2011 log (12)

(1 Dec) The Adventures of Tintin (2011, Steven Spielberg) 65
[  Adapted from Hergé’s beloved series of bandes dessinées, “The Adventures of Tintin” is most notable for how marvellously it uses performance capture and computer animation to strike a perfect balance between photorealism and cartoonishness. After a tediously exposition-heavy first act in which it becomes clear that the goody two shoes, white-bread persona of Tintin (Jamie Bell) can be rather dull on its own, things pick up considerably with the introduction of Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a loudmouthed drunk whose flaws only give him more character. We also get to enjoy some spectacular action sequences, as Tintin, Haddock and brave pooch Snowy travel the world looking for lost pirate treasure in sort of a light version of “Indiana Jones”. Great snakes!   ]

(4 Dec) À bout portant (2011, Fred Cavayé) 69
[  This new film from Fred Cavayé, who previously directed “Pour elle” (which was remade – badly – by Paul Haggis in 2010 as the Russell Crowe vehicle “The Next Three Days”), further confirms that he’s one of France’s best action filmmakers. Beginning in the middle of a breathless chase through Paris, “À bout portant” (“Point Blank”) barely lets up over the next 80 minutes, as a nurse’s aide (Gilles Lellouche) unwittingly finds himself tagging along with a safecracker (Roschdy Zem) on the run from a police squad (led by Gérard Lanvin) in order to save his pregnant wife (Elena Anaya). Sometimes preposterous yet always gripping nonetheless, this taut thriller is the closest thing to a “Bourne” flick we’ll get this year from either side of the pond.  ]

(5 Dec) Nuit #1  (2011, Anne Émond) 30
[  Following a very Xavier Dolan opening which has sweaty girls  and boys dancing in slow-motion to Elysian Fields’ cover of  Serge Gainsbourg’s Les Amours perdues, an extended,  relatively explicit sequence shows Clara (Catherine de Léan)  and Nikolaï (Dimitri Storoge) getting it on in various  positions. Then we stick around with the two of them as their  one night stand turns into a series of pretentious, obnoxious,  woe-is-me soliloquies (“Modern times disgust me. Modern love  disgusts me,” etc.). A dour variation on Michel Deville’s  Nuit d’été en ville, this debut feature from local  filmmaker Anne Émond is a chore to sit through, even though  it’s adequately crafted and de Léan is occasionally affecting.  ]

(8 Dec) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  (2011, Tomas Alfredson) 71
[ This adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 espionage novel is not only set in the 1970s, it also feels like a 70s film. Far from adopting the frantic pace and style of a “Bourne” flick, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a dry, slowly unfolding yarn, elegantly shot with lots of grays and browns, moving between various European locations and back in forth in time, as protagonist George Smiley (a quietly imposing Gary Oldman) tries to discover the identity of the Soviet mole among the leaders of “the Circus,” i.e. MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service. The story takes the form of a chess game of sorts, as Smiley and numerous other characters try to outplay each other, which initially seems rather unexciting, yet it gradually grows quite captivating. The ensemble cast, in which Oldman is notably joined John Hurt, Toby Jones, Colin Firth, David Dencik, Ciarán Hinds, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and my personal favourite, Tom Hardy, who single-handedly reignited my interest about halfway through when it threatened to wane. I also got a kick out of Karla, the never-seen Russian spymaster, who’s kind of got a Keyser Söze thing going on. To me,  “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is more the kind of film I admire than the kind I truly enjoy, but one way or the other, it’s well worth seeing.  ]

