2011 log (8)

(4 Aug) Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011, Troy Nixey) 42
[ Most notable for having been co-written and co-produced by Mexican filmmaker extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro, this remake of the 1973 made-for-television horror film comes off like a dumbed down, generic Hollywood version of “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Both movies are about a little girl who discovers a fantastic underworld, but try as he might, Troy Nixey possesses neither del Toro’s visual mastery nor his talent for getting great performances out of actors. Set in a gothic mansion where a little girl (Bailee Madison), her dad (Guy Pearce) and her stepmom (Katie Holmes) are stalked by creepy creatures who eat children’s teeth, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is pretty tense and scary at times, but it’s also frustratingly inconsistent and increasingly implausible. ]

(4 Aug) David (2011, Joel Fendelman) 63
[ When Daud, a Muslim boy, somehow befriends a group of young Orthodox Jews (who think his name is “David,” hence the title), he discovers that while they do have their differences, they’re ultimately mostly similar. Chatting, hanging out, playing around… They’re just kids being kids. Before making “David”, Fendelman shot “Daud”, a short that dealt with some of the same themes and also starred little Muatasem Mishal. The filmmaker then quickly moved on to the feature, putting his own savings into it so he wouldn’t have to wait to find financing. With the notable exception of Maz Jobrani, who plays Daud’s imam father, and a few others, most of the “David” cast is made up of non-professional actors, including the young lead, who delivers a moving, surprisingly understated and nuanced performance. Working with what he calls a “micro-budget” didn’t stop Fendelman from shooting a lot of exteriors and multiplying crowd scenes, practically making New York a character in his film. To pull it off, he often had to resort to what he describes as “guerrilla filmmaking,” shooting in real places with real people. The Muslim and Orthodox Jewish communities of Brooklyn helped a lot in the making of David, both in front of and behind the camera. And based on the feedback he’s had so far, Fendelman’s message of open-mindedness and tolerance was well received by people on both sides. ]

(11 Aug) Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982, Amy Heckerling) [ review ] 85

(14 Aug) Red State (2011, Kevin Smith) 88
[ See (14 Jul) ]

(15 Aug) Rocky II (1979, Sylvester Stallone) 54
[ This first “Rocky” sequel is watchable enough, if only for the Italian Stallion’s easygoing charisma, plus the always enjoyable performances by Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed and Burgess Meredith as Mickey. And then there’s the always rousing training montages, that amazing score, plus the actual fight at the end… But I have trouble with how the bulk of the flick is such a bummer, struggling as it does to pummel Rocky back into being a no-good nobody. Dramatically, the best films in the series have to be the original and the surprisingly affecting “Rocky Balboa,” with “Rocky IV” being the most entertaining by far. Your mileage may vary, etc. ]

(16 Aug) Conan the Barbarian (2011, Marcus Nispel) 19
[ Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery tales were already perfectly well served by the 1982 film, thanks to the primal efficiency of its storytelling, its iconic imagery, a brilliant score and the imposing performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger. This new iteration of the adventures of the Cimmerian warrior, here portrayed by Hawaiian male model Jason Momoa, is not only pointless but also brutally boring, even though it’s filled with bloody action. Blame the bombastic style of director Marcus Nispel (the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th” remakes), the muddled plot, the tacky art direction, the lame villains (a hammy Stephen Lang and an embarrassingly bad Rose McGowan). Only the early scenes with Ron Pearlman as Conan’s father are somewhat engaging. ]

(16 Aug) 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!

Note: this is a repost of a blurb written in July 2009 after I first saw the film. ]

(17 Aug) Hobo with a Shotgun (2011, Jason Eisener) 23
[ Rutger Hauer as a hobo with a shotgun, “delivering justice one shell at a time”? Sounds badass as hell, alas the actual movie is a dud, save for the striking cinematography by Karim Hussain, with its low-key lighting scheme and splashes of bright neon colors. Set in the filthiest, sleaziest town in the world, where some asshole and his douchebag sons are free to murder countless people in plain sight, the flick is certainly as trashy and gory as the best/worst exploitation cinema, but it’s oddly lacking in either thrills or fun… It’s just a tedious, empty, repetitive exercise in bad taste. I didn’t care about anyone or anything in the story, and didn’t notice any particular wit in the way Jason Eisener went through the motions of making a modern-day grindhouse film. ]

