2011 log (11)

(8 Nov) Attack the Block (2011, Joe Cornish)  75
[  This starts off kinda like one of those British kitchen-sink dramas, set as it it in a South London public housing project… But then aliens drop down from the sky, inspiring not so much fear or wonder as a wickedly gleeful desire to go kill the bastards in a group of teenage thugs (John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard), who ride their bikes into the night, armed with baseball bats, swords and fireworks! This is some badass sci-fi horror action fun, which starts low-key enough but grows increasingly more suspenseful and exciting. You could say that it’s a cross between “Assault on Precinct 13”, “E.T.”, “Aliens”, “The Goonies”, “Banlieue 13” and whatnot, but this debut from Joe Cornish also possesses a distinct personality, in part because of that whole kitchen sink realism thing. The creature design is also rather original, the aliens looking like some kind of big, hairy, pitch-black gorilla-wolf monsters with sharp luminescent teeth.    ]

(9 Nov) Crazy Horse (2011, Frederick Wiseman)
[ Reputed to offer the most beautiful strip show in the world, Le Crazy Horse de Paris, which has been teasing audiences since 1951, is now the subject of a documentary by legendary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, who spent 10 weeks observing the creation of “Désir,” a new show directed by choreographer Philippe Decouflé. Using a fly-on-the-wall cinéma vérité approach, Wiseman captures everything from production meetings to auditions, rehearsals, costume fittings, etc. We see a lot of stage numbers being performed as well, generally as works in progress, and the use of lights, shadows, projections, mirrors and other elements is often impressive. So much that the nude bodies on display almost seem like an afterthought (almost!). While a tad too long at 2h15, “Crazy Horse” remains an engrossing watch, thanks in part to some hilariously neurotic real-life characters. ]

(10 Nov) Immortals (2011, Tarsem Singh) 44
[ Like Zack Snyder’s 300 (which was also shot in Montreal with lots of green screen), Immortals features some awesomely stylish and brutal action scenes, but alas they’re too few and far between. Much of this tale of war amongst gods, titans and humans is devoted instead to ponderous pseudo-mythological exposition and humourlessly grandiloquent dialogue, generally delivered by way-too-stiff actors, including Henry Cavill as the heroic Theseus and Freida Pinto as the virgin oracle Phaedra. The only saving grace is good old Mickey Rourke as the wonderfully sleazy and evil Hyperion. Granted, this latest flick from Tarsem Singh (The Cell) does feature some spectacular 3D visuals; then again, the art direction is often awfully gaudy, if not downright campy. ]

(11 Nov) Singles (1992, Cameron Crowe) [ review91

(12 Nov) Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)  [  review ] 95 (previously: 94)

(17 Nov) The Artist  (2011, Michel Hazanavicius) 80 
[  In 1927 Hollywood(land), silent movie actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) enjoys fame and fortune. Two short years later, the advent of sound makes his career derail… Meanwhile Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a young and pretty chorus line girl he’d been flirting with, makes it big. Falling star meets rising star: that’s the gist of this new film from many of the same folks behind 2006’s “OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions”, notably writer-director Michel Hazanavicius, stars Dujardin and Bejo, cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman and composer Ludovic Bource. Again, they perfectly recreate both the time period of the story and the filmmaking style of that era, in this case the golden age of the studio system, in the years when talkies came into prominence (already the setting of “Singin’ in the Rain”, not so incidentally). Shot in black and white, in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with no dialogue or sound effects (save for a few specific, very meta instances) but with intertiles, “The Artist” is not a spoof but a sincere homage, a veritable love letter to classic cinema. Like in “OSS”, Jean Dujardin’s dashing and debonair performance contributes greatly to the success of the film. It’s in his greased-down hair, pencil moustache, impeccable wardrobe and killer smile, in the way he emulates the likes of Gene Kelly, Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks, but also in the way he navigates the tonal shifts of this romantic tragicomedy. Bérénice Bejo is very good as well, and so is the supporting cast (John Goodman, James Cromwell, etc.). Oh, and let’s not forget about George Valentin’s dog sidekick, who may just be my favorite character in the flick! This is an aesthetically irreproachable, featuring many clever, amusing and/or touching scenes… And yet I felt like it was missing a je ne sais quoi… A stronger narrative? More thematic depth? I don’t know… I admired and enjoyed “The Artist” while I was watching it, and for that it remains well worth seeing, but it didn’t quite have enough impact on me to call it one of the year’s best like some have done, going as far as predicting that it could win Best Picture at the Oscars.  ]

(19 Nov) Being Elmo (2011, Constance Marks)
[ “Elmo to a six-year-old is like Brad Pitt,” someone points out early on in this fun and surprisingly touching, if not particularly cinematic documentary about Kevin Clash, the man who’s been handling and voicing Elmo for the last 25 years or so. Here’s the story of a man who had a childhood dream, pursued it and made it a reality, becoming an integral part of the Sesame Street world he loved so much. Clash started crafting his own puppets and putting on shows when he was only 10, paid his dues on local TV in Baltimore and eventually got to work with Muppet empire mastermind Jim Henson. Constance Marks’ film shows how Clash poured all his best qualities and then some into Elmo. No wonder the little red fur-ball became so popular with the little ones! ]

(20 Nov) Starbuck  (2011, Ken Scott) 38 
[  Easily the most overrated film of the year, at least locally, “Starbuck” is built on a contrived and unconvincing as hell premise, having to do with how a guy who regularly donated sperm back in the day finds out that he unknowingly fathered 533 kids and decides to act as a guardian angel of sorts to as many of them as he can (but coming off like a creepy stalker)… But that’s not so much the problem here. I can imagine a thought-provoking and emotionally complex drama based on this out-there premise… Or a wacky and hilarious comedy… The problem with Ken Scott’s film, which he co-wrote with comedian Martin Petit, is that he tried to do both and, more so, failed in each case. The tone is all over the place in “Starbuck”, so is the pacing for that matter, the consequence being that we can never get past how contrived and unconvincing each twist and turn are. Patrick Huard does what he can, going a long way towards keeping us involved nonetheless, but ultimately, the film just. does. not. work. ]

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

(24 Nov) The Muppets  (2011, James Bobin) 90
[   Oddly enough, the movie this new Muppet flick most reminded me of is “Rocky Balboa.” It’s in that sense of nostalgia, with iconic characters who some may think are past their prime but who decide to stand tall and soldier on… Of course, on a scene to scene basis, this is a completely different kind of movie, filled as it is with goofiness, silliness… And musical numbers! Oh, those musical numbers! But beyond all that, there’s a truly moving story that pulled me in right away, as we meet Gary (Jason Segel, who co-wrote the screenplay with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nicholas Stoller) and his little brother Walter (Peter Linz), who’s always dreamed of meeting Kermit the Frog and the Muppets – even though they’ve long gone out of style. What follows is a wonderful story about growing up, growing apart, looking to belong, looking to matter again, getting back together, getting back on stage… All of which is driven by Segel’s boundless enthusiasm, joie de vivre and obvious love for all things Muppets. I also loved Amy Adams as his girlfriend, Chris Cooper as the villain, plus all the celebrity cameos (Jack Black, Dave Grohl, Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis, Emily Blunt, Neil Patrick Harris, John Krasinski, etc.). “The Muppets” is, quite simply, one of the most enjoyable movies of the year. Jim Henson would have been proud. ]

(27 Nov) Shame (2011, Steve McQueen) 84
[   There’s a cold, muted, almost clinical vibe to this film. The meticulous shot composition, the moody score, the sly use of ellipses and off-screen space, the way it formally mirrors the obsessive tendencies of its characters… Kubrick by the way of Soderbergh, a little bit “Eyes Wide Shut”, a little bit “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” (maybe a little bit “American Psycho”, too, alas much more low-key).  And then there’s Michael Fassbender, who brilliantly embodies this fascinating character study, playing a walking contradiction of a man, who remains elusive and intriguing until the end. Alternately confident and awkward, suave and repelling, seemingly addicted to sex yet afraid of intimacy. Add to that a most unhealthy, quasi-incestuous relationship with his sister, affectingly played by Carey Mulligan, and the gradual realization that the two of them share a lot baggage and uneasy history (“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place”)… It all adds up to a powerful, rather disturbing film.    ]

(28 Nov) War Horse (2011, Steven Spielberg) 91
[   I can already see it. Many, many people are going to love this movie, LOVE it. But there are some, critics mostly, who’ll inevitably pan it. Funny thing is that both sides will do so for basically the same reason. This is a pure Spielberg movie through and through, with the wide-eyed sense of wonder, epic scope and brilliant production values you expect, as well as the fact that it’s blatantly sentimental, which is where the Beard tends to lose grumpier scribes.  Few filmmakers know how to work an audience and push the audience’s emotional buttons as well as Spielberg, and he’s going at it full throttle in “War Horse.” An adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel in which World War I was viewed through the eyes of a horse, the film sometimes superficially resembles “Au Hasard Balthazar” (in which the protagonist was a donkey) , but even though the film is mostly set in France, we’re not so much in Robert Bresson territory here as in the grand old tradition of classic Hollywood prestige pictures. Think John Ford, “Gone with the Wind”, David Lean, a bit of Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory”… But think Spielberg, most of all. Starting with the birth of our thoroughbred hero in Devon, England, as witnessed by young Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who’ll name the beast Joey and tame him, the movie then follows the two of them as they struggle to plow a field in order to save the family farm from being reclaimed by the landlord (David Thewlis). That first act is note-perfect, truly involving us in this story of a boy and his horse. Irvine is great as the young lad, who somehow made me think of the fundamentally decent and loyal Samwise as played by Sean Astin in the “LOTR” trilogy, Emily Watson and Peter Mullan are both splendid as his mum and dad, and through the magic of cinema, the horse also delivers a magnificent performance, seemingly conveying all kinds of emotion though his big black eyes (I also loved the goose, heh). A feisty, noble, beautiful creature, Joey is put the test more than ever when the Great War breaks out and he ends up being sold to a British officer (Tom Hiddleston), but also serving in the German army, being adopted by a French jam maker (Niels Arestrup) and his granddaughter and, in one of the most hauntingly memorable sequences in the film, desperately wandering the No Man’s Land between the British and German trenches… Filled with overwhelming visions of beauty and horror, this tale of a miraculous horse features some relatively long stretches without dialogue, all visual storytelling courtesy of Spielberg and cinematographer extraordinaire Janusz Kamiński, though with the assist of wall-to-wall John Williams… And it all builds up to a wordless sunset finale that won’t leave a dry eye in the house. Expect “War Horse” to win (or at least get nominated for) a whole lot of Oscars.  ]

