2012 log (3)

(6 Mar)   Payback  (2012, Jennifer Baichwal)
[   The best Canadian documentary since Surviving  Progress, this Sundance 2012 selection is based on the  book by Margaret Atwood, whose deadpan lecture of excerpts from  it acts as narration. Exploring various facets of debt, be it  financial, political, social, moral or ecological,  Payback is thoroughly thought-provoking in the way it  draws parallels between things like the treatment of migrant  farm workers in Florida, a blood feud between two Albanian  families and the BP oil spill. Meanwhile, Jennifer Baichwal  mixes talking-head segments with striking, evocative visuals  accompanied by a great ambient score by Martin Tielli and  Gabriel Morley.    ]

(8 Mar) Produced by George Martin (2012, Francis Hanly)
[ Every music fan already knows the history of The Beatles inside out, but this documentary takes a relatively original angle by focusing on Sir George Martin, the venerable Parlophone label manager who signed the Fab Four (even though he initially thought their music was rubbish!) and produced all their albums. Now 86, he generously opens up about his life and career through this lovely portrait, which also features interventions from his wife Judy, his son and collaborator Giles, as well as surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. ]

(9 Mar) Footloose (2011, Craig Brewer) 63
[ After telling the story of a pimp who wants to be a rapper in “Hustle & Flow” and that of a bluesman trying to tame a nymphomaniac in “Black Snake Moan”, you wouldn’t expect Craig Brewer to be directing a remake of 1984’s Kevin Bacon vehicle “Footloose.” Then again, Brewer does bring to this new version a genial and convincing depiction of a Southern milieu populated by colorful characters, like in his previous movies. The small-town-banning-dancing premise remains silly, the leads are so-so (Kenny Wormald is okay but Julianne Hough is pretty awful), and the film could have used more dancing and less speechifying. Still, I enjoyed spending time in this Bomont, Georgia and really liked most of the supporting cast, especially Miles Teller in the part played by Chris Penn in the original. And good on Brewer for setting his version of the angry dance sequence to the White Stripes! ]

(10 Mar) Wild Thing (2012, Jérôme de Missolz)
[ This doc takes us on a subjective, messy journey full of sex, drugs and loud music that proves to be both fascinating and frustrating. Jérôme de Missolz rockets through the history of uninhibited, transgressive rock, name-checking its countless casualties (Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Sid Vicious, Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain, etc.), who appear via priceless archival footage, and interviewing such survivors as Iggy Pop, Eric Burdon, Jimmy Carl Black (Mother of Invention), Richard Hell (Television), Lemmy (Motörhead) and Jello Biafra. This could (should?) have been a 10-hour series. ]

(11 Mar) Cinémas d’horreur: ApocalypseVirusZombies (2012, Luc Lagier)
[ Here’s an admirably cinephilic look at the post-9/11 new wave of horror cinema, which reflects the impact of terrorism and the Iraq War on the collective unconscious the same way 70s horror echoed the Vietnam War. Featuring Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes remake), Eli Roth (Hostel), Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza (REC) and Neil Marshall (The Descent), Luc Lagier’s well-crafted documentary explores trends like torture porn and real-time horror without dismissing them out of hand like some do. ]

(12 Mar) L’Empire Bo$$é (2012, Claude Desrosiers) 17
[ From the writers of Camping sauvage – Yves Lapierre, Luc Déry and André Ducharme – comes a similarly misguided, gaudy comedy. Taking the form of a mockumentary, it tells the life story of an unscrupulous business tycoon, played one-dimensionally by Guy A. Lepage. He’s not the worst offender, though, since Claude Legault, Valérie Blais and much of the supporting cast deliver embarrassingly hammy performances. Filled with facile, witless digs at savage capitalism, political corruption and the like, L’Empire Bo$$é is as unsubtle a satire as it is unfunny. It’s Elvis Gratton XXX minus the scatological humour. Not much of an improvement if you ask me. ]

(15 Mar) Footnote (2011, Joseph Cedar) 79
[     Winner of the screenplay award in Cannes and nominated in  the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars, this  Israeli feature depicts the intellectual rivalry between two  Talmud scholars who happen to be related. The son, Uriel (Lior  Ashkenazi), lovingly followed in the footsteps of his father,  Eliezer (Shlomo Bar Aba), but ended up outshining him, which  fills the old man with resentment. Might not sound like it, but  Footnote is a gripping watch, thanks to the finely  tuned script and acute direction of Joseph Cedar  (Campfire, Beaufort). At times reminiscent of  the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man, it also possesses a  droll sense of humour, but it’s mostly heartbreaking, in a  slow-burning kind of way.  ]

