2008 log (12)

(1 Dec) Elle veut le chaos (2008, Denis Côté) 67
[ Winner of a well-deserved Prix de la mise en scène at Locarno (any and all cinematography awards should also be de rigueur for the stark beauty of the B&W images), this minimalist modern day Western is ostensibly about a gunman (Laurent Lucas) riding back into town to get his old girlfriend (Ève Duranceau), who lives with her father (Normand Lévesque) in the middle of nowhere, next to some bandits (Réjean Lefrançois, Nicolas Canuel and Olivier Aubin)… Also involving phone sex, ping-pong and a mother-daughter team of Russian ballerinas/prostitutes, Denis Côté’s third feature is most of all a hanging out movie, which can be a bit too dry and wilfully opaque, but remains impressive if only as an exercise in style. ]

(2 Dec) Le Grand départ (2008, Claude Meunier) 49
[ Reviewed for Voir ]

(2 Dec) The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky) [ review ] 91

(4 Dec) Seven Pounds (2008, Gabriele Muccino) 43
[ Hanté par un événement douloureux de son passé, Ben Thomas (Will Smith) rôde mystérieusement autour de divers inconnus, désirant contribuer à changer la vie de ceux qui le méritent, notamment un aveugle (Woody Harrelson) et une femme (Rosario Dawson) ayant désespérément besoin d’une greffe de coeur… Mélodrame volontairement décousu au profit d’une fin-surprise (que l’auteur de ces lignes a devinée dans les 15 premières minutes du film), Seven Pounds est un croisement improbable et plutôt pénible entre Pay It Forward et 21 Grams. On pourrait aussi décrire le film comme l’anti-Se7en, le récit tournant autour d’un personnage s’imposant comme une autorité morale, sauf qu’il cherche à aider de bonnes personnes plutôt qu’à punir des pécheurs comme dans le film de David Fincher. Derrière la caméra, le cinéaste italien Gabriele Muccino (qui avait déjà dirigé Smith dans The Pursuit of Happyness) fait ce qu’il peut avec le médiocre scénario de Grant Nieporte, livrant une mise en scène sensible et expressive qui parvient malgré tout à trouver des notes de grâce ici et là. Quand le film ne s’attarde qu’à la relation entre les personnages de Will Smith et de Rosario Dawson, particulièrement, on a droit à quelques moments amusants ou touchants, les deux acteurs partageant une belle chimie qui nous fait presque oublier l’intrigue boiteuse qui les entoure. ]

(6 Dec) The Times of Harvey Milk (1984, Robert Epstein)
(7 Dec) Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant)
85
[ I believe it’s a must to see both these films. The Oscar-winning documentary, which allows one to see the actual Harvey Milk in action and to hear from the people who knew him. And this biopic which, on top of retelling the story of his brief but historic political career (often using some of the same archival footage seen in the documentary, which blends in perfectly with Gus Van Sant’s cinéma vérité visual style), uses the tools of fiction to give us a glimpse into who he was in his personal life.

While nothing beats seeing the real Harvey, Sean Penn is awesome in the part, capturing how full of life, joy and humor as well as righteous indignation the late gay activist was… Which makes it all the more heartbreaking to know that he ended up being assassinated, barely 11 months after he was first elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Van Sant deftly makes us feel the shadow of that tragedy looming, in the form of Milk’s fellow supervisor Dan White, who is played by Josh Brolin, who eerily looks like the real White.

“Milk” sometimes lags a little bit because, while James Franco and Diego Luna are good as Harvey’s lovers, the scenes of intimacy can seem a bit superfluous, whereas “The Times of Harvey Milk” is leaner and more to the point. But in both versions, this story of a man who, in 8 years, went from saying “40 years old and I haven’t done a thing I’m proud of” to “A homosexual with power – that’s scary!” nonetheless remains powerful and inspirational. ]

(7 Dec) Wendy and Lucy (2008, Kelly Reichardt) 56
[ Sorta kinda like a really low-key, Dardenne-style “Into the Wild”, but with a young woman and a dog instead of a young man, this film’s got some interesting cinematography, great use of sound, raw acting from Michelle Williams… But it doesn’t add up to all that much. It would have made a good short, but even at 75 minutes, it feels spread thin. ]

