2014 log (9)

(4 Sep) Oldboy (2013, Spike Lee) 29
[ The Park Chan-wook original blew my mind back in 2005, so much so that I actually watched it twice in a row! I can’t say that this remake had the same effect on me. It starts with 10 minutes of Josh Brolin acting like a total drunken asshole, which is pretty gutsy, since movies usually want you to root for their protagonist and we just hate this guy. Then he gets mysteriously captured, he’s framed for his ex-wife’s murder and he remains imprisoned for 20 long years. When he’s just as mysteriously released back into the world, he’s hungry for revenge. Now, this new film follows the steps of the original Korean movie quite closely, but this time around, I had a hard time buying that the young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) would so willingly help him and I found the dumplings investigation a bit silly, the prison warden (Samuel L. Jackson) torture scene rather toothless (pun intended) and the hammer battle not nearly as bloody badass as its inspiration. Then there’s just this general lack of urgency and style and depth and… Did Spike Lee really direct this? Remakes often tend to be pointless and that’s clearly the case here. ]

(5 Sep) Les amours imaginaires (2010, Xavier Dolan) [ review ] 41

(7 Sep)  Laurence Anyways   (2012, Xavier Dolan) [ review ] 50

(9 Sep) World War Z (2013, Marc Forster) 35
[ It starts with some increasingly alarming news reports… And then all of a sudden, complete chaos. The action is at once epic-scaled and intimate, as zombies are spreading all over the place, but at first at least, we’re sticking with a single family, not unlike in “Signs” or “War of the Worlds”, except that they’re dealing with zombies here, not aliens. But then it becomes sort of a men-on-a-mission movie, as the father (Brad Pitt), who happens to be a former UN investigator, is sent to South Korea, then Israel to try to figure out how this whole mess came about. There are a bunch of attacks along the way, but they get repetitive rather quickly, probably because Marc Forster’s direction is really generic. This is nowhere near as stylish, edgy or effective as something like Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later…” or Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead”, to use two semi-recent examples. And it’s not like it’s super low-key and realistic either – there’s no way Pitt’s character could survive all those overwhelmingly hellish situations, e.g. the Belarusian plane scene. I’m not sure who the target audience of this grim, humorless yet not quite gory and pitch-black zombie film is. In any case, none of it is particularly memorable. ]

(10 Sep) Snowpiercer (2014, Bong Joon-ho) 80
[ Bong Joon-ho is pretty much a superstar among international genre filmmakers. Personally, I didn’t care much for “Memories of Murder” and I never got around to seeing “The Host”, but I loved “Mother”, his most recent South Korean feature. 5 years later, he’s back with his first English-language film, which has been hyped up a lot by critics since its American release this summer. An adaptation of Jacques Lob’s “Le Transperceneige” graphic novel, “Snowpiercer” takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which all of humanity has been wiped out by a new man-made ice age, except for the passengers of a train that has been running non-stop for 17 years. It’s not quite clear how it can still have fuel for its engine, but it does make for a potent sci-fi allegory. You see, the train is firmly divided into classes, not unlike the Titanic. Rich people live it up in the front, poor people suffer in the tail. The great Chris Evans is the leader of a brewing revolution making its way from the tail to the front, going through gates and wagons like so many videogame levels. This leads to some pretty cool if at times confusing action scenes, but also to moments of beauty and some humorous bits, notably involving Tilda Swinton and Alison Pill (the winning supporting cast also includes Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Song Kang-ho, Go Ah-sung and Ed Harris). Also very enjoyable is the production design, which impresses us thoroughly as we travel through the train along with Evans and his crew. So it is. ]