(11 Dec) We Need to Talk About Kevin  (2011, Lynne Ramsay) 94
[ It opens with Eva (the always amazing Tilda Swinton) at La Tomatina, that annual tomato fight held in Buñol, Spain. As we watch everyone get covered in gory-red tomato chunks, we hear what sounds like the audio of a massacre and we’re filled with a feeling of dread and unrest which will be sustained throughout the whole film, as will the recurring use of the color red and the jarring sound design. This adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel blurs our notions of time and reality, plunging us into an impressionistic, hallucinatory experience we assume to be the troubled state of mind of Eva after husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) and her son Kevin (Ezra Miller, previously seen in the similarly disturbing “Afterschool”) goes on a killing rampage at his school. As we catch glimpses of her raising Kevin from a baby who never stops screaming to a creepy infant and a downright evil teenager, we’re faced with what must be a parent’s worst nightmare. The aforementioned brilliantly unnerving sound design is augmented by a score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood working in the same direction, never allowing us to get comfortable. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is also filled with striking imagery, as cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, editor Joe Bini and art director Charles Kulsziski all do absolutely remarkable work with filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, creating a masterpiece of an art-house horror film in which each moment is rivetingly visceral.  ]

(12 Dec) We Bought a Zoo (2011, Cameron Crowe) [ review ] 92

(15 Dec) Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol  (2011, Brad Bird) 83
[  Easily the best entry in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, this over the top spy thriller is still stuck with a preposterous plot and one-dimensional characters. But the set pieces, i.e. what matters most in a flick like this, totally deliver. As directed by Brad Bird, making an astonishing live action debut, the various stunts, chases, fights, shoot-outs, break-ins and break-outs are all inventive and exciting. “Ghost Protocol” is also full of humor, I loved the chemistry between Tom Cruise and his team (Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg), and the villains are a blast as well (Michael Nyqvist, Samuli Edelmann, Léa Seydoux). Briskly moving from Budapest to Moscow, Dubai and Mumbai, all the while alternating fun little beats with IMAX-size action sequences, this is a damn great time at the movies.     ]

(18 Dec) Margin Call (2011, J.C. Chandor) 80
[ An ensemble drama set in the cutthroat world of big money à la “Glengarry Glenn Ross” or “Boiler Room”, this debut from J.C. Chandor is smart, slick and surprisingly suspenseful. Taking place over a two-day period, including a long sleepless night, “Margin Call” is all about how disconnected Wall Street guys are from the rest of the world (the 99%, you might say) and how they basically gamble with the global well-being of the economy until it’s too late. The whole cast is great, notably Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Penn Badgley, Aasif Mandvi and Demi Moore, with Kevin Spacey coming out on top. ]

(18 Dec) Beginners (2011, Mike Mills) 74
[ “I don’t know… I don’t think this is what I’m supposed to feel like.” When this line was spoken out loud by one of the characters, it perfectly encapsulated my current state. Here’s a film that I should have totally, unequivocally loved. Quirky indie dramedies are a dime a dozen, but I still find the better ones to be a treat, and this clearly qualifies as such. Ewan McGregor is typically great as a man who, shortly after the death of his mother (Mary Page Keller), is told by his 75-year-old father (Christopher Plummer) that he’s gay… Finally out of the closet after all those years, the old man lives it up for a while, then he’s diagnosed with cancer and eventually dies from it. I’m not spoiling anything, we learn all of this in the opening minutes of the movie, which them cannily jumps back and forth in time between the last years of the father’s life and the aftermath of his death, during which McGregor begins a tentative relationship with a “strange girl” (Mélanie Laurent), with flashbacks to his childhood thrown into the mix as well. By all means, I should have cried my eyes out throughout the film, yet though I enjoyed it and did remain engaged, I never quite fully connect with it. Maybe it has to do with all the witty asides and whimsical flourishes, you know, the bittersweet cartoons, the historical trivia, the montages of photographs, the dog talking through subtitles… Clever and amusing stuff, sure, but could it have gotten in the way of me being moved more deeply by the film? Maybe a second viewing would help? ]

(18 Dec) Gerry (2011, Alain DesRochers) 17
[ You’d think a movie about Offenbach frontman Gerry Boulet would make us nostalgic for what a fun and lovable guy he was and for all the great music he created. Alas, this spectacularly misguided and inept biopic a) depicts him as a total drunken sleazebag who treated everyone around him like shit, and b) features shockingly little scenes of Boulet in the studio or on stage. Alternately clumsily dropping thick slices of exposition and skipping over important stuff, this clumsily written and directed movie never flows smoothly or builds any momentum. It’s just like, this happened, then that happened, oh and by the way we didn’t show you any of it, but all that other stuff happened as well, etc. And while Mario Saint-Amand looks the part as Gerry, his performance is uneven at best. ]

