2011 log (9)

(2 Sep) SUPER (2011, James Gunn) 85
[ What a weird fucking movie! At first, I figured it would just be a variation on “Kick-Ass,” i.e. an irreverent send-up of comic book movies that’s as hilarious as it is badass (to quote from my review of that flick). Except that it’s also a rather sad, almost depressing story about a poor bastard (Rainn Wilson) who just can’t cope with his wife (Liv Tyler) having left him for another man (Kevin Bacon) – who just happens to be a drug lord… And our protagonist happens to be some kind of psychopath who has visions of God and demons which lead him to deciding to become a super-hero who beats criminals to a pulp with a pipe wrench, and who eventually teams up with a comic book geek girl (Ellen Page) who’s probably as much of a sick and twisted maniac as he is… Again, I guess this isn’t that far removed from “Kick-Ass”, or from elements of other subversive super-hero movies like “Watchmen”, “Orgazmo” and “The Toxic Avenger”… All the same, this remains a weird fucking movie, and I kinda loved it. ]

(7 Sep) Troll Hunter (2011, André Øvredal) 78
[ Featuring gorgeous cinematography despite its found footage conceit, this dark fantasy set in striking locations across Norway (woods, mountains, bridges, an abandonned mine…) depicts a young film crew as it follows a mysterious man (Otto Jespersen) they suspect of being a pear poacher. Turns out he’s actually yes, a troll hunter. Not so much reminiscent of “The Blair Witch Project” or “Cloverfield” than of “C’est arrivé près de chez vous” (“Man Bites Dog”), this movie juggles suspense, wonder and droll humor as it lets us get to know a most peculiar individual and learn about the ins and outs of his most unusual profession. The four or five set pieces involving various kinds of trolls are all gripping and fascinating, thanks to pretty awesome special effects but mostly to clever writing and direction. ]

(8 Sep) Drive (2011, Nicolas Winding Refn) 93
[ “You give me a time and a place, I give you a five-minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours no matter what.” He’s the Driver (angel-faced badass Ryan Gosling), that’s it, that’s all. You do your dirty business, whatever it is, then he’ll drive the getaway car as well as any other man ever could. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll get all fast and furious, GTA smash-happy on your ass. Here’s a guy who thinks behind the wheel, who’d much rather slip through the cracks and escape discreetly than burn rubber… But if it comes to that, so be it. We gather all this through the pre-credits opening sequence of “Drive”, and almost entirely via visual storytelling, and we’re immediately hooked. Here’s a brilliantly crafted, whip-smart mood piece that initially reminds of things like Soderbergh’s “The Limey” or Mann’s “Collateral”, then of a Tarantino-by-the-way-of-Elmore-Leonard crime tale populated by a rogue gallery of colorful crooks (Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, James Biberi, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks, Ron motherfuckin’ Perlman)… And then the damn thing goes all “A History of Violence” on us, delivering a bunch of absolutely riveting, extremely violent action sequences. And yet this remains a generally quiet and atmospheric film, filled with evocative visuals and wonderful performances, including Carey Mulligan’s as the romantic interest. I also really dug the synth-heavy, 80s-style Cliff Martinez score and the use of songs by Kavinsky, Desire, College, Chromatics and Riz Ortolani… This is, dare I say it, some kind of genre-bending masterpiece, full of instant-classic movie moments that is bound to thrill any cinephile. ]

(9 Sep) Magnolia (1999, Paul Thomas Anderson) [ review ] 100

(11 Sep) My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997, P.J. Hogan) [ review ] 67

(12 Sep) Peter Gabriel: New Blood Live in London (2011, Blue Leach)
[ Up until now, save for 2008’s U2 3D and maybe a few others, 3D concert films have been reserved to teen idols à la Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber and the Glee cast. Enter Peter Gabriel, who couldn’t be farther removed from that, especially the way we find him here, singing in front of a 46 piece orchestra conducted by Ben Foster and focusing in great part on lesser-known art rock numbers such as Intruder (off 1980’s Melt), San Jacinto and The Rhythm of the Heat (off 1982’s Security), Blood of Eden (off 1992’s Us), as well as Darkness and Signal to Noise (off 2002’s underrated album Up ). Also included are a few tracks from Gabriel’s 2010 covers album Scratch My Back (Regina Spektor’s Après moi, Lou Reed’s The Power of the Heart, The Magnetic Fields’ The Book of Love) and some favorites from his own repertoire like Biko, Digging in the Dirt, Mercy Street and Red Rain, culminating with the timeless Solsbury Hill and, during the encore, the very moving one-two punch of In Your Eyes and Don’t Give Up. Visually, Blue Leach’ film is not the most dynamic thing in the world, relying mostly on Peter Gabriel holding our attention with his powerful voice and presence, which he does. White-haired and dressed in black, often bathed in red light, the singer is surrounded by the orchestra, through which the camera swiftly moves. There are also some interesting mise en scène tricks, notably involving LED screens. The use of 3D is immersive enough, if not particularly impressive. ]

