2014 log (12)

(2 Dec) Only Lovers Left Alive (2014, Jim Jarmusch) 68
[ If anything, this artsy vampire movie is beautifully designed, shot and edited. Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, John Hurt and Mia Wasikowska are striking, haunting presences as well. Oh, and there’s some great music, too. But the narrative is very sparse and the tone is rather funereal, which is fitting for an artsy vampire movie, I guess… I still found myself admiring the film more than I enjoyed it. ] Continue reading 2014 log (12)

2014 log (10)

(1 Oct) Taken 2 (2012, Olivier Megaton) 60
[ As in “Taken”, it takes a good 20-25 minutes before the action kicks in. Say what you will about these being low-rent, cheap-thrills B-movies, they clearly want you to care for Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and their daughter (Maggie Grace), and thanks in no small part to good acting (especially from Neeson and Janssen), it works. Still, we know from the first scene that the relatives of the Albanian bastards Mills killed in the first movie want revenge and we do look forward to our hero having to use his “particular set of skills” again. Now, the action is shot a bit too close and cut a bit too quickly for my taste, but it’s still pretty effective. I also like how Mills is not just a brute: he’s a smart man, a man with a plan, which is obvious in scenes like the one where he more or less figures out where the bad guys have taken him and his ex, even though they had bags on their heads. Ultimately, “Taken 2” is not quite as good as its predecessor, but it’s still a satisfying enough sequel. Count me in for “Taken 3”. ]

(3 Oct) Gone Girl (2014, David Fincher) [ review ] 78

(6 Oct) it’s such a beautiful day (2012, Don Hertzfeldt) [ review ] 100

(7 Oct) Tom à la ferme (2013, Xavier Dolan) 39
[ I’m a sucker for old-school film scores. Seriously, right when the ominous, Bernard Herrmannesque Gabriel Yared score kicked in, some 5 minutes into the film, it had me hooked, even though at that point, we know next to nothing about what brings Tom (Xavier Dolan with longish bleached blonde hair) to the Quebec countryside. That music immediately lets you know that something dark and twisted is about to happen. Tom, it turns out, is here to attend the funeral of his late lover, whose mother Agathe (Lise Roy) is unaware he was gay, an information the deceased’s brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) wants to remain unknown to her. And – here comes the dark and twisted part – Francis also instantly begins to intrude on Tom in disturbing ways, harrassing him while he’s in bed, while he’s in the bathroom, etc. But then the way things evolve (or devolve) seems off, with events happening by fits and starts, characters behaving erratically and the Hitchcockian thriller the score seems to promise never quite materializing. “Tom à la ferme” also suffers from uneven (at best) acting and from direction that fails to make us forget that it’s an adaptation of a stage play by Michel Marc Bouchard. I grew increasingly bored of the scenes between Tom and Francis, which often feel stiff and uninvolving no matter how much psychosexual violence they involed. Things pick up slightly when Evelyne Brochu shows up, but not enough to salvage things. Frankly, this is probably my least favorite Xavier Dolan movie. But that score, man… ]

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

(9 Oct) NYMPH()MANIAC: VOL. I (2014, Lars von Trier) 89
[ “I’m just a bad human being,” says Joe (alternately Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin, both tremendous) early into this first part of Lars von Trier’s epic, supposedly pornographic film (I watched the “censored”version). We listen to Joe as she tells Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) the long, “moral” story of her life as a sinner, starting with discovering her “cunt” at age 2, then later losing her virginity at age 15 in the least romantic, most mechanical way (thanks, Shia LaBeouf!), and so on. The events she recounts are often captivating, as tales of sex tend to be, but there’s something to be said about the way von Trier presents them, throwing in various visual inserts, on-screen captions and whatnot, not to mention a lot of really interesting dialogue laced with philosophy, psychology and of course, black humor (that Uma Thurman scene!), plus a bunch of references to anything from fly-fishing to botany, literature, music and mathematics. It all culminates with a stunning split-screen sequence and a cliffhanger of sorts, leaving us eager to watch the next part! ]