(28 Nov) Martha Marcy May Marlene  (2011, Sean Durkin) 83
[    Every year seems to bring an independent film that reveals an exceptional new -or at least previously unheralded- actress. 2011’s is this here “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” starring Elizabeth Olsen, finally breaking breaking out from the shadow of her older sisters Mary Kate & Ashley to come into her own as one hell of an actress. She plays Martha, a.k.a. Marcy May, a.k.a Marlene, a troubled young woman who went off the grid a couple of years ago, only to resurface in her sister (Sarah Paulson)’s life with no explanation. Through a series of flashbacks, which the film goes in and out of via nearly seamless transitions, we get to learn more about what she went through; or do we? “MMMM” blends past and present, memories and dreams, reality and paranoid delusions, ostensibly to depict the mental state of a former cult member. As Marcy May, she was part of a “family” living on a farm in upstate New York in neo-hippie commune fashion, under the leadership fo the charismatic yet unnerving Patrick (John Hawkes)… And now, back in the world, with her sister and the latter’s husband (Hugh Dancy),  Martha seems to have a confused sense of social boundaries, and she goes from charming and vulnerable to weird and hysterical and… It’s hard to describe but all quite captivating, thanks to Olsen’s tour de force performance but also to Sean Durkin’s writing and direction, which fill most scenes with slow-burn tension.    ]

October / December

2011 log (10)

(1 Oct) 50/50 (2011, Jonathan Levine) 90
[ Dear God, I don’t even remember the last time I cried so much during a movie! And not just watery eyes, wiping a way a little tear – full-on sobbing, man. Thing is, through most of the early parts of “50/50”, I thought it was good but not necessarily great. I took it to be, you know, your slightly better than average indie flick, with a smart and insightful but not exactly transcendently brilliant screenplay, and competent but not particularly inventive or impressive direction, nothing more, nothing less. The one thing I found truly exceptional from the get-go was the acting, starting with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in one of his very best performances (that’s saying a lot) as a 27-year-old diagnosed with cancer. I also loved Seth Rogen, who’s hilarious and unexpectedly touching as the best friend, Anjelica Huston and Serge Houde as the parents, Anna Kendrick as the therapist, Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer as fellow chemo patients, Bryce Dallas Howard as the girlfriend… These actors make all the characters ring true, so we grow to really care about them and, don’t get me wrong, writer Will Reiser and director Jonathan Levine both do solid work, keeping us engaged throughout. Yet the third act takes things to a whole other level, which has something to do with the nature of the film’s subject and its progression, of course, but still! I had no idea the last act of this dramedy would move the hell out of me like that. ]

(1 Oct) The Object of My Affection (1998, Nicholas Hytner) 55
[ This rom-com with a twist, about the ambiguous relationship between a woman and her gay best friend, suffers from pacing issue, sitcom direction and a terrible, terrible score. Yet it manages to remain engaging enough thanks to the winning performances from Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd. Worth a rental. ]

(5 Oct) L’Assaut (2011, Julien Leclercq) 33
[ On December 24, 1994, Islamic terrorists hijacked an Air France plane at Algiers’ airport, taking the 227 passengers aboard hostage. Out of this event, writer-director Julien Leclercq has made a film that includes many inherently suspenseful scenes, but the approach he chose is unfortunately derivative and flashy. Desaturated colors, handheld cameras, high shutter speed, bombastic music: it’s like we’re watching a knockoff of late-era Ridley Scott. Lacking in historical and political context despite some exposition-heavy scenes involving bureaucrats and excerpts from actual newscasts, L’assaut also fails to make us care about anyone on screen. No, repeatedly showing us a GIGN agent’s wife and daughter doesn’t count for character development… ]

(6 Oct) Le pays des âmes – A jazz fable (2011, Olivier Godin) 66
[ After the death of her fiancé, a young woman (Ève Duranceau) attempts to contact him with the help of a priest (Luc Proulx) who might actually be the Devil… With its elliptical narrative, sparse dialogue, uneven performances, improvisational jazz backdrop and quasi-experimental style, this debut feature from Olivier Godin is a bit much to take in initially. But the sad-eyed, always compelling Duranceau, the warm hues of the cinematography and the meticulous shot composition go a long way towards drawing us into this Dantesque tale, which climaxes in a striking sequence set in the forest of suicides of the seventh circle of Hell. ]

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

(8 Oct) Gandu (2011, Q) 43
[ A far cry from the opulence and exuberance of Bollywood, this indie Indian film was shot in black and white with a low budget, small crew and no script. This gives it an interesting cinéma vérité feel, though it can also appear self-indulgent, aimless and somewhat tedious. Anubrata stars as the tiular Gandu (“asshole” in Bengali), a young man who, when he’s not watching porn or playing video games, wanders the streets of Calcutta, hangs out with a rickshaw driver, does drugs… And, in what are clearly the best moments of the film, raps furiously into the camera over music by alternative rock band Five Little Indians. A true oddity, for better or worse! ]

(11 Oct) Take Shelter (2011, Jeff Nichols) 84
[ “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall,” once sang Bob Dylan… Here’s a psychological drama about a man (Michael Shannon) who might be losing his mind and how that affects his wife (Jessica Chastain) and their young deaf daughter… But there’s kind of a Shyamalan thing going on, because it takes the form of a genre flick, with elements of post-apocalyptic horror and/or sci-fi, which are either just nightmares or actual premonitions, depending on whether you believe the protagonist is a madman or a prophet. A nearly biblical tale on one level, an affecting character study on another, this sophomore effort from Jeff Nichols is riveting in any case thannks to its awe-inspiring cinematography by Adam Stone, ominous score by David Wingo and disturbing performance by Shannon. ]

(12 Oct) Footloose (2011, Craig Brewer) 63
[ After telling the story of a pimp who wants to be a rapper in “Hustle & Flow” and that of a bluesman trying to tame a nymphomaniac in “Black Snake Moan”, you wouldn’t expect Craig Brewer to be directing a remake of 1984’s Kevin Bacon vehicle “Footloose.” Then again, Brewer does bring to this new version a genial and convincing depiction of a Southern milieu populated by colorful characters, like in his previous movies. The small-town-banning-dancing premise remains silly, the leads are so-so (Kenny Wormald is okay but Julianne Hough is pretty awful), and the film could have used more dancing and less speechifying. Still, I enjoyed spending time in this Bomont, Georgia and really liked most of the supporting cast, especially Miles Teller in the part played by Chris Penn in the original. And good on Brewer for setting his version of the angry dance sequence to the White Stripes! ]

(13 Oct) Monsieur Lazhar (2011, Philippe Falardeau) 89
[ In this adaptation of Évelyne de la Chenelière’s play, Philippe Falardeau depicts how a group of sixth-graders try to cope with the self-inflicted death of their teacher through the help of her replacement, Bashir Lazhar, a fundamentally decent, wise and caring Algerian refugee who has some grief of his own to deal with. There is much to love in this film: the confident storytelling, which lets the characters breathe without forcing them into a conventional plot structure; the elegant cinematography by Ronald Plante, editing by Stéphane Lafleur and music by Martin Léon; Fellag’s immensely engaging lead performance and, perhaps more than anything, the exceptionally natural and touching performances by Sophie Nélisse, Émilien Néron and the other child actors. ]

(13 Oct) Surviving Progress (2011, Mathieu Roy & Harold Crooks)
[ “Koyaanisqatsi” meets “The Corporation” in this thought-provoking, brilliantly crafted film about nothing less than the history of the modern world, the best achievements and worst failures of humanity, and the fate of civilization – all that in 85 minutes! Through interviews with some of the greatest minds of our era (Ronald Wright, Stephen Hawking, Margaret Atwood, David Suzuki, Michael Hudson, Jane Goodall, etc.) and stunning montages of new and archival footage that dizzyingly take us through time and space while we’re being bombarded with fascinating information and ideas, “Surviving Progress” is as ambitious as it gets and it pulls it off. It raises more questions than it answers, of course, but that’s the name of the game when you’re tackling such lofty subjects. ]

(15 Oct) Leave It on the Floor (2011, Sheldon Larry) 67
[    Part dance-off, part fashion show, the balls put together by various houses in cities across the United States feature people – male, female and in between – walking on a runway and being judged on their appearance, attitude and vogue dancing skills. For many, Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning” was their first exposure to this flamboyant world. Canadian producer and director Sheldon Larry was one of them. and, after seeing it, he hooked up with writer Glenn Gaylord and spending three years developing the screenplay to what would become big-screen musical “Leave It on the Floor.” When it came down to finding a composer and a choreographer, Sheldon Larry had the good luck of being able to recruit none other than Beyoncé’s dream team, namely music director Kim Burse and choreographer Frank Gatson. Besides those seasoned pros, Sheldon Larry also got help from his students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, who formed much of his crew. “Leave It on the Floor” tells the story of Brad (Ephraim Sykes), a young gay man who, after being kicked out by his mother, stumbles upon the L.A. ball scene and finds himself crashing at the House of Eminence, surrounded by fierce and fabulous characters such as Queef Latina (Miss Barbie-Q), Princess Eminence (Phillip Evelyn), Carter (Andre Myers) and Eppie Durall (James Alsop). While upbeat, colourful, fun, sexy and somewhat campy on the surface, the film is anchored by the painful reality that, as a minority within a minority, these wonderful gay black people hardly always have it easy. But in the positive environment that is the ballroom community and its houses, these street kids finally get to express how brilliantly creative they can be. Even though the ball scene remains underground and off the grid, its influence on pop culture is undeniable, from Madonna’s David Fincher-directed Vogue video to the oeuvre of Lady Gaga. Considering that and also the success of “Glee” on TV, Sheldon Larry is hoping that his film might be able to cross over into the mainstream, seducing audiences with all those great song and dance numbers (Ballroom Bliss, Knock Them Mothaf*kk**’s Down, Black Love, the Justin Timberlake-dedicated Justin’s Gonna Call, etc.), and possibly also opening some minds in the process. Let’s hope it does!    ]

