2009 log (7)

(4 Jul) Cabaret (1972, Bob Fosse) 91
[ I finally got around to seeing this through my little Nazi phase, but I should have so long ago as it’s right up my alley, what with me loving musicals in general and “Moulin Rouge!” in particular. Fosse’s film is obviously a huge influence on Luhrmann’s: amild-mannered English writer (Michael York/Ewan McGregor) hooks up with a “wildy sexual” song-and-dance girl who dreams of becoming an actress (Liza Minelli/Nicole Kidman) against the backdrop of a colourfully decadent nightspot run by an outrageously exuberant Master of ceremonies (Joel Grey/Jim Broadbent). And then there’s a Baraon/Duke that comes between them – in a particularly literal sense in “Cabaret”! Catchy songs, snappy dialogue, outrageous performances, clever editing… Bob Fosse really had it going on. And the fact that all that jazz is taking place while the Nazis are rising to power adds a darker, creepy undercurrent to the whole thing. A truly outstanding picture. ]

(6 Jul) Stalker (1979, Andrei Tarkovsky) 96
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(7 Jul) Black Book (2007, Paul Verhoeven) 84
[ Okay, back to the Nazis. This one’s a survivor story, about a young Jewish woman (Carice van Houten) who just wouldn’t give up and die, even after her whole family was gunned down by the SS in front of her (not unlike Shoshanna in “Inglourious Basterds”, I guess). In fact, to make it through the war alive, she had to change her name, dye her hair blonde and not only pretend to be a good Aryan, but also literally sleep with the enemy, using her beautiful face and perfect breasts to get into the bed of the head of the Dutch Gestapo. This kind of kinky sexuality is no surprise coming from the director of “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls”, and neither are the brutally violent scenes, as Verhoeven also helmed films like “RoboCop”, “Total Recall” and “Starship Troopers” (haven’t seen his earlier works yet, so I can’t say how they compare). Even though it’s inspired by real events, this comes off like a very pulpy tale, full of twists and turns, even once the war is over! It’s also very morally ambiguous, with almost no character being purely good or evil. ]

(10 Jul) Gina (1975, Denys Arcand) 78
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(12 Jul) The Code (2009, Mimi Leder) 51
[ I’m endlessly fascinated by the world of DTV. Sure, tons of these are lowbrow affairs done on the cheap by hack directors with has been (or never been!) actors. But then sometimes you stumble upon some that features big stars and/or feature impressive pedigree and you’re like: “Why wasn’t this released in theatres?” The easy answer could be: “Because it sucks”, but that’s often not the case. Some of the best movies I’ve seen this year were released straight-to-DVD here in Quebec: “Nothing But the Truth”, “Outlander”, “Killshot”… All that to say that I was once again surprised earlier today when I was down at the video store to see this Mimi Leder (“The Peacemaker”, “Deep Impact”, “Pay It Forward”, etc.) flick which I’d never heard about, starring Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman as a veteran thief who teams up with a younger, hot-headed robber (Antonio Banderas) to steal two priceless Fabergé eggs in order to repay his debts to the Russian mob. Also featuring sexy Radha Mitchell as Freeman’s goddaughter, whom Banderas puts the moves on, and Robert Forster as a police lieutenant who’s been hunting Freeman for 20 years, “The Code” is a heist thriller with a generic but engrossing enough plot, a solid cast and decent production values. Nothing amazing here, but nothing embarrassing either that would justify this not making it into theatres. In any case, it seems to be doing okay: last week, it was reported that “The Code” topped the rental charts in North America, knocking “Gran Torino” off the #1 spot. Not bad for a DTV flick! ]

