2014 log (1-2-3)

Kenny Powers Toby
(30-31 Dec, 14, 29-30 Jan) Eastbound & Down (Season Three) (2013, Jody Hill & David Gordon Green) 65

[ Kenny Powers, still the consumate asshole, is now playing baseball in Myrtle Beach, but that soon isn’t the main thing on his mind. How could it be when he finds himself “stuck” with his baby son after former flame April disappears on him, which leads to many scenes in which Kenny demonstrates his so-called “parenting skills”. Back on the baseball field, as he’s trying to impress a Major League scout (Matthew McConaughey), he gets competition on the pitching mound from a new Russian player. There are also multiple references to “Top Gun”, as Kenny and new best friend Shane (Jason Sudeikis) argue about who of the two is Tom Cruise and who’s Goose. And then there’s the return of Don Johnson as old man Powers as well as the introduction of Lily Tomlin as his ex-wife and Kenny’s mother, in what is unfortunately one of the lesser episodes of the series. In fact, this third season as a whole isn’t that great, in my opinion. Season One was our introduction to Kenny Powers, Season Dos shook things up by taking the action to Mexico and now, Season Three… There’s the whole baby thing, I guess, but they kind of beat that thread into the ground. How many scenes of ridiculously incompetent parenting can we get? The season finale is also oddly contrived. Maybe Season Four is better? To be continued… ]

(6 Jan) Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013, Adam McKay) [ review ] 68

(10 Jan) her (2013, Spike Jonze) [ review ] 82

(16 Jan) Dallas Buyers Club (2013, Jean-Marc Vallée) 71
[ Matthew McConaughey is not the only thing that’s skinny in “Dallas Buyers Club”: the film as a whole displays very little fat, it cuts right to the point and pushes its story forward without wasting any time. Here’s this guy, this redneck cowboy who somehow tests positive for HIV and is told he has only 30 days to live, but he won’t have any of it. We get all of that in barely 10 minutes, then they hit us with a “Day 1” title card. Here we go. There’s also no excess fat to Jean-Marc Vallée’s direction, which is very raw and edgy, mostly using handheld cameras and natural lighting and what looks like real locations. And then, yeah, there’s Matthew McConaughey who not only lost a scary amount of weight to play this part, but also put his all into it, from his charisma and natural energy to a whole lot of pain, desperation and fury. His character is a real live wire who just won’t accept that all signs point to him dying sooner rather than later and he manages to make us sorta believe that maybe he can beat this by doing some research, finding and importing experimental drugs and whatnot. Heroic stuff, but the guy is already your typical hero: he’s very much flawed, drinking, smoking and snorting cocaine his way through life… He also happens to be homophobic, which is quite the problem when the cards he’s been dealt force him to interact with the homosexual community, particularly a transvestite wonderfully played by Jared Leto. Both McConaughey and Leto recently won a Golden Globe and got nominated for the Oscar, and it’s well deserved. ]

Inside Llewyn Davis

(20 Jan) Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Joel & Ethan Coen) 84
[ Even though I’m a big fan of most of the Coen brothers’ filmography, I didn’t rush out to catch their latest. I saw the trailer plenty of times and it just didn’t attract me all that much. The story of a down-on-his-luck folk singer, it seemed a bit too low-key and depressing for my taste. And those desaturated colors? I don’t know, man. These days, it’s like I need more brightness and liveliness, both in my life and in my cinema. That being said, I was still curious to see it at some point and now that I have, I feel silly for not doing so sooner. “Inside Llewyn Davis” has many things going for it, notably a loose yet assured sense of storytelling, an awesome folk soundtrack and the Coen’s typically sly sense of humor. I also grew to greatly enjoy Oscar Isaac’s performance as the talented but unsuccessful titular character, who’s a bit of a loser and an asshole, among other flattering things. Early on, there’s not much of a plot going on, we just follow Davis as he couch surfs his way through life, somehow getting stuck with a cat, trying not to further anger a lady friend (Carey Mulligan), cutting a session with a buddy (Justin Timberlake)… Then at the halfway point, we’re suddenly thrown into a road movie of sorts, as Llewyn decides to take advantage of an offered ride to Chicago with the quiet Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) and the loudmouthed Roland Turner (John Goodman). And then… Well, the film remains unpredictable until the end, it’s just this thing and that thing and this thing, the only constant thread being that almost nothing seems to work out for our poor Llewyn Davis. The Coen do find a clever way to wrap things around. ]

(23 Jan) The Wedding Singer (1998, Frank Coraci) review ]  75

(7 Feb) 30 Minutes or Less (2011, Ruben Fleischer) 31
[ This crime comedy is pretty dumb and low-rent, but it did make me laugh a few times. That’s thanks to the one thing it got going for it, which is a cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride. It’s still rather forgettable. ]

(19 Feb) Need for Speed (2014, Scott Waugh)
(12 Mar) Need for Speed (2014, Scott Waugh)

(19 Mar) Muppets Most Wanted (2014, James Bobin)

(20 Mar) 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? ]

(21 Mar) The Room (2003, Tommy Wiseau) 0
[ One of the worst movies ever made? Probably. So bad it’s good? Definitely! It takes a while to really get going, at first it’s just mediocre, but as the gratuitous sex scenes, instances of people throwing a football around and melodramatic bits pile up, it becomes increasingly hilarious. The writing, direction and acting are all spectacularly awful, with Tommy Wiseau to blame for all three. Quite an achievement! ]

(28 Mar) Noah (2014, Darren Aronofsky) [ review ] 88

(28 Mar) The Marine (2006, John Bonito) [ review ] 67

November-December / April-May-June

2013 log (11-12)

(2 Nov) Burlesque (2010, Steve Antin) 45
[ I love musicals and while this one is hardly great, I still had an okay time watching it. It sort of feels like a cross between “Showgirls” and “Chicago”, for better or worse, and how much you enjoy it will depend among other things on what your feelings about those two movies are. I myself love “Showgirls”, but I wasn’t a fan of “Chicago”. It will also depend on what you think of Christina Aguilera. I personally find her to be a great singer, though her kind of big-voice performances are not my cup of tea, and she’s a good enough actress, even though co-star Cher has a much more powerful and charismatic presence. Other than that, it’s a shame that Steve Antin’s direction is so mediocre and that none of the songs are particularly memorable. ]

(6 Nov) 12 Years a Slave (2013, Steve McQueen) [ review ] 80

(23 Nov) Friends with Benefits (2011, Will Gluck) 62
[ Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are two sexy, funny and charismatic friends who decide to get it on, but without things getting complicated. This isn’t your conventional romantic comedy… But then again, it very much is. From the meet-cute to the flirtation to the misunderstandings to the grand romantic gestures, this ends up being pretty close to your average rom-com. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when your leads are this sexy, funny and charismatic. But let’s not pretend this is something it’s not. ]

(26 Nov) Before Midnight (2013, Richard Linklater) 90
[ It’s all these long scenes, showing people talking and interacting… Living, man. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much, but when you think about it, it’s virtuoso writing, directing and acting. I mean, it all feels so natural yet it’s so precisely and involvingly crafted. Plus, there’s the obvious fact that we’ve grown to care so much about these characters. It’s almost never been done, to have a trilogy like this where you catch up with characters every decade or so. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) met and fell in love as twentysomethings in “Before Sunrise”, then their paths crossed again as thirtysomethings and the attraction was still there in “Before Sunset”, and now, in “Before Midnight”, they’re in their early 40s and they’ve been together since the last time, they even have kids now. And once again, we follow them for a day and a night and it’s fascinating. I loved everything about it: the gorgeously shot locations in Greece, the relaxed feel / pace /tone, the dialogue, the music… Most of all, I just love Hawke and Delpy together, even though they’re not so young and idealistic and romantic anymore… In fact, I think I love them more for having flaws and fighting and all that. That’s life, man. ]

(4 Dec) Behind the Candelabra (2013, Steven Soderbergh) 86
[ “It’s funny this crowd would like something this gay.”
“They have no idea he’s gay.”
It’s unbelievable that this could ever have been the case, what with Liberace being so wonderfully flamboyant, but hey: different times, I guess. In this made-for-HBO film (which also showed in Cannes), Mr. Showmanship is played by an amazing Michael Douglas, who completely disappears into the role and delivers one of his most charismatic performances. I also loved the impossibly flashy clothes and the “palatial kitsch” of the sets, it’s all so over the top, just like the legendary pianist himself. “Behind the Candelabra” isn’t a conventional biopic that tells its protagonist’s story from childhood to death. It only focuses on a specific time period, beginning in 1977, when Liberace is already a superstar in Las Vegas and he takes under his wing a young man played by Matt Damon. Their somewhat unusual relationship – Liberace wants to be his protégé’s “father, brother, lover, best friend, everything” – drives the story and it remains fascinating throughout. You can understand what the “crazy old queen” is getting out of it, but what’s more puzzling is why Damon’s character goes along with it. Is it just about the money or is there really love involved? One of the oddest parts is when a hilariously freaky looking Rob Lowe shows up and starts doing plastic surgery on the two of them and… Well, you’ll see! Also striking is the way Damon becomes a drug addict and how his relationship with Liberace crashes and burns. If this does end up being Soderbergh’s last feature, it’s certainly a fabulous finale to his filmmaking career. ]

(5 Dec) Stoker (2013, Park Chan-wook) 37
[ South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook makes his American debut with this psychological thriller about a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) dealing with the recent death of her father and getting to know her uncle (Matthew Goode), who comes to live with her mother (Nicole Kidman) and her after his brother’s passing. Rather beautifully shot and nicely atmospheric, “Stoker” suffers from a languid pace and from a screenplay that fails to grab us with either its story or its characters. A piano playing scene is an early highlight, but then, it quickly grows dull again, even as acts of violence occur and revelations are made. The main problem being, I think, that the characters, Wasikowska’s protagonist in particular, are a blank. ]

