2015 log (4)

(1 Apr) It Follows (2015, David Robert Mitchell) 64
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(2 Apr) Wish I Was Here (2014, Zach Braff) 41
[ I’m not a Zach Braff hater. I loved “Garden State” and I really don’t care that that he used Kickstarter to finance his follow-up feature. But oh boy, right away, somethings seems off about this movie. Gratuitous swearing, attempts at Jewish humor, self-referential showbiz stuff (Braff plays a failed actor), a dog that pisses on everything, Josh Gad being an obnoxious asshole… Again, I like Braff. I also liked Kate Hudson as his wife, Joey King as his daughter and Mandy Patinkin as his father. Bright cinematography, some cool needle drops… And when the film is in dramatic mode, it’s actually not so bad. But when it’s trying to be funny or clever? Oy vey. ]

(2 Apr) Furious Seven (2015, James Wan) [ review ] 77

(3 Apr) Wall Street (1987, Oliver Stone) 54
[ Michael Douglas won the Oscar for Best Actor for portraying the filthy rich Gordon Gekko in this, and you can tell why: it’s a performance full of bite and charisma, which makes the film come alive whenever he’s on screen. When he’s not, though, “Wall Street” is not that hot. I don’t know if it’s because I’m seeing it only now and especially after “The Wolf of Wall Street”, but I found it relatively tame and subdued. Charlie Sheen is just okay, the screenplay lacks narrative drive and the direction is a bit soft. Good supporting cast, though: Daryl Hannah, Martin Sheen, John C. McGinley, Terence Stamp, James Spader… And again, Douglas is fantastic, even if the overall picture isn’t. ]

(4 Apr) Magic in the Moonlight (2014, Woody Allen) 82
[ Emma Stone has quickly grown into just about my favorite actress in today’s Hollywood and she’s more irresistible than ever here as a young American medium who manages to win over a misanthropic magician (Colin Firth) who’s trying to expose her as a fraud. Funny, clever and charming, “Magic in the Moonlight” is also one of the most gorgeous movies I’ve seen in quite a while thanks to the locations in the South of France, the 1928 period recreation and especially Darius Khondji’s warm, bright and colorful cinematography. I could live in this movie! ]

(5 Apr) The Immigrant (2014, James Gray) 47
[ I’ve watched movies because of the director, the actors, the screenwriter and the composer before, but I think this is the first time where what most attracted me was the cinematographer. Just the night before, I watched Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight” and I was awed by how gorgeous it looked, which made me want to check out the other film Darius Khondji shot last year. And boy, was I not disappointed, at least in that regard: “The Immigrant” looks splendid, like a series of paintings with golden hues, depicting a somewhat dreamlike version of 1921 New York. Alas, as written and directed by James Gray, this melodrama about a Polish woman who comes to America and gets helped/exploited by men is not all that engaging, even though Marion Cotillard is as great as usual in the title role and she’s well supported by Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner. I loved looking at it, but it failed to move me. In fact, it kind of bored me. But it looks amazing! ]

(7 Apr) While We’re Young (2015, Noah Baumbach) 80
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(8 Apr) A Most Violent Year (2014, J. C. Chandor) 76
[ I wasn’t a fan of cinematographer Bradford Young’s work on “Selma”, but boy, does he knock it out of the park in “A Most Violent Year”. The pre-title sequence already wowed me, with its stunningly gorgeous anamorphic widescreen compositions, color schemes and lighting, and the film remains visually awesome throughout. Now, of course, cinematography is rarely enough to make a great film, but thankfully, J. C. Chandor’s third feature has plenty more to offer, starting with powerful performances by Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, David Oyelowo, Elyes Gabel and others. Add engrossing storytelling, an atmosphere of slow-burn intensity and the occasional action scene, and you’ve got a memorable tale of competition, corruption and crime, set in 1981 New York, in the cutthroat world of… the heating oil industry, heh. ]

