David Fincher

1992
Alien³ 37
[ Killing off the great supporting cast of Cameron’s “ALIENS” during the opening credits? Not cool. Surrounding Sigourney Weaver’s Lt. Ripley with tight-assed pseudo-religious murderers and rapists in a maximum security prison at the ass-end of the universe? Unpleasant. Making us wait forever before sending the titular creature on a rampage then failing to deliver more than not-so-thrilling thrills and not-so-horrifying horrors? Frustrating. Yet as boring and pointless a sequel this can be, it remains notable for introducing Fincher’s brilliant sense of atmosphere and visual style to the films of the cinema. ]


1995
Se7en 93
[ review ]


1997
The Game 52
[ review ]


1999
Fight Club 94
[ review ]


2002
Panic Room 48
[ review ]


2007
Zodiac 59
[ review ]

2008
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 55
[ review ]

2010
The Social Network 92
[ review ]

2011
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 94
[ review ]

2014
Gone Girl 78
[ review ]

Martin Scorsese

1968
WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? 60
[ Scorsese’s first feature, shot in B&W with minimal resources and a then unknown Harvey Keitel, is not perfect but still distinctive. It’s the work of a recent film school graduate on whom the French New Wave obviously made an impression, but who also uses his own experiences as a young Italian American coming from a very religious background. This idiosyncratic story follows a two-bit hustler and a pretty blonde girl as they wander in the streets and on rooftops, they have long talks about old movies… Eventually some dramatic tension grows in their relationship, but for the most part this is a hang-out movie, with many dialogue-free sequences edited to rock music (including a great one that uses The Doors’ The End, 10 years before “Apocalypse Now”). The movie’s a bit slight and unkempt, sure, but it’s a strong debut nonetheless. ]

1972
BOXCAR BERTHA 37
[ For a cheapie Roger Corman exploitation picture, this looks pretty good. Barbara Hershey’s Bertha looks good, too, and David Carradine’s Bill (mmm, whaddayaknow) is a cool mofo, but the 1930s socio-political stuff feels like an afterthought, the story and characters are inconsequential and Scorsese displays little of his usual stylistic or thematic sensibilities. The ending’s killer, but this is still one of Marty’s least memorable ventures. ]

1973
MEAN STREETS 84
[ “You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it.” Spirituality collides with gritty violence through this very potent character study, full of everything that makes Scorsese such a stimulating filmmaker: exciting visuals, just about the greatest pop song selection you’ve ever heard and great performances (Keitel and De Niro are gods, man). It’s also one of Marty’s most personal pictures (he wrote it himself), based on his own dilemma as a youth between becoming a priest or a gangster. Thank heavens and thank the streets he chose neither – the movies wouldn’t be the same without him. ]

1974
ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE 52
[ Alice’s stuck in the semi-rural Southwest with an abusive husband and the most annoying kid in the world, so when her man croaks, it’s almost a blessing – at least an opportunity to start anew. She hits the road with the most annoying kid in the world, hoping to resume her pre-marriage career as a singer, but becoming a waitress might be more realistic. Ellen Burstyn is awesome in the tile role, and she’s well supported by the likes of Harvey Keitel, Diane Ladd, Kris Kristofferson and a tomboyish Jodie Foster. I could have certainly done without the most annoying kid in the world (movie’s best moment might be when Kristofferson smacks that brat), but otherwise this is a pleasant enough slice of life. ]

1976
TAXI DRIVER 100
[ review ]

1977
NEW YORK, NEW YORK 71
[ Liza Minnelli has turned into a punchline over the years, but in this bittersweet musical she’s really fun and appealing. De Niro is charming too, even though his sax player character is an asshole. When he duets with Liza’s singer it’s swinging, unfortunately off stage things get rocky. De Niro and Minnelli’s romantic and professional troubles are engaging, with both actors in top form, but it’s the great musical numbers that really make the movie memorable. There’s the instant classic title tune, of course, but even better is “Happy Endings”, an all-out MGM soundstage song and dance extravaganza – which wasn’t actually in the film until 1981! ]

