmmakers “smuggled” different ideas past the censors during the Production Code and how others were downright iconoclasts, breaking conventions and “ultimately expanding the art form”. Scorsese is always insightful and engaging and this epic documentary, packed with countless clips from films of all kinds and interviews with some of the filmmakers and players, is infused with his passion for the subject and inspires one to plunge further into it himself. ]

(24 Feb) The Great Dictator (1940, Charlie Chaplin) 88
[ Before the United States entered World War II, one of its leading filmmakers took a stand: Charles Chaplin. I personally don’t find his Tramp schtick all that funny, but the way he ridicules Hitler (“Hynkel”) is really ballsy, the better-laugh-than-cry depiction of the Holocaust is heartbreaking and Chaplin’s final plea for peace and tolerance is an inspiration, even sixty-some years later as war and hate are unfortunately still a reality. ]

(25 Feb) Mon Oncle Antoine (1971, Claude Jutra) 92
[ This was Quebec not so long ago, a nation of good-hearted but colonised Frenchies being exploited in mines or in the woods by English bosses and kept in the dark by the Church and Prime Minister Duplessis… But Claude Jutra’s film about an undertaker and his young nephew is not all bummer. There’s the joy of being a kid off school for the holidays, the warmth of family, the noisiness of the magasin général, the beauty of the Canadian winter (especially as shot by Michel Brault), the excitement of discovering girls… “Mon Oncle Antoine” is a much understated but endearing coming-of-age story most notable for its attention to detail, both in period recreation and the way people behave, and at times it works as pure poetry. ]

(26 Feb) Visitor Q (2001, Takashi Miike) 91
[ What do you call a movie where the 10 minute incest opening is the tamest scene? Another day at work for Takashi Miike. In “Visitor Q”, the twisted Japanese director takes a shot at reality TV, except that the family depicted here is so dysfunctional that it makes The Osbournes look like the Brady Bunch! Shot on video with minimal flourishes, this is little more than an 80 minute succession of taboos being giddily ignored. Sex, drugs and violence abound, and then you’ve got a dude who likes to hit people behind the head with a rock, extreme lactating and the perils of raping a corpse. What’s most shocking is how absurdly entertaining all this amorality actually is! If you like your comedies pitch black, you can’t go wrong with this one. ]

(27 Feb) Intacto (2003, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo) [ review ] 35