(9 Apr) Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015, Alex Gibney)
[ Since 2010, Alex Gibney has directed 2 or 3 documentaries every year. His latest, or one of them anyway, is about Scientology, the very controversial religion made famous by Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Before watching it, I wondered why people got so angry about Scientology. Sure, it sounds bogus, but isn’t the same true of all religions? In any case, there’s something fascinating about Scientology, from the fact that it was founded by a sci-fi author, L. Ron Hubbard, to the various concepts he made up (engrams, auditing, the e-meter, the bridge, thetans, etc.) to the celebrity members… “Going Clear” is a rather conventional documentary, with its mix of talking-head interviews, archival footage (including of Hubbard) and Errol Morris-style reenactments, but what’s said and shown throughout the film is, again, quite fascinating and scary. It becomes rather clear that Hubbard was a madman and that his successor, David Miscavige, is no better. In fact, he comes off in “Going Clear” like a bona fide supervillain, a paranoid megalomaniac who is all about crushing dissent. And if everything in Gibney’s film is true, Scientology is a bit more than a kooky space age self-help group: it’s a dangerous cult which has sent people to what’s described as a “prison camp”, which spies on people then blackmails them, which exploits people for huge amounts of money and so on and so on. So yeah, now I get why people are angry about it… Though I still feel like organized religion in general is problematic. ]

(9 Apr) Jaws 2 (1978, Jeannot Szwarc) 42
[ In this first sequel, we’re back on Amity Island with Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), but he seems to be the only who remembers what happened in the previous film and to be worried when it seems like another shark is roaming around. John Williams is back scoring, but it’s clear that Steven Spielberg isn’t directing anymore as this is unevenly paced and the shark attacks aren’t particularly exciting or masterfully crafted. It’s still watchable enough, but it’s no classic. ]

(10 Apr) Jaws III (1983, Joe Alves) 35
[ This is getting pretty ridiculous, for better or worse. We’re off Amity Island and at Sea World in Florida, which employs Chief Brody’s son Mike, now played by Dennis Quaid, and which is soon the target of shark attacks, of course. The special effects, including some pop-up 3-D shots, have aged badly and Joe Alves, directing his first and last feature, fails to deliver much thrills. I liked the dolphin sidekicks, though. ]

(11 Apr) Noir (Nwa) (2015, Yves Christian Fournier) 45
[ The auteur theory is all about directors, but at some point, you do need good writers. Like Guillaume Vigneault, whose great “Tout est parfait” screenplay allowed director Yves Christian Fournier to showcase all of his tremendous talent. In “Noir (Nwa)”, we can still sense that talent, but unfortunately, it’s in service of a deeply flawed first screenplay by Jean-Hervé Désiré. It begins promisingly with a Montréal-Nord street gang member (the charismatic Clauter Alexandre) telling us, in voice-over or directly to the camera, the rules of the game. You’d think the film would then show us characters who follow or break those rules, but it turns out that “Noir (Nwa)” mostly tells the stories of four characters who are not even directly involved with gangs. There’s Dickens (Kémy St-Eloy), whose brother refuses to take him into his gang; Suzie (Jade-Mariuka Robitaille), a stripper who goes out with a drug dealer; Kadhafi (Salim Kechiouche), an ex-con who wants to become a rapper; and Fleur (Julie Djiézion), a young mother in an abusive relationship. Désiré’s script is all over the place, aimlessly jumping from one storyline to another with no real narrative drive. I liked how the dialogue blends French, English and Creole, and the actors are generally pretty good, even though many of them are non-professionals. But again, it never feels like Désiré knows where he’s going with this, there are many repetitive scenes and hardly any momentum. That being said, Yves Christian Fournier does prove that he should be making more films, orchestrating both wonderfully lyrical moments (often in slow-motion, set to a superb score by Patrick Lavoie) and shocking bursts of violence. If the writing was better, with a clear plot, character arcs and whatnot, “Noir (Nwa)” would be something else. Alas, as is, it feels rather inconsequential. ]

(16 Apr) Jaws: The Revenge (1987, Joseph Sargent) 39
[ The third and final sequel to Steven Spielberg’s classic blockbuster is another case of diminishing returns, with a lot of dumb writing and weak acting. But it’s kinda hilarious that the Brody family keeps having to deal with damn sharks. First, there was Chief Brody of course, but even after his (off screen) death, his widow Elen (Lorraine Gary) and his sons Sean (now played by Mitchell Anderson) and Michael (now played by Lance Guest) must face killer fish, which is making them go a little mad… I also like that this is a Christmas movie, at first anyway, and that much of it is set in the Bahamas, which makes for a visually bright and colorful movie. The shark attacks are gruesome and/or ridiculous and for some reason, Michael Caine costars as Hoagie. ]