(11 Dec) Pain & Gain (2013, Michael Bay) 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. ]

(13 Dec) The Muppets (2011, James Bobin) [ review ] 90

(18 Dec) Amour (2012, Michael Haneke) 75
[ This Palme d’Or- and Oscar-winning film tells the story of a man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who must witness the slow decay of his dying wife (Emmanuelle Riva), taking care of her as best as he can along the way. It’s almost a horror movie, inasmuch as it’d certainly be horrifying to have to go through what either one of them has to. “Amour” is definitely not easy to watch – not that it should be. ]

(20 Dec) American Hustle (2013, David O. Russell) [ review ] 87

(21 Dec) Serendipity (2001, Peter Chelsom) [ review ] 46

(22 Dec) Sleepless in Seattle (1993, Norah Ephron) [ review ] 75

(24 Dec) Frances Ha (2013, Noah Baumbach) 86
[ It’s really all about Greta Gerwig, who stars in addition to having co-written the screenplay with director Noah Baumbach. She’s such a charming presence, so charismatic and quirky, we love watching her and spending time with her. She plays Frances, a wannabe dancer trying to make it in New York. At first, she’s living with her BFF, then she moves in with these two guys, later she crashes at a fellow dancer’s place, and so on. It’s all very offbeat and idiosyncratic and peculiar, while also going for some sort of naturalism… Maybe because of the B&W cinematography, maybe a little because of the totally pointless impromptu trip to Paris, there’s this Nouvelle Vague feel. There’s no real plot, we’re mostly just hanging out with Frances and the various people she meets. It’s got some great moments of cinema – for instance, the scene where Gerwig is running on the sidewalk to the sound of David Bowie’s Modern Love – but the best thing about it remains the seemingly disconnected conversations between the characters, which can seem improvised but are probably very carefully written. And Greta Gerwig is truly wonderful, she really makes the film soar. ]

(27 Dec) The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, Martin Scorsese) [ review ] 92

August-September-October / January-February-March

2013 log (8-9-10)

(2 Aug) The Wolverine (2013, James Mangold) [ review ] 64

(6 Aug)   The World’s End  (2013, Edgar Wright) [ review ] 60

(16 Aug)   The Spectacular Now  (2013, James Ponsoldt) [ review ] 88

(17 Aug)   Dazed and Confused  (1993, Richard Linklater) [ review ]  80

(18 Aug) Nine to Five (1980, Colin Higgins) 42
[ It starts out interestingly enough, depicting the rampant sexism that was still very much present in the workplace circa 1980. Then there’s a series of fantasy sequences that are amusing enough. But it’s after that that it all goes to hell, when the plot suddenly grows sillier and sillier, with a near-poisoning, the theft of a corpse (!), a kidnapping that goes on for weeks and weeks… Thankfully, even at its worst, the movie can count on winning performances from Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and especially Dolly Parton. ]

(19 Aug) Bà Nội (2013, Khoa Lê)
[ Gorgeously shot and cut impressionistic documentary set in Vietnam, ostensibly about the filmmaker’s grandmother. Hard to describe, but well worth seeing. ]

(29 Aug)   The Dictator (2012, Larry Charles) 17
[ Wha’ happened? Director Larry Charles and star Sacha Baron Cohen previously made the absolutely hilarious “Borat”. Then why is this so unfunny and boring? I barely made it to the end… It tries really hard to be edgy and offensive, but it just felt blah to me.  ]

(30 Aug)   To Rome with Love (2012, Woody Allen) 62
[ With this film, Woody Allen continues to shoot in great European capitals, in this case Rome. We get to see a lot of gorgeous images of the city and we get a great feel for it and its people. At least half of it’s in Italian, too! But what of the movie itself? It’s minor Woody for sure, but it’s pleasant enough. It jumps back and forth between four stories: a retired opera director (Allen) who comes to Italy to meet his daughter (Alison Pill)’s fiancé (Flavio Parenti) and who discovers that the latter’s father (Fabio Armiliato) is an amazing singer, at least in his shower; a schmuck (Roberto Benigni) who suddenly becomes famous for no reason; an architect (Alec Baldwin) who revisits the time spent in Rome as a young man (Jesse Eisenberg) when he was tempted to cheat on his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) with an actress friend of her (Ellen Page); and newlyweds (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) on their honeymoon who find themselves cavorting with, respectively, a whore (Penelope Cruz) and a movie actor (Antonio Albanese). It’s all kind of silly and uneven, but there are some good lines and good moments here and there, the cast is wonderful and, again, the Rome setting is pretty wonderful. ]

(31 Aug) Midnight in Paris  (2011, Woody Allen)        86
[      The opening sequence, a jazz-scored series of postcard-perfect shots of the City of Lights, wonderfully sets the mood. This is a love letter to the French capital, as seen through the eyes of an American who has a thoroughly romantic vision of it. I’m talking about Woody Allen of course, but also about his on-screen alter ego, played by Owen Wilson. His character, a Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of moving permanently to Paris to become a serious novelist, is a typical Woody protagonist, down to the existential crisis, the dysfunctional relationship with a nagging woman (Rachel McAdams) and the temptation to go for another girl (Marion Cotillard)… Except that said girl happens to live in 1920s Paris, hanging around the same circles as Picasso, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzerald, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Dyna Barnes, Luis Bunuel, Man Ray, T.S. Eliot, Matisse and other legendary artists! As such, “Midnight in Paris” is pretty much a pure fantasy, a delightful time-travel tale driven by nostalgia, “Golden Age thinking” and, maybe, denial as well…  But you can’t deny how gorgeous and pleasant it all is. I particularly enjoyed Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzerald and Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí, plus the present-day cameo by Léa Seydoux. And while it’s mostly feather-light, it eventually leads to Wilson’s character having an insight – an admittedly minor one, but still! I don’t want to overpraise it, but I’m thinking this might be somewhere close to being, say, one of Allen’s ten-best pictures.

Note: this is a repost of a blurb written in August 2011 after I first saw the film. ]

(31 Aug)    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, Steven Spielberg)  [ review ]   94

(1 Sep)   Eat Pray Love (2010, Ryan Murphy) 58
[ Now, I’m not the most spiritual person, and I’m a bit skeptical about people who go on journeys of enlightenment around the world…  So I can’t say this movie, based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, was all that moving or thought-provoking to me. That being said, I still enjoyed it quite a bit thanks to all the gorgeous sights, awesome music, delicious-looking food and beautiful people it features. It’s a very sensual picture throughout, full of light and color, and it takes us to Italy, India and Bali in the course of two hours and change. What’s not to like? Oh, and Julia Roberts remains awfully charismatic. That smile! ]

(7 Sep)   The Last Stand (2013, Kim Ji-woon) 22
[ I was relatively excited for this first starring role in some 10 years for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Relatively, because I somehow skipped it in theatres so I must not have been that excited… Having now seen it, I can’t say I regret waiting for the DVD. This is a badly paced, oddly lifeless, ultimately pretty dull movie. And Arnold is barely in it! It takes a simple plot – bad guys want to help an escaped drug lord cross the border into Mexico, Sheriff and his deputies want to stop them – and stretches it out needlessly. And while there are ultimately some bloody shoot-outs, they aren’t awesome enough to make up for how long it takes to get to them. ]

(14 Sep)  Stéphanie, Nathalie, Caroline & Vincent  (2001, Carl Ulrich) ???
[ Writer-producer Simon Boisvert also stars in this ultra low budget feature as Vincent, a real jerk who treats his girlfriend (Diana Lewis) like crap, who sleeps with his sister (Mélanie Elliott) and who hooks up with a 19-year-old (Natasha M. Leroux)… Who, in a twist, ends up making him the victim of abuse, for once. The writing, direction, acting and production values are all rather poor, but the movie is still not unenjoyable, somehow. Vincent is the kind of character you love to hate and he’s got plenty of shockingly macho lines. Likewise, it’s pretty crazy what a bitch Leroux’ character turns into and how she keeps belittling Vincent. I don’t know, this is clearly not a “good” film, but I had a good time watching it.  ]

(14 Sep)  Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie  (2013, Steve Stark) 31
[ Kevin Smith movies have always included dick and fart jokes, but there has always been a second level. Here, not so much. This is a pretty uninspired superhero spoof starring Bluntman and Chronic, Jay and Silent Bob’s costumed alter egos, who get into all kinds of crazy nonsense. It’s watchable enough, but I can’t say that I laughed much. ]

(16 Sep) Go in the Wilderness (2013, Elza Kephart)
[ Visually striking, beautifully scored retelling of the myth of Lilith, Adam’s first wife who escaped the Garden of Eden and hooked up with a guardian angel. It was 100% independently produced, but it doesn’t show too much. ]

(21 Sep)  Gabrielle  (2013, Louise Archambault) 65
[ Here’s a nice little film about a mentally challenged young woman who yearns to be more autonomous and to be allowed to experience her first romantic relationship with a like-minded young man. Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, who has Williams syndrome in real life, is very endearing in the title role and I also liked Alexandre Landry, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Vincent-Guillaume Otis and Benoit Gouin in supporting parts. Also wonderful is all the music in the film, particularly the songs performed by the choir that Gabrielle is a part of, including a couple of numbers by Robert Charlebois, who cameos as himself. Yet there’s a feeling that this could have been a stronger, more moving picture. I liked it alright, but I can’t say I absolutely loved it like so many other critics. ]

(24 Sep)  Prisoners  (2013, Denis Villeneuve) [ review ] 90

(5 Oct) Don Jon (2013, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) [ review ] 89

(7 Oct) Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuarón) [ review ] 90

(14 Oct) La vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 (2013, Abdellatif Kechiche) [ review ] 90

May-June-July / November-December

2013 log (5-6-7)

(2 May) The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan) [ review ] 95

(4 May)    Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008, Nicholas Stoller)  [ review ]   67