(18 Dec) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011, David Fincher) 94
[ Lisbeth Salander, man. The folks who’ve read the more than 65 million copies sold of the books in the “Millenium” series know this already, as do those who’ve seen the Swedish film trilogy. I wasn’t familiar with any of it though, so this was my first exposure to this absolutely fascinating character, a tattooed, pierced, bisexual, extremely smart yet antisocial  hacker who, as played by Rooney motherfuckin’ Mara, is by far the biggest badass in any of the past year’s movies. Likewise, I didn’t know anything about the intricately multilayered, wonderfully pulpy plot of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and found myself completely engrossed in it. Set in Sweden, which is apparently populated with serial killers, rapists and Nazis, the story has disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) investigating the mysterious disappearance, decades earlier, of the great-niece of a retired industrialist (Christopher Plummer), who lives on a secluded island with much of his dysfunctional family (Stellan Skarsgård, Joely Richardson,  Per Myrberg, Marika Lagercrantz, etc.). Screenwriter Steven Zaillian’s adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel just keeps moving forward as new pieces of information are introduced, and it’s all increasingly intriguing, as is everything having to do with Lisbeth, who ends up working as Blomkvist’s assistant. David Fincher brilliantly, unflinchingly directs all of this, making even scenes of people looking shit up on computers riveting, but also nailing the more horrifying, suspenseful, disturbing and/or thrilling sequences. The cinematography and editing are top notch and, post-”Social Network”, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross once again deliver the best score of the year, filling the soundtrack with alternately minimalist and overpowering music which creeps right into your soul and fills you with dread and awe with astonishing skill.  I also loved the streak of black humor which runs through the film, much of it revolving around Lisbeth, naturally. In a world of evil and manipulative men, she refuses to submit to their playbook and would much rather cut through all the bullshit and just do her thing without a second thought, like a creature of pure instinct. Can’t wait to see her again in the next two parts of the trilogy, which Fincher will hopefully shoot soon. In any case, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” on its own is already a high point in his career. ]

(21 Dec) Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, Rupert Wyatt) 88
[ I love the “Planet of the Apes” franchise. Love the original Pierre Boulle novel. Love the 1968 cult classic starring Charlton Heston. Love (most of) its four sequels. I even enjoyed the much-maligned Tim Burton remake! But in many ways, this prequel goes beyond all that came before. The main difference being that instead of actors in makeup, it uses performance capture and state-of-the-art CGI to bring the apes to life. It can also count on the Marlon Brando of this 21st century technology, the one and only Andy Serkis, a.k.a Gollum, King Kong, Captain Haddock and now Caesar, the would-be leader of the ape revolution. Through swift, smooth storytelling and well-placed ellipses, we follow Caesar’s evolution from a newborn to an adult, as he grows bigger, stronger, faster, and also eerily smart. Meanwhile, there’s a surprisingly touching human subplot going on between Caesar’s scientist master (James Francor) and his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father (John Lithgow). There’s also a romantic interest (Freida Pinto), but it’s superfluous. The human cast also includes Brian Cox and Tom Felton as the assholes running the primate sanctuary where Caesar ends up midway into the story, as “Rise” turns into sort of a prison movie… Before building up into a revolutionary epic and an in-sa-ne climax set on the Golden Gate Bridge. This is truly great genre filmmaking, driven by strong writing, dynamic camerawork, impressive special effects and, more than anything, an incredibly soulful, Oscar-worthy performance by Andy Serkis. ]