(10-17 Apr) Daredevil – Season 1 (2015, Phil Abraham, Steven S. DeKnight, Ken Girotti, Adam Kane & Brad Turner) [ review ]

(17 Apr) Un 32 août sur terre (1998, Denis Villeneuve) 37
[ Back in 1998, I was in film school and I had just started writing movie reviews online, yet I barely bothered checking out what current Quebec cinema had to offer. Fairly or not, I had the impression that most of our local filmmakers were self-indulgent, pretentious bores and the few late 90s/early 00s Québécois pictures I did watch did little to change my mind. So I never saw Denis Villeneuve’s debut feature until now, in mid-April 2015, as his Hollywood career is soaring, with news that he will direct “Blade Runner 2” and that his “Sicario” has been selected in the Cannes Film Festival Competition. “Un 32 août sur terre” also played in Cannes, more specifically in the “Un Certain regard” section. It opens with a car crash strikingly conveyed by Villeneuve, cinematographer André Turpin and editor Sophie Leblond. The visuals remain masterful during the following scenes, though there’s a growing sense that the plot is paper thin, that the dialogue is weak and that protagonist Simone (Pascale Bussières) is a bit of a blank, enslaved to the whims of Villeneuve’s screenplay, which has her suddenly decide to quit her job and to have a child with her best friend (Alexis Martin) who, via more screenwriter whimsy, accepts only if they conceive said child in the desert. Watching the beautifully shot and cut but deeply boring “Un 32 août sur terre”, I had to acknowledge that Villeneuve has been a talented director all along, but that he was still far from the great filmmaker he’d eventually become. ]

(18 Apr) Bonheur d’occasion (version intégrale) (1983, Claude Fournier) 60
[ Set during World War II, this adaptation of Gabrielle Roy’s classic novel is partly about how a bitchy waitress (Mireille Deyglun) is romantically torn between an asshole engineer (Pierre Chagnon) and a nice soldier (Martin Neufeld). But it’s actually mostly a melodramatic depiction of people living in poverty in Saint-Henri. It’s well crafted enough, it’s got a solid supporting cast (Michel Forget, Marilyn Lightstone, Charlotte Laurier, Gratien Gélinas, René Richard Cyr, Thomas Hellman, etc.) and the three hour running time of this director’s cut goes by smoothly. ]

(21 Apr) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, Joss Whedon) [ review ] 92

(23 Apr) Seul contre tous (1998, Gaspar Noé) 48
[ It opens with a man giving his definition of morality and justice (it involves a gun), followed by a thick slab of exposition summing up what happened in “Carne”, Gaspar Noé’s short film in which he introduced the nameless butcher played by Philippe Nahon. He is now out of prison, living with another woman, who’s pregnant, and looking for honest work. But this being a Noé movie, we know things will go wrong sooner than later… Especially since from the get-go, “Seul contre tous” hits us with abrupt zooms, startling cuts and agressive sound effects, not to mention the protagonist’s deeply misanthropic voice-over narration. The latter grows rather tiresome, not because it’s so hateful, but because there’s just so much of it. It’s as if “Taxi Driver” was all inner monlogue. Still, there are some tense moments here and there, up to the shocking climax, which is preceded by a title card warning us that we have 30 seconds to stop watching the film! ]

(25 Apr) The Dead Lands (2015, Toa Fraser) 65
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(25 Apr) Le profil Amina (2015, Sophie Deraspe)
[ Whoa. This is the best documentary I’ve seen in a long time. As in, better than the Oscar-winning “Citizenfour”. The easiest way to describe it is as “Catfish” against an Arab Spring backdrop, but it’s so much more than that. You know how I always complain that documentaries use the same old mix of talking-head interviews and archival footage? Well, there’s some of that here, but also a lot of evocative, sensual, artsy imagery that director Sophie Deraspe shot to give us impressions of who Amina, a.k.a. “A Gay Girl in Damascus”, might have been. That, and on-screen transcripts of some of her private online conversations with Sandra Bagaria, a French woman living in Montreal who fell in love with the Syrian blogger. This brings up all kinds of fascinating thoughts about virtual relationships, social networks, the kind of stories that get the media’s attention… A must-see. ]

(30 Apr) Mad Max (1979, George Miller) 68
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

March / May