2012 log (8)

(9 Aug) Strike! a.k.a. All I Wanna Do (1998, Sarah Kernochan) 70
[ Somehow I’d yet to see this rather provocative, witty and naughty high school movie about teen spirits raging playfully raging against the machine in a conformist prep school which, amazingly enough, predates the somewhat similarly themed and/or toned “Rushmore”, “Lost and Delirious” and “The Trotsky”, among others. If anything, it’s a must-see for the wildly enjoyable cast that includes Kirsten Dunst, Gaby Hoffmann, Monica Keena, Heather Matarazzo, Merritt Wever and Rachel Leigh Cook, as well as the venerable Lynn Redgrave. Good times! ]

(10 Aug) Dinoshark    (2010, Kevin O’Neill) 43
[ This Roger Corman-produced, made-for-TV Syfy production is yet another silly “Jaws” rip-off, but with some enjoyable twists. It involves a prehistoric shark that has been frozen for millions of years before it’s freed (thanks, global warming!) and goes on a killing rampage, which somehow climaxes during a Fiesta Week all-girl water polo match in a Mexican canal! The CGI “dinoshark” is ridiculous yet still pretty badass and its attack scenes are rather enjoyably sudden and bloody, plus the movie is filled with hilariously dumb one-liners. The weakest link has got to be the cast, which is mostly godawful, though tall, square-jawed Eric Balfour makes for a cooler than average B-movie protag and I also dug the extended cameo by Corman himself.   ]

(12 Aug) The Dark Knight Rises  (2012, Christopher Nolan) [ review ] 95

(13 Aug)   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.  

Note: this is a repost of a blurb written in September 2011 after I first saw the film.   ]

(15 Aug)   Camion (2012, Rafaël Ouellet) 91
[ In many ways, this feels like what Quentin Tarantino calls a “hang-out movie,” i.e. a film that displays some clear storytelling, but that isn’t plot-driven – it’s all about spending time with some wonderful characters, namely Julien Poulin’s aging trucker Germain Racine and his two sons, janitor Samuel (Patrice Dubois) and wannabe-songwriter Alain (Stéphane Breton). The structure interestingly has us hanging out with each of them separately first, then we take a ride with the two brothers, before they get to their old man’s house in Dégelis and we finally see the three of them together. And then… Well, not to spoil anything, but let’s just say that I was pleasantly surprised to find that the expected big emotional breakthrough or catharsis never came along. Things happen during the film and the characters do evolve, but in a very subtle, subdued, true-to-life way. This might also have something to do with the fact that men, in Quebec anyway, often have trouble expressing what they feel, or else it comes out all wrong… In that way, “Camion” is a companion piece of sort to Robin Aubert’s astonishing “À l’origine d’un cri,” while also sharing some elements with Sébastien Pilote’s “Le Vendeur.” But most of all, this is a Rafaël Ouellet movie through and through, even though he’s not dealing with young women like in his three previous features. And while there’s pretty much more dialogue here than in the other films (combined!), Ouellet, who also edited “Camion”, still takes the time to allow for some of his signature lyrical, contemplative moments where the visuals -and music, often- take over. Speaking of which, cinematographer Geneviève Perron must be praised for her masterful, expressive work – this is a superb looking film, which makes great use of interiors draped in darkness and exteriors bathed in natural light, finding grace notes all along the way. I also loved the score by Viviane Audet and Robin-Joël Cool, as well as the songs by Richmond Fontaine, Will Driving West and others, who all share a certain conception of Americana/country/folk music which fits perfectly with the universe of “Camion,” which could more or less be described as a stalled road movie – the titular truck spending most of the running length parked and rusting away. Which describes the three proganists rather aptly, too. Okay, this sounds super depressing, but the three leads are too engaging and enjoyable for the film to ever become a total bummer. Breton in particular is downright hilarious. It’s a real treat that we get to hang out with these guys, and I’m looking forward to doing so again soon.  ]

(17 Aug) The Expendables 2 (2012, Simon West) 90
[ The original The Expendables was enjoyable enough, but… Well, it was a great idea – let’s put a bunch of old-school action stars together and let them go to town – but the execution was flawed at best. As I wrote at the time, “If it had come out in the 1980s, during the golden age of the genre, it wouldn’t be held up as a classic, nor would it have been forgotten. It’d be just another one of these titles that’s fun to rent or catch on TV once in a while for a good dose of testosterone.” Whereas this here sequel would indeed classify as an action cinema classic, then and now. It brings back everything that was good about the first movie and makes it truly great, then it adds a whole bunch of extra awesome on top of it. The plot (which involves Cold War relics, fittingly enough) is more streamlined, the characters are better defined and the cast members showcased more efectively, and the actual action scenes are way more fun, bloody and memorable. Simon West has directed a lot of crap over the years, but with The Expendables 2, he finally fulfills the promise he showed in Con Air, his badass 1997 ensemble flick. The action set pieces in his latest film are inventive, skillfully staged and consistently thrilling. Now that he doesn’t have to worry about being both in front and behind the camera, Sylvester Stallone seems more at ease in the lead role of Barney Ross, the grizzled big poppa of the Expendables. For instance, I got more out of his rapport with right-hand-man Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), and I also loved the way Barney interacted with his other guys: Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren, who may just deliver the best performance in the movie!), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and especially newcomer Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth). The six of them work great as a team, whether they’re driving trucks into enemy lines, flying their plane in and out of danger, blowing all kinds of shit up, shooting, stabbing, punching and kicking their way through hundreds of motherfuckers, or just indulging in some good old male bonding. Oh, there’s a lady thrown in there too, Maggie (Nan Yu), who’s fine, but let’s not kid ourselves: macho men are the name of the game here. One of the best moments in the first movie was the scene putting together on screen Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, even though all they did was talk. Not only is the trio reunited in the sequel, they actually go around blasting away bad guys this time around, all the while trading wonderfully cheesy one-liners! This is the stuff geek-boys-who-grew-up-in-the-1980s’ dreams are made of. Imagine: John Rambo, John Matrix and John McClane, together in battle at last! As if that wasn’t enough, they bring in another very special guest star in The Expendables 2, none other than Chuck Norris! They also went all out in the villain department, casting Jean-Claude Van Damme as a real mean, crazy son of a gun terrorist, plus the always imposing Scott Adkins as his main henchman. Just writing all the above feels unreal for me, diehard old-school action movie fan that I am. But actually seeing it all on screen is even better, it all lives up to expectations and then some. As LexG might say, EXPENDABLES POWER. ]

