2012 log (2)

(1 Feb) Bestiaire (2012, Denis Côté)
[ This might be Denis Côté’s most radical feature to date. A meditative… nah, ruminative series of long static shots of various animals, Bestiaire will try many viewers’ patience, but I found it oddly captivating, thanks to the thoughtful shot composition and immersive sound design. This is like an anti-nature documentary in the way it observes animals not in their natural environment but in enclosures (the film was shot at Parc Safari, mostly during the off-season) where they roam around aimlessly or just stand there, sometimes staring straight into the camera. It often feels gloomy, disturbing even to see these majestic wild beasts like that, even though Côté says his film is neutral. ]

(1 Feb)     The Help  (2011, Tate Taylor) 81
[ Okay, first, a few rants. One of the (many) things that bug me about some critics is how for them, anything sentimental, heartwarming or inspirational is automatically suspect. Bring on the dark, serious dramas about incest, abortion, death and whatnot, but how dare you make a movie about women standing up for themselves and with each other? Then going into the current Oscar race for a second, I’m annoyed at how so many pundits are being condescending towards “The Help”, in a way that kind of stinks of sexism… I’m not saying it’s about hating women, just that you get the impression that it feels better for some to embrace the latest George Clooney and Brad Pitt vehicles even though they’re ridiculously overrated… I don’t know, it just rubs me wrong. And it’s not like I’m saying that this is a masterpiece. There’s a good 25 pictures I liked better in 2011. Still, this is undeniably a quality production, which takes us to a well recreated time and place, namely Jackson, Mississipi in the 1960s, back when the Civil rights movement was still only brewing and racism was rampant and overt in the South of the United States. There is much heartaches and pain in “The Help,” as experienced by African-American women just a couple of generations away from slavery, who still have to work as “help” for white households where they’re too often treated without the respect they deserve. The plot deals with how a young white journalist (Emma Stone) decides to write a book from the perspective of black maids, and it leads to a lot of moving moments, and a few funny ones, too. Beside Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are both great, and so are Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard and the rest of the cast. Between this and “Bridesmaids”, this has been quite the year for female ensemble casts! The Academy Awards could do a lot worse than to honour this film.  ]

(5 Feb)    King of Devil’s Island  (2012, Marius Holst) 77
[ This harrowing Norwegian drama is based on true events that  took place at the Bastøy Island penal colony circa 1915. The  imposing Stellan Skarsgård plays the cruel governor of this  institution, where teenage boys submit to abusive treatment  until the arrival of a new inmate. As played by Benjamin  Helstad, the new kid is a rebellious, charismatic figure à la  Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke or Jack Nicholson in  Cuckoo’s Nest, one who simply refuses to let his  spirit be crushed. Behind the camera, director Marius Holst  displays an impressive mastery of pace, atmosphere and tension,  delivering a harsh and gloomy film with a dash of hope coming  through via the Melvillesque whaling fantasies of Helstad’s  character and the use of Sigur Rós’ Vaka as a  leitmotif. ]

(16 Feb)    Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu  (2012, Shakun Batra) 61
[ Save for the not-so-conventional ending, this is a rather generic romantic comedy – boy and girl meet-cute, hate each other for a while, then get along really well, then there’s a misunderstanding, they make up and so on. Even the big twist, which has them getting drunk in Las Vegas and waking up unwittingly married to each other, has been done before. (see: “What Happens in Vegas”, “The Hangover”, that one episode of “The Simpsons”, etc. Then again, it’s enlivened by that Bollywood brand of genre-juggling, with roller-coaster peaks of slapstick and melodrama and, of course, a musical number thrown into the mix. And as in any rom-com, the charm and chemistry of the leads goes a long way towards making it at least modestly enjoyable, so kudos to Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor. ]

(18 Feb)   A Better Life  (2011, Chris Weitz) 82
[ Like many folks I bet, I’m only now catching up to this film because it got nominated in the Best Actor category at the Oscars. And you what? Even though he’s not a charismatic Hollywood star like Clooney and Pitt, a funny and charming performer like Dujardin or as respected a veteran character actor as Englishman Gary Oldman, this here Demián Bichir, who you may remember as Fidel Castro in Soderbergh’s “Che”, would be a totally deserving winner. As an illegal immigrant worker who dreams of “a better life” for his teenage son (José Julián), he conveys overwhelming dignity and humanity, often with little dialogue – kudos to writer Eric Eason and director Chris Weitz for allowing that through sequences of visual storytelling in which we just see Bichir’s character go about his daily routine and get a feel of what he’s like through his actions and reactions. It also gives us a strong feel for the Los Angeles locations where the movie takes us. There’s also much underlying tension through the film, because we know there are so many things that could go wrong for this Mexican man without papers, as well as for his boy, who seems tempted to join a street gang…  ]