(6 May)    Iron Man 3 (2013, Shane Black) 62
[ Coming after the extraordinary “The Avengers”, which may have been the best goddamn superhero movie ever made (give or take the “Dark Knight” trilogy), this third “Iron Man” flick demands that we lower our expectations somewhat. It’s a fun enough watch, maybe not as fresh as the first one, but less scattered than the second one… In any case, it’s certainly not on the level of “The Avengers”. Maybe that’s why Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., as great as ever) has a panic attack every time he thinks about the otherworldly events that happened in New York? Seriously, I liked the way they played with the fact that that whole mess in “The Avengers” really shook up Stark. Which makes him somewhat more vulnerable when the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) launches a series of terrorist attacks, ostensibly to teach America a lesson. Making things even more challenging for Tony is the way the plot keeps him out of the Iron Man armor or puts him in a not fully functional one for most of the movie. A superhero being put to the test like that is not unheard of, but writer-director Shane Black (reuniting with Downey Jr. 8 years after their enjoyable “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” collaboration) makes it work well enough here. I also liked the sparse but effective use of voice-over narration, plus Black cooked up a couple of twists that are quite clever. The one thing I really wasn’t crazy about is the subplot involving Guy Pearce’s character and all those quasi-T-1000 henchmen who can burn through stuff and regenerate themselves… Felt silly to me, and the action scenes involving them are so-so in my opinion. At this point, I don’t know how much we need another “Iron Man” movie. But I’m still looking forward to seeing him show up in “The Avengers 2”!   ]

(12 May)    The Great Gastby (2013, Baz Luhrmann) 85
[ I’m a huge fan of Baz Luhrmann, particularly of his “Moulin Rouge!”, which is just about my favorite movie of all time. So it was a delight and a thrill to catch his latest, especially since it features everything I love about his cinema, at least at first. Adapted of course from the classic F. Scott Fitzerald novel, it bring us back to the Roaring Twenties, at a time when Wall Street was booming, people were getting rich and everyone was seemingly partying it up, especially in and around New York. Tobey Maguire plays a naïve, innocent newcomer to this world, not unlike Christian in “Moulin Rouge!”, and like that character, he’s tempted early on into taking part in the decadence of his surroundings. You see, he happens to now be living next door to the titular Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious man who lives in a spectacular palace where he hosts equally spectacular soirées every weekend. The scenes depicting this are wildly entertaining and filled with all things Baz: dizzying cinematography and editing (in 3D!), gorgeous art direction, plus breathless storytelling that blends history with pure fantasy… It’s the past and the future at the same time, the film is both modern and gloriously old-fashioned, meticulously recreating the period while using all kinds of 21st century tricks and special effects…  Everything is wonderfully choreographed, we swing along in an overdose of glamour and luxury, to the sounds of jazz music mixed with hip hop… “It’s like an amusement park!” Exactly. But then, maybe halfway into it, the party slows down and “The Great Gatsby” becomes more about the specifics of the plot. Gatsby, we discover, has made himself into a man of wealth and fame all in the hope of winning back the love of his life, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who lives across the bay and is married to a rich heir (Joel Edgerton) who shamelessly cheats on her… What happens to them is interesting and eventually grows into a veritable romantic tragedy, but I can’t say it involved or moved me as much as I wish it did. Ultimately, I found myself missing the tremendously enjoyable audiovisual extravaganza of the first half. I still liked the film a great deal, even though it feels a bit unbalanced. Oh well, that’s okay, Baz, we’ll always have “Moulin Rouge!”.    ]

(24 May)    Side Effects (2013, Steven Soderbergh) 72
[ Right from the opening moments, I was into the very Soderberghian nature of it all…  The cinematography, the tone, the rhythm… Steven Soderbergh has explored various genres these past few years and told different kinds of stories, but his touch always remains distinctive. His films maintain a balance between indie and Hollywood, mainstream and artsy, visceral and thoughtful…  I was also grabbed by Rooney Mara’s performance. I adored her in David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and in a more low-key register, she once again proves to be an exceptional actress. Her character here suffers from depression and she conveys this in all these subtle little ways. It notably has to do with how she’s not like super-sad all the time…  She smiles, she goes along with things, she seems fine… And yet there’s this grey cloud hovering over her, this fleeting vulnerability in her eyes, this occasional sense that she’s slightly askew (there’s a shot early on of her looking in the mirror that depicts that exactly) . The cast also features Soderbergh’s recent BFF Channing Tatum as Mara’s husband, who is released from jail in the first few scenes after serving time for insider trading, plus Jude Law and Catherine Zeta Jones as, respectively, Mara’s new and former psychiatrists. Which brings us to the seemingly casual way drugs are being prescribed in the film. Antidepressants, to be precise, which can work, but can also have all these, well, side effects. Plus, there’s the fact that it’s not always clear whether doctors are prescribing them for the right reasons… Without spoiling anything, I can mention that “Side Effects” ultimately works in some thriller elements, but interestingly, it kind of goes in and out of them…  Like, you’ll get the feeling it’s becoming this twisty plot thing, but then it turns back on itself and returns to being a rather down to earth thing. It’s hard to describe without going into specifics, but it’s captivating the way it plays with your expectations until the very end. ]

(25 May)   The Hangover Part III (2013, Todd Phillips) 50
[ It’s fun enough to go for another ride with the Wolf Pack (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis), following them to Tijuana and then back to Las Vegas while they chase that darn Chow (Ken Jeong)…  But there’s just no way they can rekindle the magic of the original film, try as they might. There are some outrageous things happening this time again, but nothing quite as iconic as their first (mis)adventures. I should also mention that it felt like most of the movie’s gags had been spoiled by the trailers and TV ads, which didn’t help. I’m still glad I saw this third episode, but I can’t say I laughed all that much.  ]

(25 May)   Spring Break (1983, Sean S. Cunningham) 18
[ This 80s sex comedy isn’t notable for much.  You got these 4 morons in Fort Lauderdale getting drunk, getting high and getting laid (or trying to anyway)…  There’s a wet T-shirt contest, a bikini contest…  Some nonsense about one of the guy’s stepfather sending men to track him down… And that’s about that.  ]

(5 Jul)  Bachelorette (2012, Leslye Headland) 66
[ Here’s a darker, less comedic twist on “Bridesmaids”, in which a woman (Rebel Wilson)’s imminent wedding brings out all of her friends (Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan)’s issues…  It’s kind of an odd film, with some laughs here and there, but mostly a lot of uncomfortable moments involving drug use, a diehard eating disorder, a long-ago abortion, suicide attempts and whatnot. It doesn’t all work, but the actresses do their best to keep us involved.  ]

(7 Jul) Sharks in Venice (2008, Danny Lerner) 35
[ The title says it all: we’re in Venice and there are sharks in the water. Plus Stephen Baldwin is being chased around by bad guys looking for Medici treasure… The highlights, of course, are the shark attacks, which are somewhat incoherently shot and cut, but which remain enjoyably bloody and ridiculous. And then there are a bunch of fights and shootouts, too. This is a B-movie all the way, but it’s action-packed enough to be watchable. ]

(9 Jul)   Man of Steel  (2013, Zack Snyder) [ review ] 70

(12 Jul) Pacific Rim (2013, Guillermo Del Toro) [ review ] 78

(12 Jul)   Sharknado (2013, Anthony C. Ferrante) 45
[ It’s a tornado… filled with sharks! So there are not only bloody shark attacks in the water; sharks are also blown on shore and in the streets and into buildings…  So it’s not just a shark movie, it’s a full-on disaster movie, with endless wind and water hitting L.A….  None of it is very well made but, if anything, the action pretty much never stops. It’s all intense weather, sharks eating people and people fighting back with shotguns and chainsaws. That, and sucky acting (hello, Tara Reid!). A fun time at the (B) movies.  ]

(19 Jul)   This Is the End (2013, Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen) [ review ] 67

(19 Jul)   Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 (2011, Alex Zamm) 29
[ What am I doing watching a direct-to-DVD sequel to a silly, silly Disney movie starring a bunch of talking dogs? Well, you see, the wife and I are seriously thinking about adopting a chihuahua, so we figured we oughta watch this “documentary” about that oh so cute breed. Again, this is a silly, silly movie. But if you’re mostly interested in seeing a bunch of chihuahuas running around, this should do the trick. ]

February-March-April / August-September-October

2013 log (2-3-4)

(23 Feb) finissant(e)s (2013, Rafaël Ouellet) 63
[ Part documentary, part fiction, part experimentation, this fifth feature from the Québécois filmmaker follows a small group of Dégelis teenagers during the summer between the end of high school and the beginning of the rest of their lives. It’s sometimes amusing, sometimes touching in the way it reminds us of what it was like to go through that. The best thing about it is probably the use of music by Man an Ocean, which gives the whole thing a more lyrical, haunting feel. ]

(8 Mar)   Crazy, Stupid Love. (2011, Glenn Ficarra & John Requa) 71
[ Here’s a witty, funny, touching romantic comedy with many things going for it. The plot is twisted and unpredictable enough, the characters are fun and, most of all, the cast is top notch: Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon… It’s just a treat to spend time with them.  ]

(15 Mar)   Le Horse Palace (2013, Nadine Gomez)
[ In the heart of Montreal’s Griffintown stands this ancient horse stable, pretty much the last of its kind. This thoughtful, lyrical documentary captures the look and feel of it, introduces us to the fascinating characters who dwell there and takes a snapshot of the rapidly transforming neighbourhood around it. A touching portrait of an anachronistic way of life. ]

