2004 log (1)

(5 Jan) Vendus (2004, Éric Tessier) 34
[ Less than 4 months after the release of his scarily effective “Sur le seuil”, Éric Tessier follows it up with an underwhelming crime comedy. Double-crosses, violence played for laughs and wacky twists abound in this sub-Coen movie about a prostitute trying to blackmail the loser husband of a rich real estate agent. Tessier’s direction is dynamic and Véronique Bannon is like sex on a stick, but DV blown up to 35mm still looks horrible and “Vendus” is too derivative to impress. ]

(5 Jan) Sunrise (1927, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau) 70
[ Murnau’s first American picture (after making “Nosferatu” and “The Last Laugh” in Germany) was the toast of the very first Academy Awards ceremony, winning Oscars for “Most Unique and Artistic Production”, Best Actress and a particularly deserved Best Cinematography. “Sunrise” may feel slow, dull and desperately corny to today’s audiences, but visually it remains as stunning as ever (the use of super-imposition alone is pure genius). Too bad the story and characters aren’t particularly interesting – the film could have used more of the coolest dog ever (watch him swim!) and of the city woman (who smokes cigarettes!!!) who threatens to come between the virtuous husband and wife. ]

(7 Jan) Mille mois (2003, Faouzi Bensaidi) 26
[ It’s Ramadan month in a small Morocco village coping with drought, unemployment and political unrest. Sounds like a lot of drama, but this is in fact one of those slow, contemplative pictures that linger for two hours without much happening. Some of the long static shots have an hypnotic quality and what we gather about these people’s lives and beliefs is mildly interesting, but something’s wrong when the theft of a chair is the most notable event in a film. ]

(7 Jan) Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller (1988, Michael Rubbo) 43
[ Whaaaa? Did I actually love this movie when I was a kid? This is the dorkiest dorkfest, full of dorks collecting stamps and travelling on them (don’t ask), all the way to China and Australia! The highlight is that staple of ‘80s comedies, the chase through the mall. Here’s it’s Montreal’s Complexe Desjardins, there’s a teenage Rufus Wainwright performing the film’s theme song and it culminates with producer Roch Demers being thrown into a water fountain, ho ho. ]

(7 Jan) Freaky Friday (2003, Mark Waters) 61
[ Like with such other live-action Disney pics as “The Parent Trap” or “Lizzie McGuire”, I didn’t expect much from this, but once again I’m surprised by how dynamic, funny and even touching these girlie flicks can be. The body-switching story is one of the oldest in the book, but Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis are both a hoot when acting like the other and director Mark Waters keeps everything bright and giddy. Good times! ]

(8 Jan) Aime ton père (2001, Jacob Berger) 19
[ A French writer (Gérard Depardieu) is riding his motorcycle to Stockholm to pick up the Nobel Prize when his troubled son (Guillaume Depardieu) crosses his path with the intention to confront him, by any means necessary. What ensues is an emotional chase, a father-son road movie full of increasingly silly twists. The most ridiculous thing is how seriously the film takes itself, with the whole cast indulging in unconvincing hysterics. Not even the baggage brought by the Depardieus’ own rocky relationship off-screen manages to make us feel anything but incredulous amusement at what a spectacularly misguided venture this is. ]

(9 Jan) Lost in Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola) [ review ] 49

(9 Jan) Pousse mais pousse égal (1974, Denis Héroux) 23
[ 92 minutes of the most lowbrow, broad and unfunny physical comedy, yet I can’t stop watching! Aww, Gilles Latulippe, you. ]

(10 Jan) Expiration (2003, Gavin Heffernan) [ review ] 67

(12 Jan) Les oubliés de Herat (2003, Majid Majidi) 55
[ Shot in 2001 and 2002 as the country was bombed daily by the Americans, this documentary truly shows Afghanistan as a war zone. Focusing mostly on Maslakh camp near Herat, Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi gives a voice to refugees who feel forgotten by God and the world. These people have known war and misery for decades, but there’s still a strong sense of resilience to most of them. This makes our little worries feel even more petty. ]

(14 Jan) Le chien, le général et les oiseaux (2003, Francis Nielsen) 62
[ A lonely old Russian general who once set white doves on fire (take that, John Woo!) to defeat Napoleon’s army is haunted by the birds of St-Petersburg until he reluctantly befriends a stray dog. The film was written by Tonino Guerra, who collaborated with many greats like Antonioni and Fellini. Here his words are put into images by Francis Nielsen and the result is a crudely animated but charming and poetic movie. ]

(14 Jan) L’initiation (1969, Denis Héroux) 24
[ Chantal Renaud is now the girlfriend of former PM Bernard Landry and Danielle Ouimet is a fat has been, but thirty years ago they starred in this nudie flick, Quebec’s answer to “Emmanuelle”. The girls are pretty cute, but the movie is an endless series of pointless musical montages, boring softcore sex scenes and inane dialogue. ]

