2014 log (7-8)

(2 Jul) Silver Linings Playbook (2012, David O. Russell) 85
[ I love these recent David O. Russell movies. They take a familiar genre and make it feel fresh and exciting. Here, you’re pretty much dealing with a romantic comedy, except it’s often frantic and full of nervous energy, both in the way the characters behave and in the way the film is put together, and you have to catch up to the storytelling, which rushes forward, dropping bits of backstory left and right… Plus, almost everyone on screen is a little bit crazy, with mental illness being handled as the mess that it is, but also with heart and some humor. Finally, Russell really knows how to get the best out of his actors these days and it’s a thrill to watch Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, who were all nominated at the Oscars for this. Excelsior! ]

(3 Jul) Planet Hulk (2010, Sam Liu)
[ In this Marvel Animation feature based on the famed comic book arc, Hulk is exiled into outer space and ends up on Sakaar, where he’s enslaved and forced into fighting to the death in the Colisseum. So it’s basically a sci-fi twist on “Gladiator”, which is all kinds of awesome. The visual style of the film kinda looks like a kids cartoon, then again, the film is really action packed and brutally violent, if not downright gory! ]

(13 Jul) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014, Matt Reeves) [ review ] 81

(15 Jul) Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater) [ review ] 89

(16 Jul) Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014, Roberts Gannaway)

(17 Jul) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn) 92
(29 Jul) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn) 92
[ I first saw the year’s most popular movie at an early private screening and loved it then, but it was when I saw it again at the big Fantasia International Film Festival premiere in a packed house of enthusiastic geeks that I completely fell in love with it. This is close to being my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie so far, give or take “The Avengers”, thanks to witty writing and dynamic direction by James Gunn, the best soundrack of the year and a totally awesome cast of actors having a great time playing some instantly iconic characters: Chris Pratt as the cocky Starlord, Zoe Saldana as the lethal Gamora, Dave Bautista as the humorously humorless Drax, Bradley Cooper as the badass Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel as the irresistible Groot. Some people are all about Cannes-approved international cinema or they can’t get enough of middlebrow Oscar-bait biopics. To me, there’s not much that can be as satisfying as a perfectly well-oiled Hollywood blockbuster firing on all cylinders. This is why we go to the movies. ]

(30 Jul) Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014, Anthony C. Ferrante) 32
[ Barely a year after the original, here’s a sequel to the instant cult classic TV movie about, well, a tornado filled with sharks. Now, that first movie wasn’t even particularly good, but at least it had an amusingly improbable premise. “The Second One”, as it’s so inelegantly titled, can’t help but feel like a rehash and a cash-grab. It’s still vaguely enjoyable as a B-movie filled with CGI gore, silliness and celebrity cameos. But at this point, the inevitable “Sharknado 3” seems totally pointless. Then again, I’ll probably still watch it! ]

(3 Aug) Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014, Randall Lobb)
[ If I’m being honest, I have to admit that my favorite movie of 1990 at the time was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. For my defense, I was 10! I wouldn’t see the actual masterpiece of that year, “Goodfellas”, for at least five more years. But yeah, I was a fan of TMNT, initially because of the cartoons and the toys, and then because of the original film trilogy, which continued with 1991’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze” and which concluded with 1993’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III”. I went to see all three in theaters and I remember enjoying them all, at the time anyway. I never bothered seeing 2007’s computer-animated “TNMT” and I doubt I’ll see this year’s live-action reboot, but when I stumbled upon this documentary on Netflix, I just had to watch it for nostalgia’s sake. As a film, it’s pretty straightforward and conventionnal, just a bunch of talking heads and archival footage, but as with a lot of documentaries, if the subject interests you, you’re still hooked in. What I found most fascinating is how fast the whole phenomenon developped, from when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird first published an indie B&W comic book to when it was turned into massively popular toys and cartoons and then a movie. “Turtle Power” tells that story in details, then it sputters out, barely mentioning the sequels and whatever happened to the franchise after 1990, which is a bit odd. Still, if you were a Turtles fan growing up, it’s a fun watch. ]

(6 Aug) The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014, Lasse Hallström)

(8 Aug) The Punk Singer (2013, Sini Anderson)
[ This documentary tells the story of Kathleen Hanna, her bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, the riot grrrl movement and third-wave feminism, which is all very interesting, but I was sort of aware of all that stuff. One thing I didn’t know was that she was married to Adam Horovitz of The Beastie Boys and that she more or less put her career on hold in 2005 because of a mysterious illness, the details of which I’ll let you discover. ]