1978
THE LAST WALTZ 70
[ “THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD.” Heh! I thought this was “just” a concert film, but it’s actually in many ways a movie-movie: shot on 35mm, with storytelling, mise en scène, editing that jumps back and forth in time and space…. On stage, back stage, in a studio, before, during and after the show…. We see and hear a lot of The Band, of course, as they play their final performance, but they’ve also got some awesome guest stars with them: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, my man Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, The Staple Singers… Good times. ]

1980
RAGING BULL 92
[ A brilliantly crafted character study with some of the most stunning boxing scenes ever shot and blistering performances by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. What’s more brutal: the violence in the ring, or the one at home, back in the Bronx? Jake La Motta’s rage is a plus in his boxing career, but it means trouble when he carries it with him in his relations with women, his brother and just about everybody else. This is Scorsese at his best, in form, with virtuoso B&W cinematography and editing, and in content, with another raw yet profound “street-smart” screenplay by Paul Schrader and some of the best acting you’ll ever see. Pesci and De Niro have become self-parodies, but their back-and-forth here is incredibly intense and multi-layered, the two brothers’ relationship being rough, tender, sad, sometimes all at once. The fight scenes are unglamorous, all blood and sweat, hardly Rocky-like inspirational; this is more like something out of German expressionism, with Sugar Ray Robinson looming like an African-American Nosferatu! And then there’s the pathetic third act, with De Niro/La Motta all fat, doing bad stand-up… A truly great biopic. ]

1982
THE KING OF COMEDY 86
[ De Niro and Scorsese, man, what a dream team. They’ve each done great work on their own, but every time they make a movie together something clicks, lights burn brighter, I dunno, it’s magic, man. You see De Niro with this silly mustache, playing this silly stand-up comedian with this silly name (Rupert Pupkin), with this silly fixation on a late night talk show host (a surprising Jerry Lewis)… But the silliness is laced with creepiness, and you get this bad feeling in the pit of your stomach, you’ve seen what, half a dozen other Scorsese-De Niro flicks, and when did things ever turn out OK, right? Then again, this one film is more satire than drama, so anything goes, right? But even as satire this isn’t all that funny, it’s actually pretty damn pathetic and sad… This is a very peculiar, unpredictable, fascinating film. ]

1985
AFTER HOURS 18
[ Aaah, the ‘80s, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I have an odd fondness for a lot of cheesy ‘80s movies, but cheesiness is not what I’m looking for in a Scorsese movie. Griffin Dunne is about the most unappealing guy you could cast as the lead of your movie, and the gallery of WACKY! characters he meets through his wild night in Soho are more annoying than fun. ]

1986
THE COLOR OF MONEY 75
[ Tom Cruise’s a cool guy, no doubt, but even he could use lessons from Paul Newman. Paul Newman is ice-cold pure charisma, he owns the screen. Here he’s reprising his role from “The Hustler”, Fast Eddie, who’s now showing the ropes to pool prodigy Cruise. But the game’s just an excuse, what really matters is squeezing the most money out of those you’re playing. Well written, well shot, well scored by The Band’s Robbie Robertson and a bunch of catchy pop rock, this is wonderful material for two stars to try to outcool each other. Good times. ]

1988
THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST 86
[ review ]

1989
LIFE LESSONS 85
[ This short (Scorsese’s contribution to New York Stories) follows Lionel Dobie, an intense and talented painter. He’s played by Nick Nolte, almost unrecognizable with shaggy hair and beard. Dobie’s a very fascinating character. The film spends a lot of time watching him as he paints, waving his brush frantically to loud rock music. We feel that he’s tormented, and when he picks up Paulette (Rosanna Arquette) at the airport, we understand why. A painter with little talent, she moved in with Dobie to learn from him but ended up in his bed. But now, she’s through and she really wants to leave, but Dobie is so possessive that he won’t let her, even when he learns that she slept with a performance artist played by the always enjoyable Steve Buscemi. The film is not about love, but more about how one can mistake need for love. Nolte’s character is a lonely man, and he wants Paulette to be with him, but not really because of her. Any girl could do. The film is well written, and the direction is awesome. Scorsese’s camera never rests, moving around constantly around Dobie. Like always, Scorsese also makes terrific use of music, which seems to help Dobie getting in the mood of his painting. Nolte and Arquette are also great, and so is the film. I don’t know how this would play as a feature, but as a short, it’s fascinating. ]