(20 Feb)    Goon  (2012, Michael Dowse) 73
[ They’re clearly selling this as a 21st century “Slap Shot,” but to me, what really attracted me more than the whole hockey aspect is the film’s impressive comedic pedigree. Here we have the director of cult classic “FUBAR”, Michael Dowse; one of the writers of “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express”, Evan Goldberg; plus the always fun Jay Baruchel acting as co-writer, co-producer and co-star. Together, they’ve taken the nonfiction book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey and made it into a ridiculously brutal and outrageous flick that’s also really kinda sweet, when you get past all the violence and foul language (not that those aren’t enjoyable!). As played by Seann William Scott, Doug “The Thug” Glatt is endearingly naive and awkward when he’s not beating the crap out of opposing goons, not unlike Adam Sandler in “The Waterboy”. I loved the cute/goofy fling between Doug and Alison Pill’s puck bunny, his uneasy friendship with Marc-André Grondin’s hard-partying, womanizing star player, as well as his somewhat respectful rivalry with Liev Schreiber’s aging enforcer. There’s a shaggy-dog quality to “Goon” which might bother some, but it kept me engaged, I laughed a lot and yeah, I got some cheap thrills out of the bloody brawls on the ice.  ]

(23 Feb)   Polisse  (2011, Maïwenn) 29
[ Certainly one of the most overrated films of the past year, this Cannes Prix du Jury winner depicts the day-to-day life of the Paris Child Protection Unit. Based on real cases and shot in a quasi-documentary style, “Polisse” features many disturbing scenes involving young victims or those suspected of abusing them. Yet most of the running time of this self-indulgent, miserabilist film by French actress Maïwenn seems to be devoted to depicting the interaction between the cops (including Marina Foïs, Joey Starr and Karin Viard), a sorry bunch who is constantly yelling and/or bullshitting, whether they’re on the job or not. This is a case study in how an important subject does NOT necessarily make great cinema. Oh and that ending? What idiotic, manipulative nonsense. ]

(25 Feb)   Back to the Future   (1985, Robert Zemeckis) [ review ] 95

(27 Feb)   Roméo Onze  (2012, Ivan Grbovic) 70
[  As a cinematographer, Sara Mishara has made great  contributions to the films of Stéphane Lafleur (En terrains  connus), Yves Christian Fournier (Tout est  parfait) and Maxime Giroux (Jo pour Jonathan).  Similarly, Ivan Grbovic’s debut feature wouldn’t be half as  effective if it wasn’t for the rich, fluid visual style he  created with Mishara, who also co-wrote the screenplay. A  sensitive, attentive character study, Roméo Onze  depicts the attempts by a Lebanese-Canadian teen (Ali Ammar) to  assert himself despite his physical disability and the pressure  put on him by his father (Joseph Bou Nassar). With the harp  melody of Hans Otte’s Wassermannmusik 1 as a  leitmotiv, the film tugs at our heartstrings and truly makes us  care for its protagonist.  ]

(29 Feb)   John Carter  (2012, Andrew Stanton) 57
[ Adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 pulp serial A  Princess of Mars, John Carter suffers from the  fact that in the 100 years since its source material was  published, countless science fantasy movies have borrowed from  it, notably Star Wars and Avatar. As such,  there’s a been-there, done-that feeling to the proceedings,  which involve a Civil War veteran (Taylor Kitsch) being  transported to Barsoom (a.k.a. Mars), where he joins a princess  (Lynn Collins) in her fight to save the planet. It doesn’t help  that this live-action debut from Andrew Stanton  (WALL-E) is exposition heavy and that the human cast  is unengaging. On the other hand, the green-skinned, four-armed  Tharks and “monster dog” Woola are awesome, and the action  scenes are fun enough.   ]

January / March