(13 Jul) Réjeanne Padovani (1973, Denys Arcand) 64
(14 Jul) Le Confort et l’indifférence (1982, Denys Arcand) 85
(15 Jul) Québec: Duplessis et après… (1972, Denys Arcand) 72
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(17 Jul) Push (2009, Paul McGuigan) 63
[ A comic book movie that isn’t actually based on a comic book (the Wildstorm mini-series was actually conceived after the film, even though it came out first), “Push” is also turns out to be an unexpectedly melancholy superhero tale. “There are special people in this world. We don’t ask to be special. We are just born this way.” So says Dakota Fanning’s character in her opening narration, and this pretty much sets the tone. This isn’t a movie about the thrill of having super powers, it’s about the curse of being different and being preyed upon because of it. Come to think of it, the “X-Men” flicks were already onto that idea, but it still came as something as a surprise to me here, maybe just because I expected something much more cheesy and shallow. Anyway, the film establishes that during WW2, the Nazis tried to turn individuals with psychic abilities (telepathy, telekinesis, precognition, psychometry, etc.) into weapons and that, up to this day, a Division of the U.S. government has continued working in that direction, tracking down young folks with extraordinary skills and conducting experiments on them. This eventually leads to a bunch of fights, chases and shoot-outs, but there’s nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned, especially when said fights, chases and shoot-outs are rather inventive and fun. UK director Paul McGuigan, whose first films (“The Acid House”, “Gangster No. 1”) positioned him as sort of the missing link between Danny Boyle and Guy Ritchie, here seems to be channelling Asian genre filmmakers such as Tsui Hark and Takashi Miike, with all the hyperkinetic visuals this implies. Not so coincidentally, much of “Push” is set in Hong Kong and what’s more, it was actually shot there, so there’s this hectic vibe and flavourful atmosphere that I responded to, which made me mostly forgive how messy the plot can be. Now, I get that a movie starring Dakota Fanning, Chris Evans and Camilla Belle doesn’t sound that great, I felt the same way beforehand, but even though their characters are one-dimensional, they’re not bad in this, especially Dakota, who’s growing into a pretty cool little actress. ]

(18 Jul) De père en flic (2009, Émile Gaudreault) [ review ] 75

(18 Jul) Nuit de noces (2001, Émile Gaudreault) 64
[ Watching Gaudreault’s debut almost right after his latest confirms that from the get-go, he’s known exactly what kind of movie he wanted to make and did a good job delivering on his intents. Like his three later pictures, this is an ensemble comedy that veers a bit too much into vaudeville/sitcom territory, but that is also quite heartfelt and grounded. This is a classic rom-com, from the meet-cute to the endless will-they-or-won’t-they dance between the leads (François Morency and Geneviève Brouillette), except that it’s not about them becoming a couple, but about whether their wedding weekend will end up with them getting hitched or not. The storytelling is a bit loose and the gags are hit and miss, but there are some interesting gimmicks borrowed from the “Annie Hall” playbook (characters talking to the camera, playful cross-cutting, fantasy sequences, etc.) and the supporting players (Pierrette Robitaille, Jacques Girard, René-Richard Cyr, Michel Courtemanche, Sonia Vachon, Yves Jacques, Diane Lavallée, etc.) are quite enjoyable. Also, if I’m not mistaken, Pierre Lapointe is an extra in an early scene! ]

(19 Jul) On est au coton (1970, Denys Arcand) 77
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(20 Jul) Casque d’or (1952, Jacques Becker) 95
[ Whoa. This is probably the best French film I’ve ever seen, but also one of the best films I’ve seen whatsoever. This is on the level of great Hawks, great Hitchcock, great Huston… All the same, it’s not quite like any flick any of those guys have ever made, as it’s very, very French, in all the best ways! Here’s this gangster movie/film noir that stars a bunch of little Frenchmen with mustaches and is set in 1902 Paris, with horse carriages, ladies in fancy dresses and all that. So it’s a period piece, yet it doesn’t feel old-fashioned in any way. This is a riveting tale of sex and violence, starring the amazingly enticing Simone Signoret as a femme fatale who draws a lovestruck carpenter (Serge Reggiani) into a series of confrontations with a gang led by a devious wine salesman (Claude Dauphin). Built around a perfectly constructed screenplay, this gorgeously shot B&W film impressively juggles tones, managing to be alternately funny and suspenseful, wildly entertaining and disturbing, heart-warming and heartbreaking. A masterpiece through and through. ]