(15 Oct) Melancholia (2011, Lars von Trier) 90
[ It opens with a striking overture, a series of gorgeous slow-motion tableaux set to Wagner which, in retrospect, pretty much tell the whole tale. The tale of a bride and her sister. The tales of two planets on a collision course. The tale of the what may be the end of the bride’s world, as well as the end of the whole world. Divided into two parts (“Justine” and “Claire”), the film initially focuses on bride Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst in her best performance ever, which deservedly won her the Best Actress award in Cannes last May. It’s astonishing how she can be gorgeous and glowing for a while early on, then get ugly and dark, as if something had just snapped inside of her… Afterwards, she sometimes smiles and shines a little again, but you can tell that she’s faking it, that her heart just isn’t into it, even though her dress is amazing, the groom is amazing (Alexander Skarsgård), the venue is amazing… What’s her problem? Could be depression (“I’m trudging through this grey, woolly yarn”), but it could also be caused by the impending doom facing Earth if it’s hit by “fly-by” planet Melancholia… Which will become the main concern of Claire, Justine’s sister, who becomes increasingly filled with cosmic dread, terrified that she is that she, her husband (Kiefer Sutherland) and especially her young son (Cameron Spurr) could be obliterated in a matter of days. Part drama, part science-fiction, “Melancholia” is shot by Lars von Trier with his signature post-Dogme unstable camera style, which mirrors how Justine and eventually Claire feel, and the cinematography is also often stunning, with a painterly use of light and colour bringing to life more tableaux throughout the film. Von Trier’s vision is cynical and nihilistic (“The Earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it. Nobody will miss it.”), but also laced with black humor and some genuine emotion, and it’s the kind of picture that only grows in your mind as time passes. Even though the ending is jaw-droppingly awesome, I came out of the theatre feeling slightly disappointed… Then again, as I write this the next day, I’m still haunted by it and looking forward to seeing it again already – always a good sign, obviously. Dunst and Gainsbourg dominate it of course, but the entire ensemble cast is excellent as well, including Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt as the girls’ divorced parents (yes, the accents all over the place in that family, going from English to American to French, but it doesn’t really matter), plus Stellan Skarsgård, Brady Corbet and my personal favorite, Udo Kier as the wedding planner! Lots of greatness all around but, again, maybe not the immediate impact of, say, instant classics like “Dogville” or “Dancer in the Dark.” Even then, it easily ranks as one of the year’s best films. ]

(19 Oct) Laurentie (2011, Mathieu Denis & Simon Lavoie) 77
[ Divided into three parts (“Ghosts,” “Torments,” “Abysses”) and punctuated by quotes from poems by the likes of Anne Hébert, Denis Vanier and Hubert Aquin, Laurentie doesn’t reveal its hand until the very end, which is bound to leave you reeling. Filled with muted tension, pathos and impotent rage, Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie’s film, which premiered at the Karlovy Vary film fest this summer, is the raw portrait of a young Québécois (rivetingly played by Emmanuel Schwartz) who feels alienated from his job, his on-and-off girlfriend (Eugénie Beaudry), his drinking buddies and, perhaps most of all, his new anglo neighbour (Jay Kashyap). Favouring long unbroken shots and ambient sound, the filmmakers slowly but surely draw us in until the haunting finale. ]

(23 Oct) A Separation (2011, Asghar Farhadi) 92
[ The first scene, in which the wife, Simin (Leila Hatami), makes a strong argument to a judge that he should allow her to divorce her husband (Peyman Moaadi) and move abroad with her daughter (Sarina Farhadi), only to be casually dismissed, is quite gripping and seems to announce that this will be some kind of feminist tale about a woman fighting for her rights… But then for the next half hour or so, Simin more or less disappears and we’re left with the husband, or more precisely Razieh (Sareh Bayat), the lady he hired to take care of his Alzheimer-afflicted father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi). Herself the mother of a young daughter (Kimia Hosseini), with another child on the way, Razieh finds the work strenuous and possibly conflicting with her religion, but she keeps at it because her husband (Shahab Hosseini) and her are heavily in debt. And then… We’ll, I usually don’t go into plot details this much so I should stop now, but let’s just say that a dramatic, ambiguous series of events happens, and we’re suddenly really uncomfortable, because of how nuanced all the characters have been established to be, so that there’s no clear good or bad guys, except maybe Iranian bureaucracy… Intelligently written, subtly directed and brilliantly acted, “A Separation” is unpredictable in a way that’s initially confounding, as we just don’t know where Asghar Farhadi is going with all this, but it eventually grows increasingly involving and affecting as it raises profound questions about ethics and causality. ]

(25 Oct) Le Vendeur (2011, Sébastien Pilote) 70
[ This debut feature from Sébastien Pilote is in direct continuity with his short Dust Bowl Ha! Ha!, again taking place in a small town in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region that is struggling with the impending closure of the plant which employs much of its population. Bleak yet punctuated by touches of warmth and humour, Le Vendeur impresses with its beautiful winter cinematography, its mournful score by Pierre Lapointe and Philippe Brault and its note-perfect performance by Gilbert Sicotte as an aging car salesman with no plans of retiring, his work seemingly defining his whole existence. Some might grow impatient with the relative uneventfulness of this low-key portrait of an ordinary man and his surroundings, but I found it captivating. ]

(30 Oct) The Future Is Now! (2011, Jim Brown & Gary Burns)
[ In 1949, Nicole Védrès blurred the line between documentary and fiction with “La Vie commence demain”, a film in which Jean-Pierre Aumont played the so-called Man of Today, whose vision of the world was challenged by such luminaries as Sartre, Picasso, Rostand, Prévert and Le Corbusier. With the help of journalist Jim Brown, with whom he had previously collaborated on another docufiction, 2006′s “Radiant City”, Gary Burns was inspired to directed this sorta-remake of it. To play the Man of Today in “The Future Is Now!”, Brown and him turned to Québécois actor Paul Ahmarani, who first came to prominence when he starred in mockumentary “La Moitié gauche du frigo”. Described at various times in the film as a defeatist, a pessimist or simply a pragmatist, the Man of Today is basically a symbol for the growing apathy and cynicism in our society. He is taken under the wing of the Woman of Tomorrow, a Montreal reporter played by Liane Balaban who attempts to change his views by introducing him to various men and women with a more positive, proactive outlook. Among them are architect Shigeru Ban, painter Marlene Dumas, philosopher Alain de Botton, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and writer Rivka Galchen. Yet the most memorable scene is probably the one that most directly connects it to La Vie commence demain, where Paul Ahmarani has a discussion with the ghost of Jean-Paul Sartre, as footage from the 1949 film is integrated in the frame via rotoscoping. ]

2011 log (8)

(4 Aug) Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011, Troy Nixey) 42
[ Most notable for having been co-written and co-produced by Mexican filmmaker extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro, this remake of the 1973 made-for-television horror film comes off like a dumbed down, generic Hollywood version of “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Both movies are about a little girl who discovers a fantastic underworld, but try as he might, Troy Nixey possesses neither del Toro’s visual mastery nor his talent for getting great performances out of actors. Set in a gothic mansion where a little girl (Bailee Madison), her dad (Guy Pearce) and her stepmom (Katie Holmes) are stalked by creepy creatures who eat children’s teeth, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is pretty tense and scary at times, but it’s also frustratingly inconsistent and increasingly implausible. ]

(4 Aug) David (2011, Joel Fendelman) 63
[ When Daud, a Muslim boy, somehow befriends a group of young Orthodox Jews (who think his name is “David,” hence the title), he discovers that while they do have their differences, they’re ultimately mostly similar. Chatting, hanging out, playing around… They’re just kids being kids. Before making “David”, Fendelman shot “Daud”, a short that dealt with some of the same themes and also starred little Muatasem Mishal. The filmmaker then quickly moved on to the feature, putting his own savings into it so he wouldn’t have to wait to find financing. With the notable exception of Maz Jobrani, who plays Daud’s imam father, and a few others, most of the “David” cast is made up of non-professional actors, including the young lead, who delivers a moving, surprisingly understated and nuanced performance. Working with what he calls a “micro-budget” didn’t stop Fendelman from shooting a lot of exteriors and multiplying crowd scenes, practically making New York a character in his film. To pull it off, he often had to resort to what he describes as “guerrilla filmmaking,” shooting in real places with real people. The Muslim and Orthodox Jewish communities of Brooklyn helped a lot in the making of David, both in front of and behind the camera. And based on the feedback he’s had so far, Fendelman’s message of open-mindedness and tolerance was well received by people on both sides. ]

(11 Aug) Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982, Amy Heckerling) [ review ] 85

(14 Aug) Red State (2011, Kevin Smith) 88
[ See (14 Jul) ]

(15 Aug) Rocky II (1979, Sylvester Stallone) 54
[ This first “Rocky” sequel is watchable enough, if only for the Italian Stallion’s easygoing charisma, plus the always enjoyable performances by Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed and Burgess Meredith as Mickey. And then there’s the always rousing training montages, that amazing score, plus the actual fight at the end… But I have trouble with how the bulk of the flick is such a bummer, struggling as it does to pummel Rocky back into being a no-good nobody. Dramatically, the best films in the series have to be the original and the surprisingly affecting “Rocky Balboa,” with “Rocky IV” being the most entertaining by far. Your mileage may vary, etc. ]

(16 Aug) Conan the Barbarian (2011, Marcus Nispel) 19
[ Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery tales were already perfectly well served by the 1982 film, thanks to the primal efficiency of its storytelling, its iconic imagery, a brilliant score and the imposing performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger. This new iteration of the adventures of the Cimmerian warrior, here portrayed by Hawaiian male model Jason Momoa, is not only pointless but also brutally boring, even though it’s filled with bloody action. Blame the bombastic style of director Marcus Nispel (the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th” remakes), the muddled plot, the tacky art direction, the lame villains (a hammy Stephen Lang and an embarrassingly bad Rose McGowan). Only the early scenes with Ron Pearlman as Conan’s father are somewhat engaging. ]

(16 Aug) Nuit de noces (2001, Émile Gaudreault) 64
[ Watching Gaudreault’s debut almost right after his latest confirms that from the get-go, he’s known exactly what kind of movie he wanted to make and did a good job delivering on his intents. Like his three later pictures, this is an ensemble comedy that veers a bit too much into vaudeville/sitcom territory, but that is also quite heartfelt and grounded. This is a classic rom-com, from the meet-cute to the endless will-they-or-won’t-they dance between the leads (François Morency and Geneviève Brouillette), except that it’s not about them becoming a couple, but about whether their wedding weekend will end up with them getting hitched or not. The storytelling is a bit loose and the gags are hit and miss, but there are some interesting gimmicks borrowed from the “Annie Hall” playbook (characters talking to the camera, playful cross-cutting, fantasy sequences, etc.) and the supporting players (Pierrette Robitaille, Jacques Girard, René-Richard Cyr, Michel Courtemanche, Sonia Vachon, Yves Jacques, Diane Lavallée, etc.) are quite enjoyable. Also, if I’m not mistaken, Pierre Lapointe is an extra in an early scene!