1990
GOODFELLAS 95
[ review ]

1991
CAPE FEAR 88
[ You could say that this shallow and violent B-movie is unworthy of Scorsese, that he can do better than such generic Hollywood trash. Then again, if you’re in the mood for a trashy thriller, it doesn’t get more badass than this. Robert De Niro is absolutely riveting here, playing so over the top and chewing so much scenery that he goes from scary to ridiculous and back constantly, you never know what he’s gonna do but it’s always a thrill. Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis are good too as the family De Niro stalks, especially in the way we see some of their flaws, they’re not just innocent victims. So yeah, Scorsese can do better than this, but I still think this is pretty damn great. ]

1993
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE 49
[ Scorsese: “I’ve always been attracted to the repression of desire. The love that’s not consummated, the love that becomes an obsession. That theme has gone through many of my movies. It goes back to Taxi Driver.” Yeah… Except that while 1970s New York cabbies and 1870s New York aristocrats might both be haunted by guilt and conscience, Travis Bickle is a much more fascinating character than the stuffed up and mostly passive Newland Archer. Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, composer Elmer Bernstein, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and production designer Dante Ferretti all do impeccable work and Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer do manage to convey hidden passions and torments, but I never felt involved in the story. Maybe costume dramas just aren’t my cup of tea. ]

1995
CASINO 92
[ review ]

1997
KUNDUN 87
[ By far Scorsese’s most uncharacteristic picture – there’s a long way between New York and Tibet, violent gangsters and pacifist spiritual leaders! Marty did do his Jesus movie, but Catholicism has often been integral to his work whereas this… This is something else. Even stylistically, this has little to do with the grittiness, fast pace and rock songs Scorsese usually goes for. “Kundun” is contemplative, full of vivid colors and propelled by a Philip Glass score – it’s sort of a Dalai Lamaqatsi. This is powerful, entrancing art. The only thing that keeps it from true greatness is the unwise decision of having Tibetans in Tibet speak English amongst themselves. ]

1999
BRINGING OUT THE DEAD 90
[ review ]

2002
GANGS OF NEW YORK 58
[ review ]

2004
THE AVIATOR 50
[ review ]

2005
NO DIRECTION HOME 85
[ This music-driven documentary gets at the bottom of where Bob Dylan came from and where he tried to go. Dylan himself reminisces about his extraordinary life and people like Allen Ginsberg and Joan Baez add their own thoughts, but this is hardly just a succession of talking heads. Scorsese is a master visualist, so he unearths tons of archival footage, old photographs and film excerpts (notably from D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back and Murray Lerner’s Festival to illustrate what’s being said. Much is made of when Dylan went electric, infuriating many of his fans – it seems like that was a bigger deal than the civil rights movement, the Kennedy assassination or Nam to some of these folksy folk folks! Scorsese keeps cutting back and forth from the infamous “Royal Albert Hall” gig in 1966 when Dylan was practically booed off the stage, even though it’s actually a kickass performance. Dylan was a poet and a rebel, and he did care about the underdog, but not in political boxes. People wanted him to be the voice of his generation, yet he just wanted to write songs and have fun with his music. “No Direction Home” effectively drives this point home and offers a fascinating look at the 1960s as experienced -and influenced- by Bob Dylan. ]

