Peter & Bobby Farrelly

1994
Dumb & Dumber 81
[ review ]

1996
Kingpin 76
[ review ]

1998
There’s Something About Mary 90
[ review ]

2000
Me, Myself & Irene 72
[ review ]

2001
Shallow Hal 85
[ review ]

2003
Stuck on You 47
[ review ]

2005
Fever Pitch 51
[ review ]

2007
The Heartbreak Kid 72
[ After a couple of subpar outings, the Farrelly decided to once again draft Ben Stiller, the star of their best film, “There’s Something About Mary.” And it worked! While not quite as great as their first collaboration, “The Heartbreak Kid” is way funnier and sharper than either “Stuck on You” or “Fever Pitch”. It’s quite similar to their underrated “Shallow Hal”, in how it deals with how macho and stupid men can be, while also aiming for a certain sweetness… And then at times, it’s just wonderfully vulgar and wrong! You’d think the Farrelly couldn’t top themselves anymore by now, but there are scenes here that really push the boundaries. In that regard, Malin Akerman is game as fuck – literally! She’s like the anti-Cameron Diaz, as crazy as Diaz’ Mary was lovable… The lovable being taken up here by Michelle Monaghan. The movie also features hilarious turns from Rob Corddry, Jerry Stiller and Danny McBride and, all in all, it’s truly a return to form for the Farrelly. ]

2011
Hall Pass 65
[ review ]

2012
The Three Stooges 26
[ The prologue with the Three Stooges as kids is pretty tedious, despite featuring Larry David as a grumpy nun. Then we get to them as grown-ups and the nicest thing I can say is that Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe), Sean Hayes (Larry) and Will Sasso (Curly) certainly commit to their roles, endlessly mugging and chewing scenery, while the Farrelly brothers orchestrate all kinds of silly slapstick, complete with cartoonish special effects. I understand that this is true to the original “Three Stooges”, which I’m not very familar with, but it failed to make me laugh, not even once. This is my least favorite Farrelly flick by a good margin. ]

2014
Dumb and Dumber To 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. ]

James Cameron


1984
The Terminator 90
[ I hadn’t seen the original in years and I’m surprised by how well it holds up despite some dated special effects and distracting ‘80s music and hairstyles. Schwarzenegger is at his iconic badass best as the killing machine and there’s tragic emotional resonance to the story of a man who travels back in time to save a woman he loves even though he’s only seen a picture of her. Cameron can craft thrilling action scenes like the best of them and this is a practically uninterrupted chase/shoot-out, stopping only to sketch out an intriguing post-apocalyptic possible future. Trivia note: I noticed for the first time that the blue-haired punk the Terminator kills in the first scene is played by Bill Paxton! ]


1986
Aliens 92
[ review ]


1989
The Abyss 68
[ It starts like “Armageddon”, as oil rig workers are drafted by the army to save the day -in this case, by conducting a rescue operation for a sunk nuclear submarine- and it ends up like something out of “2001”. I’m not sure what’s with Cameron’s deep sea fixation and the Cold War stuff is heavy-handed (in the Special Edition, at least), but as a study in Shit Happens, this is pretty intense. Then there’s the spooky “non-terrestrial intelligence”, Ed Harris’ touching reconnection with his ex-wife, a brutal fight with a crazy Navy SEAL… And that final dive? Whoa. ]


1991
Terminator 2: Judgment Day 90
[ review ]


1994
True Lies 85
[ review ]


1997
Titanic 91
[ review ]

FYI: I won’t be reviewing Cameron’s undersea documentaries. I’m holding out hope he’ll make another kickass movie-movie at some point.

(flash forward years later)

Ask and you shall receive: it took more than a decade, but Cameron is back and how!


2009
Avatar 95
[ review ]

Michael Bay

1995
Bad Boys 55
[ Right from the pre-titles opening minutes of his debut, Michael Bay established his style: golden skies, quick cuts, loud sound effects, fetishized violence… Tony Scott flirted with those before, but Bay’s taken it to the balls-to-the-wall extreme. For most critics, this makes him the Antichrist. Myself, I have a soft spot for this flashy noisy nonsense. Even the ever obnoxious Martin Lawrence can’t take away from the visceral impact of “Bad Boys”. Fast cars, hot women, shit blowing up, Will Smith running with his shirt open and his gun out… Sure, half an hour later you’ve already forgotten most of it but when it’s on, it’s ON!]