(10 Oct) NYMPH()MANIAC: VOL. II (2014, Lars von Trier) 65
[ As was revealed at the end of “VOL. I”, Joe is suddenly numb down there, incapable of having an orgasm. But instead of stopping her sexual adventures, this pushes her futher, into the arms of “dangerous men” and into more perverted practices, such as a Negro sandwich and bondage/S&M (thanks, Jamie Bell!). The tone is less fun and wild, more dark and troubling… But as is always the case with von Trier, there’s still room for a bit of black humor. Plus, Joe’s storytelling and Seligman’s “digressions” remain interesting. Now, this is definitely not as great as the first half and the ending is questionable, but taken together, both parts do add up to a somewhat satisfying whole. All the same, I would be curious to see the 5 1/2 hour uncensored director’s cut to compare. ]

(10 Oct) Gurov & Anna (2014, Rafaël Ouellet) 46
[ Rafaël Ouellet might be my favorite working Quebec filmmaker, but I can not for the life of me figure out why, when he decided to direct someone else’s screenplay after writing his 5 first features, he picked Celeste Parr’s oh so lame debut script. Here’s the boring story of a complete loser, not elevated in the least by the insistent, pseudo-intellectual references to Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog”. The acting by leads Andreas Apergis and Sophie Desmarais is OK, but even the best actors in the world couldn’t make sense of the way the affair between their characters, a married college professor and one of his students, develops. Did I mention that the guy is a complete loser? And his young mistress is not much more likable. “Gurov & Anna” has some redeeming qualities, notably the gorgeous cinematography by Geneviève Perron and the evocative score by Viviane Audet, Robin-Joël Cool and Erik West-Millette. But this is still by far my least favorite Rafaël Ouellet film. ]

(11 Oct) it’s such a beautiful day (2012, Don Hertzfeldt) [ review ] 100

(14 Oct) Stretch (2014, Joe Carnahan) 20
[ Opening with a blast of briskly edited footage of everything from a car crash to a sex scene and a montage starring Ed Helms before the title even flashes on screen, “Stretch” is clearly a movie that doesn’t have time to waste. It soon throws in a deadline for good measure: Patrick Wilson’s limo driver character has until midnight to find the $6,000 he owes to a bookie. So far, so good… But then, the movie quickly starts becoming grating, thanks to an overabundance of voice-over narration, a couple of unfunny celebrity cameos (David Hasselhoff, Ray Liotta) and a bunch of WACKY! happenings. By the time a longhaired, bearded, bare-assed Chris Pine falls out of the sky, it pretty much lost me completely. This is a total cocaine movie, in the worst sense of the word, all hyper and obnoxious and empty. This movie blows. ]

(15 Oct) Out of Print (2014, Julia Marchese)
[ I’m not a film purist. I know that nearly every film I see in a multiplex these days was shot and is being projected digitally and I can’t say it really bothers me. I’m also a fan of many directors who are pro-digital, e.g. Cameron, Soderbergh and Fincher. Then again, I also love some of the filmmakers who are all about 35mm (or 70mm): Nolan, P.T. Anderson, Tarantino… And when you watch a documentary like “Out of Print”, which is ostensibly about the importance of actual film projection, it’s hard not to be convinced. I say “ostensibly” because one thing that is bothersome about this docu is that it focuses so heavily on one movie theater in particular, L.A.’s New Beverly revival cinema, where director Julia Marchese worked until recently. So there’s this sense that this is a movie first and foremost about this place she loves and the people there, her friends basically, which is great for her, but not always that interesting to us. Marchese herself is on screen an awful lot of time. Who is she, Michael Moore? Still, it’s great to hear from the likes of Edgar Wright, Kevin Smith and Rian Johnson. One thing that’s odd: where the hell is Quentin Tarantino, who now owns the New Beverly? ]