Note: this is a repost of a blurb written in July 2009 after I first saw the film. ]

(17 Aug) Hobo with a Shotgun (2011, Jason Eisener) 23
[ Rutger Hauer as a hobo with a shotgun, “delivering justice one shell at a time”? Sounds badass as hell, alas the actual movie is a dud, save for the striking cinematography by Karim Hussain, with its low-key lighting scheme and splashes of bright neon colors. Set in the filthiest, sleaziest town in the world, where some asshole and his douchebag sons are free to murder countless people in plain sight, the flick is certainly as trashy and gory as the best/worst exploitation cinema, but it’s oddly lacking in either thrills or fun… It’s just a tedious, empty, repetitive exercise in bad taste. I didn’t care about anyone or anything in the story, and didn’t notice any particular wit in the way Jason Eisener went through the motions of making a modern-day grindhouse film. ]

(20 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. ]

(21 Aug) Something Borrowed (2011, Luke Greenfield) 49
[ For the first half or so, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this romantic comedy, with its breezy storytelling that sets everything up in the pre-credits sequence, fills in the blanks through a few flashbacks, then lets the central situation play out… Said situation having to do with a mousy girl (Ginnifer Goodwin), her bitchy BFF (Kate Hudson) and the latter’s fiancé (Colin Egglesfield), who the former has always secretly loved – and vice-versa. Seemingly complicating matters and making things less predictable is the buddy character played by the always great John Krasinski, who I figured Goodwin might actually end up with. Alas (SPOILER!), that thread is a dead-end, as the movie starts going into fits halfway through, with everyone on screen acting in inconsistent ways, as if the filmmakers didn’t know what to have them do, constantly changing their mind until the end. Is this a comedy or a drama? Should we like the characters despite their flaws, or end up hating them all? It’s all very frustrating. ]

(24 Aug) La Reine Rouge (saison 1) (2011, Patrick Senécal, Olivier Sabino & Podz)
[ Taking place between the events depicted in Patrick Senécal’s novels “5150, rue des Ormes” and “Aliss”, this webseries shows how the teenage Michelle Beaulieu became the Red Queen. Featuring plenty of graphic violence and explicit sexuality, “La Reine Rouge” is nonetheless most notable for the slow-burn intensity of its narrative, what with every episode ending with a cliffhanger and this whole 8-episode arc building up to an inevitably tragic finale. Stylish and wide in scope despite the fact that it was entirely self-financed, the series’ success lies in great part on Véronique Tremblay’s lead performance which, though shaky at first, gradually grows quite riveting. Supporting cast members Marc Beaupré, Marc Fournier and Stéphanie Labbé also do solid work, and watch out for the cameo by Passe-Partout herself, Marie Eykel! Amazing theme song by Mara Tremblay, too. ]

(26 Aug) Mamma Mia! (2008, Phyllida Lloyd) 0
[ It takes some kind of mad genius to manage to get Meryl Streep to deliver not just a bad performance, but an absolutely rotten, embarrassingly awfulone. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of all the baffling directing choices made by first (and hopefully last) time filmmaker Phyllida Lloyd. I’ve rarely if ever seen a big-budget studio production as incompetently designed, staged, filmed and edited. Heck, this looks worse than a crappy TV movie! I don’t care that the plot is beyond silly and just an excuse to include as many ABBA songs as possible in this jukebox musical; it’s just that not a single scene or even a shot works. And, again, it’s pretty amazing how this flick manages to make not only Streep but also Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Dominic Cooper, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters and everyone ese on screen seem like obnoxious, talentless losers. ]

(30 Aug) Warrior (2011, Gavin O’ Connor) 87
[ While not quite on the level of last year’s “The Fighter”, this remains a very affecting take on some of the same themes. “Warrior” follows two underdogs, an ex-Marine living off the grid (Tom Hardy) and a teacher (Joel Edgerton) who’s been hit hard by the economic crisis, as they enter a winner-takes-all mixed martial arts tournament, the twist being that they’re estranged brothers. This potentially melodramatic and improbable story manages to remain grounded and engrossing thanks to the raw and gritty approach favoured by writer-director Gavin O’Connor (“Miracle”, “Pride and Glory”) and to the powerful performances by Hardy and Edgerton, plus the heartbreaking, Oscar-worthy turn by Nick Nolte as their father. Chances are that the climax, set to The National’s Around Today, will leave you in tears. ]

July / September

2011 log (9)

(2 Sep) SUPER (2011, James Gunn) 85
[ What a weird fucking movie! At first, I figured it would just be a variation on “Kick-Ass,” i.e. an irreverent send-up of comic book movies that’s as hilarious as it is badass (to quote from my review of that flick). Except that it’s also a rather sad, almost depressing story about a poor bastard (Rainn Wilson) who just can’t cope with his wife (Liv Tyler) having left him for another man (Kevin Bacon) – who just happens to be a drug lord… And our protagonist happens to be some kind of psychopath who has visions of God and demons which lead him to deciding to become a super-hero who beats criminals to a pulp with a pipe wrench, and who eventually teams up with a comic book geek girl (Ellen Page) who’s probably as much of a sick and twisted maniac as he is… Again, I guess this isn’t that far removed from “Kick-Ass”, or from elements of other subversive super-hero movies like “Watchmen”, “Orgazmo” and “The Toxic Avenger”… All the same, this remains a weird fucking movie, and I kinda loved it. ]

(7 Sep) Troll Hunter (2011, André Øvredal) 78
[ Featuring gorgeous cinematography despite its found footage conceit, this dark fantasy set in striking locations across Norway (woods, mountains, bridges, an abandonned mine…) depicts a young film crew as it follows a mysterious man (Otto Jespersen) they suspect of being a pear poacher. Turns out he’s actually yes, a troll hunter. Not so much reminiscent of “The Blair Witch Project” or “Cloverfield” than of “C’est arrivé près de chez vous” (“Man Bites Dog”), this movie juggles suspense, wonder and droll humor as it lets us get to know a most peculiar individual and learn about the ins and outs of his most unusual profession. The four or five set pieces involving various kinds of trolls are all gripping and fascinating, thanks to pretty awesome special effects but mostly to clever writing and direction. ]

(8 Sep) Drive (2011, Nicolas Winding Refn) 93
[ “You give me a time and a place, I give you a five-minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours no matter what.” He’s the Driver (angel-faced badass Ryan Gosling), that’s it, that’s all. You do your dirty business, whatever it is, then he’ll drive the getaway car as well as any other man ever could. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll get all fast and furious, GTA smash-happy on your ass. Here’s a guy who thinks behind the wheel, who’d much rather slip through the cracks and escape discreetly than burn rubber… But if it comes to that, so be it. We gather all this through the pre-credits opening sequence of “Drive”, and almost entirely via visual storytelling, and we’re immediately hooked. Here’s a brilliantly crafted, whip-smart mood piece that initially reminds of things like Soderbergh’s “The Limey” or Mann’s “Collateral”, then of a Tarantino-by-the-way-of-Elmore-Leonard crime tale populated by a rogue gallery of colorful crooks (Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, James Biberi, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks, Ron motherfuckin’ Perlman)… And then the damn thing goes all “A History of Violence” on us, delivering a bunch of absolutely riveting, extremely violent action sequences. And yet this remains a generally quiet and atmospheric film, filled with evocative visuals and wonderful performances, including Carey Mulligan’s as the romantic interest. I also really dug the synth-heavy, 80s-style Cliff Martinez score and the use of songs by Kavinsky, Desire, College, Chromatics and Riz Ortolani… This is, dare I say it, some kind of genre-bending masterpiece, full of instant-classic movie moments that is bound to thrill any cinephile. ]

(9 Sep) Magnolia (1999, Paul Thomas Anderson) [ review ] 100

(11 Sep) My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997, P.J. Hogan) [ review ] 67

(12 Sep) Peter Gabriel: New Blood Live in London (2011, Blue Leach)
[ Up until now, save for 2008’s U2 3D and maybe a few others, 3D concert films have been reserved to teen idols à la Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber and the Glee cast. Enter Peter Gabriel, who couldn’t be farther removed from that, especially the way we find him here, singing in front of a 46 piece orchestra conducted by Ben Foster and focusing in great part on lesser-known art rock numbers such as Intruder (off 1980’s Melt), San Jacinto and The Rhythm of the Heat (off 1982’s Security), Blood of Eden (off 1992’s Us), as well as Darkness and Signal to Noise (off 2002’s underrated album Up ). Also included are a few tracks from Gabriel’s 2010 covers album Scratch My Back (Regina Spektor’s Après moi, Lou Reed’s The Power of the Heart, The Magnetic Fields’ The Book of Love) and some favorites from his own repertoire like Biko, Digging in the Dirt, Mercy Street and Red Rain, culminating with the timeless Solsbury Hill and, during the encore, the very moving one-two punch of In Your Eyes and Don’t Give Up. Visually, Blue Leach’ film is not the most dynamic thing in the world, relying mostly on Peter Gabriel holding our attention with his powerful voice and presence, which he does. White-haired and dressed in black, often bathed in red light, the singer is surrounded by the orchestra, through which the camera swiftly moves. There are also some interesting mise en scène tricks, notably involving LED screens. The use of 3D is immersive enough, if not particularly impressive. ]

(13 Sep) Chasing Madoff (2011, Jeff Prosserman)
[ Based on the book “No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller” by Harry Markopolos, who was one of the whistleblowers in the Bernie Madoff investment scandal, this documentary depicts how, in spite of all the warnings Markopolos and others made for almost a decade, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission never took appropriate action. When Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme, the largest in history, was finally exposed, it was too late and investors lost billions of dollars. “Chasing Madoff” tells that story in a very dramatic way, maybe too dramatic for some tastes, but I liked the Errol Morris-esque use of stylized re-enactments and the faux-Philip Glass score by David Fleury. At times it feels like you’re watching a film noir, a paranoid thriller at others, but it remains engrossing throughout. ]

(14 Sep) Café de Flore (2011, Jean-Marc Vallée) 59
[ I find that movies like this are the hardest to review. Not because they ultimately fail in my opinion, au contraire, but because they get so many things so right before ultimately crashing down. In what could be construed as a stylistic follow-up to his modern Quebec cinema classic “C.R.A.Z.Y.”, writer-director Jean-Marc Vallée impresses once again with his mastery of visual storytelling, delivering countless memorable shots, transitions and, in what may be his greatest skill, sequences set to music (Pink Floyd, Sigur Ros, The Cure, etc.). Attempting to simultaneously tell two apparently unreleated stories, one set in contemporary Montreal and the other in 1960s Paris, the film hits a wall when it quickly becomes clear that one timeline is much more involving than the other, namely the latter, which depicts a French single mother (Vanessa Paradis)’s affecting and somewhat disturbing codependent relationship with her son (Marin Gerrier), who has Down syndrome. I was left mostly cold by the present-day portion, which deals with the first world problems of a yuppie-scum jet-setting DJ (Kevin Parent), who’s perfectly happy with his sexy young blonde girlfriend (Évelyne Brochu) but who still has conflicting feelings about his ex (Hélène Florent), who also happens to be the mother of his children (Rosalie Fortier and Joanny Corbeil-Picher). On the whole, “Café de Flore” also suffers from dialogue and voice-over narration that are often way too on the nose, it can be tiresomely repetitive (why make a point once when you can do it 10 times?), and the pseudo-mystical way the two story threads finally connects is groan-inducing at best. So basically, I came out of the theatre unsure what to think, having loved some elements, hated others… I might still marginally recommend it, but this remains a frustratingly uneven picture. ]