(19 Mar)    Goon  (2012, Michael Dowse) 73
[ They’re clearly selling this as a 21st century “Slap Shot,” but to me, what really attracted me more than the whole hockey aspect is the film’s impressive comedic pedigree. Here we have the director of cult classic “FUBAR”, Michael Dowse; one of the writers of “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express”, Evan Goldberg; plus the always fun Jay Baruchel acting as co-writer, co-producer and co-star. Together, they’ve taken the nonfiction book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey and made it into a ridiculously brutal and outrageous flick that’s also really kinda sweet, when you get past all the violence and foul language (not that those aren’t enjoyable!). As played by Seann William Scott, Doug “The Thug” Glatt is endearingly naive and awkward when he’s not beating the crap out of opposing goons, not unlike Adam Sandler in “The Waterboy”. I loved the cute/goofy fling between Doug and Alison Pill’s puck bunny, his uneasy friendship with Marc-André Grondin’s hard-partying, womanizing star player, as well as his somewhat respectful rivalry with Liev Schreiber’s aging enforcer. There’s a shaggy-dog quality to “Goon” which might bother some, but it kept me engaged, I laughed a lot and yeah, I got some cheap thrills out of the bloody brawls on the ice.  ]

(28 Mar)    21 Jump Street (2012, Phil Lord & Chris Miller) 65
[  Buddy-cops meets high-school comedy in this rather enjoyable movie inspired by the ‘80s TV show about undercover police officers investigating crimes involving teenagers. The best thing about it is probably the chemistry between odd couple Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, who really play well off each other.  ]

(1 Apr)    Spring Breakers (2013, Harmony Korine) 91
[  I haven’t been this excited about a movie in quite a while. Not because I have this big fancy auteurist thing going on with Harmony Korine. Let’s be honest: I went in for the young hotties in bikinis partying it up. Film doesn’t have to be all about serious and important, there’s a place for naughty fun, too. There’s plenty of that in “Spring Breakers”, but it’s also got more than a little something to say if you’re willing to listen. With its unblinking depiction of the search for the American Dream at its most aggressively superficial, it sometimes comes off like a 21st century “Easy Rider” (with scooters!), or like “Scarface” if it had been directed by Terrence Malick and if it featured as much titties as guns. Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine star as college girls in their early 20s who take the trip to Florida during spring break to indulge in a whole lotta sex, drugs and dubstep, getting in all kinds of trouble along the way, much of which involves a gangsta rapper nicknamed Alien, played with sleazy bravado by James Franco. Part MTV, part experimental cinema, “Spring Breakers” adopts an impressionistic, unchronological, quasi non-narrative style. Filled with stimulating visuals and trippy editing, plus an evocative ambient score by Cliff Martinez, the film is an artsy snapshot of generation of empty thrill seekers, whose YOLO lifestyle is taken to the extreme. It’s sure to remain one of the best movies of 2013.  ]

(5 Apr)    Holiday in the Sun (2001, Steve Purcell) 12
[ Just like in “Spring Breakers”, this Olsen twins flick is about young girls having a wild time during spring break, which includes riding scooters and…  That’s actually all those two movies have in common. No sex, drugs, booze and guns here! Mary-Kate and Oshley instead spend their time innocently flirting with boys, swimming with dolphins, riding jet skis… It’s basically a big infomercial for the gorgeous Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, with barely a plot, shoddy direction, hammy acting… For what it’s worth, it also features the debut performance of Megan Fox. ]

(12 Apr)    Revolution  (2013, Rob Stewart)
[ In this follow-up to “Sharkwater”, documentary filmmaker Rob Stewart goes beyond wanting to save sharks and takes on the cause of the oceans, which are endangered as whole. Furthermore, it’s humanity itself which could face extinction if we lose the oceans. The film follows Stewart as he follows one idea then another, which takes him around the world as he meets various environmentalists and discovers that there are all these different things that could spell our doom… We also get to admire lots of amazing images of nature along the way, which makes us truly wish this wouldn’t all be disappearing. Stewart makes an effort to include notes of hope, but it’s hard not to wonder whether it’s too late to save the planet…   ]

(13 Apr)    Shark Attack 2 (2000, David Worth) 21
[ This sequel lacks the badass action scenes of the original and star Casper Van Dien is sorely missed. What’s left is a pretty run of the mill shark movie, yet another “Jaws” knockoff marred by poor writing, generic direction and weak acting. The one thing that sort of works about it is the use of real shark footage – those beasts are impressive to look at!  ]

(19 Apr)    Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002, David Worth) 60
[ The third and best film in the epic “Shark Attack” trilogy is most notable for the highly enjoyable lead performance by John Barrowman, as well as for the twist involving the titular megalodon, a giant prehistoric shark that can swallow people whole! Good times. ]

January / May – June – July

2013 log (1)

(1 Jan) Flight (2012, Robert Zemeckis) 61
[ When we meet Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), he’s waking up next to some naked girl he hooked up with, clearly hungover… Before long we see him take a hit from a joint and even snort a line of coke. The punchline of sorts? The guy’s an airline pilot and he’s got a flight to get to that morning. Fate has it that it’s a doomed flight, which the Captain will somehow land without killing everyone on board. A few lives are tragically lost, but many more are saved by his actions. Now, you might say he’s a hero, but what of the fact that the man had been partying the night before and into that very morning? Heck, we’ve even seen him fix himself a drink while on the plane… Most of the film deals with Whitaker’s addictions, as he quickly goes back to heavy drinking once he’s out of the hospital and dealing with the aftermath of the crash. He also somehow ends up living with a drug addict (Kelly Reilly) he met by chance, and it’s not necessarily clear where the movie is going with all this. I guess it’s a character study of a very flawed, not particularly likable individual, which is unusual enough in a Hollywood movie… though as Dave Poland wrote in his review, there’s a sense that it doesn’t go quite far enough. As such, save for Denzel Washington giving an impeccable performance, this ends up being a good but not that exceptional picture. ]

(5 Jan) De père en flic (2009, Émile Gaudreault) [ review ] 75

(7 Jan)  God Bless America (2012, Bobcat Goldthwait) 48
[ Here’s a movie about how easy it is to be filled with misanthropy, contempt and rage when you take a look around you, when you see what American culture basically adds up to nowadays. The crazy thing is that writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait doesn’t even have to exaggerate things, reality is already pretty much a satire of itself.  As such, it’s not so much funny as it is deeply depressing, which might be the point. In addition to feeling disconnect from the world around him, Joel Murray’s character is hit by bad news on top of bad news during the first act, until suicide seems like the best option… Or is it? We’ve seen him have violent fantasies before and at that point, he decides to start killing people for real.  Of course, no one actually “deserves to die”, no matter how obnoxious they can be, but we sorta get where’s he’s coming from – as does a teenage girl played by Tara Lynne Barr, who becomes his sidekick. What follows is a rather aimless, not very eventful road movie that stretches its premise too thin. It never quite gets beyond capturing how crappy American culture can be and having Murray and Barr kill a few folks for it. It could have made for a badass short film, but as a feature, it doesn’t cut it. ]

(8 Jan) ParaNorman (2012, Sam Fell & Chris Butler) 51
[ Norman loves horror movies. He also happens to see dead people. And according to his uncle, he’s the one who must deal with an ancient witch’s curse that is plaguing their hometown. But that doesn’t exactly make Norman a hero. To his peers, he’s a freak, and he gets bullied quite a bit. Kids can be so mean… Still, he ends up confronting a bunch of zombies, which are pretty scary/gross for a kids movie, and… Well, even though the stop-motion animation is great and it’s all rather dynamic, I found that the plot got to be repetitive and not very involving. I liked the introduction of Norman and his world, but the whole running away from zombies thing is a bit one-dimensional. Again, it’s really well crafted so there’s always that to enjoy, but I wish the story had been developed better. I actually liked how they wrapped things up, but it’s that whole middle part I wasn’t that much into. Maybe if you’re as big a horror movie fan as Norman this will be more enjoyable to you. ]

(12 Jan)   Piranha 3DD  (2012, John Gulager) 36
[ This sequel to the 2010 movie is nowhere near as funny, thrilling and over the top. Oh, it’s got killer fish, gore, titties and whatnot, but it lacks the wit and intensity of the original. It says a lot that the most memorable thing about it is David Hasselhoff showing up as himself. ]

(19 Jan) Coming to America (1988, John Landis)  [  review ] 94

December / February

2012 log (12)

(5 Dec) Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012, John Hyams) 64
[ The opening sequence, shot entirely from the point of view of Scott Adkins’ character, is truly harrowing. Not only because of its violence, but because it’s the first time we see that Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Luc Deveraux is actually the bad guy in this fourth film in the “Universal Soldier” franchise. Or is he? The sequence introducing Dolph Lundgren is equally unsettling. It starts as a shoot-out in some kind of sex club (a bloody intense little action scene), before turning into an hypnotic mindfuck. But who’s hypnotizing who? The government? Deveraux? And what exactly are the Universal Soldiers up to now? This is about as weird as sequels go, it’s hardly just more of the same – it’s more like a nightmarish, quasi-experimental spin on some of the elements of the series, which have been repurposed into… I’m not sure what! “Your mind is not your own,” Deveraux says in an almost seizure-inducing “vision” at the end of the first act. Clearly, we’re supposed to be as confused as Adkins is, but the film might take this too far. At least director John Hyams throws in a badass, gory fight sequence once in a while… And by the time we reach the third act and we begin to understand better what’s going on, we also get an absolutely awesome extended action sequence, as Adkins raids Deveraux’ lair. ]

(7 Dec)    Casino Royale  (2006, Martin Campbell)  [ review ]   75

(9 Dec)  Hitchcock  (2012, Sacha Gervasi) 54 
[ This is the kind of biopic that’s all about playing with the public persona of its subject, throwing knowing nods and sly references around, dropping names and whatnot, which makes it enjoyable enough but also rather superficial, maybe even a little phony. The film depicts the making of “Psycho” in a way that doesn’t come off so much like what really must have happened but more like what film historians and critics’ fantasy of that moment in cinema history would be like, you know what I mean? But again, that doesn’t really make “Hitchcock” less watchable, quite to the contrary. I liked the way it sometimes took on the look and feel of an actual picture from the Master of Suspense (though the visions of Ed Gein don’t quite work), and the cast is solid, from Anthony Hopkins in the title role to Helen Mirren as his wife, Toni Collette as his assistant, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins…  So basically this is worth seeing for movie fans if only because of the subject, even though it’s not that good a movie in and of itself. ]