(9 Aug) Thor: The Dark World (2013, Alan Taylor) 65
[ This sequel is mostly set off Earth and is not a fish out of water comedy, for better or worse. It’s an epic fantasy adventure set on Asgard and elsewhere throughout the Nine Realms, dealing with Dark Elves and an ancient power known as the Aether, which also happens to be an Infinity Stone. It’s all pretty awesome and exciting, though it might take itself a bit too seriously. It could use more Kat Dennings, for one! Chris Hemsworth is still great as Thor and it’s fun to see him bring his hammer down on his enemies, but this is not one of Marvel’s best pictures. ]

(9 Aug) American Reunion (2012, Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg) 54
[ Do we really need three sequels to “American Pie” (not to mention all those direct-to-video spin-offs)? Obviously not, but I have to admit that I still kinda enjoy this cast of characters: Jim (Jason Biggs), Oz (Chris Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Stifler (Seann William Scott), of course, but also the ladies: Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), Heather (Mena Suvari), Vicky (Tara Reid).. As for the sex / gross-out gags, they hit nearly as often as they miss, which is not bad for a fourth film in a comedy franchise. Your mileage may vary, etc. ]

(13 Aug) Nebraska (2013, Alexander Payne) 60
[ The premise is kinda silly: an alcoholic, senile old man (Bruce Dern) wants to go to Nebraska to claim the million dollars he’s “won” in a sweepstakes. And it takes a while to get going, as the man’s wife (June Squibb) and his sons (Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk) wonder what to do with him. The mood is rather gloomy, plus it’s shot in black and white, so this is even less of a bright and colorful romp. Oh, there are some touches of humor, but they’re really subdued… Dern and Forte, and later Squibb and Odenkirk, somehow end up in the old man’s hometown and catch up with some relatives. But the idea that the old drunk might now be rich turns a lot of people into vultures. And that’s that. The B&W cinematography looks great and the cast is pretty solid, but this is a bit too uneventful and low-key for my taste. ]

(14 Aug) Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony (2012, Laurent Malaquais)
[ I’d heard about how there were all these grown men who were really, really into “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic”, a show whose target audience is little girls. Turns out they are not weirdoes or anything, just guys who are able to see beyond what’s supposed to be cool and macho and whatnot and to allow themselves to appreciate something feminine. I can roll with that and I found many of the Bronies (bros who love ponies!) interviewed in this documentary to be endearing. ]

(16 Aug) Sabotage (2014, David Ayer) 23
[ A DEA squad steals 10 million dollars from a drug cartel during a raid, which is then stolen from them. Six months later, somebody starts killing each member of the squad one after another… And we couldn’t care less. For one, all the DEA agents are total assholes, so we’re not rooting for them to survive or to find and stop the killer. Plus it’s such a dumb fucking script! Add direction that recalls that of a bad DTV movie and you’ve got a real recipe for disaster. I’m a lifelong Arnold Schwarzenegger fan, but since he’s returned to Hollywood a couple of years ago, beside the “Expendables” franchise, he’s made some pretty awful movies. ]

(20 Aug) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013, Francis Lawrence) 62
[ Somehow, even though I enjoyed the first “Hunger Games” movie, I never got around to seeing this first sequel until today, now that it’s shown up on Netflix Canada. So how’s “Catching Fire”, which notably has the distinction of being the highest-grossing 2013 film? First thing that struck me was how gloomy this is for a Hollywood blockbuster. We’re still in a dystopian future where there isn’t really any such thing as “happily ever after”. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is suffering from post-traumatic disorder, yet she’s forced to tour the Districts and to pretend to be happy and in love with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) -even though she’s more into Gale (Liam Hemswroth)- and whatnot, while seeing how people everywhere are being oppressed. There’s a rebellion brewing, though, for which Katniss has become a symbol… Why or how, I’m not quite sure. In any case, the President (Donald Sutherland) and the new head Gamemaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are determined to maintain the status quo, by any means necessary. This is all kinda interesting, but I did kind of wonder where they were going with this. And then we get to it (SPOILER!): in the next Hunger Games, previous victors will face off against each other. Among them is Jena Malone as an angry, provocative girl who I found to be a lot of fun, something which is often missing from the picture. Once the Games starts, it does get pretty intense, as our heroes must overcome not only their opponents, but a bunch of random threats (poison fog! killer apes! etc.). But then, just as things are getting really exciting, with a few surprising twists thrown in, it ends. I guess all the better for making us eager to see the next episode… Though I probably will still wait for it to hit Netflix. ]