(15 Sep) Inni (2011, Vincent Morisset)
[ After “Miroir noir”, his spellbinding 2008 Arcade Fire film, Montreal director Vincent Morisset continues to push the limits of the rockumentary/concert movie format with this quasi-experimental film about Sigur Rós. Mostly made up of expressionist black-and-white shots, often tightly framed to capture only fingers strumming strings or hitting keys, a pulsating bass drum, a mouth singing into a mic, “Inni” also features brief excerpts of interviews with the Icelandic band and fleeting glimpses of archival footage. But more than anything, it’s a vivid, transfixing ode to the heartbreaking beauty of songs like Ny batterí, Svefn-g-englar, Festival, Inní mér syngur vitleysingur and Popplagið, as performed at London’s Alexandra Palace in 2008, before the group went on indefinite hiatus. ]

(16 Sep) Shark Night 3D (2011, David R. Ellis) 61
[ While not as wildly enjoyable as last year’s T&A and gore fest “Piranha 3D”, this latest outing in the killer fish exploitation film genre is still quite the hoot. Featuring a bunch of dumb college kids (Dustin Milligan, Sara Paxton, Joel David Moore, Alyssa Diaz, Sinqua Walls, Katharine McPhee, Chris Zylka) and dumb rednecks (Chris Carmack, Joshua Leonard, Donal Logue) butting heads around a lake infested with sharks, “Shark Night 3D” is preposterous, sure, but the direction by David R. Ellis is actually pretty effective – I for one was quite impressed by the use of 3D, especially in the underwater shots. Then you’ve got quite a few uproariously outrageous moments, up to and including the climax, that have got to be intentionally funny. If anything, the must-see post-credits Lonely Island-style hip hop music video by the cast goes along way towards confirming that no one was taking himself too seriously during the making of this flick. ]

(19 Sep) Real Steel (2011, Shawn Levy) 60
[ I consider Shawn Levy to be one of the better working directors of middlebrow Hollywood family movies. Doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement, but when you see some of the unwatchable crap that targets kids these days, you have to appreciate the easygoing charm, giddiness and occasional wit of films likes Levy’s “Big Fat Liar”, “Cheaper by the Dozen” and especially “Night at the Museum”. There’s an old-fashioned quality to Levy’s movies, including his latest, “Real Steel,” which often feels like a throwback to the 1980s work of one of its executive producers, Steven Spielberg. Set in the near future, “Real Steel” stars Hugh Jackman as a former boxer who’s now moved on to the next big thing: managing fighting robots. Loosely based on a Richard Matheson short story, this sci-fi tale doubles as a drama about a deadbeat dad trying to make good with his son (Dakota Goyo) after his mother’s death, which makes it a virtual remake of the Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling flick “Over the Top.” Levy says he hasn’t actually seen that one, but he admits that films like “Rocky” and “The Champ” were influences, much more than, say, “Transformers”. As such, even though the rousing robot boxing sequences do play an important part in the film, don’t be surprised if you find yourself unexpectedly moved by the climax. ]

(23 Sep) Contagion (2011, Steven Soderbergh) 91
[ It starts with someone coughing, over a black screen. Then we see a sick-looking Gwyneth Paltrow sitting in an airport bar, with a red title stating that this is DAY 2 – day two of a deadly epidemic, we’ll soon find out, an epidemic threatening to kill millions of people, and fast. As the days roll by, the film takes us back and forth around the world, introducing tons of characters, none of which could really be construed as a lead… No, the lead is the virus itself, which we follow as it spreads at an alarming rate, while scientists, government officials and others struggle to find a way to stop it. Steven Soderbergh directs all this masterfully, achieving to scare the shit out of us just by showing us people getting sweaty and dizzy, coughing, and touching things, goddammit – and then it’s off to another victim, and another, and another… The storytelling is remarkably fluid, we never feel lost – disturbed, uncomfortable and anxious, for sure, but we can always follow what’s going on all too well, even though the chain of events is complex and involves a whole lot of people, not to mention tons of technical jargon. Kudos to screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for that, and again to Soderbergh and his almost clinical attention to detail. Also of note are the extra-sharp digital cinematography (the film was shot on Red One cameras), the typically brilliant electro-industrial score by Cliff Martinez, and what may very well be the best ensemble cast of the year (Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, John Hawkes, Jennifer Ehle, Elliott Gould, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Demetri Martin, etc.). Here is a flawlessly crafted film depicting the worst-case scenario that thankfully never materialized when the H1N1 and SARS outbreaks happened, an unnerving, “really grim” paranoid thriller with elements of horror, apocalyptic science-fiction and 1970s disaster movies… And maybe just a touch of gallows humor (“When did we run out of body bags?”). One of the year’s best pictures, no doubt about it. ]

(24 Sep) The Goonies (1985, Richard Donner) 85
[ “Data’s quite tired of falling and Data’s tired of skeletons!”
This classic Steven Spielberg production must have be thought up as a variation on “Indiana Jones” in which the stars would be Short-Round (Ke Huy Quan, here playing Data) and his little friends, a ragtag group of kids (Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, Jeff Cohen, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton) from the wrong side of the track or, actually, from the “Goon Docks”, whatever that is, who go looking for pirate treasure to save their neighbourhood. Ostensibly for kids, the movie is truly fun and exciting, with not only booby traps, skeletons and shit, but also a family of gun-toting criminals (Anne Ramsey, Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano) chasing our young heroes. And then there’s Sloth (John Matuszak), who’s initially scary-looking but who turns out to be the coolest of them all. I loved this back in the day, still do today. ]

(28 Sep) Marécages (2011, Guy Édoin) 64
[ Renowned on the film festival circuit for his award-winning shorts, Guy Édoin brings to his debut feature an impressive visual mastery and a willingness to submit to the deliberate pace and hushed sounds of life in the countryside. At its best, “Marécages” reminds of such masterworks as Malick’s “Days of Heaven” and Reygadas’ “Silent Light”. Alas, Édoin’s writing is not always at the same level as his direction. The setup of this family tragedy set on a dairy farm in the Eastern Townships does work, and Pascale Bussières, Luc Picard and Gabriel Maillé deliver affecting enough performances, but the developments of the narrative can be rather fickle (e.g., everything involving the François Papineau character). ]

(30 Sep) Bride Wars (2011, Gary Winick) 23
[ Shrill, generic, contrived… Even by the (low) standards of chick flicks, this is pretty worthless. You’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen it all, and even if you’re a fan of Kate Hudson and/or Anne Hathaway, chances are you won’t be sure you are anymore by the end of the movie. Aren’t we supposed to like the main characters at least a little bit? ]

2011 log (7)

(2 Jul) Milocrorze: A Love Story (2011, Yoshimasa Ishibashi) 70
[ In many ways, “Milocrorze” is a showcase for actor Takayuki Yamada, who plays the three very different yet equally iconic lead characters: youth counsellor Besson Kumagai, who comes off like a cross between Frank T.J. Mackey and Austin Powers; Tamon, a mild-mannered man who turns into a vengeful samurai when the girl he loves is kidnapped; and Ovreneli Vreneligare, a poor sap who had his heart broken by the titular Milocrorze when he was a little boy. “Milocrorze: A Love Story” blends fantasy, romance, comedy, irresistible dance numbers and badass action sequences, climaxing with a show-stopping six-minute combat sequence inspired by traditional Japanese painting and kabuki theatre. ]

(3 Jul) The FP (2011, Trost Bros.) 66
[ While I’ve seen many objectively better films at Fantasia this year, I still have a particular fondness for Jason and Brandon Trost’s ridiculously enjoyable film about the underground war between two gangs for control of Frazier Park, a.k.a. “the FP.” At this point, I should point out that the aforementioned gang members are all dressed in 1980s attire and that when they confront each other, they do so by playing a variation of the Dance Dance Revolution video game called Beat Beat Revelation! In addition to co-writing and co-directing, Jason Trost stars as the eyepatch-wearing JTRO, who’s forced to pick up the mantle and bring his clan to victory after the death of BTRO, their leader. While the plot is beyond silly, it’s mostly played straight, which makes it all the funnier. The film also happens to be pretty damn well crafted, from Brandon Trost’s stylish cinematography to George Holdcroft’s synth-heavy score. Still, it remains close to a Troma-produced B-movie in spirit, with apparent nods to 80s flicks like “The Warriors”, “Escape From New York”, “Commando” and “Rocky IV” (training montages!) thrown in for good measure. ]

(4 Jul) Ninja Kids!!! (2011, Takashi Miike) 64
[ Adapted from manga/anime series “Ninja Rantaro Flunks Again”, this is sorta-kinda what a “Harry Potter” movie would be like if it was directed by Takashi Miike. Telling the story of a boy’s first year at Ninja Academy and subsequent involvement in a conflict between a family of hair stylists and assassins, “Ninja Kids!!!” is colorful, alternately goofy and brutal (although in a cartoonish way), full of ridiculous characters (including a “friendly ninja trivia commentator”!), kind of messy but mostly a lot of fun. ]

(6 Jul) Post Grad (2009, Vicky Jenson) 19
[ Here’s a hopelessly formulaic flick that’s not even sure what formula it’s trying to follow. The title and initial premise suggest that’s it’s about the trials facing college graduates when they enter the job market… But then this seems to be forgotten about until, late in the game, the protagonist (Alexis Bledel playing a slight variation on Rory Gilmore) is handed the job of her dream on a platter – only to quit shortly afterwards. Why? You guessed it, a boy. Because that’s the other thing: “Post Grad” is also a romantic comedy about a girl caught beween a sexy, older Brazilian man (Rodrigo Santoro) and her lifelong BFF (Zach Gilford), who has long been in unrequited love with her… Again, you can guess where this is going. On top of the half-assed graduate story and predictable rom-com, “Post Grad” poorly attempts to be one of those quirky family comedies à la “Little Miss Sunshine” or “Juno”. But even though the supporting cast should be awesome in theory (Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, Carol Burnett, J.K. Simmons, etc.), they’re stuck with one-dimensional roles, lifeless dialogue and hardly any plot to speak of. Instantly forgettable. ]