(16 Oct) De rouille et d’os (2012, Jacques Audiard) 70
[ Maybe I watch too many Hollywood movies, but I’m always taken aback by films in which you still don’t know what they’re about half an hour in (see also: “Le Passé”). I mean, here you’ve got this guy Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) who suddenly has to take care of his young son, he gets a job as a bouncer in a bar (ROAD HOUSE!), where he meets this girl Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), who works at a Marineland-type marine mammal park… Then (spoiler) she’s involving in an accident involving an orca that forces her to get her legs amputated (via CGI, Lt. Dan-style). Now what? My question exactly, about half an hour in. For some reason, after a few months, Stéphanie decides to call up Ali and they end up going to the beach. Wonderful, luminous scene, beautifully shot like the whole film. Now, maybe an hour in, Ali starts participating in underground MMA fights, which had been subtly set up, I guess, but it’s still peculiar how that’s suddenly what the film is about, an hour in. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, just that the film is unusually structured. In any case, we get some really good, diverse scenes involving violence, sex, Katy Perry’s Firework (!), the orca, etc. Late into the film, I still didn’t know where it was going, but again, this isn’t a bad thing. Hollywood storytelling is great, but a looser, more impressionistic yarn like this can work as well. Well, not everything works: the whole subplot about surveillance cameras doesn’t really add up and Ali’s son often seems like an afterthought, though that last bit might be intentional (Ali’s an awful, awful father). And then there’s rushed ending, which feels particularly odd considering how the rest of the film so doesn’t feel like it’s in a hurry. All the same, I liked “De rouille et d’os” quite a bit. ]

(17 Oct) Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014, Kenneth Branagh) 42
[ Following in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, Chris Pine stars as Jack Ryan in this latest reboot of the the franchise inspired by the Tom Clancy spy novels. Here, Ryan is a post-9/11 patriot and Afghanistan veteran who is (shadow) recruited by a CIA officer played by Kevin Costner. After 10 years of doing covert work while pretending he’s a Wall Street banker, even to his girlfriend (Keira Knightley), he’s sent on a mission to Russia that proves to be quite dangerous… Yet not particularly exciting. There are a few action scenes, but they are rather bland and the plot is very generic as well. Kenneth Branagh’s direction is relatively slick, but no scene pops all that much. As for the cast, which also includes Branagh himself as the Russian bad guy, everyone does serviceable work, but none of the characters makes much of an impression. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ” is watchable enough, but it’s eminently forgettable. ]

(20 Oct) Upstream Color (2013, Shane Carruth) 83
[ It’s been nearly 10 years since I saw and loved Shane Carruth’s debut feature, 2004’s $7,000 time-travel flick “Primer”, even though I’m not sure I understood all of it. Now I’ve just seen his long-awaited sophomore effort, a mindfuck of even more epic proportions, a veritable exercise in confusion that spectacularly takes its time to reveal its cards. Larvae. Some kind of drug or poison. Hypnosis. Fraud. Automutilation. Pig surgery. What does it all mean? We don’t know, but we’re still captivated thanks to masterful, mostly visual storytelling (writer-director-producer-actor Carruth also did the cinematography), nimble editing (again by Carruth) and an evocative score (still by Carruth). After the creepy first act with the larvae and hypnosis and whatnot, the film becomes sort of a relationship drama, while remaining unconventional narratively, as Carruth plays a lot with images and sounds, throwing in more pigs for reasons that are still not clear and further making us wonder what the damn hell is going on. Maybe watching it a second time would help. Maybe not. In any case, I found “Upstream Color” fascinating in all its opaque glory. ]

(21 Oct) The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson) 76
[ Alternately garish and pastel colors, varying aspect ratios (1.37:1, 1.85:1, 2.35:1), elaborate production design… “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is certainly rich visually, but it’s almost equally dense narratively, telling a story-within-a-story-within-a-story about the days when the insistution’s owner (F. Murray Abraham) worked as a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) under the guidance of concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who made an habit of romancing rich old ladies. There is an odd mix of sophistication and vulgarity to M. Gustave and to the film in general, which alternates between depicting the lifestyle of high society and various murders and chases. Now, ultimately, the plot is rather inconsequential and the characters are generally one-dimensional, but Wes Anderson’s direction is consistently delightful and there is further pleasure to be had from the all-star cast, which also includes Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Mathieu Amalric, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson and Léa Seydoux, among others. ]