(23 Dec) The Descendants (2011, Alexander Payne) 68
[ To me, Alexander Payne is not the brilliant filmmaker many critics make him up to be. He’s capable of the best (“Election”) but also the worst (“About Schmidt”). And then there are those films like “Citizen Ruth” and “Sideways” that contain varying amounts of greatness, but also some more or less major flaws. In the case of “The Descendants”, that would be the contrived exposition delivered through thick slabs of voice-over narration and on-the-nose dialogue during the first act. I was like, SHUT THE FUCK UP, CLOONEY! STOP SPOON-FEEDING US EVERYTHING YOUR CHARACTER THINKS AND FEELS! THIS IS A MOVIE, NOT A BOOK! SHOW, DON’T TELL! Still, I thought the film nicely captured the amazing Hawaii scenery and found George Clooney’s acting to be exceptional when the screenplay didn’t get in his way. LESS IS MORE! (Ok, enough yelling) Then there’s Shailene Woodley, who’s a revelation as his teenage daughter, and I also loved Judy Greer’s extended cameo in the third act. What’s more, the movie eventually drops the voice-over narration and, while still clumsy and obvious at times, by the end it had mostly won me over with the way it dealt with the ambiguous, conflicting emotions the characters have to deal with. As such, even though I still think “The Descendants” is overrated, I gotta admit that at its best, it’s pretty damn good. ]

(28 Dec) Les Douze travaux d’Astérix (1976, René Goscinny, Albert Uderzo & Pierre Watrin) 80?
[ This is one of those Ciné-Cadeau perennial classics that is hard to rate objectively for me… The animation isn’t all and neither is the story of anything, but I love it all the same. Particularly when I was a kid but also regularly over the years since, I’ve watched it countless times and still find it to be a total treat. Highlights being l’Île du Plasir, l’antre de la Bête, la Maison qui rend fou… Good times. ]

(28 Dec) Our Idiot Brother (2011, Jesse Peretz) 67
[ It seemingly seems all over the place, as titular idiot brother Ned successively crashes at each of his three sisters’ place and becomes involved in their lives, for better or worse… But slowly but surely, a simple but engaging enough thematic thread reveals itself, what with Ned really not being so much of an idiot as just a really, really naive hippie dude (think The Dude) who’s too trusting and honest – which has a way of exposing the bullshit in others, e.g. his sisters. This is very much an actors movie, which wouldn’t be half as enjoyable if it wasn’t for Paul Rudd’s winning lead performance, plus the casting of Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer and Elizabeth Banks as the sisters, as well as Steve Coogan, Rashida Jones and Adam Scott in supporting parts. Oh, and let’s not forget about Willie Nelson the dog! ]

(29 Dec) Hanna (2011, Joe Wright) 45
[ In this modern fairytale, a girl (Saoirse Ronan) is raised/trained in the wild by her father (Eric Bana), in hope that she can escape the evil “witch” (Cate Blanchett) out to kill her when she’s grown-up and ready to go back into the world. Sort of a cross between “Nell” and “The Bourne Identity”, this action flick suffers, oddly enough, from being too artsy for its own sake. I’m all for auteurs doing action, but I’m not sure Joe Wright (“Pride and Prejudice”, “Atonement”) was the best choice for such a change of pace. Conceptually, I appreciate what “Hanna” is going for, but the pacing, tone and style are often all wrong, as if the filmmaker didn’t fully commit to the genre and wanted to remind us that he’s really an artist. As such, this never feels as gritty, badass and exciting as it should. It’s visually striking, it’s got a dynamic enough score by the Chemical Brothers and the three leads are solid, but it failed to connect with me. Basically, this is an action movie for people who don’t like action movies. ]

(29 Dec) Anchorman (2004, Adam McKay) [ review ] 85

(30 Dec) Astérix et Cléopâtre (1968, René Goscinny, Albert Uderzo & Lee Payant) 83?
[ Again, not sure how much is Ciné-Cadeau nostalgia and how much is the movie actually being great… But watching this for the umpteenth time, I was giddy the whole time. Love the characters, love the setting, love the twists and turns of the story… And I particularly love the music and the songs, notablyLe lion de Cléopâtre, Quand l’appétit va, tout va and of course Le pouding à l’arsenic! ]