2011 log (5)

(1 May) Fast Five (2011, Justin Lin) 80
[ In this fourth sequel, the “Fast and Furious” franchise goes all “Ocean’s Eleven” on us, as Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) assembles a crack team of thieves/drivers (Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Tego Calderón, Don Omar, etc.) to steal 100 million dollars from a Rio de Janeiro kingpin (Joaquim de Almeida), all the while trying to evade a DSS agent (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his men, who are hot on his trail. The plot is absolutely preposterous, the dialogue is often groan-inducing, the characters are one-dimensional, the direction is dynamic but a bit messy at times, and the performances are uneven at best… Nevertheless, “Fast Five” should satisfy most fans of old-school Hollywood action flicks, macho bullshit and homoeroticism. Again, the film as a whole is hit and miss, but the five main set pieces (the train robbery, the foot chase through the favelas, the Vin Diesel vs. The Rock fight, the ambush, the epic car chase with endless mayhem and destruction following the vault heist) are as badass, spectacular and fun as you could hope for. ]

(2 May) La vida de los peces (2011, Matías Biz) 83
[ You know how when you’re getting ready to leave a party, you start making a tour of the house to say goodbye to everybody and before you realize it, it’s been more than an hour and you still haven’t left? This is exactly what happens to Andrés (Santiago Cabrera, whom you might remember from the TV series “Heroes” and Steven Soderbergh’s Che) in “La Vida de los peces” (“The Life of Fish”). A travel writer, he left Chile when he was 23 and ended up staying abroad for 10 years. Momentarily back in his hometown, he finds himself stalled at an old friend’s birthday party as he keeps running into people he hasn’t seen in a long time, including former flame Beatriz (Blanca Lewin). A thoughtful, bittersweet story about the choices we make and how we sometimes come to regret them as our conception of what is important in life evolves, “La Vida de los peces” is not unlike Matías Bize’s previous films thematically. Plus, the Chilean filmmaker again displays his propensity to observe the classical unities of action, place and time, which allows the characters to gradually reveal themselves as we follow them around during an evening at that one party. Natural, almost documentary-like at times, more lyrical and impressionistic at others, the success of the film relies in great part on the chemistry between Cabrera and Lewin, whose characters clearly still have feelings for each other, despite the fact that Beatriz got married and had children with somebody else while Andrés was gone… ]

(4 May) Thor (2011, Kenneth Branagh) 67
[ After “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk”, and before “Captain America” sets the last stone leading to “The Avengers”, here is “Thor”, the newest addition to Marvel’s big screen superhero roster. Part heroic fantasy, part comic-book Shakespeare, part fish-out-of-water comedy, the story revolves around Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishing his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Earth and making him unable to wield his mighty hammer until he’s grown less arrogant and impetuous. Despite muddled action scenes, uneven FX, pointless 3D and an overabundance of Dutch angles, the movie remains entertaining, in large part thanks to the imposing performances by Hemsworth, Hopkins and the rest of the cast. Special mention to the hilarious Kat Dennings, who steals nearly every scene she’s in. ]

(14 May) Grease 2 (1982, Patricia Birch) 52
[ This inferior, Travolta-less sequel is still enjoyable for the most part thanks to a young Michelle Pfeiffer throwing herself into the role of a Pink Lady, some fun musical numbers and the way the plot mirrors that of a superhero flick, with Maxwell Caulfield’s mild-mannered English exchange student regularly turning into Cool Rider, a mysterious goggles-wearing motorcycle daredevil who fends off an evil biker gang and knocks Pfeiffer out of her socks. ]

(15 May) Bridesmaids (2011, Paul Feig) 74
[ This Judd Apatow production has been described in some quarters as a female “Hangover”, but I think it’d be more fitting to call it a female “I Love You Man” because, as hilarious as the comedy scenes can be, this also happens to be a pretty darn insightful and touching story about friendship. Kudos to star/writer Kristen Wiig for delivering the laughs bit time with all kinds of witty, raunchy and/or absurd gags, but also for keeping things relatively grounded in regards to the way women (mis)behave amongst each other. She couldn’t have picked a better on-screen BFF than Maya Rudolph, with whom she had great chemistry for all those years on SNL. Also a lot of fun are Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey and especially Melissa McCarthy. And the use of Wilson Phillips’ Hold On? Perfect, just perfect. ]

(22 May) Homme au bain (2010, Christophe Honoré) 3
[ As far as pseudo-intellectual experimental films starring a porn star go, I already thought that Steven Soderbergh’s Sasha Grey vehicle “The Girlfriend Experience” was a bit of a wank, no pun intended. Still, it was a masterpiece compared to this self-indulgent bore, in which Christophe Honoré (“Les chansons d’amour”) directs French gay porn performer François Sagat, along with Omar Ben Sellem, Chiara Mastroianni and Montreal actor Dustin Segura-Suarez, none of whom make much of an impression. Dramatically aimless and visually unappealing (it looks like an amateur video), “Homme au bain” might titillate some viewers with its graphic male-on-male sex scenes. Then again, if that’s what you’re looking for, you might be better off catching some of Sagat’s earlier roles in the likes of “Hole Sweet Hole” and “Humping Iron”. ]

(23 May) Road House (1989, Rowdy Herrington) 80 [ review ]

(23 May) All Good Things (2010, Andrew Jarecki) 77
[ Starting with the 2003 trial testimony of one David Marks (riveting Ryan Gosling), this atypical thriller then flashes back to the 1970s to tell the story of this mentally unstable son of a real estate tycoon (imposing Frank Langella), specifically in regards to his troubled relationship with his wife (heartbreaking Kirsten Dunst), up to her mysterious disappearance in 1982. Not unlike David Fincher’s “Zodiac”, only more low-key and smaller in scope, this film attempts to shed some light on a notoriously unsolved real-life criminal case (Marks is based on Robert Durst). Effectively keeping things ominous and ambiguous throughout, director Andrew Jarecki (“Capturing the Friedmans”) doesn’t make it easy for the audience to know how they should feel about the characters, which makes it all the more fascinating. ]

(28 May) You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010, Woody Allen) 58
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(31 May) X-Men: First Class (2011, Matthew Vaughn) 90
[ Beginning during the Holocaust, as the kid who would become Magneto discovers his powers, exactly like the first “X-Men” movie, this latest – and best – instalment then sticks with Erik Lehnsherr (badass Michael Fassbender) until the Cuban Missile Crisis, here given an alternate-history twist involving a whole bunch of mutants, including younger versions of Charles Xavier (suave James McAvoy) and Mystique (a poignant Jennifer Lawrence). Director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”) delivers an extraordinary comic book flick by way of a 60s James Bond-style spy movie, displaying a keen sense of storytelling and wowing the audience with not only dazzling FX and thrilling set pieces, but also humour, emotion and a dash of sexiness (hello, January Jones). Geek nirvana! ]

April / June