(11 Sep) The Counselor (2013, Ridley Scott) 74
[ It opens with a reallly sexy scene between Michael Fassbender and Penélope Cruz that had me thinking this was going to be a really fun watch. I’m not the world’s biggest Ridley Scott fan, but the fact that the screenplay is by novelist Cormac McCarthy (“No Country of Old Men”, “The Road”) definitely holds promise. And what about that all-star cast! Both combined produce many great dialogue scenes, like the first one between Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem, hanging out with cheetahs and having cocktails in Mexico: “I don’t think I miss things. I think to miss something is to hope that it will come back. But It’s not coming back.” “Are you really that cold?” “Truth has no temperature.” Isn’t that some great lines? And the film is filled with them. Now, this might bother some, how the characters keep talking, talking, talking. But personally, I never could get enough of all that great Cormac McCarthy dialogue, as delivered by all these wonderful actors. Take Brad Pitt: I just watched “World War Z” a few days ago and I can barely remember his performance in it, but here, from his very first scene, he makes a lasting impression, thanks in no small part to all that sharp, sharp dialogue. And it’s not like the film isn’t well shot and cut, plus it does feature some memorable visuals, like the catfish scene, the motorcycle scene… There are even some shoot-outs! Other criticisms I’ve seen include the oblique plotting and the barely defined characters, but I mostly enjoyed this kind of minimalism, which is certainly intentional. This is a bleak, cynical, single-minded movie, and I loved it. ]

(18 Sep) The Lego Movie (2014, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller) 52
[ I had no interest in seeing this film, which sounded like nothing more than a glorified commercial. But since its release some seven months ago, I’ve heard only good things about it, including some folks calling it one of the year’s best, so I figured I’d check it out. Verdict? Well, at first, I was like: “What the hell?” I had a hard time jiving with how loud and hyperactive it was. And can I say I thought it looked kinda ugly? Everything being made up of blocks, with all these yellow little characters running around? I mean, I liked playing with Legos as a kid, but the nostalgia doesn’t extend to me finding the Lego look appealing. It just doesn’t look like a real movie to me, it still looks like a toy commercial or something. Getting past that initial impression, there’s something thematically promising about the premise, which has everyman Emmet (the voice of Chris Pratt, Starlord himself) trying to fit in and make friends by following it the countless “instructions” that are attached to everything in the Lego world. You can easily guess that the story is going to involve our protagonist figuring out the importance of being yourself and doing your own thing, but predictable or not, this remains a worthy message, especially in a kids movie. There’s also this whole “Matrix”-style thing about a prophecy and the Special who will free everyone from the tyranny of Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and, basically, Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) is Morpheus, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) is Trinity and Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) is Agent Smith… And then Batman (Will Arnett) shows up, followed by more DC superheroes and characters from various other pop cutlure propreties (including “Star Wars”, in what may be my favorite bit). This sounds super cool, but remember, it’s all Lego versions we’re getting, which is, well, not so cool, in my opinion. Still, it’s somewhat enjoyable, which is more than I expected. I’m still not sure I would recommend it personally, but I can sorta understand why people liked it. ]

(19 Sep) Mommy (2014, Xavier Dolan) [ review ] 67

(20 Sep) Man of Tai Chi (2013, Keanu Reeves) 22
[ This barely-released-into-theaters film wasn’t on my radar before I read a bunch of references to it in reviews of “John Wick”, the Keanu Reeves action flick which premiered at Fantastic Fest yesterday. So when I stumbled on it on Netflix today, I figured I oughta check it out. Keanu Reeves, who is also making his directorial debut with this Chinese production, plays the villain, Donaka, who hosts an underground fight club. Early on, he spots Tiger Chen using Tai Chi, which is not traditionally an offensive discipline, in a televised martial arts competition and decides to recruit him. Tiger Chen can kick some ass, but he’s not particularly charismatic and, as directed by Reeves, the fight scenes feel generic, like something out of a straight-to-DVD movie. Another thing: I say this often, but why does it have to be so humorless and cold? Why aren,t the action scenes more enjoyable? I suppose it’s intentionnal to show that in this world, people are blasé about violence – the spectators never cheer or applaud, the female announcer seems bored out of her mind – but are we in the audience also supposed to not have any fun? I don’t know, man, I miss Jackie Chan or something. ]

