2013 log (11-12)

(2 Nov) Burlesque (2010, Steve Antin) 45
[ I love musicals and while this one is hardly great, I still had an okay time watching it. It sort of feels like a cross between “Showgirls” and “Chicago”, for better or worse, and how much you enjoy it will depend among other things on what your feelings about those two movies are. I myself love “Showgirls”, but I wasn’t a fan of “Chicago”. It will also depend on what you think of Christina Aguilera. I personally find her to be a great singer, though her kind of big-voice performances are not my cup of tea, and she’s a good enough actress, even though co-star Cher has a much more powerful and charismatic presence. Other than that, it’s a shame that Steve Antin’s direction is so mediocre and that none of the songs are particularly memorable. ]

(6 Nov) 12 Years a Slave (2013, Steve McQueen) [ review ] 80

(23 Nov) Friends with Benefits (2011, Will Gluck) 62
[ Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are two sexy, funny and charismatic friends who decide to get it on, but without things getting complicated. This isn’t your conventional romantic comedy… But then again, it very much is. From the meet-cute to the flirtation to the misunderstandings to the grand romantic gestures, this ends up being pretty close to your average rom-com. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when your leads are this sexy, funny and charismatic. But let’s not pretend this is something it’s not. ]

(26 Nov) Before Midnight (2013, Richard Linklater) 90
[ It’s all these long scenes, showing people talking and interacting… Living, man. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much, but when you think about it, it’s virtuoso writing, directing and acting. I mean, it all feels so natural yet it’s so precisely and involvingly crafted. Plus, there’s the obvious fact that we’ve grown to care so much about these characters. It’s almost never been done, to have a trilogy like this where you catch up with characters every decade or so. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) met and fell in love as twentysomethings in “Before Sunrise”, then their paths crossed again as thirtysomethings and the attraction was still there in “Before Sunset”, and now, in “Before Midnight”, they’re in their early 40s and they’ve been together since the last time, they even have kids now. And once again, we follow them for a day and a night and it’s fascinating. I loved everything about it: the gorgeously shot locations in Greece, the relaxed feel / pace /tone, the dialogue, the music… Most of all, I just love Hawke and Delpy together, even though they’re not so young and idealistic and romantic anymore… In fact, I think I love them more for having flaws and fighting and all that. That’s life, man. ]

(4 Dec) Behind the Candelabra (2013, Steven Soderbergh) 86
[ “It’s funny this crowd would like something this gay.”
“They have no idea he’s gay.”
It’s unbelievable that this could ever have been the case, what with Liberace being so wonderfully flamboyant, but hey: different times, I guess. In this made-for-HBO film (which also showed in Cannes), Mr. Showmanship is played by an amazing Michael Douglas, who completely disappears into the role and delivers one of his most charismatic performances. I also loved the impossibly flashy clothes and the “palatial kitsch” of the sets, it’s all so over the top, just like the legendary pianist himself. “Behind the Candelabra” isn’t a conventional biopic that tells its protagonist’s story from childhood to death. It only focuses on a specific time period, beginning in 1977, when Liberace is already a superstar in Las Vegas and he takes under his wing a young man played by Matt Damon. Their somewhat unusual relationship – Liberace wants to be his protégé’s “father, brother, lover, best friend, everything” – drives the story and it remains fascinating throughout. You can understand what the “crazy old queen” is getting out of it, but what’s more puzzling is why Damon’s character goes along with it. Is it just about the money or is there really love involved? One of the oddest parts is when a hilariously freaky looking Rob Lowe shows up and starts doing plastic surgery on the two of them and… Well, you’ll see! Also striking is the way Damon becomes a drug addict and how his relationship with Liberace crashes and burns. If this does end up being Soderbergh’s last feature, it’s certainly a fabulous finale to his filmmaking career. ]

(5 Dec) Stoker (2013, Park Chan-wook) 37
[ South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook makes his American debut with this psychological thriller about a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) dealing with the recent death of her father and getting to know her uncle (Matthew Goode), who comes to live with her mother (Nicole Kidman) and her after his brother’s passing. Rather beautifully shot and nicely atmospheric, “Stoker” suffers from a languid pace and from a screenplay that fails to grab us with either its story or its characters. A piano playing scene is an early highlight, but then, it quickly grows dull again, even as acts of violence occur and revelations are made. The main problem being, I think, that the characters, Wasikowska’s protagonist in particular, are a blank. ]

(11 Dec) Pain & Gain (2013, Michael Bay) 42
[ “The events you are about to see took place in Miami, Florida between October 1994 and June 95. Unfortunately, this is a true story.” Thus begins this oddball flick, which has Michael Bay scaling back from his “Transformers” movies but making up for it in directorial flashiness. Right from the opening minutes, we’re hit by pop-up visuals, with plenty of extreme close-ups, hyper slow-motion and whatnot. “Pain & Gain” is also drenched in voice-over narration from the main characters played by Mark Wahlberg, The Rock and Anthony Mackie, who pretty much talk only about achieving the American Dream, which for them means getting big muscles, hot bitches and lotsa money. This leads them to cooking up a kidnapping scheme that made me think of “9 to 5”, of all things. I know this is supposed to be a true story, but I found it hard to believe that our three bodybuilders could hold a rich guy (Tony Shalhoub) hostage for so long without anyone reporting it. And after that, things become even sillier. It would be one thing if all this nonsense was funny and/or exciting, but most of it fell flat for me. All that I really enjoyed is the flashy visuals and the Michael Bay-ness of it all. ]

(13 Dec) The Muppets (2011, James Bobin) [ review ] 90

(18 Dec) Amour (2012, Michael Haneke) 75
[ This Palme d’Or- and Oscar-winning film tells the story of a man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who must witness the slow decay of his dying wife (Emmanuelle Riva), taking care of her as best as he can along the way. It’s almost a horror movie, inasmuch as it’d certainly be horrifying to have to go through what either one of them has to. “Amour” is definitely not easy to watch – not that it should be. ]

(20 Dec) American Hustle (2013, David O. Russell) [ review ] 87

(21 Dec) Serendipity (2001, Peter Chelsom) [ review ] 46

(22 Dec) Sleepless in Seattle (1993, Norah Ephron) [ review ] 75

(24 Dec) Frances Ha (2013, Noah Baumbach) 86
[ It’s really all about Greta Gerwig, who stars in addition to having co-written the screenplay with director Noah Baumbach. She’s such a charming presence, so charismatic and quirky, we love watching her and spending time with her. She plays Frances, a wannabe dancer trying to make it in New York. At first, she’s living with her BFF, then she moves in with these two guys, later she crashes at a fellow dancer’s place, and so on. It’s all very offbeat and idiosyncratic and peculiar, while also going for some sort of naturalism… Maybe because of the B&W cinematography, maybe a little because of the totally pointless impromptu trip to Paris, there’s this Nouvelle Vague feel. There’s no real plot, we’re mostly just hanging out with Frances and the various people she meets. It’s got some great moments of cinema – for instance, the scene where Gerwig is running on the sidewalk to the sound of David Bowie’s Modern Love – but the best thing about it remains the seemingly disconnected conversations between the characters, which can seem improvised but are probably very carefully written. And Greta Gerwig is truly wonderful, she really makes the film soar. ]

(27 Dec) The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, Martin Scorsese) [ review ] 92

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