1996
The Rock 62
[ review ]


1998
Armageddon 65
[ review ]


2001
Pearl Harbor 68
[ review ]


2003
Bad Boys II 75 85
[ review ]


2005
The Island 66
[ review ]


2007
Transformers 58
[ review ]


2009
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen 37
[ review ]


2011
Transformers: Dark of the Moon 81
[ Not unlike “X-Men: First Class”, this third “Transformers” flick delves in alternate history storytelling, throwing the space race and the Chernobyl disaster into the timeline of the endless war between Autobots and Decepticons. Meanwhile, Shia LaBeouf still finds himself caught in the middle, with a new babe by his side (model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) and new supporting actors (Frances McDormand, John Malkovich) providing comic relief alongside the returning John Turturro. But all that is just to keep us mildly entertained until the main course, an hour-long sequence involving the near-annihilation of Chicago by evil extraterrestrial robots which delivers the most epic sci-fi action thrills since “Avatar”. Not-so-incidentally, Michael Bay got some pointers about modern 3D filmmaking from James Cameron himself. ]


2013
Pain & Gain 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. ]

2014
Transformers: Age of Extinction 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. ]

2015
13 Hours 75
[ Reviewed for Extra Beurre ]

2017
Transformers: The Last Knight 43
[ Reviewed for Extra Beurre ]

Christopher Nolan

1998
Following 85
[ I’m only seeing this on the eve of the release of “Batman Begins”, the latest step in Nolan’s climb to the A-list, but I should have gone for this much sooner. It’s the rare debut that’s got it all: an intriguing concept, brilliant execution and lasting impact. The more widely seen “Memento” did this as well and so do Nolan’s studio pictures, but it all starts here, back when the English filmmaker had no great reputation, experience or resources to fall back on and still knocked it out of the park.“Following” tells the story of a wannabe writer who, somewhat at random, starts following strangers. This habit soon grows out of control and he’s spotted by one of his subjects, a philosopher burglar of sorts, who accosts him and demands to know what the fuck he’s doing stalking him. I wouldn’t dare spoil what follows, but this is one twisted story. Stark B&W photography, crisp dialogue and moody music make this kind of a neo-noir, with a post-modern slant in the Gen-X slacker central character, minimalist electronic score and scrambled chronology. ]

2001
Memento 90
[ review ]

2002
Insomnia 82
[ review ]

2005
Batman Begins 90
[ review ]

2006
The Prestige 92
[ review ]

2008
The Dark Knight 93
[ review ]

2010
Inception 94
[ review ]

2012
The Dark Knight Rises  95
[ review ]

2014
Interstellar  92
[ review ]

2017
Dunkirk 95
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

Mario Bava

Since he’s begun being rehabilitated (i.e. since his enormous influence has been recognized by numerous filmmakers and critics), it is not rare for Mario Bava to be nicknamed the Italian Hitchcock. Naturally, the comparison isn’t in favor of the creator of giallo, who’s more often perceived like a craftsman skilled in the Hitchcockian style than like the infinitely personal innovator he was.

According to Tim Burton, in an interviewed for Garry S. Grant’s documentary Mario Bava, Maestro of the macabre, the universe staged in La Maschera del demonio aka “Black Sunday” (the cornerstone of Italian style gothic horror) is more “real than reality”, inasmuch as the sinister crypts and creepy castles filmed by Bava better reflect his innermost personality than an authentic autobiography would. Starting there, and taking in consideration how the Internet crawls with websites chronicling the director’s career (which spans over nearly every genre from 1960 to 1980) and exploring his recurrent themes (sadism, erotism, Goth and death), we will try instead in this here piece to sketch the psychological portait of the artist (but not the man) according to the nature of his work.

In 1956, Bava completes the shooting of I Vampiri, which his fellow director friend Riccardo Freda abandoned after a conflict with the producers. The film launches Italian gothic horror. In 1957, over at Hammer, Terence Fisher lays the foundations of British gothic horror with The Curse of Frankenstein. In 1960, the Corman/Matheson tandem begins its Poe cycle with an adaptation of The House of Usher, offering an American counterpoint to the emerging cinematographic tendencies of England and Italy. Finally, the same year, Bava, after about 20 years as cinematographer, special effects supervisor and salvager of troubled productions, directs his first film, La Maschera del demonio, which will traumatize generations of moviegoers. While the picture’s charged sadism (notably in the infamous opening scene) isn’t as troubling as back then, it remains no less fascinating, but for different reasons that we will now observe more attentively.

