2014 log (11)

(1 Nov) Big Hero 6 (2014, Don Hall & Chris Williams)

(2 Nov) Nightcrawler (2014, Dan Gilroy) [ review ] 83

(4 Nov) Maps to the Stars (2014, David Cronenberg) [ review ] 19

(6 Nov) Interstellar (2014, Christopher Nolan) [ review ] 92

(7 Nov) Under the Skin (2014, Jonathan Glazer) 59
[ Visually dark. Narratively disorienting. Ominous score. Minimal dialogue. This is an art film, all right, the furthest thing from a crowdpleasing blockbuster. Then again, it stars the super sexy, sensual and seductive Scarlett Johansson. She’s this mysterious alien figure driving around Scotland. Picking up men. Making them… disappear. It’s not quite clear what’s going on. It looks striking, though. There’s these stunning scenes with characters moving through a completely white or black background. It captivated me for a while, but then it kinda lost me… Too slow. Too abstract. For my taste, anyway. ]

(11 Nov) The Zero Theorem (2014, Terry Gilliam) 18
[ What an ugly, ugly film. Christoph Waltz’ shaved head and eyebrows, the costumes, the art direction, the lighting, the angles, the lenses… All so very ugly, almost headache-inducingly so. If that’s the future, kill me now! The plot is a boring mess, the characters are one-dimensional, unfunny jokes… I suppose Mélanie Thierry’s turn as a sex worker enlivens things up somewhat, but not remotely enough to make the film worth seeing. ]

(13 Nov) Zombieland (2009, Ruben Fleischer) 33
[ I’m not all that into zombies in the first place and I also tend to have problems with 1) movies that make excessive use of voice-over narration, 2) movies that think they’re oh so clever, and 3) movies that try way too hard to be cult movies. Still, I stuck with it because I dig Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin and especially Emma Stone. Oh, and the Bill Murray cameo is amusing, too. Still a pretty lame movie, but I’ve seen worse. ]

(13 Nov) Casse-tête chinois (2014, Cédric Klapisch) 60
[ I have mixed feelings about the previous films in this trilogy, “L’Auberge espagnole” and “Les Poupées russes”, with their shaggy dog stories, their busy visuals and their questionable leading man (Romain Duris). But I liked this latest film, maybe because of the frantic energy of the New York setting. And while I’m not crazy about Duris, I love his supporting ladies (Audrey Tautou, Kelly Reilly, Cécile de France). ]

(14 Nov) Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014, Michael Bay) 39
[ Here’s where I stood before seeing this latest film in the “Transformers” franchise: I had mixed feelings about the first movie, I downright disliked the second one, then I somehow loved the metallic crap out of the third one. Still, I had little interest in seeing the fourth episode and skipped it when it was in theaters. I caught up to it on VOD, at a point where it was also the biggest worldwide hit of 2014 with more than 1 billion dollars in the bank. A lot of critics like to dismiss what’s popular, but to me, if a film attracts that many paying customers, good or bad, it must have something to offer and it deserves to be considered. It’s easy to hate Michael Bay, but like him or lot, he’s one of today’s most distinctive Hollywood auteurs. And it’s not all about the action and destruction: following a striking prologue in which spaceships annihilate the dinosaurs (“Star Wars” meets “Jurassic Park”!) and a bit in the Arctic where a Dinobot is discovered, it’s in a quiet, low-key sequence set in Texas that Bay’s style shines on through his love of golden light, low-angle shots, all-American guys, hot chicks and whatnot. Of course, soon enough, there are car chases, shoot-outs, explosions, etc. All that action and destruction is neither the best or the worst we’ve seen in this series – it’s more of the same, for what it’s worth. I gotta say, though, Bay has definitely traded up when he ditched Shia LaBeouf and drafted his “Pain & Gain” star, Mark Wahlberg, even though it’s a bit silly that he’s playing an inventor/engineer. And the whole thing about how he wants to keep his sexpot teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz) from dating grows tiresome rather quickly. All the government/corporate stuff with Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci is pretty boring, too. So yeah, the human drama/comedy is still not great in these movies. The Autobots, namely Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and Bumblebee, who are joined by newcomers Hound (John Goodman), Drift (Ken Watanabe) and Crosshairs (John DiMaggio), are not fascinating characters either, but at least they kick some ass, blow shit up and, in what may be the coolest moment in this so-so sequel, they ride motherfucking Dinobots. This isn’t much, but apparently, a lot of folks were excited about seeing it, hence the film being such a massive hit. Why not, I guess. ]