(13 Sep) Chasing Madoff (2011, Jeff Prosserman)
[ Based on the book “No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller” by Harry Markopolos, who was one of the whistleblowers in the Bernie Madoff investment scandal, this documentary depicts how, in spite of all the warnings Markopolos and others made for almost a decade, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission never took appropriate action. When Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme, the largest in history, was finally exposed, it was too late and investors lost billions of dollars. “Chasing Madoff” tells that story in a very dramatic way, maybe too dramatic for some tastes, but I liked the Errol Morris-esque use of stylized re-enactments and the faux-Philip Glass score by David Fleury. At times it feels like you’re watching a film noir, a paranoid thriller at others, but it remains engrossing throughout. ]

(14 Sep) Café de Flore (2011, Jean-Marc Vallée) 59
[ I find that movies like this are the hardest to review. Not because they ultimately fail in my opinion, au contraire, but because they get so many things so right before ultimately crashing down. In what could be construed as a stylistic follow-up to his modern Quebec cinema classic “C.R.A.Z.Y.”, writer-director Jean-Marc Vallée impresses once again with his mastery of visual storytelling, delivering countless memorable shots, transitions and, in what may be his greatest skill, sequences set to music (Pink Floyd, Sigur Ros, The Cure, etc.). Attempting to simultaneously tell two apparently unreleated stories, one set in contemporary Montreal and the other in 1960s Paris, the film hits a wall when it quickly becomes clear that one timeline is much more involving than the other, namely the latter, which depicts a French single mother (Vanessa Paradis)’s affecting and somewhat disturbing codependent relationship with her son (Marin Gerrier), who has Down syndrome. I was left mostly cold by the present-day portion, which deals with the first world problems of a yuppie-scum jet-setting DJ (Kevin Parent), who’s perfectly happy with his sexy young blonde girlfriend (Évelyne Brochu) but who still has conflicting feelings about his ex (Hélène Florent), who also happens to be the mother of his children (Rosalie Fortier and Joanny Corbeil-Picher). On the whole, “Café de Flore” also suffers from dialogue and voice-over narration that are often way too on the nose, it can be tiresomely repetitive (why make a point once when you can do it 10 times?), and the pseudo-mystical way the two story threads finally connects is groan-inducing at best. So basically, I came out of the theatre unsure what to think, having loved some elements, hated others… I might still marginally recommend it, but this remains a frustratingly uneven picture. ]

(15 Sep) Inni (2011, Vincent Morisset)
[ After “Miroir noir”, his spellbinding 2008 Arcade Fire film, Montreal director Vincent Morisset continues to push the limits of the rockumentary/concert movie format with this quasi-experimental film about Sigur Rós. Mostly made up of expressionist black-and-white shots, often tightly framed to capture only fingers strumming strings or hitting keys, a pulsating bass drum, a mouth singing into a mic, “Inni” also features brief excerpts of interviews with the Icelandic band and fleeting glimpses of archival footage. But more than anything, it’s a vivid, transfixing ode to the heartbreaking beauty of songs like Ny batterí, Svefn-g-englar, Festival, Inní mér syngur vitleysingur and Popplagið, as performed at London’s Alexandra Palace in 2008, before the group went on indefinite hiatus. ]

(16 Sep) Shark Night 3D (2011, David R. Ellis) 61
[ While not as wildly enjoyable as last year’s T&A and gore fest “Piranha 3D”, this latest outing in the killer fish exploitation film genre is still quite the hoot. Featuring a bunch of dumb college kids (Dustin Milligan, Sara Paxton, Joel David Moore, Alyssa Diaz, Sinqua Walls, Katharine McPhee, Chris Zylka) and dumb rednecks (Chris Carmack, Joshua Leonard, Donal Logue) butting heads around a lake infested with sharks, “Shark Night 3D” is preposterous, sure, but the direction by David R. Ellis is actually pretty effective – I for one was quite impressed by the use of 3D, especially in the underwater shots. Then you’ve got quite a few uproariously outrageous moments, up to and including the climax, that have got to be intentionally funny. If anything, the must-see post-credits Lonely Island-style hip hop music video by the cast goes along way towards confirming that no one was taking himself too seriously during the making of this flick. ]

