2003 January

(1 Jan) Far From Heaven (2002, Todd Haynes) [ review ] 79

(3 Jan) L’Invention de l’amour (2000, Claude Demers) 17
[ I rented this only for the infinitely gorgeous Delphine Brodeur, a young actress who happened to take some of the same classes as me in film school. Unfortunately, her presence is only a smallish breath of fresh air in this pseudo-auteurist bore. This film (about a self-pitying writer, a self-pitying housewife and a self-pitying prostitute connecting through lame movie sex) represents the worst kind of French Canadian movies which, as Hour critic Dimitri Katadotis perfectly words it, “feel the need to prop up typically banal stories with overblown metaphors and new-agey claptrap”, feature characters who are “ciphers – scriptwriting ideas awkwardly made flesh” and are further “undone by a self-conscious striving for significance”. There is not a single moment that rings true in “L’Invention de l’amour”, not a scene that doesn’t feel contrived… I’ll take the lowbrow entertainment of a “Les Boys” sequel over this kind of pretentious crap any day. ]

(4 Jan) Sympathy for the Devil (1968, Jean-Luc Godard) 47
[ A rockumentary focusing on rehearsals and politico-abstract vignettes about Black revolutionaries and Communists instead of high-decibel showmanship and behind-the-scenes debauchery? Hey, this non-fiction essay was directed by Jean-Luc Godard, so can you really expect another “Live at the Max”? Godard’s Marxist polemics and masturbatory deconstructionism can get tiresome, but seeing the Rolling Stones as young men working over and over on the arrangements of what would eventually become their brilliant “Sympathy for the Devil” is certainly fascinating. ]

(6 Jan) La Belle Noiseuse (1991, Jacques Rivette) 69
[ I could discourse about the themes and artistic merits of Jacques Rivette’s film, the story of a conflicted painter trying to get his groove back by having a beautiful young woman pose nude for him… But isn’t saying that it’s two hours of naked Emmanuelle Beart enough to send you running to the video store? ]

(7 Jan) Visions of Light (1992, Todd McCarthy) 83
[ An enlightening (pun intended) look at the art of cinematography. Using light and shadows, shot composition and various camera movements, directors of photography are the ones who make cinema such a visual medium. If they’ve done their job well, you should be able to turn the soundtrack off and still be involved in the story. “Visions of Light” is an engaging, very thorough documentary filled with insights into the creation of some of the most memorable images in the history of movies, and for once cinematographers get to step in front of the camera and share their knowledge and experience – recently deceased Conrad Hall, notably. ]

(7 Jan) Audition (1999, Takashi Miike) 88
[ What’s wrong with Japanese people!?! How do you turn what begins as a romantic comedy (about a middle-aged widower who decides to hold auditions to find himself a new wife) into a gory mindfuck that would shock even David Lynch? Director Takashi Miike has crafted a viscerally intense movie here, and the way it deals with “issues of trust and betrayal between a man and a woman” is certainly different and memorable but… Damn, this really is some crazy kind of messed up insanity! The giggly use of piano wire and acupuncture needles in the climax will haunt your nightmares for a long time… ]

(7 Jan) All or Nothing (2002, Mike Leigh) 84
[ Writer-director Mike Leigh’s latest working class melodrama follows a series of husbands and wives and their grown children in and around a London housing block. We meet people falling out of love, bummed out by their dead-end jobs, unhealthy, drinking too much… It could quickly become way too depressing but somehow the film is also full of life. Leigh is a very keen social observer, and he shows much compassion for his characters, who are brought to life by a great cast led by Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville. The cinematography by Dick Pope is arresting, bringing light and beauty to miserable circumstances, and Andrew Dickson’s omnipresent score effectively underlines the film’s raw emotions.

(10 Jan) The 25th Hour (2002, Spike Lee) [ review ] 59

(10 Jan) Chicago (2002, Rob Marshall) [ review ] 41

(11 Jan) Spirited Away (2002, Hayao Miyazaki) 90
[ Whoaaaa… Hayao Miyazaki is a genius. His latest (the highest-grossing film of all time in Japan!) is every bit as gorgeous and imaginative as his “Princess Mononoke”, but with a simpler, more compelling storyline. Very early on we feel for vulnerable but strong-willed little Chihiro, and her journey through an abandoned amusement park (inhabited by everything from man-pigs to talking frogs, bouncing heads, Stink gods, sorceress twins, a giant baby, bouncing heads and countless other oddball creatures) is all the more “transporting” because of it. Here’s hoping the Academy doesn’t drop the ball and gives “Spirited Away” a much deserved Best Animated Film Oscar next March. ]

(12 Jan) Ladies & Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen (1965, Donald Brittain) 87
[ Leonard Cohen is Montreal. Leonard Cohen is bittersweet love. Leonard Cohen is that feeling you get when you’re awake at 4 in the morning in a cheap hotel room. And this documentary, while way too short (44 minutes), offers a fascinating glimpse at Cohen as a young poet/novelist/stand-up/songwriter before he became a “pop” sensation. Donald Brittain’s film is very representative of the cinéma vérité the Office National du Film favored at the time, balancing information and lyricism, somewhere between a TV report and French New Wave cinéma. We follow Cohen around Montreal both “in crowds and in solitude” and we get to know him a little through little interviews and narration, a lot of which is taken right out of Cohen’s own writings. ]

(14 Jan) The Hours (2002, Stephen Daldry) [ review ] 92

(15 Jan) Sid & Nancy (1986, Alex Cox) 44
[ Trashy as hell “romance” of sex, drugs and punk rock. Gary Oldman is pretty damn good as Sid Vicious and the cinematography by Roger Deakins is awesome, but the movie’s relentless depiction of anarchist self-destruction gets tiresome. And if you’re interested in the Sex Pistols, you’re better off with the documentary “The Filth and the Fury”.