(24 Aug) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, Marc Webb) 49
[ I thought the idea of rebooting the “Spider-Man” franchise and retelling the origin story so soon was misguided, I thought the film/Andrew Garfield’s take on Peter Parker wasn’t quite right, I thought the Lizard was quite lame as a villain on screen and clearly, Marc Webb is no Sam Raimi. The one thing I liked about it was Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, which wasn’t nearly enough to make me want to go out and see this sequel in theaters when it came out last May. But now that it’s out on DVD/VOD/etc. less than 4 months later, I figured I still oughta check it out. I’m supposed to be a fan of superhero movies, after all! Verdict? Well… The opening sequence reminded me of another thing that bothered me about the first “Amazing Spider-Man” movie: that whole retcon bullshit about Parker’s father (Campbell Scott) working for Oscorp and whatnot. In fact, I hate how everything seems to revolve around Oscorp in these new movies: the first action scene has Paul Giamatti’s Rhino stealing plutonium from Oscorp, Jamie Foxx’ Electro is an Oscorp employee, Dane DeHaan’s Harry/Green Goblin is, of course, the son of Oscorp president Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper)… None of these three villains is particularly interesting and the action scenes are merely functional. I suppose watching Spidey swing his way around New York can still be a thrill, though this is the 5th “Spider-Man” film in 12 years so the novelty has kinda worn off. To be fair, there are a few bullet-time shots that are impressive and some beats are exciting. And yes, Emma Stone is still adorable, which makes her inevitable fate (which is only a spoiler if you don’t know the comic books) all the more tragic. All the same, I remain far from being a fan of this new series. ]

(26 Aug) Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, J.J. Abrams) 55
[ I like that this sequel begins in media res, as our heroes are on a mission to save a strange planet from a volcano that is about to erupt. And right away, it’s fun to reunite with the winning cast J.J. Abrams put togethe in the first filmr: Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Karl Urban as McCoy, John Cho as Sulu, Simon Pegg as Scotty and Anton Yelchin as Chekov. Back on Earth, a distruntled operative played by Benedict Cumberbatch conduct a series of terrorist attacks on Starfleet, which notably leave someone close to Kirk dead. Fueled by revenge, our Captain embarks on a new mission that is deemed morally wrong and unacceptably dangerous by members of his own crew. Worse, it could lead to all-out war with the Klingons, on whose homeworld Cumberbatch is hiding… What follows is a somewhat gripping sci-fi adventure, with some appealing visuals, pretty great special effects and intense if sometimes rather confusing action scenes. What it generally lacks is wit and humor, you know, a sense of fun. Watching this movie after seeing “Guardians of the Galaxy” (twice!), I can’t help but find that it suffers by comparison, not unlike how I found that the original was nowhere near as thrilling as “Starship Troopers”. ]

(28 Aug) Prince Avalanche (2013, David Gordon Green) 44
[ I’m a big fan of David Gordon Green’s Hollywood comedies, but it’s interesting to see him dial it back and do another little indie flick that’s more subtle and lyrical and whatnot. Well, in theory, anyway. To be honest, even though I appreciated the cinematography by longtime collaborator Tim Orr and the score by Explosions in the Sky, I had a hard time caring for Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch’ characters, a couple of brothers in law workers painting yellow lines on a road in the middle of nowhere. Their conversations are rather dull and nothing much happens to them. At some point, Hirsch goes to town for the weekend to get laid… But we don’t follow him! We stay with Rudd in the woods, doing little of consequence. Later on, something does happen involving Rudd’s relationship with his girlfriend, via a letter and a phone call… But it’s not like they get a scene together face to face or anything. It only leads to the two guys bickering some more. And then the climax is pretty much them getting drunk and fucking up their work. Oh, a bit after that, they leave to go to a beauty pageant where they hope to bang the future Miss America. Sounds fun, but of course, the movie ends before they get there. Now, Rudd and Hirsch are solid and, like I said, the movie looks and sounds good. I just wish it wasn’t so uneventful. ]

(29 Aug) Rocky IV (1985, Sylvester Stallone) [ review ] 90

(31 Aug) The Expendables 3 (2014, Patrick Hughes) [ review ] 61

 

 

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