(21 Jul) Touchez pas au grisbi (1954, Jacques Becker) 88
[ While more conventionnal than “Casque d’or”, this film noir is still a great watch, with moody B&W cinematography, jazzy music and another truly well constructed screenplay. Taking place over a little bit more than 24 hours, the story starts out in an easygoing way, as long-time friends Jean Gabin and René Dary have dinner and drinks then go see their girlfriends dance in a cabaret. Slowly but surely, we learn that they’re sitting on a loot of stolen gold, and that a bunch of Italian thugs led by Lino Ventura intend to take it away from them. What follows is a tense yet also often fun yarn, with a great cast of tough guys and sexy dames. The action-packed last act is particularly engrossing but from the get-go, it’s a gas to watch the awesome Jean Gabin do his thing, always keeping his cool even when he’s slapping people around or gunning down motherfuckers! ]

Rebecca: Wow, this is so bad, it’s almost good.
Enid: This is so bad, it’s gone past good and back to bad again.
(from the ever quotable “Ghost World”)

(22 Jul) Cadavres (2009, Erik Canuel) 26
[ Hysterically unfunny, aggressively stupid, grotesquely lowbrow, pointlessly unpleasant and painfully boring… Oh, it’s well crafted enough like every Canuel flick, but it’s nonetheless a thoroughly hollow experience. You can tell that this is supposed to be an oh so provocative black comedy, then again, half the time, it seems to be taking itself seriously. Apparently left on their own, the actors’ performances are all over the place (is Patrick Huard’s character supposed to be retarded or what?), the pacing is generally off and, worse of all, the film makes the age-old mistake of trying to be a cult movie, which never works, of course. Even full frontal Julie LeBreton nudity can’t save this; it didn’t work for “Dans l’oeil du chat” either, so… ]

(24 Jul) (500) Days of Summer (2009, Marc Webb) 93
[ It’s pretty crazy how the same movie can make you happy and sad… I guess the same way that you can love and hate a girl at the same time, especially after she’s dumped you. Bitch. Marc Webb’s extraordinary debut would be best described as an anti-romantic comedy, in as much as it’s not about love conquering all, it’s about love making you fall on your face. In that way, it’s not unlike “High Fidelity” (with which it also shares an impeccable taste in music) and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (with which it also shares fractured chronology storytelling). It’s also got a general Cameron Crowe vibe, its use of voice-over narration is very “Magnolia”, and with the achingly beautiful and wonderfully quirky female lead being played by Zooey Deschanel, it’s impossible not to think of “All the Real Girls”… So it borrows a few tricks from other films, but only from the best, and never to the point where it feels derivative. Webb’s film is way too obviously heartfelt and sincere for that, plus Joseph Gordon-Levitt is amazingly convincing and relatable, which seals the deal. ]

(25 Jul) Sans dessein (2009, Steeve Léonard & Caroline Labrèche)
[ I can’t objectively rate this, as a few friends of mine were involved with the production of this low budget independent feature. But I can tell you anyway that I enjoyed it a great deal! The US had Kevin Smith, the UK had Edgar Wright, and now Quebec has Steeve, Caroline and the rest of the Dead Cat Films crew, basically. Here’s a movie that’s both funny and sensitive, clever and juvenile, about a slacker coming into his own. Full of universal geek culture references (“Star Wars”, “Back to the Future”, “Star Trek”, “Transformers”, old kung fu movies, etc.), “Sans Dessein” is nonetheless Québécois to the core, which gives it a special color that’s quite unique. ]

(25 Jul) Funny People (2009, Judd Apatow) [ review ] 79

(26 Jul) The Hurt Locker (2009, Kathryn Bigelow) 92
[ Simply put, this is one of the most suspenseful movies I’ve ever seen. Following a bomb squad while they do their thing around Irak, “The Hurt Locker” constantly keeps us on the edge of our seats, as everything the characters do could instantly kill them if they make a mistake… Or even if they don’t, because there’s seemingly always threatening individuals waiting in the shadows. Even in between the half dozen of nerve-wrecking set pieces, during the male bonding scenes, things remain tense, as our daredevil heroes always appear to be a moment away from blowing a fuse. Shot in a guerilla documentary style that reminds of Paul Greengrass, the film also features note perfect performances from the three leads (Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty and the particularly badass Jeremy Renner), as well as a few memorable guest star appearances (Guy Pearce, David Morse and especially Ralph Fiennes). A truly great action flick. ]

(29 Jul) Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino) [ review ] 94

June / August