General consensus has the gothic genre (from the point of view of narrative arts, not architecture) recognizable by its settings (isolated castles, sinister cemeteries, ominous forests, etc.) and its atmosphere (melancholy and macabre). Alas, whereas the aforementioned elements do come back from film to film, their signification differs in depending on who’s holding the camera. More often than not, the gothic genre constitutes the virtual canvas upon which the creator’s subconscious is projected. The worn-down and decrepit aspect of the locations relates to the notion of suppressed feelings (dust and cobwebs), the various torture instruments (often straight out of the Inquisition) evoke some of the psychological mechanisms that torment us (jealousy, paranoia, frustration, etc.), the countless and sinuous hidden passages suggest the inextricable meanders of the human mind (who was never startled by one of his own thoughts, springing out like a character coming out of one of those revolving bookshelves?) and, of course, the characteristic isolation of a castle perched upon a vertiginous cliff is nothing but the symbolic representation of the realm of dreams, beyond the prosaic grounds of awaking. In Bava’s cinema, through the rich sprawling sets, the warm kaleidoscope of the lighting and the languorous camera movements (ah yes, languorous!), the gothic genre presents itself like the reflection of an unconscious freed from the consequences of morality where, in the shadows of death, reigns the drunkenness of the senses.

“Movies are a magician’s forge, they allow you to build a story with your hands.”

With this declaration from Bava himself, summing up his passion for the elaboration of special effects, sets and the various elements of photography and filming, we’re able to reach even further towards the essence of his art: sensuality. For the director of Sei donne per l’assassino aka “Blood and Black Lace”, sculptor’s son and Beaux Arts student, existence is apprehended foremost by the senses, notably sight (lights, camera, action) and touch (the sets, special effects and actresses). One only has to look at the enthusiasm he provokes in fetishist filmmakers (Argento, Tarantino, Burton, etc.) to accept this hypothesis. However, Bava is above all a director of horror films, something that always coincides with a pronounced taste for the extreme (otherwise he’d be chronicling the lives of modest villages of Italian fishermen, right?). Henceforth, if he can be fascinated by the exquisite caresses you want to provide to a voluptuous young woman, nameless tortures also ignite his curiosity (1963’s La Frusta e il corpo aka “The Whip and the Body”). For the immoral explorer he is, these are only two diametrically opposed degrees of the same specter of physical sensations. On the other hand, this sensual covetousness culminates in lucidity. By interweaving lust and suffering, tenderness and sadism into a breathless longing for pleasure, his artistic process always crashes into what ineluctably ends the realm of the senses: death. In this regard, an image from La Maschera del demonio proves revelatory. When the vampire-witch Asa (personified by Barbara Steele, sublime nymph of gothic horror, in whom Poe himself would have retrieved his lost lovers), recovers her beauty, the young doctor Gorobek, fooled and attracted by her demoniacal charm, tries to embrace her but, in removing her cape, he discovers the exposed guts of a rotting corpse (a sight still shocking some 45 years after its creation). Putrefaction shamelessly reveals to be the ultimate destination of beauty. Cinema rarely offered, the way paintings do, such an effective representation of Vanitas. This obsession with the duplicity both seductive and repulsive of beauty (generally the female body) constitutes in Bava a capital dimension of the artist’s nature.

Then again, even though he always more or less flirted with Goth, Bava didn’t limit himself to this genre, more so considering that he’s credited with literally creating one: Giallo (in reference with the yellow color that adorns the covers of the sadistic-themed books from which it’s inspired). Certainly, if Giallo is in itself a sub-genre of the thriller, the reversal it operates in the manner with which psychopathic killers are portrayed in thrillers in general is considerable and underlines manifestly another dimension of Bava’s personality. In Sei donne per l’assassino, (first official Giallo in 1963), the main character, whose return we await incessantly, who always instigates the action, in a word, the star of the film is none other than the killer himself. When he emerges and charges on his prey (always a woman), the viewer isn’t asking himself, like in a Hitchcock picture, for instance: how will she get out of it? But: how will he kill her? Because Bava’s mise en scène voluntarily develops no identification between the audience and the characters (they each have only ten minutes of exposition), concerning itself instead with the deranged but human pleasure of watching the wolf devastating the sheepfold (or the fox the henhouse, your pick). Hence, in Sei donne per l’assassino, through its killer with a white mask occulting his physiognomy and wearing a trench-coat, gloves and a black hat, Bava doesn’t try to present an unbalanced individual with a past, a psychology and a well defined mobile (like today’s “profiler movies”, in the vein of The Silence of the Lambs). To the contrary, the idea is to give a human silhouette to our own destructive violence, which has no other foundations than our own communal blood thirst. Consequentially, the mystery, the mask and the anonymity of the killer are less the consequences of the obligatory uninspired “whodunit” than essential elements aiming to identify and formulate the murderous side growling in each of us. Based on that, is his cinema more the exorcism of a blind rage which he never could appease or the satisfaction by proxy of an unforgivable ecstasy he never tasted, namely murder? Hard to decide.