2006
THE DEPARTED 80
[ review ]


2008
SHINE A LIGHT 66
[ First of all, a disclaimer: this is way more for the Rolling Stones fans than for the Martin Scorsese fans. Save for the first 10-15 minutes, in which we see Marty fidgetily set up the shoot of the Beacon Theatre concert; some hilarious, cleverly used archival footage of interviews with the band members; and a neat closing tracking shot, there isn’t much in here to make you notice that Scorsese is at the helm. Which is not to say that the film isn’t worth seeing! If you’re a Stones fan, you’ll have a gas watching this lively performance. The setlist is pretty extraordinary, starting with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, then going into many cuts from key albums Some Girls (Some Girls, Imagination, Far Away Eyes, Shattered), Let It Bleed (You Got the Silver, Live with Me) and Exile from Main St. (Tumbling Dice, Loving Cup, All Down the Line, but oddly no Shine a Light except for an excerpt at the outset of the end credits), plus She Was Hot, Sympathy for the Devil, the Marianne Faithfull hit As Tears Go By, Muddy Waters’ Champagne and Reefer… I was only disappointed by the last stretch, where they go for their most obvious, overplayed songs (Start Me Up, Brown Sugar, Satisfaction). Still, even then, it remains compelling for Charlie Watts’ reliable drumming, the awesome intercrossed guitar playing from Ron Wood and Keith Richards and, last but not least, Mick Jagger’s electrifying stage presence, goofy facial expressions and irresistible strutting! ]

2010
SHUTTER ISLAND 75
[ review ]

A LETTER TO ELIA 79
[ review ]

2011
HUGO 78
[ I must say, sentimental family movies about precocious children and “broken” adults teaching each other life lessons are one of my least favorite genres. Leave it to Martin Scorsese to make one that almost entirely won me over, thanks to dazzling 3D cinematography, magnificent art direction recreating 1930s Paris and all-around great performances (Asa Butterfield, Chloë Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, etc.). Some of this adaptation of Brian Selznick’s 2007 illustrated novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” remains too corny for my taste and there may be too many pratfall-heavy chases, but there are 4 or 5 absolutely brilliant sequences about the magic of early cinema, particularly that of George Méliès, which make it a must-see nonetheless. ]

2011
LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD 90
[ In a similar fashion to what he did in “No Direction Home”, his Bob Dylan documentary, Martin Scorsese sets out to tell the story of George Harrison via abundant archival footage, photographs and audio recordings, much of it previously unseen or unheard, all of which is assembled with a great sense of storytelling and flow. Also featuring interviews with the late musician’s family and friends, including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton, the film is divided into two parts. Part One offers a surprisingly fresh look at the Beatles years, focusing on George’s considerable contribution to the band’s artistry and showing how he tended to be the quieter, wiser, more spiritual member of the quartet. Yet he could also be funny or angry, he was a complex individual, like any other human being, with his flaws and his contradictions. (Just for fun, here’s how great a Beatles LP featuring only Harrison-written songs would have been: “Don’t Bother Me”, “I Need You”, “You Like Me Too Much”, “Think for Yourself”, “If I Needed Someone”, “Taxman”, “Love You To”, “I Want to Tell You”, “Within You Without You”, “Blue Jay Way”, “The Inner Light”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Piggies”, “Long, Long, Long”, “Savoy Truffle”, “I Me Mine”, “For You Blue”, “Something”, “Here Comes the Sun” – to think some folks still think Lennon-McCartney were the only geniuses in the group!) Part Two begins with the disassembling of the Beatles then segues into George’s solo career, beginning with the creation of the amazing Phil Spector-produced “All Things Must Pass” album. The film then touches on the romantic triangle between Harrison, Clapton and Pattie Boyd (which famously inspired the song “Layla”), the Concert for Bangladesh, the ex-Beatle’s forays into cinema (he notably produced Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits), John Lennon’s death, the formation of the Traveling Wilburys (a super group that also featured Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty), his marriage to Olivia Harrison, his relationship with his their son, that horrible time he got stabbed by a home invader, and finally his death from cancer. Granted, if you’re a fan, you knew most of this stuff already, but Scorsese keeps it captivating. And then of course there’s all the awesome music. ]

2013
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET 94
[ review ]