(17 Jan) Kangaroo Jack (2003, David McNally) [ review ] 39

(17 Jan) National Security (2003, Dennis Dugan) [ review ] 8

(21 Jan) Grass (1999, Ron Mann) 74
[ An informative and hilarious look at the attitudes towards marijuana in America through the 20th century. Ron Mann’s lively documentary uses old newsreels, film clips, nifty graphics and deadpan narration by Woody Harrelson to show how governments and the media made up all kinds of outrageous propaganda to convince people that pot smoking turns you into an insane, murderous, sex-crazed Communist! ]

(22 Jan) Johnny Suede (1991, Tom DiCillo) 86
[ In an interview with Stephen Lowenstein for the book ‘My First Movie’, Tom DiCillo says: “Is there a way the guy can look like a hero on the surface but underneath he’s as foolish and fearful and vulnerable as everybody else?” That is exactly what’s so interesting about DiCillo’s directorial debut, the way Suede looks like a ‘50s “teenage idol” with his foot-high pompadour and black suede shoes yet inside he’s insecure and naïve. Brad Pitt is endearing as the not-so-cool Johnny, he’s got good chemistry with Catherine Keener and he’s not too bad a singer! The technique is a little shaky at times, as first movies tend to, but I love the depiction of New York as a wasteland of empty, rundown streets, and DiCillo’s use of surreal dream sequences and the overall quirkiness make “Johnny Suede” into something of a gentler spin on David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart”. ]

(24 Jan) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002, George Clooney) [ review ] 27

(28 Jan) Du pic au coeur (2000, Céline Baril) 25
[ Xavier Caféïne is THE most electrifying rock star in Québec, but this inconsequential, pretentious little romantic comedy is hardly fit to his particular energy. It’s yet another of those desperately self-important French Canadian films about pseudo-existential young Montrealers. The adorable Karine Vanasse is a kooky concierge who sleeps with Caféïne but is not insensitive to Tobie Pelletier’s puppy love. There’s no depth at all to this love triangle, so the film is filled out with uninteresting, half-assed sideplots about a middle-aged Hungarian couple, a casino owner who spends all his time in the back of a limo watching people on surveillance cameras and an ex-con looking for redemption. Xavier Caféïne’s got charisma to spare but he can’t salvage such a contrived, overwritten film and, most frustratingly, his explosive musical genius is often buried under a timid score by Jérôme Minière. ]


(28 Jan) Manufacturing Consent (1992, Peter Wintonick)
85
[ This infuriatingly thought-provoking documentary chronicles a series of lectures and interviews given around the world by MIT scholar and controversial activist Noam Chomsky. What’s most enraging is that nothing has changed since the film was shot almost ten years ago. The media still delves into disinformation to serve the interests of the corporations that own them, atrocities still occur around the world to general indifference, and then there’s George W. Bush and his cronies foaming at the mouth to go to war in Iraq, and they don’t even feel compelled to tell the population why or to listen to the voices of dissent. All the more reasons to seek films like this one that inform and inspire to question authority. ]

(30 Jan) About a Boy (2002, Chris and Paul Weitz) 83
[ Ohmigod! What a lovely movie! I’d skipped it last year out of a vague annoyance with Hugh Grant, but he’s actually awesome here, playing up his shallow pretty-boy image to hilarious results. This is a fun, insightful picture about men in arrested development, even more so than that previous Nick Hornby adaptation, “High Fidelity”, because the emotional journey of the juvenile lead character is much more layered and touching here (no Jack Black, though). Grant has great chemistry with 11 year old Nicholas Hoult, and Toni Collette and Rachel Weisz nicely fill out the cast as single mothers. Chris and Paul Weitz have taken the insights and pathos I could sense in their “American Pie” flicks and put it up-front while keeping things lively and humorous. Wonderful little film. ]

(30 Jan) Touch of Evil (1958, Orson Welles) 96
[ Charlton Heston stars as a Mexican (!) cop in a border town who must deal with local gangsters, the disappearance of his wife (Janet Leigh) and a racist, corrupted American police chief played with sleazy bravado by a morbidly obese Orson Welles, who also wrote and directed this powerful, morally ambiguous film noir. Masterful direction, solid performances, gorgeous black & white cinematography and an engrossing plot: this is classic moviemaking at its finest. ]

(30 Jan) I Am A Hotel (1983, Mark Shekter) 12
[ Stretched out music video that strives for lyricism but comes off ridiculous and beyond cheesy. The all Leonard Cohen soundtrack is a treat, natch, but the cheap-looking production seriously undermine the poignancy of the music. You’re better off just listening to Cohen’s old LPs.

(31 Jan) Cidade de Deus (2003, Fernando Meirelles) [ review ] 92

FEBRUARY 2003 h e r e