(22 Oct) The Bling Ring (2013, Sofia Coppola) 61
[ There are these hyped up hipster filmmakers that everyone loves, but that I’m not sure about, like in this case, Sofia Coppola. Yet even though I’m not her biggest fan, I could always tell that she has talent and I held out hope that I would end up liking one of her films at some point. So in this spirit, after having given increasingly low ratings to Sofia Coppola’s previous features – “The Virgin Suicides” (47), “Lost in Translation” (49), “Marie-Antoinette” (32), “Somewhere” (28) – I still figured that I might enjoy “The Bling Ring” after all. Fittingly, “Let’s go shopping” is the first real line spoken in the film, as a group of teenagers enter an empty mansion at night and start taking clothes and jewels and whatnot. This is the based-on-real-events story of California kids who broke into (or sometimes just walked into through unlocked doors) the houses of celebrities (Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr, Megan Fox, Audrey Bilson, Lindsay Lohan) in an apparent attempt to appropriate not only their belongings, but also their lifestyle or maybe even their essence. Like every Sofia Coppola movie, it’s bright and flashy and superficial, but here, it makes perfect sense and there’s barely any sense that it’s trying to be profound or anything. Plus, while all the previous films were ostensibly about ennui, in “The Bling Ring”, the characters are actually having fun clubbing, taking selfies and posting them on Facebook, doing drugs and yes, stealing. Not unlike “Spring Breakers”, the film is both an accurate depiction and a satire of the contemporary culture of ephemeral pleasures, egocentrism and entitlement, which can be depressing in real life, but which can be quite enjoyable on screen… For a while, anyway. Beautifully shot, filled with cool songs (notably M.I.A.’s Bad Girls, Kanye West’s All of the Lights and Power, and Sleigh Bells’ Crown on the Ground) and featuring winning performances by Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga and especially Emma Watson, “The Bling Ring” notheless drags by moments and its giddy pointlessness ultimately grows tiresome. But it picks up eventually when the protagonists finally get arrested and we see a bit of the aftermath of their crime spree. So there, I liked a Sofia Coppola movie! ]

(23 Oct) Video Games: The Movie (2014, Jeremy Snead)
[ I wouldn’t describe myself as a gamer, but over the kids, I did own an Atari, many Nintendo consoles (NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Wii), a PS2 and, currently, a PS3, though I now only use it to watch Netflix and DVDs. Still, watching this documentary, I was familiar with a lot of the games mentionned and/or displayed, which filled me with nostalgia. I was also quite interested to learn about the history of the medium, its culture and the creation of games has evolved, and I appreciated how, in addition to the inevitable talking-heads segments, there are these nifty montages set to songs (Queen, Michael Jackson, The Commodores, etc.) or to the original score by Craig Richey. Now, is this a deep, critical analysis of video games? Hardly. But it’s a fun watch and if anything, it makes you want to pick up a controller again. ]

(23 Oct) The Good Lie (2014, Philippe Falardeau) [ review ] 62

(24 Oct) John Wick (2014, Chad Stahelski) [ review ] 66

(24 Oct) Addams Family Value (1993, Barry Sonnenfeld) 65
[ I first saw this back when it came out on VHS, but at the time, I don’t think I realized how dark, twisted and risqué the humor is in what is ostensibly a family movie. The whole ensemble cast is great, but I particularly love Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams and Joan Cusack as the femme fatale who seduces Christopher Lloyd’s Uncle Fester. ]

(30 Oct) Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014, Frank Pavich)
[ In the mid-70s, pre-”Star Wars” (but post-“2001”), Chilean artist Alejandro Jodorowsky set out to make a “sacred” adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel “Dune” that would have the feel of LSD hallucinations. That film was never made, of course, but what it could have been is the stuff of legend, as we discover in this fascinating documentary. We listen to Jodorowsky and others tell us all about it, but we also get to see storyboards and conceptual art by Moebius and Chris Foss and H.R. Giger, which look awesome. Then we learn that David Carradine, Orson Welles, Udo Kier, Mick Jagger and motherfucking Salvador Dalí would have starred in the movie, that Pink Floyd would have done the music, that it would have had all these wonderful ideas and designs and special effects… But it wasn’t meant to be. Still, its influence can be felt in many science-fiction pictures that were made afterwards, and now we’ve got this documentary. ]

(31 Oct) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu) [ review ] 94

September / November

2014 log (9)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July-August / October