2016
SILENCE 91
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

Steven Spielberg

1971
Duel 57
[ Before Stephen King, there was Richard Matheson, who adapted one of his stories into the screenplay of this simple but effective thriller. Like King would later do so well, Matheson takes an ordinary Joe in an ordinary situation (driving on the highway) and turns it into an extraordinary hell ride by having a big-ass diesel truck force him into a deadly chase. The flick would work even better as a half-hour short, but nervous editing and inventive camerawork keep us on the edge of our seats for most of these 90 minutes nonetheless. ]

1974
The Sugarland Express 21
[ More “Smokey and the Bandit” than “Badlands”, this idiotic and unfunny road movie has Goldie Hawn breaking her husband out of prison to get their baby out of a foster home. What follows is an endless, pointless-feeling parade of Texas State Trooper cars, adding up to what must be Spielberg’s most forgettable movie. ]

1975
Jaws 94
[ Watching this again, more than forty years after it exploded as the first modern Hollywood blockbuster, one can appreciate more than ever the way Spielberg keeps the shark unseen for most of the film and how much time and care he puts in developing Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw’s characters and the way they play off each other. This may not have quite the visceral impact it must have had back then, but it’s still totally badass, with so much quotable dialogue, iconic shots, memorable scenes… The first half is a quasi horror movie, with a shark slasher stalking the waters around Amity Island. Then the second half is this awesome adventure film, with the central going out at sea on the Orca to kill that damn Bruce. “Jaws” is pretty much a perfect picture, with confident, gripping storytelling, masterful mise en scène, great performances and that classic John Williams score. One of Spielberg’s all-time best. ]

1977
Close Encounters of the Third Kind 91
[ review ]

1979
“1941” 23
[ Spielberg’s obviously got a thing for World War II, which inspired him a bunch of “Important Films” but also this spectacularly misguided and unfunny comedy about post-Pearl Harbor hysteria around Los Angeles. John Belushi is vaguely amusing as his usual nutcase self, but Dan Aykroyd and the rest of the cast are just dull and annoying – the movie even manages to waste greats like Christopher Lee and Toshiro Mifune. It’s all bad jokes and bad slapstick, and this chaotic and noisy mess goes on for more than two bloated hours. ]

1981
Raiders of the Lost Ark 93
[ review ]

1982
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 97
[ review ]

1984
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 94
[ review ]

1985
The Color Purple 59
[ Whoopi gets impregnated by her daddy, her babies are taken away from her, then she’s forced to marry a mean mofo of a farmer (Danny Glover) who not only cheats on her but brings his mistress home to live with them. But the two women actually become friends, and then there’s something about a long-lost sister in Africa, and there’s Oprah being sent to jail basically because she’s got a mind of her own (and a temper to go with it)… Like many book-to-film adaptations, “The Color Purple” suffers from a scattered narrative that tries to include too many characters and events. You can tell that Spielberg’s got his heart in it but he’s not quite right for the material. The movie uneasily juxtaposes brutality and cuteness, social commentary and corny humor, all of which is drowned in an omnipresent score by Quincy Jones. I still cried like a baby at the end, but overall the picture misses more often than it hits. ]

1987
Empire of the Sun 51
[ Two years after “The Color Purple” left the Oscars empty-handed, Spielberg tries again to make an Important Film, unaware that sci-fi and adventure flicks like “E.T.” or “Raiders” would become American classics of their own, “Important” or not. A then 13 year old Christian Bale stars as a precocious British boy who witnesses the horrors in 1941 Shanghai as the Japanese’s occupation grows more aggressive following Pearl Harbor. Spielberg gives this huge epic an almost intimate quality by always showing events through the eyes of this one kid and he makes effective use of extended dialogue-free sequences but, like “Color Purple”, this attempt at Important Cinema is cutesy and obvious and way too long at 150 minutes. “Empire of the Sun” remains worth seeing for Allen Daviau’s cinematography and for supporting performances by John Malkovich, Joey Pantoliano and Ben Stiller (yes, that Ben Stiller). ]