(19 Sep) Real Steel (2011, Shawn Levy) 60
[ I consider Shawn Levy to be one of the better working directors of middlebrow Hollywood family movies. Doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement, but when you see some of the unwatchable crap that targets kids these days, you have to appreciate the easygoing charm, giddiness and occasional wit of films likes Levy’s “Big Fat Liar”, “Cheaper by the Dozen” and especially “Night at the Museum”. There’s an old-fashioned quality to Levy’s movies, including his latest, “Real Steel,” which often feels like a throwback to the 1980s work of one of its executive producers, Steven Spielberg. Set in the near future, “Real Steel” stars Hugh Jackman as a former boxer who’s now moved on to the next big thing: managing fighting robots. Loosely based on a Richard Matheson short story, this sci-fi tale doubles as a drama about a deadbeat dad trying to make good with his son (Dakota Goyo) after his mother’s death, which makes it a virtual remake of the Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling flick “Over the Top.” Levy says he hasn’t actually seen that one, but he admits that films like “Rocky” and “The Champ” were influences, much more than, say, “Transformers”. As such, even though the rousing robot boxing sequences do play an important part in the film, don’t be surprised if you find yourself unexpectedly moved by the climax. ]

(23 Sep) Contagion (2011, Steven Soderbergh) 91
[ It starts with someone coughing, over a black screen. Then we see a sick-looking Gwyneth Paltrow sitting in an airport bar, with a red title stating that this is DAY 2 – day two of a deadly epidemic, we’ll soon find out, an epidemic threatening to kill millions of people, and fast. As the days roll by, the film takes us back and forth around the world, introducing tons of characters, none of which could really be construed as a lead… No, the lead is the virus itself, which we follow as it spreads at an alarming rate, while scientists, government officials and others struggle to find a way to stop it. Steven Soderbergh directs all this masterfully, achieving to scare the shit out of us just by showing us people getting sweaty and dizzy, coughing, and touching things, goddammit – and then it’s off to another victim, and another, and another… The storytelling is remarkably fluid, we never feel lost – disturbed, uncomfortable and anxious, for sure, but we can always follow what’s going on all too well, even though the chain of events is complex and involves a whole lot of people, not to mention tons of technical jargon. Kudos to screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for that, and again to Soderbergh and his almost clinical attention to detail. Also of note are the extra-sharp digital cinematography (the film was shot on Red One cameras), the typically brilliant electro-industrial score by Cliff Martinez, and what may very well be the best ensemble cast of the year (Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, John Hawkes, Jennifer Ehle, Elliott Gould, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Demetri Martin, etc.). Here is a flawlessly crafted film depicting the worst-case scenario that thankfully never materialized when the H1N1 and SARS outbreaks happened, an unnerving, “really grim” paranoid thriller with elements of horror, apocalyptic science-fiction and 1970s disaster movies… And maybe just a touch of gallows humor (“When did we run out of body bags?”). One of the year’s best pictures, no doubt about it. ]

(24 Sep) The Goonies (1985, Richard Donner) 85
[ “Data’s quite tired of falling and Data’s tired of skeletons!”
This classic Steven Spielberg production must have be thought up as a variation on “Indiana Jones” in which the stars would be Short-Round (Ke Huy Quan, here playing Data) and his little friends, a ragtag group of kids (Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, Jeff Cohen, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton) from the wrong side of the track or, actually, from the “Goon Docks”, whatever that is, who go looking for pirate treasure to save their neighbourhood. Ostensibly for kids, the movie is truly fun and exciting, with not only booby traps, skeletons and shit, but also a family of gun-toting criminals (Anne Ramsey, Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano) chasing our young heroes. And then there’s Sloth (John Matuszak), who’s initially scary-looking but who turns out to be the coolest of them all. I loved this back in the day, still do today. ]

(28 Sep) Marécages (2011, Guy Édoin) 64
[ Renowned on the film festival circuit for his award-winning shorts, Guy Édoin brings to his debut feature an impressive visual mastery and a willingness to submit to the deliberate pace and hushed sounds of life in the countryside. At its best, “Marécages” reminds of such masterworks as Malick’s “Days of Heaven” and Reygadas’ “Silent Light”. Alas, Édoin’s writing is not always at the same level as his direction. The setup of this family tragedy set on a dairy farm in the Eastern Townships does work, and Pascale Bussières, Luc Picard and Gabriel Maillé deliver affecting enough performances, but the developments of the narrative can be rather fickle (e.g., everything involving the François Papineau character). ]

(30 Sep) Bride Wars (2011, Gary Winick) 23
[ Shrill, generic, contrived… Even by the (low) standards of chick flicks, this is pretty worthless. You’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen it all, and even if you’re a fan of Kate Hudson and/or Anne Hathaway, chances are you won’t be sure you are anymore by the end of the movie. Aren’t we supposed to like the main characters at least a little bit? ]