(15 Nov) Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012, Lee Toland Krieger) 67
[ This indie romantic comedy has a rather original premise: Celeste and Jesse are best friends who got married and who are now getting a divorce… Or are they? Is there still something there? Should they start dating other people? These are some of the questions found in the insightful screenplay by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack. Jones also stars as Celeste and she has easygoing chemistry with Andy Samberg, who plays Jesse, which makes it all the more heartbreaking that they might not be able to make it as a couple. ]

(18 Nov) Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014, Robert Rodriguez) 58
[ Back in 2005, I loved the bloody hell out of “Frank Miller’s Sin City”, which was no less than my favorite Robert Rodriguez movie at the time. Not that I was ever the biggest RR fan… In the past decade, in particular, I’ve skipped as many of his films as I’ve seen. And when he finally made a “Sin City” sequel/prequel, I didn’t run out to see it, I waited until it hit VOD. So what did I think? Well, I certainly didn’t love the bloody hell out of “Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” and it’s certainly not my favorite or even second favorite Robert Rodriguez movie, even though on the surface, it’s quite similar to the original. Same kind of B&W cinematography with bursts of color, hard-boiled narration, tough guys, femmes fatales, tales of sex and violence… So what’s missing? For one, there’s the novelty factor. The first “Sin City” was unlike anything I’d seen before, a 21st century film noir by the way of a graphic novel brought to life. Whereas “A Dame to Kill For” is, well, more of the same. Then again, maybe it isn’t, not quite. There’s something kinda cartoonish about this new installment, almost like it’s a parody of itself. That being said, some of it still works. I liked seeing Mickey Rourke again as Marv, I liked Josh Brolin as the old, pre-surgery Dwight, I liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt as newcomer Johnny… And how about those dames! Eva Green, Rosario Dawson, Julia Garner, Juno Temple… My least favorite character, maybe surprisingly, is Jessica Alba as Nancy, a.k.a. the stripper who never shows the goods. I was also bothered with Jamie Chung and Dennis Haysbert taking over as Miho and Manute, even though there were good reasons for the roles being recast (Devon Aoki was pregnant, Michael Clarke Duncan died). But those are details, next to the unfortunate fact that a lot of the stories being told feel empty and pointless, particularly the one revolving around Alba and the ghost of Bruce Willis and the one where Gordon-Levitt is the protagonist, both of which are, tellingly, not based on Frank Miller’s classic graphic novels but newly written for the screen. The Josh Brolin/Eva Green part, an adaptation of the actual “A Dame to Kill For” book, is by far the best thing in this uneven film. ]

(19 Nov) Jack Reacher (2012, Christopher McQuarrie) 75
[ Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise are quite the dream team. The former worked on the screenplays of “Valkyrie” and “Edge of Tomorrow” and he’s the director of “Mission: Impossible 5”, all starring the latter. Then there’s this 2012 film, written and directed by McQuarrie and starring Cruise, which I had yet to see until today (thanks, Netflix). And damn, what a film! It grabs you from the get-go with some 8 minutes of purely visual storytelling, depicting what happened before, during and after a sniper attack that left 5 dead. Then we get a “Just how badass is this guy?” about the title character, Jack Reacher, a former military hero who has gone off the grid, played of course by Tom Cruise. Turns out he has a history with the man (Joseph Sikora) who’s been arrested for the shooting spree. He exchanges some snappy dialogue with a detective (David Oyelowo), the District Attorney (Richard Jenkins) and the defense attorney working the case (Rosamund Pike), who happens to be the D.A.’s daughter, then Reacher finds himself looking at the evidence and… Enough plot summary, but I was really taken by the way things unfold. I suppose author Lee Child’s novel “One Shot”, which I haven’t read, has something to do with it, but I’m sure a lot of it is McQuarrie. He is the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Usual Suspects”, after all, and he also wrote and directed the underrated “The Way of the Gun”, a movie whose opening scene I thought of during the awesome bar scene and subsequent street fight about half an hour into “Jack Reacher”. There are more great scenes I want to mention… For instance, the one where we learn a bit more about the 5 victims of the sniper, then we see the attack from their point of view. Brilliantly conceived and executed sequence by McQuarrie and his collaborators, notably cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (who shot the film in 2.35:1) and editor Kevin Stitt. The second act gets bogged down a little bit with conspiracy stuff, but we also get an exciting car chase and at the climax, a shoot-out followed by a fight under the rain. Oh, and did I mention that there’s a villain played by Werner Herzog, who looks and sounds perfectly scary? ]