(16 Mar) The Hunger Games (2012, Gary Ross) 76
[ In this adaptation of the first book in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy, Oscar nominee (and “X-Men: First Class” alumnus!) Jennifer Lawrence stars as a 16-year-old girl living in a dystopian future where 24 teenagers are rounded up each year and forced to kill or be killed as part of a government-run televised reality show. Not that original a concept (see also: “The Running Man,” “Battle Royale,” “The Condemned,” etc.), but thanks to confident storytelling, lively and expressive direction from Gary Ross, a potent mix of down-to-earth realism and sci-fi glam, a great score by James Newton Howard, a fun supporting cast (Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones) and, most of all, an immensely involving, alternately strong and vulnerable performance by the aforementioned Jennifer Lawrence, “The Hunger Games” entertains, fascinates and disturbs nonetheless. ‘Cause even though this isn’t as brutal as, say, “Battle Royale,” it’s still surprisingly bloody and ruthless for a young-adult-oriented Hollywood franchise. The action is a bit too frantically shot/edited and there are a few narrative cheats in my opinion, but for the most part this is a pretty damn solid flick. Bonus points for actually telling a whole story, with an ending that’s only slightly, subtly open. ]

(17 Mar) Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2012, Jay & Mark Duplass) 84
[ Whoa! You see, not only is this film pretty much all about whether there’s such a thing as destiny, fate, signs and the like, it does so by repeatedly referring to M. Night Shyamalan’s masterpiece, “Signs” – a film I thought I was the only one to be that fascinated about. Speaking of signs (or coincidences, if you’d rather take it like that), “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” happens to star the actors who play my favourite characters in two of my favourite current sitcoms, “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Office,” respectively Jason Segel and Ed Helms. They play brothers who, from the outside, may seem very different – Jeff is a 30-year-old pothead who lives in his mother (Susan Sarandon)’s basement, while Pat has a job, a wife (Judy Greer) and a house – but who turn out to both be rather immature and insecure… We follow them over a day as they try to make sense of various signs and/or coincidences, many of which deal with someone named Kevin – like me! THis leads to a bunch of funny, touching and insightful moments, building up to a conceptually brilliant Shyamalanesque climax… the execution of which is good but not great, though. The Duplass brothers are wonderful writers and decent directors, but they’re very indie, or at least not quite able to knock said climax out of the park and fulfil its potential to be an all-time great sequence. That being said, it still works and the movie remains satisfying and well worth seeing. It’s no “Signs,” but hey… ]

(20 Mar)  Casa de mi Padre  (2012, Matt Piedmont) 75
[ Will Ferrell has been involved in a great many silly movies of the years, but this one takes the cake! I still can’t believe this even exists: a feature length Spanish-language telenovela/narco-drama/burrito-Western sendup starring the former SNL star as a simple-minded, cowardly Mexican ranchero who eventually grows a pair, kills a whole buncha motherfuckers and gets the girl! Intentionally tacky and melodramatic, with a lot of fake-looking sets, props and special effects, but also some genuinely effective action setpieces (and musical numbers, too!), “Casa de mi Padre” co-stars “Y Tu Mamá También” co-stars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna as ridiculously macho warring drug lords, plus Genesis Rodriguez as the femme fatale around which most of the story revolves. But ultimately, it’s all about watching Will Ferrell hilariously attempt to play it straight as Armando Alvarez – even when he’s acting opposite a magical white mountain lion!  ]

(20 Mar)  Chercher noise  (2012, Yellowtable)
[ If like me, you love music as much as movies, this is a real treat. 10 new songs by domlebo, developed, rehearsed and performed in a series of four-hour sessions with producer Dany Placard and a revolving cast of 37 guest musicians in 10 different locations, all of which has been immortalised by filmmaking team Yellowtable. It’s fascinating to see all these artists collaborating, clashing or finding perfect harmony… ]