(14 Jan) Valérie (1968, Denis Héroux) 30
[ Before “L’initiation” there was “Valérie”, which first undressed la Québécoise on film. Dannielle Ouimet is a big-boobed Catholic schoolgirl who runs away with a biker and ends up working as a topless dancer and a call girl. Shot in B&W and propelled by a flower power score, there is a certain nostalgic charm to the movie, even though the writing and acting are subpar. ]

(15 Jan) All That Heaven Allows (1955, Douglas Sirk) 78
[ “Do you want your Douglas Sirk steak bloody as hell or burnt to a crisp?” Sirk’s 1950s melodramas are hardly subtle, but you gotta love the Technicolor cinematography and lavish score and the impossible romance between Jane Wyman’s rich widow and Rock Hudson’s gardener is surprisingly involving. ]

(15 Jan) Deux femmes en or (1972, Claude Fournier) 26
[ Two bored housewives get it on with a series of delivery men. Sounds like a porno? This is actually a broad sex farce starring a who’s who of 1970s Quebec stars, led by Monique Mercure’s bare ass and Louise Turcot’s perky milkers. ]

(16 Jan) Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (2004, Robert Luketic) [ review ] 25

(17 Jan) Underworld (2003, Len Wiseman) zzz
[ After 20 minutes of desperately gloomy “atmosphere”, lame-o sub-Matrix mayhem and dull-ass exposition of pop mythology, a blonde vampire chick walks up to cold and charmless werewolf-hunting Kate Beckinsale and tells her: “It’s a waste of time, you know.” Whoa, babe, you won’t have to tell me twice! * eject DVD * ]

(18 Jan) Anything Else (2003, Woody Allen) 54
[ Even the lesser Woody Allen films have a tendency to make me feel good. Oh, Jason Biggs is desperately miscast as a neurotic intellectual comic writer (that’s Jason SCHWARTZMAN you wanted here!), Christina Ricci tries for that crazy/adorable Diane Keaton thing but only comes up with crazy/unbearable and Jimmy Fallon is criminally wasted (only 5 minutes of screen time and not a single joke!)… Yet Woody’s writing remains endlessly clever and irreverent and he’s absolutely hilarious as Biggs’ “raving, psychotic lunatic” mentor. ]

(19 Jan) Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde (2003, Charles Herman-Wurmfeld) 60
[ After reading my review of “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!”, in which I wrote that his earlier “Legally Blonde” was fun only because of Reese Witherspoon’s spunk, Robert Luketic told me: “I guess Legally Blonde 2 was a work of art without me.” Having yet to see that sequel, this inspired me to do so tonight. Verdict: art it may not be, but it’s a perfectly watchable trifle, which is more than I can say about “Tad”. “Red, White and Blonde” is a rehash of the first flick, sure, but I’m still in love with Reese, Bruiser the chihuahua, Jennifer Coolidge and all the pink junk around them. Good times! ]

(20 Jan) Clerks. (1994,Kevin Smith) 62
(20 Jan) Mallrats (1995, Kevin Smith) 54
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(20 Jan) crazy/beautiful (2001, John Stockwell) 68
[ Early on you can feel this isn’t just another teen movie. There’s this sense that this is about real people, real feelings… Kirsten Dunst is a rich girl who’s always getting into trouble, Jay Hernandez is working hard to escape a wrong-side-of-the-track background. When love blooms between the two, it isn’t Hollywood hogwash but a complicated, confusing, “crazy/beautiful” thing. Bruce Davidson plays Dunst’s father and, like John Mahoney in “Say Anything”, it’s not a cliché bad guy adult character, we can understand how he feels. Good writing, good direction and, as gorgeous as Kirsten looks in midriff-baring tops, it’s her heartbreaking performance that makes the strongest impression. ]

(21 Jan) His Girl Friday (1940, Howard Hawks) 81
[ Dense with rapid-fire dialogue and cigarette smoke, this screwball comedy is an epic battle of the wits between editor Cary Grant and his journalist (and ex-wife!) Rosalind Russell. The screenplay is spectacularly well written and the whole cast shines. ]

(21 Jan) Sweet and Lowdown (1999, Woody Allen) 63
[ Alternating talking head segments by jazz aficionados (including Woody Allen himself) with “re-enactments”, “Sweet and Lowdown” tells the story of Emmett Ray, the best guitarist in the world – after Django Reinhardt. A drunk, a cleptomaniac and a pimp who likes to shoot rats and to watch trains, this is a really fun character and Sean Penn is awesome in the role, as is Samamtha Morton as his mute and half-wit sweetheart. The storytelling is a bit jittery, with plotlines introduced then not quite followed up on (even Morton disappears for half an hour at some point), but this fake biopic remains one of Allen’s most enjoyable recent works. ]