(21 Nov) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014, Francis Lawrence) [ review ] 37

(25 Nov) Dumb and Dumber To (2014, Peter & Bobby Farrelly) 48
[ Back in 1994, I went to see “Dumb and Dumber” with my brother and we laughed our asses off. 20 years later, we went to see the sequel and… Well, we laughed, my brother more than me. But I can’t say I loved the film. I found the plot ridiculous (not in a good way), the direction seemed flat to me and as for Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, while they’re certainly committed to reconnecting with the enthusiastic lunacy of Lloyd and Harry, there’s also a faint but discernible whiff of desperation to their performances. Like, is this really what they still want to be doing at their age? The same goes for the Farrelly brothers, who I know are capable of so much more. There’s nothing wrong with juvenile humor, but it’s very hit and miss here. Again, yes, there are some laughs in “Dumb and Dumber To”, but hardly enough for me to recommend it. ]

(26 Nov) Dredd (2012, Pete Travis) 31
[ Back in 1995, I went to see Stallone in “Judge Dredd”, which didn’t make much of an impression on me. Seriously, I barely remember that one… Wasn’t Rob Schneider in it? Meh. There was some surprisingly positive geek buzz about this new “Dredd” flick a couple of years ago, but I only saw it today on Netflix. First impression? Acting with half your face hidden under a helmet can’t be easy and Judge Dredd is kind of a generic badass non-character (as portrayed here at least – I’ve never read the comic book), but it doesn’t help that Karl Urban is not the most charismatic guy in the world. I mean, I know I’ve seen the guy in a bunch of films (the “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Trek” series, “Pathfinder”, etc.), but I still find myself wondering, “Who’s he again?” Then, there’s the B-movie feel of this production. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the fact remains that we’re far from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the “Dark Knight” trilogy or whatnot. We’re closer to one of those attempts at making the Punisher happen on the big screen, for better or worse. The plot is right out of a first-person shooter video game (or “The Raid: Redemption”), there’s a lot of gory action and not much else. Unless you enjoy the slo-mo drug effect director Pete Travis is so in love with. Or the mutant psychic powers of Dredd’s sidekick (Olivia Thirlby). I didn’t. ]

(27 Nov) Into the Woods (2014, Rob Marshall)

(28 Nov) Whiplash (2014, Damien Chazelle) [ review ] 92

(29 Nov) Jonas: La Quête (2007, Jean-François Pilon)
[ “Let’s rock out with our cocks out!” Tel est le mantra que Jonas répète à travers sa «quête», qui l’emmène de Montréal à Los Angeles, en passant par le Festival de la truite mouchetée de Saint-Alexis-des-Monts! This is Spinal Tap sans le second degré, Jonas: La Quête, de Jean-François Pilon, est au mieux une musicographie, au pire une infopub pour la musique d’aréna, la bière cheap et les pitounes. Le rockeur montréalais y apparaît comme un ours mal léché et, incroyablement, on le voit moins à l’écran que sa gérante (aussi productrice du film) Janie Duquette, une version féminine d’Elvis Gratton qui rêve de faire de Jonas une star mondiale ou, dans les mots de Duquette, de «licencier le produit à l’internationale». ]

October / December