(21 Sep) Dark Shadows (2012, Tim Burton) 23
[ It starts out pretty rough, with nearly 10 minutes of dry exposition about how Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) was turned into a vampire by witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) and locked into a coffin for some 200 years. Then in 1972, we follow a young woman (Bella Heathcote) who is to become the new governess of the Collins, now constituted of matriarch Elizabeth (Michell Pfeiffer), her teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and his son David (Gulliver McGrath). Oh, and there’s a doctor lady living with them, because there needs to be a role for Helena Bonham Carter, I guess. When Barnabas is freed and returns to the family manor, he’s a bit of a fish out of water, which is played for laughs a little… But this is hardly a proper comedy. It’s rather dark, gothic, really, with touches of campiness, yes, but not enough for this to be anything close to a rowdy romp. In fact, I found it rather dull. It’s not funny, it’s not scary… It’s got a good cast, sure, but no one makes much of an impression (Eva Green comes the closest). It may just be the most pointless thing Burton has ever made. ]

(22 Sep) Tusk (2014, Kevin Smith) [ review ] 45

(23 Sep) Life Itself (2014, Steve James)
[ The key moment in my life as a cinephile was seeing “Pulp Fiction” when I was 15. Quentin Tarantino’s film was different than anything I’d ever seen before, and it made me realize that there was more to cinema than John McClane, John Matrix and John Rambo (not that I don’t still love those guys!). After seeing it, I started reading up on film history, paying more attention to reviews in newspapers and, before long, I caught up to the Siskel & Ebert TV show, even though it only aired at midnight on Sundays up here. I sometimes strongly disagreed with hosts Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, but I nevertheless always found their conversations engaging, and I can’t count all the great films I saw specifically because one or both of them recommended them. Roger Ebert in particular played an important part in making me become a bona fide movie geek. In addition to watching him on TV, I read his reviews on the Chicago Sun-Times website for years and bought quite a few of the books he’s written, the last being his memoir, “Life Itself”, which I got right when it was published in the fall of 2011. About a year later, filmmaker Steve James started to shoot a documentary adapted from it, only to find almost right away that Ebert had to go back to the hospital again (something he did way too often in the last years of his life) and 5 months later, on April 4, 2013, he passed away. As such, the resulting film, which premiered at Sundance 2014, is all the more moving because it truly is about the whole life of Ebert, from his childhood to his untimely death. Formally, it’s hardly groundbreaking, piecing together archival footage, talking-head segments (notably featuring directors he championed over the years such as Martin Scorsese, WernerHerzog and Errol Morris) and, of course, excerpts from movies (including the Ebert-written “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”!) in a fairly conventionnal manner, even though it plays around with the chronology quite a bit. But as in the “Life Itself” book, what’s fascinating is the story of Roger Ebert as well as his storytelling – the voice-over narration in the “Life Itself” documentary comes directly from Ebert’s memoir, which is read by “vocal impressionist” Stephen Stanton as if Roger himself was talking to us from beyond the grave. If only for that, James’ film is a must-see. ]

(25 Sep) Le Passé (2013, Asghar Farhadi) 73
[ I loved “A Separation”, but when I finally sat down to watch Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up, “Le Passé”, I had a hard time getting into it. I mean, it’s confidently directed, impeccably shot and the lead actors – Bérénice Bejo, Ali Mosaffa, Tahar Rahim – are solid, but half an hour into it, you’re still wondering what it’s about. You’ve got this Iranian man, Ahmad, landing in France to finalize his divorce with Marie, a French woman who, he learns, is about to remarry with a man named Samir. There’s potential for drama there but, again, half and hour into it, it’s barely been set up and nothing much has come out of it. Then we slowly learn a few more things about the situation, notably that Samir is also already married, though his wife is in a coma, and it becomes more intriguing. Much drama comes via the 16-year-old daughter of Marie, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), who is devastated by the reason why she thinks Samir’s wife ended up in a coma. The film becomes quite emotionally intense and thought-provoking from that point on, though there is at least one late plot developmentthat I found questionable. Still, even though it’s not as brilliant as “A Sepraration”, it’s still well worth seeing. ]

(27 Sep) Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014, Miguel Arteta)

(29 Sep) L’Inconnu du Lac (2013, Alain Guiraudie) 38
[ On a beach by a picturesque lake, gay men frolic around completely nude, swim, sit or lie in the sun and yes, have sex in the surrounding woods. Now, as a boringly straight guy, male full frontal nudity does little for me, so the vast amounts of it in this film quickly had me bored. Then again, the film becomes slightly more interesting when a murder takes place. Slightly. ]

July-August / October