1989
Always 47
[ Spielberg goes romantic in this remake of 1946’s “A Guy Named Joe” which substitutes WW2 fighter planes with firefighting ones. Richard Dreyfuss plays a pilot who dies while trying to save his partner (the always enjoyable John Goodman) then sticks around to help the woman he loved (Holly Hunter) move on with her life. “Always” is full of good sentiments and well shot aerial sequences, but Dreyfuss and Hunter don’t make a particularly engaging couple and there aren’t enough strong moments to make this into more than an uneven trifle. ]

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 85
[ review ]

1991
Hook 33
[ Admittedly, I thought it was fun and lively enough when it came out (I was 11!), but even then I thought the brat playing Robin Williams’ son was pretty obnoxious. The Peter Pan story is a great one, so that keeps this modern retelling going for the most part, but on the whole it’s too corny and not magical enough. ]

1993
Jurassic Park 68
[ The casting of Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum is inspired, the John Williams score is iconic and there are definitely a few riveting set pieces (the first T-rex attack, the velociraptors hunting), but it takes almost an hour of alternately interesting and corny exposition to get to the good stuff. Solid entertainment, but not on the level of Spielberg’s best work. ]

Schindler’s List 95
[ review ]

1997
The Lost World 58
[ This film proves that nobody directs a blockbuster like Steven Spielberg. The script is lame, the storyline is ridiculous, it’s predictable, there is some cheesy sentimental BS, but it’s still mostly entertaining thanks to Spielberg’s magical touch. The special FX are awesome, even better than in the first film. And there are a whole lot more dinosaurs! The attack scenes are killer, with some effective suspense and clever gags. The cast is excellent, even though the likes of Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore are kinda wasted in nothing roles; Jeff Goldblum remains super cool, but his character’s preteen gymnast daughter almost ruins it all. One of the things I dug is the people getting eaten, smashed or killed by dinos – there is a lot of (implied) death for a PG-13 film! One almost-classic Spielberg set piece is the truck-hanging-over-the-cliff bit. The T-rex chase in San Diego is great as well. Definitely flawed, but it still works pretty well as a popcorn movie. ]

Amistad 66
[ The first minutes are gruelling, comparable in intensity to the opening of “Saving Private Ryan”. The trial movie that follows isn’t as riveting, but it’s got important things to say about an unfamiliar (to me at least) chunk of American history and it makes us care deeply about what will happen to these Africans being prosecuted just because they hit back at those who tried to lock them up, put them on a ship and sell them as slaves. Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman and Matthew McConaughey are all compelling actors, but it’s Djimon Hounsou who gives the film its fiery soul. “Amistad” doesn’t reinvent the form, but it’s a moving story, well told. ]

1998
Saving Private Ryan 95
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

2001
A.I. 41
[ review ]

2002
Minority Report 93
[ review ]

Catch Me If You Can 91
[ review ]

2004
The Terminal 63
[ review ]

2005
War of the Worlds 87
[ review ]

Munich 90
[ review ]

2008
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 91
[ review ]

2011
The Adventures of Tintin 65
[  Adapted from Hergé’s beloved series of bandes dessinées, “The Adventures of Tintin” is most notable for how marvellously it uses performance capture and computer animation to strike a perfect balance between photorealism and cartoonishness. After a tediously exposition-heavy first act in which it becomes clear that the goody two shoes, white-bread persona of Tintin (Jamie Bell) can be rather dull on its own, things pick up considerably with the introduction of Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a loudmouthed drunk whose flaws only give him more character. We also get to enjoy some spectacular action sequences, as Tintin, Haddock and brave pooch Snowy travel the world looking for lost pirate treasure in sort of a light version of “Indiana Jones”. Great snakes!   ]