(10 Jul) Kaboom (2011, Gregg Araki) 5
[ If some film school dipshit had directed this embarassingly bad gay hipster knockoff of “Donnie Darko” about young people fucking, mysterious men in animal masks and visions of the end of the world, it would be one thing. But isn’t Gregg Araki getting a bit long in the tooth to be making such juvenile, self-indulgent schlock? ]

(11 Jul) The Whisperer in Darkness (2011, Sean Branney) 68
[ This adaptation of the 1931 H.P. Lovecraft short story, about a folklorist (Matt Foyer)’s encounter with sanity-defying mystery and horror in the eeriest corners of Vermont, is not only a period piece but also a brilliant pastiche of Golden Age filmmaking. The pulpy storytelling, the film noir-style narration, the ominous orchestral score, the stark b&w cinematography, the old-fashioned acting… It really seems like this a long-lost gem from the ‘30s that’s just been discovered. ]

(12 Jul) Retreat (2011, Carl Tibbetts) 77
[ Starting as a psychological drama about a couple (Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton) whose marriage is on the rocks, “Retreat” then morphs into a truly suspenseful claustrophobic and paranoid thriller. Almost entirely set in a cabin on a secluded island,the film grows increasingly tense after a mysterious young private, played by the scarily intense Jamie Bell, arrives with news of a lethal outbreak and orders the couple to board themselves up -along with him- in the cabin… It almost never lets up until the staggeringly brutal ending. A truly auspicious debut feature from Carl Tibbetts. ]

(14 Jul) Red State (2011, Kevin Smith) 88
[ Inspired by Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church and their bullshit “God Hates Fags” campaign, but also by the Waco siege and the U.S. government’s post-9/11 excesses, Smith has put together a violently nihilistic film that comes off like an unholy cross between “Hostel”, “There Will Be Blood” and “Die Hard”, if that makes any sense. Going back and forth between horror, action and black comedy, all the while blasting away at religion and politics, “Red State” blends genres and juggles tone in ways that call to mind Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers.

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

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

(15 Jul) Milocrorze: A Love Story (2011, Yoshimasa Ishibashi) 70
[ See above. ]

(15 Jul) A Lonely Place to Die (2011, Julian Gilbey) 79
[ Amidst the breathtaking scenery of the Scottish Highlands, a group of mountain climbers find themselves hunted down by creepy men with guns after they rescue a Serbian girl they found buried alive. Full of gasp-worthy moments, this mercilessly intense and action-packed thriller is driven by a very physical performance from Melissa George, not unlike the one of Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens”. Not for the faint of heart! ]

(17 Jul) Endhiran (2011, S. Shankar) 72
[ Superstar Rajni portrays both an android and his creator in this typically overstuffed but always entertaining Indian blockbuster. Over the 170-minute length, it swings between science-fiction, slapstick, action, musical and melodrama, as Chitty the robot and Dr. Vaseegaran end up fighting each other for the love of a woman, played by the ever gorgeous Aishwarya Rai. Expect a lot of ridiculous nonsense, but also some genuinely awesome set pieces and fun song-and-dance numbers. ]

(20 Jul) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, Joe Johnston) 82
[ The latest Marvel Studios production is a wonderfully old-fashioned World War II adventure that seems to take its cues from 1930s and 40s serials, just like the “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” flicks did (not-so-incidentally, Joe Johnson worked on both those series back in the day). “Captain America: The First Avenger” takes its time to tell the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans<), a weak but fundamentally decent and brave little man who becomes tall and powerful after taking part in a U.S. army experiment. Many awesome super-heroics follow as Captain America takes on the evil Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and his HYDRA minions, kicking their asses all across Nazi-occupied Europe. Earnest but not without a sense of humour, Johnston’s beautifully crafted film is great fun from beginning to end. ]

(23 Jul) He’s Just Not That into You (2009, Ken Kwapis) 65
[ For the most part, this ensemble movie is not so much a romantic comedy as an insightful movie about dating and relationships. It juggles around with 8 or 9 characters who are either pathetic, manipulative, naive, cynical, hypocritical… Inevitably uneven, it sometimes falters (the whole Jennifer Connelly/Bradley Cooper thread is lame, though Scarlett Johansson makes for a convincing temptress), but otherwise it kept me involved and entertained enough (the Ginnifer Goodwin/Justin Long stuff, Jennifer Aniston/Ben Affleck, the glorified cameo by Drew Barrymore). Unfortunately, whatever good will it’s earned, it almost entirely spoils when it suddenly decides to go for a series of contrived rom-com happy endings at the end. ]

(24 Jul) Lords of Dogtown (2005, Catherine Hardwicke) meh
[ Caught this on TV and tried to watch it, but phased out here and there… I mean, it recreates the time and place (Santa Monica and Venice, California circa 1975) well enough and it features a cast of capable young actors (Emile Hirsch, John Robinson, Victor Rasuk, Michael Angarano and Heath Ledger) as the Z-Boys, a group of skateboarders who revolutionized the sport… But where’s the story? Okay, so they were great skaters, they got famous, had some falling-outs between them, and that’s about that. Insert endless, repetititve, tiresome scenes of skateboarding and partying. At least, if we cared about the characters, we might care about watching them do whatever they do, but they’re depicted as such morons and assholes! I stand by my ‘meh’. ]

(26 Jul) Sur le rythme (2011, Charles-Olivier Michaud) 41
[ In his first starring role, “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” winner Nico Archambault does his best Swayze, not necessarily proving to be a great actor but displaying ample charisma and screen presence. And boy, can the guy move! If it were just for the numerous dance scenes, which are skilfully choreographed by Archambault and directed by Charles Olivier-Michaud (Slamdance award-winner “Snow & Ashes”) and often set in interestingly grungy locations, this Québécois take on the “Dirty Dancing”/”Step Up” formula would be worth recommending. Alas, the movie also features a lot of clichés and bad melodrama, most of it having to do with the young female protagonist (Mylène Saint-Sauveur) butting heads with her stereotypically disapproving parents (Marina Orsini and Paul Doucet). ]

(28 Jul) The Future (2011, Miranda July) 75
[ You know you’re not watching an ordinary, run-of-the-mill film when it begins with Paw Paw the cat’s inner monologue, and then it only grows quirkier and more surreal as it goes along. Ostensibly about the disintegration of the relationship between a dance teacher (writer-director Miranda July, who also does the voice of Paw Paw) and a tech support guy (Hamish Linklater) who quit his job to volunteer for an environmental organization, “The Future” is more fundamentally concerned with the abstract nature of time and all those weird little moments that make life so fascinating. Not quite as sublime as her previous “Me and You and Everyone We Know”, July’s second feature is still full of elusive beauty, casually poetic dialogue and grace notes. ]

June / August

2011 log (6)

(11 Jun) Super 8 (2011, J.J. Abrams) 34
[ We’ve all heard the advance word about how this film is supposedly a big sloppy blowjob to Steven Spielberg (here credited as a producer through his Amblin Entertainment company) and his early films like “Jaws”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.” (something way too many critics are clamoring as if they were the first to figure it out). How refreshing to see a blockbuster with an old-fashioned sense of wonder, they say… and what I wonder is what movie they were actually watching.

I mean, sure, it’s set in 1979 in a suburban town, the protagonists are kids not unlike the ones in “E.T.” or the Spielberg-produced “The Goonies” (or Stephen King stories like “It” and “The Body/Stand By Me”), and the sci-fi/horror elements are kept off-screen for quite a while. Because as one of the boys, a wannabe filmmaker shooting a Super 8 zombie flick with his buddies during summer vacation, says at some point, it intends to not just be about the thrills but to tell a story and to make the audience feel something.

Alas, after a promising first act, “Super 8” goes off the rails (no pun intended) when the kids witness a ridiculously over the top train crash which they miraculously walk away from unharmed. That is the beginning of a long, long series of scenes full of preposterous mayhem, with the small town where the action is set blowing up over and over while the kids and most everyone else never gets hurt.

Elle Fanning is pretty great, but the other child actors are uneven at best, if not downright awful in some cases. As for the grown-ups (parents, cops, soldiers), they’re all dull dull dull, and they keep behaving like idiots… Which might have more to do with the mediocre writing than with the skills of the cast.

For all its forced nostalgia and homages, “Super 8” is ultimately closer to “Cloverfield” than to anything Spielberg’s ever made. It’s an overblown B-movie creature feature that jerks us around for a while with a so-called mystery surrounding the nature of the threat facing the characters, with a payoff nowhere near as successful as the setup (or the marketing campaign, for that matter).

Hate to break it to you, Mr. Abrams, but you, sir, are no Spielberg. You know what? Forget about this overrated movie and its goddamn lens flares, and just watch the music video for Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”. In 5 minutes, Spike Jonze totally outdoes “Super 8” in every way as far as early Spielberg pastiches go (can’t wait to see the full 30 minute version). ]

(12 Jun) Sans dessein (2009, Steeve Léonard & Caroline Labrèche)
[ Full disclosure: a few friends of mine were involved with the production of this low-budget independent feature, but given that it won the Best Local Film award at Fantasia in 2009, I’m not the only one who enjoyed it a great deal! The way I see it, the U.S. has Kevin Smith, the U.K. has Edgar Wright, and now Quebec has Steeve Léonard, Caroline Labrèche and the rest of the Dead Cat Films crew. Starring writer-director Léonard as a slacker slowly coming into his own and co-director Labrèche as the girl who helps him to do so, this movie is both funny and touching, juvenile and clever. Full of universal geek culture references (“Star Wars”, “Back to the Future”, “Star Trek”, etc.), “Sans dessein” is nonetheless Québécois to the core, which makes it a real treat. ]

(18 Jun) Green Lantern (2011, Martin Campbell) 27
[ After playing supporting parts in “Blade: Trinity” and “Wolverine”, Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds finally gets to star in his own superhero flick. Alas, said flick is rather dreadful, with a story silly even by comic book standards, cartoonish FX and talented actors wasted in thankless roles (Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett, etc.). Only Reynolds himself gets to have a little fun (emphasis on ‘little’) as Hal Jordan, a cocky pilot chosen to join the Green Lantern Corps, i.e. intergalactic peacekeepers with nifty super-powers. What follows isn’t so much sci-fi action as endless expository dialogue setting up the film’s convoluted mythology, trite human drama, and Yoda-isms about the power of will versus the power of fear. And the big climax? A big fight between our “green space cop” and what looks like a shit monster. ]