(8 Dec) Le silence de Lorna (2008, Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne) 67
[ Having compared two films to the Dardenne’s in the last week (“The Wrestler” and “Wendy and Lucy”), it made sense for me to finally watch the brothers’ latest. Striking newcomer Arta Dobroshi stars as an intriguingly iron-willed Albanian girl who married a Liège junkie to get her Belgian citizenship, planning to kill him off once his presence wouldn’t be needed anymore. Disturbingly enough, the Dardenne manage to make her junkie husband so pathetic and unbearable that we actually feel that him dying would be the best for everybody, but I’m not so sure whether that’s intentional… In any case, that mid-film ellipsis is undeniably clever and effective, it’s nearly Hitchcockian in its precision and impact. Alas, it’s all downhill from there, as the plot twists itself into one contrived little knot after another. Only Dobroshi’s truly striking presence and the Dardenne’s usual mastery of neorealist mise en scène keep us from losing our interest. ]

(9 Dec) The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008, Scott Derrickson) 16
[ Reviewed for Voir ]

(10 Dec) Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle) 93
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(13 Dec) Che (2008, Steven Soderbergh) [ review ] 94

(15 Dec) Un conte de Noël (2008, Arnaud Desplechin) 72
[ A large ensemble of characters, who are all fucked up in all kinds of ways, be it health issues, dysfunctional relationships, mental breakdowns, griefs, family secrets… Add a lot of visual gimmicks (title cards, iris shots, characters breaking the fourth wall) and insistent music and you get something not unlike “Magnolia” or “The Royal Tenenbaums”, except really really really French. Which is not a bad thing per se, especially with a filmmaker who’s clearly got the goods like Desplechin, but at times, the film can still feel pretentious, unpleasant and overstuffed. Thank God the cast (Mathieu Amalric, Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Devos, Chiara Mastroianni, etc.) is so engaging, because otherwise the thing might have collapsed under its own weight. ]

(16 Dec) Hunger (2008, Steve McQueen) 45
[ “Northern Ireland, 1981. 2187 people have been killed in “the Troubles” since 1969. The British Government has withdrawn the political status of all paramilitary prisoners. Irish Republicans in the Maze Prison are on a “blanket” and “no wash” protest.” And with just those few lines as context, we’re off for an hour and a half of slow, often dialogue-free (the centrepiece conversation with the priest being the notable exception), desperately bleak scenes in which prisoners suffer abuse from the guards or inflict it upon themselves, by running around naked, smearing their shit on the walls of their cells and yes, going on a hunger strike. McQueen’s got a keen eye for stark visuals and the actors are definitely dedicated, but for what? This film is (intentionally) a chore to watch, sure, but is it moving, thought-provoking or truly aesthetically challenging? Not so much.

Funny aside: the film’s being distributed in part by Icon, Mel Gibson’s company – I guess he responded to all the sadomasochism! ]

(17 Dec) Miroir Noir (2008, Vincent Morisset) [ review ] 91

(18 Dec) The Spirit (2008, Frank Miller) 14
THE OCTOPUS – “There’s shot to hell and there’s shot to hell and then there’s just plain ridiculous.” [ Reviewed for Voir ]

(19 Dec) Rocky IV (1985, Sylvester Stallone) [ review ] 90

(20 Dec) Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle) 93
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(21 Dec) Canvas (2008, Joseph Greco) meh
[ Reviewed for Voir ]

(23 Dec) Australia (2008, Baz Luhrmann) [ review ] 94

(23 Dec) Frank Miller’s Sin City (2005, Robert Rodriguez) [ review ] 92
[ Watched this for a third or fourth time to a) wash off the stink of Frank Miller’s “The Spirit”, and b) remind myself again how Mickey Rourke already got his groove back a few years before “The Wrestler”. Great success on both counts: what a movie, what a performance by Rourke! ]

(25 Dec) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008, David Fincher) [ review ] 55

(29 Dec) The House Bunny (2008, Fred Wolf) 8
[ A little bit “Revenge of the Nerds”, a little bit “Legally Blonde”… But mostly, a lot of suck. As much as I love Anna Faris, this is just too dumb, formulaic and boring. Yawn. ]

(29 Dec) Pi (2008, Darren Aronofsky) 80
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(30 Dec) Doubt (2008, John Patrick Shanley) 86
[ For the duration of the first act, I was actively wondering why the hell this film had garnered praise from critics, so nonplussed was I from the inert pacing, the screenplay’s obvious origins as a stage play and the alternately flat and overdone direction. But then something peculiar happened: once the mechanics of the piece’s central conflict kicked in, I was instantly and completely engaged by the movie, which grows as tense and suspenseful as any thriller! I couldn’t get enough of the verbal sparrings between Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, a progressive priest who wants to be liked by his parish, and Meryl Streep’s, a self-righteous nun who’d rather be feared by them. I’d rather not get into the details of the story and the ideas explored, but “Doubt” is, in short, a gripping and provocative morality tale, as brilliantly performed as it is written. John Patrick Shanley’s direction remains the film’s weak spot and something should have been done about that first act, but everything else is so great that it mostly makes up for it. ]

November / January