War Horse 91
[   I can already see it. Many, many people are going to love this movie, LOVE it. But there are some, critics mostly, who’ll inevitably pan it. Funny thing is that both sides will do so for basically the same reason. This is a pure Spielberg movie through and through, with the wide-eyed sense of wonder, epic scope and brilliant production values you expect, as well as the fact that it’s blatantly sentimental, which is where the Beard tends to lose grumpier scribes.  Few filmmakers know how to work an audience and push the audience’s emotional buttons as well as Spielberg, and he’s going at it full throttle in “War Horse.” An adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel in which World War I was viewed through the eyes of a horse, the film sometimes superficially resembles “Au Hasard Balthazar” (in which the protagonist was a donkey) , but even though the film is mostly set in France, we’re not so much in Robert Bresson territory here as in the grand old tradition of classic Hollywood prestige pictures. Think John Ford, “Gone with the Wind”, David Lean, a bit of Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory”… But think Spielberg, most of all. Starting with the birth of our thoroughbred hero in Devon, England, as witnessed by young Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who’ll name the beast Joey and tame him, the movie then follows the two of them as they struggle to plow a field in order to save the family farm from being reclaimed by the landlord (David Thewlis). That first act is note-perfect, truly involving us in this story of a boy and his horse. Irvine is great as the young lad, who somehow made me think of the fundamentally decent and loyal Samwise as played by Sean Astin in the “LOTR” trilogy, Emily Watson and Peter Mullan are both splendid as his mum and dad, and through the magic of cinema, the horse also delivers a magnificent performance, seemingly conveying all kinds of emotion though his big black eyes (I also loved the goose, heh). A feisty, noble, beautiful creature, Joey is put the test more than ever when the Great War breaks out and he ends up being sold to a British officer (Tom Hiddleston), but also serving in the German army, being adopted by a French jam maker (Niels Arestrup) and his granddaughter and, in one of the most hauntingly memorable sequences in the film, desperately wandering the No Man’s Land between the British and German trenches… Filled with overwhelming visions of beauty and horror, this tale of a miraculous horse features some relatively long stretches without dialogue, all visual storytelling courtesy of Spielberg and cinematographer extraordinaire Janusz Kamiński, though with the assist of wall-to-wall John Williams… And it all builds up to a wordless sunset finale that won’t leave a dry eye in the house. Expect “War Horse” to win (or at least get nominated for) a whole lot of Oscars.  ]

2012
Lincoln 70
[ This historical drama is not so much a biopic about President Abraham Lincoln as a look at a very specific time in his life, namely the weeks and months leading up to the vote to pass the 13th Amendment that would abolish slavery. At the time, the Civil War was still raging on, but we don’t see that much of the battlefield horrors during the film; most of it takes place in various rooms where politicians argue about issues. This inevitably makes for a talkative and somewhat dry picture, but it remains engrossing and lively enough throughout. The period recreation seems impeccable, for once, and there’s much interest just in looking at all the work done on the costumes, the hair and makeup, the production design and whatnot, all of which are superbly shot. Then there’s the screenplay by Tony Kushner, which almost takes the form of a thriller at times, as we find ourselves worrying about whether or not Lincoln and his team will be able to rally about the support necessary to pass the amendment, even we know through History that they will. Quite a feat! All of the scheming that takes place shows that politics are rarely all about ideals and that hopefully, the end justifies the means. In any case, it’s hard not to believe in what Lincoln says, portrayed as he is by the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis as an amazing orator with a truly commanding presence. The cast also includes the likes of David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook and Tommy Lee Jones, who all deliver strong work. I particularly enjoyed the trio played by James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson, who are given the mission to convince Democrats to vote with the Republicans, in ways that may or may not be legit. Then there’s Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife, plus Joseph Gordon-Levitt and little Gulliver McGrath as his sons, who each take part in the more personal parts of the film, which I found a bit weaker than the political stuff. Altogether, “Lincoln” is a undoubtedly a good film, if not classic Spielberg or anything. ]

2015
Bridge of Spies 62
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

2016
Roald Dahl’s The BFG 80
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

Kevin Smith

1994
Clerks 70
[ The acting and production values are dirt-poor, but right out of the gate Kevin Smith showed a distinctive ear for dialogue, be it hilarious dick and fart jokes or true insights into relationships, pop culture and life as a convenience or video store clerk, jobs I’m both very familiar with. “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.” ]