Whichever it is, in the 1970s, with such films as 5 bambole per la luna d’agosto aka “Five Dolls for an August Moon” and especially Reazione a catena aka “Bay of Blood”, Bava sails away from the coasts of his unconscious to accost in the real world and, consequentially, his killers, confounding themselves more with actual death (inexpressible, invisible and irrational), imperceptibly slip into off-screen abstraction, revealing themselves only by the intrusion of their weapon (generally knives) in the frame. At age 55 the explorer who, ten years earlier, teased death to electrify his senses, begins to properly glimpse his own mortality. The hands and the eyes with which he always “confected” his sublime films will soon sink into inertia and this will make him bitter. In the spirit of this image from Reazione a catena, where a cadaver is slowly devoured by an octopus, Bava loses his warmth and becomes authentically ghastly, even though he remains lucid, not unlike the ever more crude photography of his movies. He dies in 1980, three days before Hitchcock, like whom he also leaves behind an apparently purely commercial filmography that actually, more than many others, gives all its sense to the “auteur theory”.

translation by K. Laforest

John Woo

John Woo is a paradoxical figure. A true pop icon on the one hand (celebrated by Tarantino, Gans, Kassovitz and many other incorrigible young directors) and a veritable auteur on the other (full dossier on Face/Off in Les cahiers du cinéma # 516, september 1997), his filmography – constituted of paroxysmal action films, with references both liturgical and chivalrous, occidental and oriental, taking the appearance of thrillers to narrate the tragedy of the last men of honor – has always been qualified as violent even though the protagonists that populate it always come out sanctified. How can all-out shooting sprees rhyme with purifying martyrdom? More so, how does the King of the Gunfight on celluloid manage to also be one of the most sensitive filmmakers of his time? Basically, how does one become John Woo (his artistic pseudonym) to redeem the soul of Yusen Wu (his birth name)?

Born in 1946, in Guangzhou (Canton), South China, John Woo grows up poor and miserable in Hong Kong. Following the terrible fire that destroyed part of the city in 1953, his family is forced to live on the street. His gravely ill father spends ten years in the hospital before passing away and his mother must works extra hard to raise her children alone. His stay in the streets, rubbing elbows with crime and violence, inspired in the young John Woo some of his future obsessions. Amongst others, the perdition of values (notably honor) in a chaotic world. Also seeing the day is one of his principal creative impulsions: revolt.

In 1967, a providential intervention by the church allows Woo to study at Matteo Ricci College. His gratefulness is such that, like a certain Scorsese, he hesitates for a while between cinema and priesthood. But his natural aesthetical inclinations won’t be able to resist to the promise of European and America cinema, which he discovers with amazement after trading in classrooms for movie theaters. While his top ten favorite films include such diverse titles as West Side Story, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Seven Samurai and he acknowledges the influence of Peckinpah, Leone and Demy, it’s with the work of French director Jean-Pierre Melville that he identifies the most vividly, as much for the universe it shows with lyricism and suaveness than for its philosophy (honor code, male bonding, the fatality of fate, etc.).


In 1971, John Woo joins the Shaw Brothers studios, famous for its Wuxia and Kung Fu films (to which Tarantino pays explosive homage with his Kill Bill), and becomes first assistant director of Chang Cheh. Consequentially, his service under the man behind the cult One Armed Swordsman flicks introduces him to the internal elaboration of frenzied expressive mechanisms, of which he’ll make brilliant use in his future films. Woo evokes his mentor with words quite similar to those used by his own aficionados: “(…) not only Chang Cheh’s depiction violence on screen but his incomparable way with emotions and chivalrous qualities.” They worked together on four pictures: Water Margin in 1971, Boxer From Shantung in 1972, Four Riders in 1972 and Blood Brothers in 1973.