(21 Jun) Cabin Fever (2002, Eli Roth) 50
[ Why is it that Eli Roth can be such a cool and funny geek of a guy when you hear him talking or read interviews with him, but his movies are just not all that great? Maybe it’s because the line is so thin between having fun with B-movie tropes and merely making another B-movie. Set in and around a cabin in the woods, where five young men and women must face some creepy hicks and a mysterious, deadly disease, “Cabin Fever” is like an 80s exploitation flick, with lots of bad writing, bad directing and bad acting… Which might be intentional – or not. In any case, the gore, T&A and juvenile humor are modestly entertaning, and some of it is even genuinely effective. I still feel like hearing Roth talk about this stuff might be more fun then watching him try to pull it off on screen. ]

(26 Jun) Just Go with It (2011, Dennis Dugan) 52
[ A loose remake of “Cactus Flower”, this romantic comedy is modestly enjoyable thanks to the chemistry between Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. The plot is a big preposterous mess of lying and scheming, but as the title implies, if you “just go with it”, it leads to some pretty funny situations. At other times, it’s just stupid (everything to do with Nick Swardson’s character, for one), and regular Sandler collaborator Dennis Dugan’s directing skills remain mediocre at best. Still, like I said, Sandler and Aniston work well together, Brooklyn Decker sure is easy on the eyes, and it’s kind of a hoot to see Nicole Kidman acting like such a goofy bitch. Worth a rental, etc. ]

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

(28 Jun) Scenes from the Suburbs (2011, Spike Jonze) 88
[ This Spike Jonze short film, which he co-wrote with Will and Win Butler from Arcade Fire, totally wipes the floor with “Super 8” as far as coming-of-age stories go. There’s no stupid monster, no over the top destruction scenes, no fucking lens flares, just some great young actors struggling to maintain their friendship as they grow up in a world they don’t understand. I love how no explanation is ever really given as to why the suburban town where it takes place is overrun by the police and army, and how the tale is told through a series of moments… memories… dreams? The cinematography is gorgeous, and the music of course is amazing as well. This doesn’t quite reach the genius level of Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are”, but it’s still a must-see. ]

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

May / July

2011 log (5)

(1 May) Fast Five (2011, Justin Lin) 80
[ In this fourth sequel, the “Fast and Furious” franchise goes all “Ocean’s Eleven” on us, as Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) assembles a crack team of thieves/drivers (Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Tego Calderón, Don Omar, etc.) to steal 100 million dollars from a Rio de Janeiro kingpin (Joaquim de Almeida), all the while trying to evade a DSS agent (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his men, who are hot on his trail. The plot is absolutely preposterous, the dialogue is often groan-inducing, the characters are one-dimensional, the direction is dynamic but a bit messy at times, and the performances are uneven at best… Nevertheless, “Fast Five” should satisfy most fans of old-school Hollywood action flicks, macho bullshit and homoeroticism. Again, the film as a whole is hit and miss, but the five main set pieces (the train robbery, the foot chase through the favelas, the Vin Diesel vs. The Rock fight, the ambush, the epic car chase with endless mayhem and destruction following the vault heist) are as badass, spectacular and fun as you could hope for. ]

(2 May) La vida de los peces (2011, Matías Biz) 83
[ You know how when you’re getting ready to leave a party, you start making a tour of the house to say goodbye to everybody and before you realize it, it’s been more than an hour and you still haven’t left? This is exactly what happens to Andrés (Santiago Cabrera, whom you might remember from the TV series “Heroes” and Steven Soderbergh’s Che) in “La Vida de los peces” (“The Life of Fish”). A travel writer, he left Chile when he was 23 and ended up staying abroad for 10 years. Momentarily back in his hometown, he finds himself stalled at an old friend’s birthday party as he keeps running into people he hasn’t seen in a long time, including former flame Beatriz (Blanca Lewin). A thoughtful, bittersweet story about the choices we make and how we sometimes come to regret them as our conception of what is important in life evolves, “La Vida de los peces” is not unlike Matías Bize’s previous films thematically. Plus, the Chilean filmmaker again displays his propensity to observe the classical unities of action, place and time, which allows the characters to gradually reveal themselves as we follow them around during an evening at that one party. Natural, almost documentary-like at times, more lyrical and impressionistic at others, the success of the film relies in great part on the chemistry between Cabrera and Lewin, whose characters clearly still have feelings for each other, despite the fact that Beatriz got married and had children with somebody else while Andrés was gone… ]

(4 May) Thor (2011, Kenneth Branagh) 67
[ After “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk”, and before “Captain America” sets the last stone leading to “The Avengers”, here is “Thor”, the newest addition to Marvel’s big screen superhero roster. Part heroic fantasy, part comic-book Shakespeare, part fish-out-of-water comedy, the story revolves around Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishing his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Earth and making him unable to wield his mighty hammer until he’s grown less arrogant and impetuous. Despite muddled action scenes, uneven FX, pointless 3D and an overabundance of Dutch angles, the movie remains entertaining, in large part thanks to the imposing performances by Hemsworth, Hopkins and the rest of the cast. Special mention to the hilarious Kat Dennings, who steals nearly every scene she’s in. ]

(14 May) Grease 2 (1982, Patricia Birch) 52
[ This inferior, Travolta-less sequel is still enjoyable for the most part thanks to a young Michelle Pfeiffer throwing herself into the role of a Pink Lady, some fun musical numbers and the way the plot mirrors that of a superhero flick, with Maxwell Caulfield’s mild-mannered English exchange student regularly turning into Cool Rider, a mysterious goggles-wearing motorcycle daredevil who fends off an evil biker gang and knocks Pfeiffer out of her socks. ]

(15 May) Bridesmaids (2011, Paul Feig) 74
[ This Judd Apatow production has been described in some quarters as a female “Hangover”, but I think it’d be more fitting to call it a female “I Love You Man” because, as hilarious as the comedy scenes can be, this also happens to be a pretty darn insightful and touching story about friendship. Kudos to star/writer Kristen Wiig for delivering the laughs bit time with all kinds of witty, raunchy and/or absurd gags, but also for keeping things relatively grounded in regards to the way women (mis)behave amongst each other. She couldn’t have picked a better on-screen BFF than Maya Rudolph, with whom she had great chemistry for all those years on SNL. Also a lot of fun are Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey and especially Melissa McCarthy. And the use of Wilson Phillips’ Hold On? Perfect, just perfect. ]

(22 May) Homme au bain (2010, Christophe Honoré) 3
[ As far as pseudo-intellectual experimental films starring a porn star go, I already thought that Steven Soderbergh’s Sasha Grey vehicle “The Girlfriend Experience” was a bit of a wank, no pun intended. Still, it was a masterpiece compared to this self-indulgent bore, in which Christophe Honoré (“Les chansons d’amour”) directs French gay porn performer François Sagat, along with Omar Ben Sellem, Chiara Mastroianni and Montreal actor Dustin Segura-Suarez, none of whom make much of an impression. Dramatically aimless and visually unappealing (it looks like an amateur video), “Homme au bain” might titillate some viewers with its graphic male-on-male sex scenes. Then again, if that’s what you’re looking for, you might be better off catching some of Sagat’s earlier roles in the likes of “Hole Sweet Hole” and “Humping Iron”. ]

(23 May) Road House (1989, Rowdy Herrington) 80 [ review ]

(23 May) All Good Things (2010, Andrew Jarecki) 77
[ Starting with the 2003 trial testimony of one David Marks (riveting Ryan Gosling), this atypical thriller then flashes back to the 1970s to tell the story of this mentally unstable son of a real estate tycoon (imposing Frank Langella), specifically in regards to his troubled relationship with his wife (heartbreaking Kirsten Dunst), up to her mysterious disappearance in 1982. Not unlike David Fincher’s “Zodiac”, only more low-key and smaller in scope, this film attempts to shed some light on a notoriously unsolved real-life criminal case (Marks is based on Robert Durst). Effectively keeping things ominous and ambiguous throughout, director Andrew Jarecki (“Capturing the Friedmans”) doesn’t make it easy for the audience to know how they should feel about the characters, which makes it all the more fascinating. ]

(28 May) You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010, Woody Allen) 58
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(31 May) X-Men: First Class (2011, Matthew Vaughn) 90
[ Beginning during the Holocaust, as the kid who would become Magneto discovers his powers, exactly like the first “X-Men” movie, this latest – and best – instalment then sticks with Erik Lehnsherr (badass Michael Fassbender) until the Cuban Missile Crisis, here given an alternate-history twist involving a whole bunch of mutants, including younger versions of Charles Xavier (suave James McAvoy) and Mystique (a poignant Jennifer Lawrence). Director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”) delivers an extraordinary comic book flick by way of a 60s James Bond-style spy movie, displaying a keen sense of storytelling and wowing the audience with not only dazzling FX and thrilling set pieces, but also humour, emotion and a dash of sexiness (hello, January Jones). Geek nirvana! ]

April / June

2011 log (4)

(2 Apr) Getting There (2002, Steve Purcell) 0
[ I know you shouldn’t expect high art from an Olsen twins flick, but this is ri-goddamn-diculous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with such obnoxious bimbos and douchebags characters, who keep fucking up in all kinds of preposterous ways but, through endless dumb luck and careless wasting of their parents’ money, always fall back on their feet during this “misadventure” from L.A. to the Salt Lake City Olympics… where they only end up watching the one event on TV, then snowboarding, skiing, sledding, snowmobiling and doing a cannonball competition in a pool in montage after montage of filler. So many plot holes, so many lame gags, such poor production values. ]

(4 Apr) November Child (2011, Christian Schwochow) 71
[ The opening film of the Goethe-Institut’s new German Highlights series is an affecting melodrama dealing with the scars left by the division of East and West Germany, even after the reunification. Anna Maria Mühe impressively stars as both Inga, a young woman who was raised by her grandparents, and Anne, the mother she never knew. Moody, evocatively shot and punctuated by a melancholy acoustic guitar score, November Child draws us in with its intricate storytelling, which jumps back and forth between Inga’s search for the truth about her origins in 2007 and the wanderings of Anne with a Russian deserter in 1980, putting back together the pieces of a past full of secrets and lies. Director Christian Schwochow will attend the screenings. ]

(6 Apr) Your Highness (2011, David Gordon Green) [ review ] 89

(7 Apr) The High Cost of Living (2011, Deborah Chow) 90
[ Former Scrubs star Zach Braff plays Henry, a New York expat living in Montreal’s Chinatown, from where he’s running a prescription drug-dealing operation. One night while he’s driving around making deliveries, he accidentally hits Nathalie (Isabelle Blais), an eight-months-pregnant French-Canadian woman, then takes off in a panic. Immediately filled with guilt, he sets out to find Nathalie, who lost her baby in the accident, and attempts to redeem himself somehow. In other hands, “The High Cost of Living” might have come off like a melodrama, but Deborah Chow keeps it feeling grounded, directing much of it in a cinéma vérité style. Undeniably one of the most gifted actors in Quebec cinema, two-time Jutra winner Isabelle Blais outdoes herself in Chow’s film, delivering an absolutely heartbreaking performance as a woman forced to walk around with a dead baby inside her, preparing with dread for a stillbirth. ]