2014 log (7-8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

April-May-June / September

2014 LOG (4-5-6)

CAP

(2 Apr) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony & Joe Russo) 83
[ Chris Evans is still perfect as Captain America and he has wonderful chemistry with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. Meanwhile, the whole plot about SHIELD/Hydra is surprisingly engrossing and, well, surprising, like something out of a 1970s spy thriller. And the Winter Soldier storyline is rather affecting, in addition to leading to some awesome action scenes. Who knew the Russo brothers had such a badass flick in them? ]

(10 Apr) L’Auberge espagnole (2002, Cédric Klapisch)

(12 Apr) Bears (2014, Alastair Fothergill & Keith Scholey)

(24 Apr) Million Dollar Arm (2014, Craig Gillespie)

(25 Apr) Les Poupées russes (2005, Cédric Klapisch)

(3 May) 40 Is the New 20 (2009, Simon Boisvert) [ review ] 70

(17 May) Blue Jasmine (2013, Woody Allen) 85
[ This film is most notable for Cate Blanchett’s exceptional, Oscar-winning performance as a woman slowly but surely losing her mind after the trafic end of her marriage to a super wealthy, super sleazy man (Alec Baldwin). Now crashing with her sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, she tries to make a new life for herself, far from the glamorous lifestyle she used to have, but it proves harder than planned… “Blue Jasmine” is as well written and as well directed as you’d expect from Woody Allen, but again, what really sets it apart is how fascinating Blanchett is to watch. Popping pills, drinking too much, talking to herself while getting lost in flashbacks to her old life… She’s a sometimes funny, more often than not really sad figure, certainly one of the richest characters in a Woody movie in recent memory. ]

(23 May) X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014, Bryan Singer) [ review ] 77

(28 May) Maleficent (2014, Robert Stromberg)

(6 Jun) Edge of Tomorrow (2014, Doug Liman) [ review ] 84

(18 Jun) Frozen (2013, Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee)
[ I’m not the biggest fan of fairy tales, but there are some nice twists in this one, plus it features gorgeous animation and some wonderful songs, including the Oscar-winning “Let It Go”. ]

(20 Jun) That’s My Boy (2012, Sean Anders) 46
[ Dumb and crass, but I like Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg, plus you’ve got to dig the supporting parts by Vanilla Ice, James Caan and Susan Sarandon. It’s good for a few laughs, basically. ]

(21 Jun) The Fault in Our Stars (2014, Josh Boone) [ review ] 90

(24 Jun) Side by Side (2012, Christopher Kenneally)
[ Keanu Reeves, of all people, produced and did all the interviews for this documentary and man, he did an amazing job. This is an absolutely fascinating snapshot of this very special transition period we’re going through where film is almost entirely being replaced by digital. Best of all is how Keanu got to talk to almost all these major filmmakers, from George Lucas and Martin Scorsese to James Cameron, David Fincher and Christopher Nolan, to name but a few. A must-see. ]

(25 Jun) Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011, Rodman Flender)
[ After he got screwed out of hosting The Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien went on a comedy and music tour throughout North America. This documentary captures bits from his performances, but mostly life on the road, dealing with fans and whatnot. It’s pretty interesting, if not fascinating or anything. The most notable thing about the film might be how it shows a Conan O’Brien filled with anger and bitterness, hardly the fun-loving buffoon we’re used to. ]

(26 Jun) The Thin Blue Line (1988, Errol Morris)
[ I love Errol Morris’s documentaries, which are very distinctive visually and which often feature spellbinding scores by Philip Glass. And then there’s Morris’ sense of storytelling, which make a film like “The Thin Blue Line” feel like a mystery thriller. It also happens to make a truly convincing case about the innocence of a man who was convicted of murder, while also incriminating the man who’s actually guilty of the crime. ]

(29 Jun) Twenty Feet From Stardom (2013, Morgan Neville)
[ This brilliant documentary, which won the Oscar this year, shines a light on some of the most legendary background singers of the 1960s and ‘70s, strong women with such killer voices as Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Claudia Lennear and others. They have many great stories to tell and we see a bunch of footage of them performing back in the day as well as today, which makes us pay special attention to their contribution to countless classic records. The film also briefly focuses on a current background singer who’s trying to make it as a solo artist, Judith Hill, who you surely remember if you’re a fan of The Voice like me – but somehow, they never mention that TV show in the film. Oh well, it’s a still a great watch! ]

January-February-March / July-August