Finally, the same year as Blood Brothers, Woo helms his first film, Farewell Buddy, the only merit of which is that it was banned by the censors and was only released two years later, reedited and retitled as The Young Dragons. Thus begins a period in which the future revolutionary action filmmaker multiplies forgettable work for hire, mostly Kung Fu movies such as a shitty 1976 Jackie Chan vehicle entitled Hand of Death. The only salvageable film from these weak years is the powerful Last Hurrah For Chivalry (1978), a Wu Xian Pan epic that announces his more personal films, where ancestral heroes, brothers in arms and lethal confrontations elope with stunning maestria from the hack that everyone stubbornly mistook him for.
Hong Kong will still have to wait until 1986 to get the smash that would change its cinema forever, courtesy of three audacious craftsmen who would become legends. Indeed, when Tsui Hark, producer and founder of the unavoidable Film Workshop, offered John Woo the opportunity to shoot A Better Tomorrow with Chow Yun Fat, they permanently affected the genre. With this first stylish polar, the filmmaker finally gave body to the melvillians ghosts in search of redemption that have long haunted his tormented imagination and develops his inimitable trademark: martial choreographies and ballistic blasts infinitely renewable and intensely evocative. The film also makes Chow Yun Fat into a star who will then hop from one shoot to the next at a vertiginous pace. This is mostly the beginning of an indefectible complicity between the actor and the director, in the manner of De Niro/Scorsese, Russell/Carpenter, Hauer/Verhoven, of which the ultimate feat remains to this day the mythical The Killer (1989), a masterpiece that pays homage without complex to Melville’s Samouraï. Chow Yun Fat’s character actually has the same name and executes the same profession as Alain Delon did in 1967.


1986-1992 constitutes what critics and fans refer to as the “Hong Kong period”. A Better Tomorrow I and II, The Killer, Bullet in the Head and Hard-Boiled are so many masterworks bursting with the virtuosity of John Woo that conquer a large audience worldwide and also attract the attention of the Occident upon the rest of the rich and unbridled local production. Indeed, nowadays even the profane can recognize the master’s imprint. Whether it be the use of slow-motion to stigmatize the signification or the aesthetic of the action, the doves gracefully flying in the midst of apocalypse or the other key figures repeated from film to film, Woo’s signature is manifest. Of all these figures, one in particular symbolizes the Hong Kong period: the Mexican Stand Off (two men, face to face, mutually pointing guns to each other’s head). From A Better Tomorrow to Hard-Boiled, John Woo tirelessly explores stories of dual melancholy outcasts, the crook and the cop, crossing paths in battle (gun pointed at the head), recognizing that they share a code of honor (face to face)beyond law and uniting against a common enemy (the modern world negating the values of the past). Said modern world is always represented by the mob and its armies, which the heroes will decimate by the hundreds through dantesque gunfights that make the conjugated accomplishments of Schwarzenegger and Stallone look like mere slingshot blows.


In 1992, fleeing the upcoming 1997 retrocession, John Woo expatriates himself to Hollywood and enters his American period with Hard Target, which many erroneously consider a disgrace. Surprisingly, the Hollywoodish corset, far from choking the artist, forces him by its conventions to operate a demobilization of his obsessions, i.e. abandoning the antagonism between his heroes and the world to explore the duality in one’s own soul, torn between good and evil. Whereas you can’t mow down countless extras in Hollywood like in Hong Kong, any respectable action flick needs a serviceable Nemesis. From that point, Hard Target, a minor film with a Van Damme more ridiculous than ever, nonetheless constitutes a virtual theater where Woo sketches a new key figure in his cinema which, in the vein of the Mexican Stand Offs for his Hong Kong period, will perfectly define his American period: the hero and his Nemesis, back to back, separated by a wall, discoursing while reloading their weapon before turning around and shooting at one another point blank. Of course, the greatest example of such forceful duel is reached in the astonishing Face/Off (1997), with the sublime Cage/Travolta duo, where two lifelong enemies, Sean Archer (the painful incarnation of all the sacrifices of good) and Castor Troy (the demented allegory of all the ecstasy of evil), who switched faces earlier, position themselves in that key figure, but with a double-sided mirror instead of a wall separating them. Hence, when they turn around towards their reflection to open fire upon their adversary, they discover with horror the traits of the other in place of theirs. Needless to say that whole pages of analysis would be necessary to decrypt the countless possible interpretations of such a schizophrenic scene. By the time the film reaches its climax, with a hysterical Cage overcome by a Tavolta on the verge of madness, John Woo purges himself inexorably of his demons and et imperceptibly makes his cinema slip into a new period.