(23 Mar)   The Muppets   (2011, James Bobin) [ review ] 90

(26 Mar) The Raid: Redemption (2012, Gareth Evans) 49
[ With the possible exception of the musical, action is my favourite movie genre, so I had high hopes for this hyped shoot-em-up/chopsocky/stab-a-rama epic. Alas, I was mostly disappointed. Oh, there are some absolutely terrific action beats sprinkled throughout the raid, some truly crazy stunts, extremely violent kills, and unbelievable fight choreography. Then again, the whole thing is oddly lacking in my kind of badass fun… Visually, it’s all about grime and gloom, and not in a particularly stylish way – it just feels like the camera is being rushed through ugly, underlit rooms and corridors. Then there’s practically no story (it’s quite literally structured like a video game, with levels and bosses and whatnot), which might have not been an issue if it wasn’t alo thoroughly lacking in compelling characters. But we’re stuck with a bunch of mostly interchangeable Indonesians who can certainly kick ass, but don’t necessarily make much of an impression otherwise. I couldn’t have cared less about any of the cops and criminals chasing each other through the apartment block where everything takes place. Where’s the charismatic action hero we’re supposed to be rooting for? This is like “Die Hard” minus Bruce Willis, or “Hard Boiled” minus Chow Yun Fat, y’know? All the awesome martial arts, machine guns and machetes mayhem in the world doesn’t seem to connect with me when it’s just being thrown on the screen in an effective yet cold and mechanical way. Personality goes a long way, as Jules would say. ]

(28 Mar)  Rebelle   (2012, Kim Nguyen) 90
[  Following Eastern European fantasy “Le Marais”, absurd B-movie homage “Truffe” and Middle-Eastern adventure “La Cité,” which showcased the remarkable visual skills of Kim Nguyen, but unfortunately also his lackluster writing abilities, the Québécois filmmaker finally knocks it out of the park with this fourth feature, where both the screenplay and the direction are truly outstanding. A relatively rare Occidental movie set in Africa that doesn’t use the POV of a white outsider, “Rebelle” stars Rachel Mwanza, who deservedly won the Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival for her utterly heartbreaking performance, as Komona, a young girl from an unidentified African country (though the film was shot in Congo)  who’s snatched from her village, forced to kill her own parents, then made into a child soldier by the rebel army, who are waging an unending guerilla warfare against the local government. Interestingly and somewhat disturbingly, the story is told by Komona herself, talking to her unborn baby about the horrors she experienced from 12- to 14- years old. Her tale feels both scary-real and fantastical; deemed a witch by the superstitious rebels, Komona is haunted by visions of the ghosts of her parents and other people she’s killed… As such, “Rebelle” reminded me a lot of “Apocalypse Now” which, incidentally, was based on Joseph Conrad’s Congo-set “Heart of Darkness.” It has to do with all those scenes of soldiers drifting up the river and wandering through the jungle, but mostly with hallucinatory, mythical quality of the storytelling and the striking imagery created by Nguyen and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc. One thing that distinguishes it from Coppola’s masterpiece is the way it allows the protagonist to, at least momentarily, emerge from the horror, the horror and to feel love and hope, via an impossible romance with another child soldier (Serge Kanyinda). ]

(30 Mar)   A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas  (2011, Todd Strauss-Schulson) 64
[   Ok, so seeing this at home (i.e. in 2D) and at the end of March (i.e. far past Christmas) kind of defeats the purpose of the two main new gimmicks this third episode in the Harold & Kumar saga. But what’s left – the racial satire, the pothead humor, the rampant absurdity – remains enjoyable enough and at times hilarious. John Chu and Kal Penn are still a winning comic duo, Neil Patrick Harris is more shameless than ever as a pussy-hounding, drugged-out asshole version of himself, and I got a kick out of Danny Trejo and Elias Koteas. Oh, and let’s not forget WaffleBot!   ]

(31 Mar)   Chico & Rita (2011, Fernando Trueba & Javier Mariscal) 70
[ Nominated in the Best Animated Film category at the last  Oscars, this Spanish production impresses with its gorgeous,  traditionally drawn images, which nicely convey the liveliness  and colourfulness of the various locations. Taking place in the  years leading up to the Cuban Revolution, Chico &  Rita depicts the passionate affair between a pianist and a  singer, which is put to the test by his infidelities and by her  leaving Havana to pursue her career in New York. Music lovers  should particularly enjoy the film, which boasts a great  soundtrack and features cameos by Charlie Parker, Chano Pozo,  Dizzy Gillespie and others. And Rita has got to be the sexiest  animated character since Jessica Rabbit! ]

February / April