2011 log (1)

(2 Jan) Casino Jack (2010, George Hickenlooper) 64
[ Despite it having played at TIFF and received an Oscar-qualifying run in late December, this movie has received relatively little buzz so far. It’s odd because it stars the great Kevin Spacey as notorious Washington, D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff (a role that earned him a Best Actor nomination for the next Golden Globes) and, let’s face it, the fact that director George Hickenlooper died recently could have led to a lot more exposure being given to this release. That being said, what matters is the film itself and, in my opinion, it’s a real treat. Snappy and lively even though it deals with serious matters, it sorta reminded me of satirical yet all-too-relevant films like “Wag the Dog”, “Thank You for Smoking”, “Charlie Wilson’s War”, things like that. Up here in Quebec, political corruption has been making headlines a bunch lately, so this stuff hits close to home, but I also enjoyed how Norman Snider’s screenplay emphasized the more colourful aspects of Abramoff, notably his tendency to do impressions and quote from movies and the fact that he actually produced a couple himself (the Dolph Lundgren vehicle “Red Scorpion” and its sequel, if you’re wondering), his “delusions of fucking grandeur” and his bizarre understanding of philanthropy and karma. As the title implies, “Casino Jack” is also a bit of a casino flick and a con men film, too, two sub-genres I’m personally quite fond of. The tone and pace are sometimes off, but uneven or not, this is a fun, clever enough, deliciously cynical picture, worth seeing for Spacey’s wildly entertaining performance alone, not to mention the solid ensemble cast surrounding him (Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz, Kelly Preston, Rachelle Lefevre, Graham Greene, etc.). ]

(3 Jan) Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (2010, Edgar Wright) [ review ] 94

(5 Jan) The Bang Bang Club (2011, Steven Silver) 51
[ This first feature from Steven Silver, who was an executive producer on “Shake Hands With the Devil”, is yet another picture in which African history is depicted from the point of view of white folks. In this case: the titular group of photographers who, from 1990 to 94, risked their lives to document the explosive last years of South Africa under apartheid. While it does raise some thought-provoking questions about the ethics of conflict photography, as the characters played by Ryan Phillippe, Taylor Kitsch, Frank Rautenbach and Neels Van Jaarsveld become rich and famous by “watching people die,” “The Bang Bang Club” fails to properly establish the socio-political context or to engage us emotionally. The scenes of chaos and violence are intense enough, though. ]

(5 Jan) Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010, Apichatpong Weerasethakul) 59
[ Slow, quiet, flatly acted, contemplative and impenetrable, this Palme d’or-winning Thai film will appeal only to the most hardcore cinéphiles. And even then… I don’t know, man. “Joe” creates some eerie atmosphere and some striking imagery: the buffalo roaming around the jungle, the dark figures and glowing red eyes of the monkey ghosts, the catfish fucking a princess near a waterfall, the descent into the cave… But there are also plenty of dull scenes in which nothing of interest happens and overall, this is kind of a chore to sit through, to the point where I sometimes wondered if the critics who praised this weren’t only pretending to love it… Still, I’m glad I finally saw it, if only for those 3 or 4 memorable sequences. ]

(6 Jan) White Material (2010, Claire Denis) 86
[ In an unnamed African country, a French woman (Isabelle Huppert) who runs a coffee plantation, her husband (Christophe Lambert) and their “half-baked” son (Nicolas Duvauchelle) attempt to survive what seems to be a civil war, with the army clashing with rebels and a whole lotta people ending up dead on both sides and especially amongst the civilian populations… The details of the conflict are never clear and the story is told in a non-chronological, elliptical fashion, which made me think somewhat of Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies”, even though the context is not the same at all. Then again, it kind of is: it’s just people killing or being killed, the reasons why don’t matter… “White Material” is an organic, impressionistic, intense picture, with many wordless sequences, plenty of powerful visuals and a bloody brilliant post-rock score by Stuart Staples and Tindersticks, who make amazing use of guitars, harmonium, flute and cello. It’s chaotic yet lyrical, finding grace notes even in the midst of all the violence, the guns and the machetes, the soldier boys and whatnot. It really puts you in the moment, with much urgency and suspense… In the end, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered -what was the deal with the Boxer played by Isaach de Bankolé, for instance- but, again, it doesn’t really matter. ]

(6 Jan) Clue (1985, Jonathan Lynn) 81
[ You wouldn’t expect much from a movie based on a board game, but this is actually a real treat. More a comedy than a murder mystery, it benefits from a truly funny screenplay by John Landis and then first-time director Jonathan Lynn, who intentionally cooked up a ridiculously convoluted plot and filled it with colourful characters (pun intended), who are played by a great comic cast let loose to overact, chew scenery and ham it up like crazy. From Christopher Lloyd as Professor Plum, Lesley Ann Warren as Miss Scarlet, Michael McKean as Mr. Green, Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White, Martin Mull as Colonel Mustard and Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock to Tim Curry as the butler and Colleen Camp as the big-titted French maid (!), everyone is clearly having fun and so are we, as we’re it by a non-stop cavalcade of vaudeville, slapstick and witty wordplay. ]

(10 Jan) The Green Hornet (2011, Michel Gondry) [ review ] 72

(17 Jan) Funkytown (2011, Daniel Roby) 53
[ My interviews with Roby, writer Steve Galluccio and star Patrick Huard for Voir ]

(21 Jan) Easy A (2010, Will Gluck) 73
[ Unless she also turns into a desperate party girl fuck-up too, Emma Stone totally has the potential to achieve has much success as Lindsay Lohan and then some. I already dug her in the great “Superbad” and even in some of the not-so-good flicks in which she’s appeared (“The Rocker”, “The House Bunny”), but this is her “Mean Girls”, i.e. a star-making lead turn in a surprisingly clever and biting high school comedy that deals with the ways teenage girls treat each other, particularly in regard to how they tend to label each other “bitches”, “sluts”, “whores”, “skanks” etc. Is it sexism when they are doing to themselves? Of course, the screenplay by Bert V. Royal has to praised for all the funny one-liners, colorful characters and inventive twists and turns found in the movie, and Will Gluck’s direction has a lot to do with how dynamic and lively the whole thing is, but still, Emma Stone’s charisma, comic timing and resourcefulness as the simultaneously badass, dorky, cool, goofy, sexy and geeky Olive go a long way towards making “Easy A” such a treat. I also enjoyed seeing my girl Amanda Bynes as an hypocritical Jesus freak, plus the wonderful “grown-up” supporting cast that includes Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell and Fred Armisen. It might overdo it a bit with the voice-over narration, the way the plot mirrors “The Scarlet Letter” is a bit half-assed, and I’m not quite sure it earns the right to link itself to high school movie classics from the ’80s like “Say Anything” and John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, though. It’s well worth seeing nonetheless, and here’s hoping we see a whole lot more of Emma Stone in the future! ]

(28 Jan) Say Anything (1989, Cameron Crowe) [ review ] 97

December / February