His next film comes in 2000, with the further adventures of Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible 2. Despite a difficult shoot and clashes with star Tom Cruise, Woo delivers a particularly Zen action film. He orchestrates original, feverish action sequences as always, but with little of the moral and spiritual conflicts of his previous films. Apparently healed by art, the genius cineaste has been substituted by a brilliant craftsman, whose Windtalkers (2002) and Paycheck (2003) don’t deny his finesse and savoir-faire. Sure, to critics for whom cinema only has worth through the auteur theory, this can appear like degradation, but the cinephile open to the diversities of art, this is only a new transition. Today’s John Woo is like an old maker of samurai swords whose blades are still sharp but aren’t meant to kill. After confronting the world and himself, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him soon tackle the Grim Reaper itself, a logical and inevitable (all filmmakers get there sooner or later) continuation of what he’s always pursued. So, friend’s advice, don’t miss the next transition, because it risks being, in the image of the others, unforgettable.

<img src=”http://www.montrealfilmjournal.com/dat/pic/M0000634.jpg”

Terrence Malick

1973
Badlands 94
[ review ]

1978
Days of Heaven 92
[ review ]

1998
The Thin Red Line 93
[ review ]

2006
The New World 72
[ review ]

2011
The Tree of Life 93
[ It won the Palme d’Or and it’s already been hailed as a masterpiece and an instant classic by some. Easy, now. Oh, this is most definitely a great film, but upon first viewing, I have some issues with it. The first act didn’t quite do it for me, then the much ballyhooed about Qatsi-style creation-of-the-world sequence did impress me as an audio-visual showcase, but not so much thematically. And I believe it’s clear that the Sean Penn thread is the film’s weakest link and that the finale is a bit meh. All that being said, I still loved the hell out of the majority of the picture, starting with the courtship Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain’s characters onto the birth of their three sons and the way their childhood unfolds. All the Malick trademarks are there: the gorgeous magic-hour cinematography, the spiritual/existential voice-over narration, the use of music (both the Alexandre Desplat score and the classical pieces), the impressionistic storytelling, the attention given to nature… But while it may seem pretentious and quasi-experimental at times, I was surprised by how straightforwardly moving it can be – again, particularly during the scenes/moments involving Pitt, Chastain and their boys. I’ll have to see it again before I can say that I even come close to fully understanding it and chances are I’ll love it even more then but, right away, I can tell you that it’s the best film I’ve seen during the whole first half of 2011. ]

2013
To the Wonder 85
[ The first sequence is shot on crappy video, which worried me. Thankfully, after two minutes or so, the film switches to glorious 35mm and we’re treated to some absolutely gorgeous and luminous cinematography, courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot all of Alfonso Cuarón’s features, in addition to my beloved “Birdman” and Malick’s own “The New World” and “The Tree of Life”. Also amazing is the use of classical music which, along with the superb images, elevates everything into something incredibly sumptuous. That might be Malick’s greatest skill right there: making the ordinary extraordinary, if not downright magical. There’s not much of a story here, we’re just following Ben Affleck, who’s dating a French woman played by Olga Kurylenko, who has a 10-year-old daughter (Tatiana Chiline), then later (or earlier – it’s that kind of movie), Affleck hangs out with Rachel McAdams… And I guess it’s kind of a problem that Affleck’s character is such a blank. And what’s with the subplot featuring Javier Bardem as a priest? But every shot is so beautiful! Who needs tons of dialogue and a clear plot when a film conveys so much emotion and provokes so many thoughts through visuals? “To the Wonder” is not quite on the level of Malick’s masterpieces, but it’s still pretty damn great. ]