(20 Aug) Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen) 86
[ The opening sequence, a jazz-scored series of postcard-perfect shots of the City of Lights, wonderfully sets the mood. This is a love letter to the French capital, as seen through the eyes of an American who has a thoroughly romantic vision of it. I’m talking about Woody Allen of course, but also about his on-screen alter ego, played by Owen Wilson. His character, a Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of moving permanently to Paris to become a serious novelist, is a typical Woody protagonist, down to the existential crisis, the dysfunctional relationship with a nagging woman (Rachel McAdams) and the temptation to go for another girl (Marion Cotillard)… Except that said girl happens to live in 1920s Paris, hanging around the same circles as Picasso, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzerald, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Dyna Barnes, Luis Bunuel, Man Ray, T.S. Eliot, Matisse and other legendary artists! As such, “Midnight in Paris” is pretty much a pure fantasy, a delightful time-travel tale driven by nostalgia, “Golden Age thinking” and, maybe, denial as well… But you can’t deny how gorgeous and pleasant it all is. I particularly enjoyed Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzerald and Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí, plus the present-day cameo by Léa Seydoux. And while it’s mostly feather-light, it eventually leads to Wilson’s character having an insight – an admittedly minor one, but still! I don’t want to overpraise it, but I’m thinking this might be somewhere close to being, say, one of Allen’s ten-best pictures. ]

(21 Aug) Something Borrowed (2011, Luke Greenfield) 49
[ For the first half or so, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this romantic comedy, with its breezy storytelling that sets everything up in the pre-credits sequence, fills in the blanks through a few flashbacks, then lets the central situation play out… Said situation having to do with a mousy girl (Ginnifer Goodwin), her bitchy BFF (Kate Hudson) and the latter’s fiancé (Colin Egglesfield), who the former has always secretly loved – and vice-versa. Seemingly complicating matters and making things less predictable is the buddy character played by the always great John Krasinski, who I figured Goodwin might actually end up with. Alas (SPOILER!), that thread is a dead-end, as the movie starts going into fits halfway through, with everyone on screen acting in inconsistent ways, as if the filmmakers didn’t know what to have them do, constantly changing their mind until the end. Is this a comedy or a drama? Should we like the characters despite their flaws, or end up hating them all? It’s all very frustrating. ]

(24 Aug) La Reine Rouge (saison 1) (2011, Patrick Senécal, Olivier Sabino & Podz)
[ Taking place between the events depicted in Patrick Senécal’s novels “5150, rue des Ormes” and “Aliss”, this webseries shows how the teenage Michelle Beaulieu became the Red Queen. Featuring plenty of graphic violence and explicit sexuality, “La Reine Rouge” is nonetheless most notable for the slow-burn intensity of its narrative, what with every episode ending with a cliffhanger and this whole 8-episode arc building up to an inevitably tragic finale. Stylish and wide in scope despite the fact that it was entirely self-financed, the series’ success lies in great part on Véronique Tremblay’s lead performance which, though shaky at first, gradually grows quite riveting. Supporting cast members Marc Beaupré, Marc Fournier and Stéphanie Labbé also do solid work, and watch out for the cameo by Passe-Partout herself, Marie Eykel! Amazing theme song by Mara Tremblay, too. ]

(26 Aug) Mamma Mia! (2008, Phyllida Lloyd) 0
[ It takes some kind of mad genius to manage to get Meryl Streep to deliver not just a bad performance, but an absolutely rotten, embarrassingly awfulone. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of all the baffling directing choices made by first (and hopefully last) time filmmaker Phyllida Lloyd. I’ve rarely if ever seen a big-budget studio production as incompetently designed, staged, filmed and edited. Heck, this looks worse than a crappy TV movie! I don’t care that the plot is beyond silly and just an excuse to include as many ABBA songs as possible in this jukebox musical; it’s just that not a single scene or even a shot works. And, again, it’s pretty amazing how this flick manages to make not only Streep but also Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Dominic Cooper, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters and everyone ese on screen seem like obnoxious, talentless losers. ]

(30 Aug) Warrior (2011, Gavin O’ Connor) 87
[ While not quite on the level of last year’s “The Fighter”, this remains a very affecting take on some of the same themes. “Warrior” follows two underdogs, an ex-Marine living off the grid (Tom Hardy) and a teacher (Joel Edgerton) who’s been hit hard by the economic crisis, as they enter a winner-takes-all mixed martial arts tournament, the twist being that they’re estranged brothers. This potentially melodramatic and improbable story manages to remain grounded and engrossing thanks to the raw and gritty approach favoured by writer-director Gavin O’Connor (“Miracle”, “Pride and Glory”) and to the powerful performances by Hardy and Edgerton, plus the heartbreaking, Oscar-worthy turn by Nick Nolte as their father. Chances are that the climax, set to The National’s Around Today, will leave you in tears. ]

July / September