1995
Mallrats 54
[ Kevin Smith does ‘80s-style youth comedy in his more or less justifiably maligned second film. Jeremy London is one of the most unappealing “actors” to ever step in front of a camera and the movie often veers too far into stupid slapstick, but “Mallrats” deserves to be cherished nonetheless if only for introducing the world to the wise-ass godliness of then-pro skateboarder Jason Lee. ]

1997
Chasing Amy 87
[ review ]

1999
Dogma 88
[ review ]

2001
Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back 81
[ review ]

2002
An evening with Kevin Smith 80
[ What’s Kevin Smith’s biggest talent? His writing, right? I mean, dude is not the best director in the world, but he’s able to write movies both heartfelt and hilarious, smart and juvenile. But even his writing can get messy and compromised at times, and who knows what actors can do to ruin good material (that means you, Jeremy London). So what better way to get the full Smith experience than to spend 4 hours listening to the man himself? This DVD was shot during a series of Q&A sessions in colleges across America in which Smith talks in depth – and vulgarity – about his movies, of course, but also tells great anecdotes about watching a Jason Mewes sex tape, protesting his own “Dogma”, his infamously rejected “Superman Lives” screenplay and subsequent feud with Tim Burton, the first time he scored with his wife, his failed documentary project with Prince… Smith is truly a gifted storyteller, and this a real treat. ]

2004
Jersey Girl 55
[ review ]

2006
Clerks II 91
[ review ] [ my interview with Kevin Smith ]

2008
Zack and Miri Make a Porno 65
[ review ]

2010
Cop Out 67
[ review ]

2011
Red State 88
[ In 2006, I had the chance to do a long phone interview with Kevin Smith. The man was in a good mood and talked with enthusiasm about his latest directorial effort, Clerks 2, clearly a very personal project and, in my opinion, the best thing he’s ever made.

Since then, if you’ve been following the filmmaker’s countless tweets, blogs and podcasts, you know that things have changed in many ways for him. There was the relatively disappointing box-office performance of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the Seth Rogen vehicle with which he tried to beat Judd Apatow at his own game. After that, Smith surprised many by accepting for the first time to direct a film he hadn’t written, the Bruce Willis-Tracy Morgan ‘80s-style buddy cop comedy Cop Out. That film easily became his biggest commercial hit ever, but the critical response was so viciously negative that Smith swore off critics altogether.

Other controversies arose around him at that time and since, including the silly incident when he was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight because he was allegedly “too fat to fly” and his misunderstood announcement at Sundance that he would self-distribute his latest feature, Red State, ostensibly because he doesn’t believe in the conventional movie business model anymore.

So basically, Kevin Smith has had many reasons to get angry these past few years, at journalists, at airlines, at the film industry… Having now seen Red State, which had its Canadian premiere during Fantasia’s opening night last week, it appears that the former Silent Bob is also pissed off about more serious matters, starting with Christian fundamentalists who preach anti-homosexual hatred.

Inspired by Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church and their bullshit “God Hates Fags” campaign, but also by the Waco siege and the U.S. government’s post-9/11 excesses, Smith has put together a violently nihilistic film that comes off like an unholy cross between “Hostel”, “There Will Be Blood” and “Die Hard”, if that makes any sense. Going back and forth between horror, action and black comedy, all the while blasting away at religion and politics, Red State blends genres and juggles tone in ways that call to mind Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers.

This is the Kevin Smith of “Dogma” back with a vengeance, delivering a gritty-as-fuck flick that’s not without its flaws (a bit too much exposition here, a shaky scene there), but that skilfully pushes the audience’s buttons more often than not. For what it’s worth, it certainly played like gangbusters at Fantasia.

Talking about it with various folks after the screening, I did run into a few people who hated it, but even those had nothing but praise for Michael Parks and his riveting portrayal of Pastor Abin Cooper. I personally also got a kick out of Nicholas Braun, Michael Angarano and Kyle Gallner as the hilariously sleazy teenagers who inadvertently put the plot into motion, Melissa Leo as one of the most fanatical members of the Cooper family, and John Goodman as an ATF agent who shows up two thirds of the way through and practically walks away with the movie. ]

2014
Tusk 45
[ review ]

2016
Yoga Hosers 61
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]