Cameron Crowe

1989
Say Anything 97
[ review ]

1992
Singles 91
[ review ]

1996
Jerry Maguire 84
[ review ]

2000
Almost Famous 100
[ review ] / [ review 2.0 ]

2001
Vanilla Sky 93
[ review ]

2005
Elizabethtown 90
[ review ]

2011
Pearl Jam Twenty 91
[ Music has always been intrinsically linked to the films of former Rolling Stone scribe Cameron Crowe, who notably set his “Singles” (1992) in Seattle and cast members of various grunge bands in it, including Pearl Jam. To celebrate the latter’s 20th anniversary, Crowe has now assembled an electrifying, kaleidoscopic documentary, the result of years of digging through over 1,200 hours of archival footage (including some of the band’s earliest performances) and condensing it into a breathless cavalcade of images and sounds. It starts by establishing the Seattle of the late 1980s, home to “a whole scene of musicians that really worked together to create their own world of influences and bands and community.” “Pearl Jam Twenty” depicts it all: the Mother Love Bone days with Andrew Wood, who OD’d in 1990, leaving bandmates Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard to hook up with Eddie Vedder and eventually form Pearl Jam; the quasi-overnight success that came along with the media frenzy surrounding grunge and almost caused the group to be “swallowed up by the mainstream”; the inevitable backlash, the subsequent left turns taken such as hooking up with Neil Young and going on a crusade against Ticketmaster; the unavoidable internal tensions; the lean years during which they sailed under the radar; the tragedy at Roskilde Festival 2000 which left nine audience members dead; and finally the realization that they had reached a certain state of maturity, via everlasting integrity, loyalty to their fans and vice versa. Here is a true music geek’s rockumentary with a wonderfully intimate scrapbook quality, in which you can feel Cameron Crowe’s love of the music in every frame. A must-see, even if you’re not into Pearl Jam – chance are you’ll be by film’s end. ]

We Bought a Zoo 92
[ review ]

2015
Aloha 89
[ review ]

2016
Roadies S1E1 – “Life is a Carnival”
[ I love every Cameron Crowe movie. Yes, *every* one of them. Yet I’m aware that most people believe he peaked with “Almost Famous”, which is indeed his best film, but… Anyway, obviously, the move to cable television to do a series based in the world of rock tours is very clever. While not quite on the level of “Almost Famous”, in part because it’s not set in the 70s, “Roadies” still instantly hooked me in with its insightful attention to detail, great Crowe dialogue, awesome music and likable cast of characters played by the likes of Luke Wilson, Carla Gugino, Imogen Poots, Ron White and Luis Guzman. Plus it’s all about music and people who love it and live it, versus those who wish to ruin rock and roll and strangle everything we love about it, and it’s such a fascinating world to me, I can’t get enough. ]

David Gordon Green

2000
George Washington 92
[ A small town wasteland, crushed by the Deep South heat. An interracial group of kids (their common poverty seems to make skin color irrelevant), not too bright but with their hearts in the right place. No clear plot, but much contemplation, much lyricism and an unlikely super-hero. Add great Cinemascope cinematography, a haunting score and casually philosophical narration, and you can’t help but think of Terrence Malick’s oeuvre, but a series of quirky flourishes and the sometimes clumsy but always natural actors make Gordon’s heartbreakingly beautiful first film into its own beast. ]

2003
All the Real Girls 93
[ review ]

2004
Undertow 64
[ review ]

2008
Snow Angels 90
[ review ]

Pineapple Express 93
[ review ]

2011
Your Highness 89
[ review ]

The Sitter 69
[ Why did I skip this one in theatres again? Oh yeah, near-unanimous rotten reviews. But as is often the case with almost universally panned flicks, it’s actually not so bad. In fact, if like me, you’re a fan of 1) Jonah Hill and 2) David Gordon Green in comedy mode, this is actually a really fun watch. It’s no “Superbad” or “Pineapple Express” (Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg didn’t write it after all), but as an homage to lowbrow, everything-goes 80s comedies, it works more often than not. “The Sitter” takes place over one crazy night, as Hill stumbles into babysitting three problem children (neurotic Max Records, wannabe-celebutante Landry Bender and juvenile delinquent Kevin Hernandez) then finds himself having to deal with drug dealers (Sam Rockwell and J.B. Smoove, who just about steal the movie), black thugs and dirty cops. Hilarity ensues (it really does!). There are pacing issues and it’s all over the place, but that shaggy-dog quality is part of the fun for me. I particularly enjoy the over-the-top oddness, like the scene set in a bodybuilder-experiment emporium (you’ll see!). I’m also still very found of the mix of funny and unsettling that is also present in “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness” (and on TV’s “Easbound & Down,” that insane HBO series co-directed by Jody Hill and David Gordon Green), and which of course can be traced back to the likes of David Lynch, the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, etc. You know, when a series of fucked up things happen and you’re not sure whether you should laugh or not? Love that shit. ]