(21 Jan) The Matrix Revolutions (2003, Andy & Larry Wachowski) [ review ] 81

(22 Jan) Les côtelettes (2003, Bertrand Blier) [ review ] 62

(22 Jan) Les Valseuses (1974, Bertrand Blier) 57
[ Gérard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere are two lowlifes who walk, drive, bike and ride the train through France, committing petty crimes and harassing women (and each other!). Blier is adapting his novel, which I haven’t read, but it feels like we’re skipping every other page. There is barely a story here and the characters are one-note, but the cast (which also includes Miou-Miou, Jeanne Moreau and Isabelle Huppert) is amusing enough. It’s just that what was “groundbreaking and controversial” (dixit the back of the DVD) 30 years ago seems almost tame today. ]

(23 Jan) The Butterfly Effect (2004, Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber) [ review ] 55

(25 Jan) Sweet Home Alabama (2002, Andy Tennant) 8
[ Reese, babe, you know I love you, but what the hell is this? It’s like all your spunk and charm vanished while you were playing this Southern-tomboy-turned-hoity-toity-Yankee-bitch. This has got to be one of the most superficial, uninspired, deadly dull “romantic” “comedies” I’ve ever seen. Not a single moment slightly resembles human behavior! Jared Sapolin’s review goes into more detail, but he might be softballing the movie a little (!). ]

(27 Jan) Permanent Midnight (1998, David Veloz) 61
[ 5 years before boning “The Cooler”, Maria Bello was already getting eaten out by losers – here former heroin-addicted “Alf” writer (!) Jerry Stahl, played in a too rare dramatic turn by Ben Stiller. Where Stiller goes you know Owen Wilson and Janeane Garofalo can’t be far; even Andy Dick shows up for a 2 second camero. Junkie movies are a dime(-bag) a dozen, but this usually comedic cast (which also includes Fred Willard and Elizabeth Hurley) gives this one a different flavor. Worth a look. ]

(27 Jan) Monkey Business (1945, Howard Hawks) 44
[ Cary Grant plays an absent-minded chemist whose monkey-rejuvenating formula is inadvertently mixed into the lab’s water-cooler, turning him and his wife (Ginger Rogers) into crazy youths again. This is hardly one of Howard Hawks’ best, but I love Cary, I love Marilyn Monroe (playing a sexy secretary), and Lord knows I love monkeys! ]

(28 Jan) Truly Madly Deeply (1991, Anthony Minghella) 66
[ This BBC TV movie totally belongs to Juliet Stevenson, endlessly heartbreaking and adorable as a grieving woman whose life is put in even more turmoil when her dead husband (the great Alan Rickman) mysteriously returns. This is a simple little sentimental film, not unlike, say, “Ghost”, but Minghella and his cast infuse it with plenty of heart and wit. ]

(28 Jan) Spellbound (1945, Alfred Hitchcock) 70
[ Ingrid Bergman is a “frozen-puss” psychiatrist, an all-work-and-no-play woman of reason who finds herself overwhelmed with passion for new hospital director Gregory Peck, who happens to be in desperate need of a psychiatrist! This is one of Hitch’s most unusual films, part murder mystery, part romance, part psychological drama and part pure surrealism, courtesy of designs by Salvador Dali and an eerie theremin score. ]

(29 Jan) Jack Paradise, les nuits de Montréal (2004, Gilles Noël) 17
[ Roy Dupuis has got charisma to spare, but he can still not manage to involve us in the by-the-numbers story of Jack Paradise, a French Canadian pianist who enters the often Black and English Montreal underworld from the 1930s to the ‘60s. This is a particularly poorly written film, with idiotic dialogue, one-note characters and a plot that’s little more than a loose string of clichés. The jazz music is cool enough, but the filmmakers lack the budget or the resourcefulness to truly recreate the period setting – the nightclub scenes always feel half-empty and lifeless, much as the movie. ]

(30 Jan) Dans l’œil du chat (2004, Ruby Barichello) 13
[ After an exceptional year where Quebec filmmakers showed they could make pictures both smart and entertaining, here’s a throwback to the days of desperately pretentious films that appeal to nobody. Simon (Jean-Nicolas Verreault) lost his girlfriend Pauline (Julie Le Breton) to a trip around the world from which she never came back. Months later he is still obsessed with her, even though he’s now dating her friend Gégé (Isabel Richer), with whom he only connects through lame movie sex. The movie is about clearing up the mystery of Pauline’s disappearance somewhere abroad, but in pure student film fashion it all takes place in a single apartment through endless phone calls, e-mails and faxes. Verreault is brooding throughout, generally half-naked and drunk, as if he were (badly) channelling Martin Sheen in the opening of “Apocalypse Now”. Colorful characters (notably Pierre Lebeau as the landlord) pop in occasionally, otherwise it’s moping and more moping. Ominous shots of Pauline’s orphaned cat walking around the apartment make one hope that some “Cat People”-style nonsense will shake things up, but no luck. “Dans l’oeil du chat” is reasonably well crafted, but it strives for heavy meaningfulness with no concern of drawing the audience in. ]

(31 Jan) Rain Man (1988, Barry Levinson) 72
[ I’m not sure this qualifies as the “Best Picture” of any year, but I liked it quite a bit. Dustin Hoffman is great, of course, and Tom Cruise offers strong support in the less showy role. ]