(10 Dec)  Argo  (2012, Ben Affleck) 63 
[ From the get-go, it has many things going for it: amazingly convincing period recreation that sometimes makes us wonder whether we’re watching archival footage, a strong dose of suspense and energy, a great cast… It made me think a bit of something like “United 93” at first, but then comes the twist, i.e. the whole thing about how Affleck’s CIA agent character schemes to free some hostages from Iran by creating a cover story for them as a Canadian film crew supposedly there to scout locations for a sci-fi movie. This leads to a bunch of Hollywood stuff that’s stylish and fun, makes you think of maybe “Wag the Dog”, with Alan Arkin and John Goodman doing wonderful work as film industry bigwigs…  And then there’s more suspenseful stuff during the third act, which may or may not stretch the way things really happened for maximum tension. In any case, “Argo” is a gripping watch and a really well put together production. I wouldn’t call it one of the year’s best like many folks have, but it remains well worth checking out. ]

(11 Dec)  Anna Karenina  (2012, Joe Wright) 66 
[ I’m not particularly into 19th century Imperial Russia nor am I much of a fan of Keira Knightley, but this film still won me over early on thanks to what I can only describe as Red Curtain filmmaking, i.e. the sort of overt theatricality Baz Luhrmann used in movies like “Moulin Rouge!” It’s quite amazing the intricate way the sets fold in and out of themselves, the meticulous way the action is choreographed, the amusing way some scenes sometimes seem on the verge of turning into musical numbers… Later on, the film becomes a bit more conventionally dramatic and less playful, though it always remains gorgeous to look at. ]

(16 Dec)  This Is 40  (2012, Judd Apatow) 45 
[ I’m a Judd Apatow fan, so I don’t know why this movie didn’t work for me… Maybe it just rubbed me the wrong way, maybe I’m just not at that place in my life? Basically, for the most part, I could hardly like these characters and laugh with them. I was totally bummed by this depiction of an aging married couple that’s growing ever more resentful of each other while also dealing with all kinds of shit regarding their kids, their parents, money and whatnot. I love Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s great as well, so that went a long way towards keeping me involved, but ultimately, I can’t say I enjoyed spending time with their characters. There’s also the fact that the screenplay is pretty shapeless, with no clear beginning, middle and end. It’s all just a bunch of mostly unfortunate turns of event piled up one on top of each other. Again, I’m doubting myself here because I’m not used to not having a lot of fun when I’m watching an Apatow flick, but that’s that.  ]

(17 Dec)  Django Unchained  (2012, Quentin Tarantino) 71 
[ I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s the season, but movies aren’t thrilling me all that much this fall. I mean, I’m usually a diehard Quentin Tarantino fan, so how come his latest isn’t instantly one of my favorites of the year? Not that it’s a bad film. There’s plenty to enjoy in “Django Unchained”, a well crafted Western that notably features a bunch of ultra bloody shootouts, while also interestingly dealing with the reality of slavery in an overt way, something you rarely see in this genre. Then again, whereas QT movies are usually full of wild twists and surprises, this one is rather straightforward. There’s also the fact that I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters. Jamie Foxx is okay as Django, but not as badass and cool as one might expect. As for Christoph Waltz, he’s pretty great, but this is hardly as refreshing and unforgettable a performance as the one he gave in “Inglourious Basterds”. I wish I had as much fun with Leonardo DiCaprio’s villainous part as he clearly did, but again, I only moderately enjoyed it. I’m used to loving the hell out of everything in a Tarantino movie, but it wasn’t the case this time. As I wrote above, the jury’s still out on whether it’s the film or just me that wasn’t in the right mood. Bummer…  ]

(20 Dec)  Les Misérables (2012, Tom Hooper) 67 
[ Stretching over decades and featuring a large ensemble of characters, this epic musical is nevertheless at its best when it focuses on a single, intimate moment as, say, Hugh Jackman or Anne Hathaway sings a song with all of their heart and soul. Otherwise the emotion kind of gets lost, though the scope of the filmmaking remains impressive. ]

 (23 Dec)  Le Père Noël est une ordure (1982, Jean-Marie Poiré) ??? 
[ Really? Folks love this French comedy? I’d never seen it until now, and I can’t say I was impressed. To each his own, I guess, but I found it to be obnoxious, crass and unfunny. ]

November / January

2012 log (11)

(2 Nov) Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012, Benh Zeitlin) 91
[ Some movies grab you right away. Here’s a film that had me before the title even had time to flash on screen. Something to do with the luminous, expressive cinematography, with the glorious score by Dan Romer and director Benh Zeitlin, with the little world that’s depicted, with the central character of course, a little black girl whose naive yet wise inner monologue acts as narration… It reminded me quite a bit of David Gordon Green’s debut, “George Washington”, for the way it makes the ordinary feels extraordinary, with magic and lyricism and emotion pouring out of every frame… I just fell in love with the Bathtub, a microcosm in the bayou that has to deal with poverty and illness and the constant threat of flooding, but that can also be warm and festive, with people and animals running all over the place, and water everywhere, for better or worse. This is a fairy tale of sorts, full of harshness and wonder, things that little Hushpuppy often doesn’t fully understand – her father’s erratic behavior, for one. That visions of giant pigs roaming the land punctuate the story is no more strange than that, really. It just gets to you. It’s been a while since a movie made me cry this much, in ways I can’t quite put into words. What a fantastic picture. ]

(2 Nov)  The Man with the Golden Gun (1974, Guy Hamilton) 52 
[ I’m not the biggest James Bond fan, but I find most entries in the franchise somewhat enjoyable nonetheless. There’s something soothing about how predictable these flicks are: there are all these little things that invariably are included, from the cold open to the title sequence to the Bond girls, the catchphrases and so on. Then you have all these little twists on the formula, which can be quite colorful, silly even in this case. Much of “The Man with the Golden Gun” is set in Asia (Macau, Hong Kong, Thailand…) so you’ve got a bit with sumo wrestlers and another scene at a martial arts school. There’s also the fact that the villain, a hitman played by Christopher Lee, is notorious for having a third nipple (!), plus he’s got a midget sidekick, who must have inspired Mini-Me from the “Austin Powers” movies. Finally there’s the Roger Moore of it all, a certain cheesiness that inhabits the whole thing. It hardly adds up to one of the best episodes in the series, but it’s still a rather fun watch.  ] 

(3 Nov)  Rhinestone (1984, Bob Clark) 63 
[ In this movie, charming Dolly Parton accepts a bet to transform a New York cabbie into a country singer. This leads to a lot of fun, thanks in no small part to the unlikely fact that the wannabe country singer is played by Sylvester Stallone! Parton and him make an entertaining pair, whether they’re flirting, bickering or singing. ]

(7 Nov)  The End of Time (2012, Peter Mettler)  
[ In this quasi-experimental documentary, Peter Mettler explores the nature of time, taking us on a generally captivating audiovisual journey that takes on scientific, philosophical and spiritual aspects, among other things. There are plenty of fascinating ideas thrown around, and the film itself, with its unconventional, unpredictable narrative and its deliberate, hypnotic pacing, shows that our notion of time is at best relative. ]

(8 Nov)  Lincoln (2012, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 70  

(10 Nov) On the Town (1949, Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly) 61
[ Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin are three sailors on leave for 24 hours in New York City. During that day, they’ll do some sightseeing and partying but mostly, they’ll each hook up with a pretty girl. This leads to a lot of silliness as well as a surprising amount of horniness for a 1949 film, plus of course tons of song and dance numbers. Good times. ]

(11 Nov)  Skyfall  (2012, Sam Mendes) [ review ] 73 

(13 Nov)  The Sessions  (2012, Ben Lewin) 78 
[ “Sex and the disabled.” A subject we don’t often stop to think about, but it’s quite a doozy. Everyone has sexual impulses, but what if you’re physically unable to do anything about them? Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), whose real-life story inspired this film, was wondering about that. Almost completely paralyzed because of polio, he was still as virgin as a grown man, having never even been able to masturbate. The film shows how he comes to use the service of a sex surrogate, played by Helen Hunt. You really feel for him, and it’s somewhat humorous, sensual, and inspiring, too…  Even though unlike in most films about disabled people, the thing Mark is trying to achieve is not a conventionally noble one, he’s just horny! Which is a perfectly normal and healthy thing, of course. It’s a great, rather original subject for a movie and it’s treated with warmth, wit and sensibility by writer-director Ben Lewin. It’s also wonderfully acted by Hawkes, Hunt and the rest of the cast, notably William H. Macy as a priest O’Brien confides to. “The Sessions” should reap a bunch of Oscar nominations, which it will fully deserve. ]

(16 Nov)  Take This Waltz  (2012, Sarah Polley) 55 
[ For quite a while, it’s not really clear where this film is heading. You’ve got Michelle Williams as a young woman married to Seth Rogen, who meets a guy (Luke Kirby) during a trip, and it turns out that they live on the same street… You can sorta guess that this is going to be a story about adultery, but it sure takes its time getting going. Not to the point of being dull though, because throughout there’s enjoyment to be had from the warmth and colorfulness of the cinematography, the moody score, Michelle Williams’ presence…  So I grooved along with it until the end, which didn’t satisfy me, but that may be a personal thing. It just felt empty and pointless to me… Maybe that’s the point? In any case, I can still appreciate Sarah Polley’s talent as a filmmaker, but I wasn’t amazed like I was when I saw “Away from Her”.  ]