2013
Prince Avalanche 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. ]

2014
Joe 79
[ Was this ever released in Montreal theaters? The film earned very positive buzz during its festival run, but its (limited) release in April 2014 didn’t make a huge impact. In any case, David Gordon Green is one of my favorite filmmakers, both for his early arthouse films and for his broad comedy period, so I for sure wanted to see his latest. “Joe” stars Nicolas Cage in the titular role of a Texas ex-con now working as the boss of a all-black lumberjack crew. Right away, the Southern setting, the magic-hour cinematography, the ambient score and the tone call to mind Green’s “George Washington” or “Undertow”. The first act has a loose, hanging-out feel, though because of the violent opening scene involving 15-year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan) and his selfish old drunk of a father (Gary Poulter, a homeless man who died soon after the shoot), we know the movie won’t all be about the camaraderie between Joe and his crew, which Gary soon joins. Sure enough, about half an hour in, things turn violent again via the appearance of a scary looking motherfucker played by Ronnie Gene Blevins… But “Joe” doesn’t become a full-on thriller or anything. It’s like it just happens to take place in this rough environment where getting shot is something that happens from time to time. Next thing you know, Joe’s back in the woods with his workers or at home, drinking, smoking, watching TV, going to the general store, going to the brothel… This is hardly a plot-driven film, it’s mostly about atmosphere and character. I had problems with Green’s previous “Prince Avalanche” for being so uneventful, but the difference here is that I really cared about Joe and Gary, plus the antagonists are perfectly loathsome. Great acting all around, with Cage in particular delivering one of his best performances in a long time. ]

Wong Kar-Wai

1988
As Tears Go By 67
[ In this kinda-cheesy ‘80s gangster thriller, Wong Kar-Wai hasn’t come into his own quite yet, but you do sense the emergence of the artist. Andy Lau stars as a goon for the Hong Kong Triads who falls in love with his sick cousin (Maggie Cheung) but must constantly leave her to go clean the messes his “little brother” (Jacky Cheung) keeps putting himself into. The use of slow-motion and neon-lit cinematography calls to mind Michael Mann, but what sets Kar-Wai apart is his shameless romanticism and his hypnotic use of pop music. Take My Breath Away in Cantonese? Priceless. ]

1991
Days of Being Wild 62
[ “You’ll see me in your dreams tonight.” In 1960 Hong Kong, a playboy (Leslie Cheung) carelessly seduces then discards women (including Maggie Cheung and the lesser known but equally gorgeous Carina Lau), maybe in a subconscious attempt to get back at his mother for abandoning him as a child. With lush cinematography by Christopher Doyle and bittersweet use of rumba music, this second feature further establishes Ka-Wai as an original, impressionistic storyteller. It’s not particularly exciting, but it’s certainly a well crafted mood piece. ]

1994
Ashes of Time ???
[ Wuxia goes Nouvelle Vague in this nearly incomprehensible tale of, um, revenge or something. It doesn’t help that I could only find a crappy DVD transfer with questionable English subtitles. I sensed some stylish cinematography, almost-Morricone music and Wong Kar-Wai’s brand of romanticism somewhere in there, but not enough to feel like I’ve experienced the film properly. Someone needs to reedit this, pronto. Criterion, are you listening? ]

1994
Chungking Express 93
[ review ]

1995
Fallen Angels 80
[ review ]

1997
Happy Together 91
[ review ]

2000
In the Mood for Love 63
[ Wong Kar-Wai’s latest is as stylish and visually stunning as his previous films, but it unfolds in a much more understated, quiet and slow manner. You gotta love the exquisite shot composition, Maggie Cheung’s colorful print dresses, the hypnotically repetitive musical cues and Tony Leung’s slow-burn charm, but the plot is so thin and the characters so passive that you could skip and shuffle scenes at random (or turn off the subtitles) without losing much. ]

2005
2046 68
[ review ]

2007
My Blueberry Nights
[ Not sure why I’ve still yet to see this… ]

2013
The Grandmaster
[ I really need to catch up. It’s on Netflix and all… ]