(21 Aug) New Kids Turbo (2012, Steffen Haars & Flip Van der Kuil)
[ This supercharged shock comedy about a gang of spectacularly and sleazy mullet-sporting assholes who decide not to pay for anything anymore (great plan, geniuses!) would be best described as the Netherlands’ answer to Troma movies. It’s all about piling on the most aggressively offensive gags you can imagine and, every time you figure it can’t get worse (or better, depending on the viewer), it does, oh, how it does… And it also gradually turns into a batshit insane, ultraviolent action flick, not unlike Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, with elements from the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading thrown in for good measure.  “Truck driver. Honk, honk!” ]

(22 Aug)   The Sitter (2011, David Gordon Green) 69
[ Why did I skip this one in theatres again? Oh yeah, near-unanimous rotten reviews. But as is often the case with almost universally panned flicks, it’s actually not so bad. In fact, if like me, you’re a fan of 1) Jonah Hill and 2) David Gordon Green in comedy mode, this is actually a really fun watch. It’s no “Superbad” or “Pineapple Express” (Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg didn’t write it after all), but as an homage to lowbrow, everything-goes 80s comedies, it works more often than not. “The Sitter” takes place over one crazy night, as Hill stumbles into babysitting three problem children (neurotic Max Records, wannabe-celebutante Landry Bender and juvenile delinquent Kevin Hernandez) then finds himself having to deal with drug dealers (Sam Rockwell and J.B. Smoove, who just about steal the movie), black thugs and dirty cops. Hilarity ensues (it really does!). There are pacing issues and it’s all over the place, but that shaggy-dog quality is part of the fun for me. I particularly enjoy the over-the-top oddness, like the scene set in a bodybuilder-experiment emporium (you’ll see!). I’m also still very fond of the mix of funny and unsettling that is also present in “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness” (and on TV’s “Easbound & Down,” that insane HBO series co-directed by Jody Hill and David Gordon Green), and which of course can be traced back to the likes of David Lynch, the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, etc. You know, when a series of fucked up things happen and you’re not sure whether you should laugh or not? Love that shit.   ]

(23 Aug)   POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011, Morgan Spurlock)
[ Morgan Spurlock is sort of a less incendiary creative step brother of Michael Moore. His “playfuyl / mindful” brand is somewhat similar to Moore’s, but he tends to go for less controversial, though still interesting subjects. In this case: product placement and movie tie-ins, or How Morgan Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Selling Out! Sounds crass, but it’s actually really fun, thrilling even to watch how Spurlock manages to convince a bunch of corporations to sponsor his movie. And since he’s going for full transparency, it’s not like he’s bullshitting us and hiding the fact that he’s shilling for them, that’s the actual point of the project. This gives the film a meta quality that I loved; the deeper he/we get into it, the more apparent it becomes that “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” is turning into a feature-length commercial – intentionally! It’s kinda like that scene in the first “Wayne’s World” movie, but for 90-some minutes. One of my favourite sequences, obviously, is the one where Morgan talks to other filmmakers about their experiences with product placement: JJ Abrams, Peter Berg, Brett Ratner… and Quentin Tarantino! The latter has actually been turned down by companies more often than not – did you know that the opening scenes of both “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” were written as to take place at Denny’s but the restaurant chain refused to allow them to shoot there? Fascinating stuff. ]

(24 Aug)   It Might Get Loud (2008, Davis Guggenheim)
[ “On January 23, 2008, three musicians came together to discuss the electric guitar.” That’s the simple but effective premise of this rock documentary. Might not sound like much, but wait until you hear who the three musicians are: Jimmy Page from Led Zep, The Edge from U2 and Jack White from the White Stripes! Each of these guys is basically the best goddamn guitarist of his generation, which makes it all kinds of awesome to get to hear them talk about -and play, of course!- the ole six-strings. All three of them are masters of the instantly recognizable riff – they only have to play a few notes for you to recognize not only their style, but also the specific song they’re doing. But they also differ in some ways: White is often the absolute purist, who’d rather play with an old, broken guitar, whereas The Edge is all about the hi-tech effects pedals. As For Page, he falls somewhere in between – his sound is generally pure, but he achieves it by using some of the best guitars ever crafted. In addition to reuniting them in a room, the movie also follows these guitar heroes on their own, in the places that molded who they are and how they play, respectively England for Jimmy Page, Ireland for The Edge and Tennessee for Jack White, and we also get to enjoy archival and concert footage relevant to their recollections. Fascinating stuff (my new catchphrase?).  ]

(26 Aug)  The Avengers  (2012, Joss Whedon)  [ review ] 93

July / September