(23 Nov)  The Seven Year Itch  (1955, Billy Wilder) 69 
[ Often when you watch older films like this, you’re simultaneously struck by how old-fashioned they are, say in the storytelling or in the way the protagonist keeps talking to himself (which may come from the play it’s adapted from), and by the risqué little things they still got away with. Every bit of sexiness, however subtle, seems a bit wilder (Wilder!) considering that this is a 1955 movie.  “When it’s hot like this, you know what I do? I keep my undies in the icebox.” Aww, Marilyn Monroe… There’s really only one like her, so bodacious and naive and flirty… No wonder Tom Ewell’s character feels tempted to go at it with her, even though he’s happily married. Well, he’s being an idiot even letting her into his apartment while the wife’s away, of course. If he really wanted to stay faithful, he’d know better and would avoid things like that. But it makes for amusing movie situations, with a whole lotta Marilyn. ]

(29 Nov)  The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas  (1982, Colin Higgins) 67 
[ What a priceless idea: a musical revolving around a bordello in the Lone Star state. This is a great opportunity for a bunch of naughtiness and country songs, plus a very enjoyable relationship between the all-too-womanly Dolly Parton and man’s man Burt Reynolds.  ]

October / December

2012 log (10)

(2 Oct) Carnage (2011, Roman Polanski) 65
[ An adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s play “Le Dieu du carnage”, this is quite a taut piece of writing, depicting in real time the meeting between two couples, one of whose son hit the other with a stick. Now they’re all trying to be civil about it, to act like grown-ups and not quarrell like their kids… But their interaction slowly but surely slides into more antagonistic territory, as each set of parents can’t help but side with their child and blame the others in some way, which leads to a series of increasingly awkward little moments between the four of them. Since this is practically a filmed play, all set in and around a single location (one of the couples’ apartment), it was important for the actors to all be at the top of their game, and they are. You can’t do much better than Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz, right? ]

(5 Oct) The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson) [ review ] 94 

(8 Oct) Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock) [ review ] 100 

(9 Oct) Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax) 58
[ It probably doesn’t help that I went into this movie knowing that 3 or 4 of my favourite critics were calling it the best film of the year, but still: what the hell. Oh, there are many memorable moments and star Denis Lavant’s metamorphosing physicality is thoroughly captivating as his character keeps taking on different guises, but the whole thing is rather uneven and, to me anyway, it never felt like it really added up to anything. Trying to write a plot summary is beyond the point, obviously – you don’t need to know more than the fact that Lavant’s character sits in the back of a limo, being driven to a series of rendezvous and using various wigs, makeup effects and costumes to prepare for each role. I particularly enjoyed the part in which he’s a monster who abducts a model played by Eva Mendes. “Weird… So weird! He’s so weird!” Yeah, so weird… I loved the accordion “entracte” as well… And some other stuff here and there… I don’t even care that there’s no clear story or logic, at least on a superficial level. The film seems to be about the unpredictable nature of…and the randomness of… you know, chaos and whatnot? But I wish that there was more of an emotional, visceral buildup to it, a sense of it growing more and more intense one way or another. Oh well. ]

(10 Oct) In Time  (2011, Andrew Niccol) 54
[ The premise – a world in which people stop aging at 25 but then have only one more year to live unless they can earn more – is intriguing enough and early on, the film finds all kinds of thought-provoking ways to play around with it. It’s simple enough: time is already sort of a currency in our lives, and it’s clear enough that rich people tend to live longer, not to mention spend more time on holiday, than poor people…  And the fact that everyone looks 25 or under does seem to be where our society’s obsession with youth would lead if taken to the extreme. There are others of interesting ideas like that throughout “In Time”, it’s modestly well crafted and the cast – Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, etc. – is solid, but it oddly lacks urgency for a movie about people running out of time. Not that it necessarily should have been action-packed, but sci-fi flicks like “Minority Report”, “Children of Men” and this year’s “Looper” achieved a better balance between ideas and thrills. There’s also a sense that “In Time” is front-loaded – the last act is rather so-so in every way, as if writer-director Andrew Niccol didn’t really know where to go with this premise.  ]

(11 Oct) My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done  (2009, Wernerg Herzog) 73
[ “Ever since he came back from Peru he’s been strange. Well, not so much strange as… different.” Cut to a shot of a foggy mountainscape in Peru, where Herzog famously shot such films as “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo” with glorious madman Klaus Kinski… And to a degree, you could put the great Michael Shannon in that category. What an intense, unsettling presence this guy can have! Especially when he’s playing a character as strange/different as the protagonist of this film, a deeply disturbed individual obsessed with his inner voice, visions of God, Greek tragedy and whatnot. The stop-and-go, flashback-littered structure is a bit iffy, but “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done” almost always remains engrossing from scene to scene thanks to offbeat dialogue, striking cinematography and that towering performance from Shannon, plus strong supporting performances from the likes of Willem Dafoe, Chloë Sevigny, Michael Peña, Grace Zabriskie, Brad Dourif and Udo Kier. “Why is the whole world staring at me?”  ]

(12 Oct) Sharktopus (2010, Declan O’Brien) 35
[ This Roger Corman production is grade Z all the way: dumb plotting, awful dialogue, shoddy direction, terrible acting… But the actual Sharktopus – yes, a half-shark, half-octopus creature – is so ridiculous it’s awesome. Or so awesome it’s ridiculous? Either way, it makes the flick worth checking out. That and the extended cameo by Ralph Garman!. ]

(15 Oct) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  (2012, John Madden) 56
[ At its core, this is a pleasant but rather middlebrow dramedy, most notable for its endearing ensemble of veteran British actors –  Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton. It’s elevated somewhat by the Indian setting, which is so colorful, warm, lively… But ultimately, it’s just a nice little movie, nothing less, nothing more. And that’s all right.  ]

(16 Oct) Conan the Barbarian (1982, John Milius) 91 
[   The film opens with the Nietzche quote “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”, and Crom damn it if the brutal tale which follows doesn’t make a strong case for it.  Conan goes through all kinds of hell, watching Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and his snake cult slaughter everyone he loves, being enslaved, pitted in gladiator death matches, bred like an animal and eventually even crucified!  Conan certainly comes out of all this suffering stronger – and mad as hell!  This is a ruthless gore-soaked revenge story, but one that unfolds through high adventure, fantasy, romance and some deadpan humor.  Add great imagery, a rousing score and a great physical performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger and you got one kick ass flick.  ]

(22 Oct)    Conan the Destroyer  (1984, Richard Fleischer) 42 
[    Way cheesier and less cool than the original, notably because instead of being an epic tale of revenge, it’s just an ordinary sword and sorcery quest that happens to feature Conan.  It’s still an okay, rather action-packed piece of heroic fantasy, despite somewhat ridiculous sequences like the fights between Schwarzenegger and rubber creatures.   ]

(23 Oct)  Knight and Day (2010, James Mangold) 39 
[    James Mangold is kinda like one of those old journeyman studio filmmakers, guys who pretty much tackle every genre over the years. So far he’s explored romance (“Heavy”), cop drama (“Cop Land”), fantasy (“Kate & Leopold”), thriller (“Identity”), biopic (“Walk the Line”), Western (“3:10 to Yuma”), and in this here case, action comedy. Now, while Mangold generally does more or less solid work, I can’t say anything he’s made has knocked me on my ass. And there’s often a sense that in other hands, each of his project might have been better. Like in this case, obviously it would have helped to have a genuine action filmmaker at the helm of this “True Lies”-style flick, say, James Cameron in a best-case scenario.  That way the fights and shootouts and chases might have felt more grounded and truly thrilling instead of being over the top in a not unenjoyable but nevertheless monumentally silly way, you know? The film also tends to flatline in between set pieces, when it gets boggled in its mess of a plot. Fortunately, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz provide much movie star wattage, but not quite enough to make up for these flaws.  ]

(24 Oct)  Play It Again, Sam  (1972, Herbert Ross) 60 
[ Back when Woody Allen had barely started directing movies, he also played in this adaptation of one of his plays. You can recognize his voice, though hardly on the level of his best work… The whole thing feels a bit staged and stuffy, what with Woody constantly talking to himself, director Herbert Ross could have kept things snappier and there’s too much (bad) slapstick for my taste. Then again, I dig the idea that the typically neurotic protagonist gets advice in old school machismo from a vision of Humphrey Bogart, there are witty lines sprinkled throughout and, even though it’s ultimately a hit-and-miss affair, the easygoing rapport between Allen and Diane Keaton makes it enjoyable enough. Kudos also for the way it sets up its twist on the “Casablanca” ending.  ]  

(25 Oct)  And Everything Is Going Fine  (2010, Steven Soderbergh ) 83 
[ In this follow-up of sorts to “Gray’s Anatomy”, which was made after Spalding Gray’s death, Soderbergh assembles a “new” monologue out of excerpts of 20 years’ worth of archival footage of live performances and interviews. The result is impressively fluid, as if it was really all the same story Gray is telling, which makes sense since his material is autobiographical – this is is the story of his life, more or less. It’s all very captivating, alternately troubling and amusing, with all kinds of insights and clever asides… There’s also a self-reflective level to it, what with storytelling being a way of imposing order to the chaos of everyday life, of fictionalizing things somewhat, one way or another. And the fact that Soderbergh is mix and matching all these little bits and pieces out of context further makes this an artificial construction, in an interesting way. ]

(26 Oct)  Cloud Atlas  (2012, Andy & Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer) [ review ] 59 

(26 Oct)  The Band Wagon  (1953, Vincente Minnelli) 64 
[ A fun backstage musical in gorgeous Technicolor, without much of a story, but with plenty of enjoyable song and dance numbers starring the great Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant. “That’s Entertainment!” ]