(10 Apr) The Breakfast Club (1985, John Hughes) [ review ] 93

(20 Apr) Incendies (2010, Denis Villeneuve) [ review ] 87

(22 Apr) Prom (2011, Joe Nussbaum) 39
[ It used to be that, in high school movies like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “The Breakfast Club”, teenagers cursed, obsessed over sex and smoked pot. Nowadays, save for the odd “Superbad” here and there, you’re more likely to be stuck with a Disney Channel-ready flick like this one, in which wholesome kids innocently prepare for prom. The main storyline features Aimee Teegarden as blandly pretty valedictorian Nova, who initially can’t stand longhaired, motorcycle-riding not-so-bad boy Jesse (Thomas McDonell) but who, predictably, ends up falling in love in him. Not in the least rooted in reality, “Prom” is little more than a fantasy for 12-year-old girls. It’s thoroughly generic and forgettable, but not unpleasant if you’re in the mood for harmless fluff. ]

(24 Apr) Fight For Your Right Revisited (2011, Adam Yauch)
[ To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Fight for Your Right video, MCA has written and directed this awesome short film starring seemingly all my favorite contemporary American comedy stars: Danny McBride, Seth Rogen, Jack Black, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, plus Elijah Wood, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Steve Buscemi, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Kirsten Dunst, Chloe Sevigny, Orlando Bloom, David Cross, Martin Starr an dprobably others I’ve missed. You could say that this is kind of a glorified music video, but on top of featuring some kickass beats and rhymes, it’s genuinely hilarious quite often, and well shot and cut, too. ]

March / May

2011 log (3)

(3 Mar) 127 Hours (2010, Danny Boyle) 80
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(4 Mar) The Karate Kid (2010, Harald Zwart) [ review ] 76

(6 Mar) Titanic (1997, James Cameron) [ review ] 91

(10 Mar) Jonas: La Quête (2007, Jean-François Pilon)
[ Let’s rock out with our cocks out!» Tel est le mantra que Jonas répète à travers sa «quête», qui l’emmène de Montréal à Los Angeles, en passant par le Festival de la truite mouchetée de Saint-Alexis-des-Monts! This is Spinal Tap sans le second degré, Jonas: La Quête, de Jean-François Pilon, est au mieux une musicographie, au pire une infopub pour la musique d’aréna, la bière cheap et les pitounes. Le rockeur montréalais y apparaît comme un ours mal léché et, incroyablement, on le voit moins à l’écran que sa gérante (aussi productrice du film) Janie Duquette, une version féminine d’Elvis Gratton qui rêve de faire de Jonas une star mondiale ou, dans les mots de Duquette, de «licencier le produit à l’internationale». ]

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

(13 Mar) Matusalem (1993, Roger Cantin) 33
[ A poor kid’s version of “The Goonies” that’s mostly dull, incoherent and forgettable… Worth seeing only to check out a younger Marc Labrèche as a ghost pirate goofing around with a bunch of early ’90s Quebec child actors (Émile Proulx-Cloutier, Marie-France Monette, Maxime Collin, Jessica Barker, etc.). ]

(17 Mar) Source Code (2011, Duncan Jones) [ review ] 76

(28 Mar) Le Divan du monde (2011, Dominic Desjardins) 62
[ En participant aux émissions La course destination monde (en 1997-98) et Fais ça court (en 2007-08), Dominic Desjardins a vraisemblablement développé des facultés de débrouillardise et d’adaptation qui lui ont bien servi lors de la réalisation de ce sympathique premier long métrage. Tourné avec les moyens du bord dans huit villes à travers le Canada, Le divan du monde met en vedette l’auteur-compositeur-interprète Antoine Gratton dans le rôle d’Alex, un musicien amateur québécois vivant à Vancouver qui laisse tout tomber pour suivre Zoé (Mélanie LeBlanc), une jeune femme esseulée qui entreprend une traversée du pays sur le pouce pour retourner chez sa mère à Summerside, Île-du-Prince-Édouard. Sans étoile dessinée sur le visage mais avec tout le charisme qu’on lui connaît, Gratton joue son rôle avec beaucoup de naturel et développe une belle chimie avec LeBlanc, dont le personnage de fille “mélangée” pourrait être exaspérant si ce n’était du charme de la comédienne et de son irrésistible accent acadien. Comédie romantique désinvolte où l’on se fait la cour en franglais, Le divan du monde est aussi un road movie parsemé d’amusantes trouvailles visuelles, comme celle de tracer l’itinéraire des protagonistes sur la couverture d’un cahier Canada. La musique de Gratton contribue aussi beaucoup à rendre l’ensemble franchement agréable, malgré l’aspect modeste de la production. ]

February / April

2011 log (2)

(4 Feb) Orgazmo (1998, Trey Parker) [ review ] 66

(13 Feb) Going the Distance (2010, Nanette Burstein) 66
[ A rather generic but pleasantromantic comedy, with the highs and lows of a long-distance relationship giving it a bit of a different color. In any case, what makes a rom-com work or not, most of all, is the lead couple and, no worry, Justin Long and especially Drew Barrymore have charm to spare on top of being pretty amusing. Also dug all the little ’80s references (“Top Gun”, the “Centipede” arcade game, the “License to Ill” album, etc.), and the fact that Long and Barrymore are respectively working in the record and newspaper industries, two fields where jobs are getting scarcer… which makes it all the harder for one of them to want to give one up to move to the other side of the country for love. ]

(16 Feb) En terrains connus (2011, Stéphane Lafleur) [ review ] 73

(21 Feb) La Vérité (2011, Marc Bisaillon) 58
[ My interview with Bisaillon for Voir ]

(23 Feb) Hall Pass (2011, Peter & Bobby Farrelly) [ review ] 65

(24 Feb) French Kiss (2011, Sylvain Archambault) 40
[ Alors qu’aux États-Unis, on produit des comédies romantiques à la pelle, misant sur le fait que de réunir deux acteurs appréciés du public et de les faire tomber amoureux à l’écran est généralement une formule gagnante, elles se font plus rares au Québec. “On a peut-être l’impression que c’est un style qui ne nous appartient pas”, suggère Céline Bonnier, une des vedettes de French Kiss. “Alors que c’est si joli… C’est un bel événement de tomber en amour!”
La comédienne ne s’attendait toutefois pas à ce qu’on fasse appel à elle pour jouer dans un film de ce genre: “J’étais étonnée qu’on m’offre ça parce que j’ai 45 ans et que dans les comédies romantiques, en général, on retrouve plus des gens de 20 ou 30 ans.”
À ses côtés dans French Kiss, on retrouve un acteur lui aussi dans la quarantaine, Claude Legault, qui était fébrile à l’idée de jouer avec Bonnier: “J’étais comme un peu impressionné sur le coup, elle est quand même dans le top 3 dans ma tête de ce qu’il y a de puissant comme actrices au Québec.”
Sa partenaire était elle aussi enthousiasmée d’avoir l’occasion de jouer avec lui: “J’étais gênée un peu, mais en même temps très excitée de rencontrer cet immense talent.”
Lors du tournage, l’admiration mutuelle entre les deux acteurs s’est transformée en chimie visible à l’écran, élément essentiel dans une comédie romantique. “Claude est quelqu’un qui a ce grand talent-là d’aller vers l’autre et de créer des liens. C’est un partenaire très agréable, très généreux et attentif.” Un match parfait, quoi. “Fallait que ce soit un bon match avec le réalisateur aussi, on a fait le film à trois… Sylvain était dans la chambre avec nous!” ajoute Bonnier, faisant référence à Sylvain Archambault, avec qui Legault et elle avaient déjà travaillé sur Pour toujours les Canadiens, sans jamais partager de scènes toutefois.
Didier Lucien, qui incarne le meilleur ami de Legault dans French Kiss, ne tarit pas d’éloges pour le couple vedette du film, soulignant que c’est leur sens du détail qui rend la relation entre leurs personnages crédible: “La façon dont tu touches quelqu’un, à quelle distance tu t’approches… [Céline et Claude], ils sont capables de faire ça, en plus d’amener un petit peu de pétillant, de mettre des ingrédients là-dessus qui font que ça va être le fun à regarder.”
Quels sont ces ingrédients exactement? Legault: “C’est juste un petit clin d’oeil, puis toujours continuer d’y croire parce que si tu n’y crois pas, t’es mort! La vérité, tu ne peux pas l’enlever d’aucune forme de jeu.” Lucien: “T’embarques dans le jeu, tu joues ou tu ne joues pas. T’es comédien? Joue!”
Legault: “Faut aimer jouer. Moi, j’aime jouer. Didier aime jouer, on le voit tout de suite. Mais il y a du monde, je ne suis pas sûr s’ils aiment jouer.”
Lucien: “Il y en a qui aiment ça être en spectacle. Ils aiment ça être en avant…”
Legault: “Moi, j’aime jouer.” ]

(24 Feb) Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese) [ review ] 95

(25 Feb) Justin Bieber: Never Say Never – Director’s Fan Cut (2011, Jon Chu)
[ Yeah, yeah, I went to see the Bieber flick – and I liked it! For a good part of the last year, JB has been a bit of a guilty pleasure for my girlfriend and I, so we were looking forward to seeing this, and we weren’t disappointed. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that even if you’re not part of the target audience, this is worth seeing for a few reasons: 1) the way it tells the extraordinary story of this Canadian kid from Stratford who became a worldwide sensation almost overnight, focusing not only on Justin himself but on his family, friends and staff, not to mention his fans, all those screaming, crying little girls without whom Bieber wouldn’t be where he is; 2) as shot in 3D, the concert scenes are pretty damn awesome, truly making us feel like we’re there at Madison Square Garden taking in all the music, the dancing, the special effects, the guest appearances (Usher, Sean Kingston, Jaden Smith, Ludacris, Boyz II Men, Miley Cyrus) and, again, the fans going crazy; 3) as some other critics have observed already, this documentary gives “The Social Network” a run for its money, showing how important websites like YouTube and Twitter have become for the young generation, as personified by Justin Bieber and, yes, the fans. Whether you share their enthusiasm or not, it’s quite fascinating to see, like a 21st century version of Beatlemania. ]

January / March