(28 Oct)  Date Night  (2010, Shawn Levy) 53 
[ There’s something to be said about about smoothly effective middlebrow filmmaking à la Shawn Levy’s. You watch a movie like “Date Night” and you can just about see the Screenwriting 101 gears turning. 7 minutes in, all the necessary exposition has been painlessly laid out via a series of moderately amusing beats. So okay, these are your two lead characters: a married couple with two kids, stuck in a family life routine, with seemingly no romantic fire left between them. Even when they go out on “date night”, their heart isn’t into it, it’s just another thing they do almost because they have to. That’s your setup – like I said, 7 minutes sharp and it’s done. Then boom, inciting incident: they learn that friends of them are splitting up because they’re bored with what their marriage has become, which is pretty much exactly the same situation our protagonists are in. Uh-oh. Needless to say, when they go on date night the next day, they feel like they have something to prove to themselves and each other. They can still be passionate and spontaneous, right? This leads to a series of relatively wild and unpredictable situations, that is, as wild and unpredictable as a mainstream comedy can be. This isn’t a Tarantino or Coen brothers flick, we’re still talking about a Shawn Levy movie, remember. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Not every film has to be fucked up and crazy and in your face, sometimes it’s nice to just watch an agreeable little Hollywood comedy that moves along nicely and delivers a few decent laughs. Especially when it can count on a rather awesome cast, starting with leads Steve Carell and Tina Fey, who are joined by the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, Common, Jimmi Simpson, Taraji P. Henson, Ray Liotta, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Mila Kunis, J.B. Smoove and William Fichtner. Basically what I’m saying is that while this is clearly not a great movie, I had a good enough time with it. There. ]

(31 Oct)  The Deep Blue Sea (2012, Terence Davies) 67 
[ The first 10 minutes – the opening movement, I want to say – is quite something. Through evocative visuals and minimal dialogue, we gather that the protagonist, a woman in London circa 1950, played by Rachel Weisz, wants to put an end to her life because of the complicated feelings she has for her husband (Simon Russell Beale) and the man she’s been having an affair with (Tom Hiddleston). This is conveyed through a deeply melancholy yet sensual sequence, with shots flowing into each other and a violin’s lament overwhelming the soundtrack. Classical filmmaking, but it works. Later on the film grows more talky and it becomes more apparent that it’s adapted from a stage play, but it remains a formally interesting, engrossing period melodrama. Splendid acting, too. ]

September / November

2012 log (9)

(4 Sep) Bernie (2012, Richard Linklater) 83
[ I knew next to nothing about this one before seeing it beside the fact that it was directed by Linklater, reuniting with “The School of Rock” star Jack Black. So when it said at the top that it was a True Story, I didn’t know whether or not to believe it (the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” has forever made me suspicious of films claiming to be based on a true story). Likewise, I was never sure whether the documentary-style interview bits with folks from Carthage, East Texas were the real deal or not. But these fact-or-fiction? tensions were not a drawback, quite to the contrary. All through “Bernie”, I felt engaged by them, wondering if I should laugh or not at these people/characters. Once Matthew McConaughey shows up, about half an hour in, in another hilarious turn this year (see also: “Magic Mike”) I started to suspect this was all a big bunch of straight-faced silliness à la Christopher Guest. One thing’s clear from the get-go: Jack Black is a treat as a super-sweet funeral parlour employee who may or may not also be a bullshit artist and may or may not be gay. Oh, and he spends nearly as much time singing here than he did in “School of Rock” (gospel, mostly)! Much of the story deals with his unhealthy relationship with a mean old widow played by Shirley MacLaine, which is ambiguous like the rest of the movie. Who’s exploiting whom there? And there are more such questions we ask ourselves further down the line, as things grow more dramatic. The kicker? This actually IS a true story! Reality can be stranger than fiction, eh. ]

(5 Sep)   Young Adult  (2011, Jason Reitman) 72
[ I always find it amazing how art in general and movies in particular can get their finger on the pulse of something in such a clear, eye-opening way. I mean, not everything in “Young Adult” spoke to me (I’m nowhere near either the mess or the hottie that is that film’s hottie/mess protagonist), but there’s a beat early one where Charlize Theron’s character Mavis wakes up, fools around a little bit, then sits down to write her novel. Chapter One. Blank page. She writes two lines, then switches to one of the other windows open on her computer and skims a bunch of new emails. Ha! That’s so what’s it’s like! Is there anyone in these 21st century lives almost always centred around one’s computer/internet…  Procrastination has always been a thing but nowadays, it’s monumentally easy to put aside writing the Great American Novel or whatnot to tweet, update your status, Google something, etc. Another thing: a tad later in this post-”Juno” reunion of writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, Mavis goes on a road trip and brings an old mixtape, and she keeps rewinding it just to listen to that one song. That made me nostalgia so hard! Not that I miss-miss cassette tapes, but I spent so much time listening to them that I kinda do, actually… Same thing for the way Mavis is going back to the suburban town where she grew up: I can’t say that I *like* the suburbs, but they are part of what made me who I am so, again, nostalgia. It’s so weird…  I just looked up Diablo Cody’s Wikipedia page and yup, she was born around the same time that I was (less than 2 years apart), which explains the 1990s stuff littered all over “Young Adult”. The film is all about arrested development, a huge generational issue obviously, what with all these folks in their 30s more or less clinging to their youth – Theron’s Mavis being a particularly pathetic example of it. It’s okay to still be fond of the music and stuff you liked back in the day, like Patton Oswalt’s endearing geek character, but to still be obsessed with your ex from high school even though he’s now married and has a newborn kid. Eesh! It starts out funny, but eventually grows mostly cringeworthy to watch this trainwreck happen. Great performance by Theron, in any case.  ]

(6 Sep) Cyrus (2010, Jay & Mark Duplass) 70
[ Having enjoyed “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” a great in spite of some obnoxious directorial tics on the part of the Duplass brothers, I was looking forward to discovering their earlier work. “Cyrus” for one is very much in the same spirit as “Jeff”, dealing as it is with a guy (the great John C. Reilly) having a hard time getting out there and doing something, anything. Except that in this case, he’s not a 30-year-old still living with his mom, but a divorced man feeling lonely and desperate to meet someone new. To paraphrase one of the non-Reilly characters from “Magnolia”, he has so much love to give, he just doesn’t know where to put it… This is the kind of raw emotion at the heart of “Cyrus”, which is also full of awkardness and quirks… And it’s really funny! It truly and forever won me over 10 minutes in with a quasi-musical number involving a super-drunk Reilly singing and dancing to The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me, embodying one of the greatest qualities someone can have, in my opinion, namely to just do what feels right and have some fun, damn it, without caring what other people will think. The wonderful thing here is that early on, just around the time of that number actually, he does meet somebody to love, a woman played by the adorable Marisa Tomei, and things seem to be looking up… Until he meets her son, a 21-year-old weirdo portrayed by Jonah Hill, which leads to a lot of the aforementioned awkwardness and laughs. It’s not always an easy watch, as you really wish Reilly could get a break and be happy with Tomei, but hey, that’s life I guess. ]

(7 Sep)  Capitalism: A Love Story   (2009, Michael Moore)
[  I used to love Michael Moore, but… Well, I still like him, but it’s telling that it took me three years before bothering to watch his latest. There are a few things at work here: for one, I feel that each Moore flick more or less seems to be lesser than the previous one. To me, “Roger & Me” is a stone-cold masterpiece. Skipping ahead a bit, “Bowling for Columbine” was pretty great as well… And “Fahrenheit 9/11” was rather memorable too, though by then we knew the formula (and shortcuts) rather well… Then came “Sicko”, which was good enough, but hardly as impactful in popular culture as the three aforementionned titles. And now (well, three years ago) we have “Capitsalism: A Love Story”, which doesn’t feel like a unique kind of documentary anymore, but like one of many, many films that similarly use satire, montage and filmmaker-as-character beats to get their message across. Even the subject is hardly original: how many documentaries have been made about the 2008 financial crisis? Too many to count, I’m afraid. All that being said, there’s no denying that Michael Moore can still be effective, if not as distinctive and refreshing as he once as. Take an early sequence drawing parallells between life in Ancien Rome and 2000s America: not the most original idea, but the execution is clever and pretty striking. Then you’ve got a bunch of heartbreaking footage of people being evicted from their homes.. Again, nothing we haven’t seen before, but it’s still painful to watch. Most impressive is the way Moore manages to get genuinely evil capitalist bastards to talk on camera about how it’s sometimes all about taking advantage of the weak and unfortunate – one guy litterally compares himself to a vulture! It’s everything we’ve grown to expect from Michael Moore movie… No surprises, but still good stuff! Every other sequence is a keeper, a brilliantly edited assemblage of archival footage, movie clips and home movies that can be both funny and sad, enjoyable and angering… Like capitalism, basically. Not a bad system per se, but boy can it be abused! According to Moore, it’s the Reagan administration that is to blame first, for the way they removed/crippled the things that made the U.S. economy viable, allowing banks and corporations to gut the middle class for quick profit. And then things got even worse under Bush, leading to the 2008 crash…  It’s all very depressing, even though Moore throws in gags here and there, and a hopeful message at the end. But it’s well worth watching nevertheless.  ]

(8 Sep) The Queen of Versailles (2012, Lauren Greenfield)
[ Another film about the 2012 financial crash, in this case as experience by a filthy rich family who hits a wall after years of living a ridiculously decadent lifestyle. A riveting depiction of how even the most arrogantly wealthy can be humbled once their luck run out. ]

(9 Sep) Wedding Crashers (2005, David Dobkin) [ review ] 69

(10 Sep) Superman (1978, Richard Donner) 71
(11 Sep) Superman II (1980, Richard Lester & Richard Donner) 77
(12 Sep) Superman III (1983, Richard Lester) 18
(13 Sep) Superman IV (1987, Sidney J. Furie) 3
[ A look back at the Superman Tetralogy ]

(14 Sep) L’affaire Dumont (2011, Daniel Grou-Podz) [ review ] 62

(15 Sep)   Shark Attack  (1999, Bob Misiorowski) 45
[ Here’s a rare shark movie that’s NOT a “Jaws” knockoff. Instead it’s a pretty cool little action flick packing a bunch of explosions, fights and shout-outs, as well as a series of shark attacks. The plot is too silly to summarize, the best thing about it being how it revolves around Steven McKray, a character who, as portrayed by the great Casper Van Dien, has got to be the most badass marine biologist of all time! Also of note is the fact that the film features a lot of real footage of sharks in action, even though this sometimes makes for incoherently edited sequences mixing said real footage with shots of actors (or stuntmen) pretending to be attacked by off-screen sharks. Still, this remains an enjoyable enough B-movie. ]

(17 Sep)   Bronson (2008, Nicolas Winding Refn) 49
[ Tom Hardy may be the ultimate chameleon in movies today. It’s like he looks and sounds different in every film of his I see. I mean, even though he plays brutish forces of nature in “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Warrior” and this here “Bronson”, each character is distinctive in the way he speaks, moves and, well, fights. Because like in the other two titles, Hardy spends a lot of time beating the shit out of other people in “Bronson”, a film inspired by the life of a notorious British convict who went by the borrowed name of action movie star Charles Bronson. Here’s a bloke who actually enjoys being in prison, which he finds to be the perfect place for a guy like him who likes to deal with every situation with his fists! Director Nicolas Winding Refn tells his story by using a lot of colorful visual flourishes, a mix of classical music and pop / techno on the soundtrack, and transitions featuring Hardy in character talking to camera or performing on stage. A lot of effort to keep the thing feeling lively, basically, to no avail. You see, even though Hardy is riveting in the lead part, “Bronson” suffers from a shapeless narrative, wonky pacing and rampant self-indulgence. It feels long and deeply uneven at 90 minutes. The 20 minute version would be insane, though. ]

(18 Sep) The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson) [ review ] 94  

(19 Sep) Winnie (2012, Darrell Roodt) 40
[ For most of this biopic, it feels like a hagiography, a sappy, simplistic, by-the-numbers retelling of the life of Winnie Mandela and, inevitably, her longtime husband Nelson, and the way they fought against apartheid in South Africa, both of them (especially him of course) being imprisoned for extended periods and whatnot. It’s relatively well put together, but the writing is shaky, too on the nose, with Winnie and Nelson coming off like saints while characters like the security police officer played by Elias Koteas are cartoonishly villainous. If it wasn’t for how amazing an actor Terrence Howard, who plays Nelson Mandela, is, I’m not even sure I wouldn’t have walked out. For the longest time, this really feels like a mediocre TV movie… But then comes the third act and suddenly, it becomes all kinds of complex and ambiguous and idiosyncratic as Winnie Mandela, played strongly enough by Jennifer Hudson, seems to turn into almost a Blaxploitation character, what with the afro and funky music on the soundtrack, plus the “Football Club” entourage of young thugs. All of the sudden, we’re not sure what to think of Mama Winnie, who becomes a rather extreme and controversial figure. Ultimately, the film hedges its bets a little bit, trying to justify her actions or at least balance them against all the good she did do before in her life, but still, she’s hardly a purely heroic protagonist. Too bad the whole film doesn’t reflect that. ]

(20 Sep) This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006, Kirby Dick)
[ Since the late 1960s, Hollywood, or more precisely the MPAA, has been rating movies instead of censoring them. At least, that’s the official story. Because when they give a film a NC-17 (formerly X) rating, that’s a death sentence at the box-office, so filmmakers tend to censor themselves in order to get to resubmit to the MPAA and hopefully get an R. That’s one thing, but the worst part is that the MPAA is ridiculously secretive and their decisions are often hypocritical, like, they’ll allow all kinds of violence, but they’ll get their panties in a bunch over any sex stuff. Especially, it seems, when a movie depicts female pleasure, as if that was offensive! This documentary explores the history of censorship in Hollywood and the way Jack Valenti’s MPAA works, via interviews with former ratings board members, various industry observers and a bunch of filmmakers (Kimberly Peirce, Wayne Kramer, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, John Waters, Mary Harron, Darren Aronofsky, etc.). ]

(21 Sep) Thunderbolt and Lightfoot  (1974, Michael Cimino) 75
[ I’d never heard of this film until recently, and boy am I glad I took the time to check it out! Right from the opening 10 minutes, it grips your attention, as it introduces its two title characters. Clint Eastwood’s Thunderbolt is first seen in a church out in the country, dressed as a priest and addressing his flock – until a man barges into the church and starts shooting at him then chases him into a field! Meanwhile, Jeff Bridges’ Lightfoot is out in a nearby used cars lot, from which he steals a muscle car, which he drives through the same field where Thunderbolt is running for his life. Right there, we love those two guys and are looking forward to spending a couple of hours with them. I mean, just on paper, the Man with no Name paired with the Dude sounds like a great time, doesn’t it? Well, it is! 70s road movies are a dime a dozen, but this one is particularly enjoyable, as written and directed by a pre-”Deer Hunter” Michael Cimino. It’s full of charm and humor, plus some action and suspense since our anti-heroes are being hunted down by Thunderbolt’s former partners while they drive through the Midwest, and the film eventually turns into a heist flick. Oh, and there’s some insane stuff happening as well, like the scene where they hitch a ride with a basket case with a caged raccoon in the front seat and a trunk full of live rabbits! Good times. ]

(21 Sep) New Year’s Eve (2011, Garry Marshall) 33
[ While moderately better than Gary Marshall’s previous holiday-themed ensemble rom-rom, 2010’s “Valentine’s Day”, this remains a rather dull and forgettable picture that goes out of its way to waste an all-star cast. There are cute moments sprinkled throughout and even some decent ideas here and there, but barely any actual laughs or touching moments. Best in show are Robert De Niro and Halle Berry in my opinion, and I also dug Michelle Pfeiffer and Zac Efron of all people, as well as some of the material involving Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michele, Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel (and Til Schwiger!) and some others. But most of the flick is flat, flat, flat, if still watchable enough on an uneventful, turn-your-brain-off evening. ]

(22 Sep) Spring Break Shark Attack (2005, Paul Shapiro) 17
[ The Spring Break is super lame: badly written, badly directed, badly acted, plus no gratuitous sex or nudity whatsoever! The shark attack scenes aren’t too bad, though. ]

(26 Sep) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (2012, Jay Oliva)
[ While there’s no substitute for the lasting impact of Frank Miller’s classic 1986 miniseries, this animated adaptation, the first of two parts of which was just released on DVD and Blu-Ray, is a good to way to get reacquainted with it. It’s such a damn powerful story, that of an aging Bruce Wayne who’s retired The Batman for 10 years when a crime wave involving a street gang known as the Mutants and the old demons from his past force him to put on the cape and cowl again. I love how they kept the way the narrative is framed by excerpts from TV newscasts and talk shows that form a Greek choir of sorts, analyzing the resurgence of the Dark Knight in often fascinating ways. As for the action scenes, they are swift, brutal, and bloody effective. I’m already looking forward to Part 2! ]

(28 Sep) Looper (2012, Rian Johnson) 90
[ Here’s a brilliant sci-fi flick that’s at once relatively small in terms of fireworks (though it does feature some of the best action scenes of the year), with its 2044 main setting having only a few sketched in futuristic flourishes, but that’s downright epic when it comes to ideas. From the trailers, you know that it involves loopers, i.e. hitmen who kill targets from the future who’ve been sent back in time in order for their bodies to be impossible to trace, and that an early twist has the protagonist played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt having to shoot his older self, played by Bruce Willis (the way JLG is made-up to look like Willis is a bit stuntey, but convincing nevertheless). But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I’m glad I didn’t know what this leads to, so I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s exhilirating the way the film builds and builds and builds, twisting itself in all sorts of fascinating knots. Now, is it completely unique? I guess not, since you could say it juggles elements from “The Terminator”, “Back to the Future”, “12 Monkeys”, “The Matrix”, “Memento”, “Minority Report” and whatnot. But it still feels original and exciting in the end and, in any case, all those other movies are awesome so why not borrow a thing or two from them? Strikingly shot and tightly edited, “Looper” features many cleverly designed sequences that play present and future against each other, but ultimately, the “time travel shit” doesn’t matter so much in a superficial way: what’s great is the way it raises thought-provoking philosophical questions about the way we live our lives, the way our older and younger selves can clash against each other figuratively, the “fuzzy mechanism” that is our memory and the way we put together our own personal timelines, often forgetting other people’s point of view and the way our actions affect them in the process… It’s a film constituted of all these intriguing setups and riveting payoffs, as it conveys a message of sorts about the need to not close loops or patterns, but to change them. ]

(29 Sep) Cedar Rapids (2011, Miguel Arteta) 61
[ “What isn’t wrong with me? I talk too much, I drink too much, I weigh too much, and I piss people off…”
I’m quite fond of these little indie comedies, which may not be all in-your-face, laugh-a-minute, but which let comic performers do their thing in a somewhat more grounded, nuanced manner. In this case, we have the great Ed Helms as a nebbish small-town insurance salesman trying to get his bearings in the big city during a convention, plus the always enjoyable John C. Reilly as a loud, brash, fun-loving bear of a man who Helms ends up rooming with. A classic odd-couple set-up, but it works, thanks to the way the two actors make each of their part more than one-dimensional – Reilly’s character is actually a real standup guy, while Helms’ all too easily slides into dark places once his naive illusions are broken… Well worth checking out. ]

(29 Sep) Mermaids (1990, Richard Benjamin) 60
[ An enjoyable middle-of-the-road coming-of-age / mother-daughters dramedy set in the early 1960s, most notable for the winning performances by Cher, Winona Ryder and an itty-bitty Christina Ricci. Oh, and Bob Hoskins as a the poor guy trying to make sense of this crazy family! ]

(30 Sep) Pitch Perfect (2012, Jason Moore) 43
[ A sort-of enjoyable “Glee”-type quasi-musical, this movie about a cappella singing competitions between groups of college kids could have been much better if the lead actress had more charisma and comic chops than the just-okay Anna Kendrick. It’s still watchable enough thanks to a bunch of fun song performances, plus the priceless, scene-stealing Rebel Wilson. ]

August / October