John Wick


It opens with a bloody, possibly dying John Wick (a bearded, semi-longhaired Keanu Reeves) stumbling out of a car… Then we flash back to a few days earlier, with John Wick being haunted by memories of his recently deceased wife. He’s now all alone in the world, until a dog is delivered to his house, a gift from his wife from beyond the grave. So when some motherfuckers kill the poor thing, no wonder John goes into a vengeful fury. Continue reading John Wick

The Good Lie


Based on her giant head on the poster, you’d think this was a full-on Reese Witherspoon vehicle, but she’s actually a supporting actress in “The Good Lie”, not even appearing on screen for something like half an hour.

After a glimpse of grown up Sudanese characters boarding a plane to the United States in 2001, we flash back to 13 years earlier and meet them as kids in a remote village that is soon attacked by soldiers involved in Sudan’s civil war (like the kids, we never really understand what it is about), forcing them to flee toward Ethiopia, then Kenya. The first act, which has the characters talking in a subtitled African dialect, is often tense and sometimes downright horrifying, notably in a scene around a river filled with corpses. It’s a miracle that the kids reach Kenya, but then they end up stuck in a refugee camp there for the aforementioned 13 years, until they get their tickets to the U.S.

At this point, the movie grows considerably lighter and more humorous as the “Lost Boys of Sudan” discover various things about the American lifestyle, not unlike Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in “Coming to America” (!), and clash with a feisty, no-nonsense employment agency officer played by yes, Reese Witherspoon, who’s a lot of fun.

All the same, the stars are definitely the three Sudanese guys, who each adapt differently to their new surroundings: Jeremiah (Ger Duany) relies on his faith, Mamere (Arnold Oceng) goes to school to become a doctor and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) smokes pot and wanders aimlessly.

On the whole, “The Good Lie” is a rather conventional picture, but it’s also a bit odd inasmuch as it begins with that harrowing first act in Africa, then it turns into this gentle fish-out-water comedy in America, with some dramatic beats, but no really clear plot. We’re mostly just hanging out with these characters throughout the second act, but then there’s this revelation (I won’t spoil it) that sends Mamere back to Africa on a very personal mission.

Like I said, it’s a bit of an odd structure, but somehow, it works, thanks in no small part to the charismatic lead actors, who are actual Sudanese refugees, and to the confident direction by Quebec’s own Philippe Falardeau, who’s making his Hollywood debut with this film. He didn’t quite knock it out of the park like his countryman Denis Villeneuve with last year’s “Prisoners”, but I’d say he hit a solid double, delivering an enjoyable, well worth seeing picture.

it’s such a beautiful day


Back in 2007, Don Hertzfeldt’s “everything will be ok” totally blew me away. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time: “I saw this during DJ XL5’s Kaleidoscopic Zappin’ Party, in a gorgeous 35mm print. This is one of the most powerful examples of why film is superior to video I’ve ever seen. Hertzfeldt uses to its full potential the dreamlike state created on the viewer by images projected 24 frames per second and, for 17 minutes, he takes you on a journey into the life of one Bill. Using his usual deceivingly simple stick figure drawings, plus some photographs and colourful special effects, all of which in simultaneous multiple frames, the film immerses you completely in an altered state of mind. I’d rather not go into details about the story (which is told through perfectly worded omniscient narration), as part of the genius of the piece is how it keeps confusing and surprising you. It starts out funny and absurd, grows more and more thoughtful, then at some point it becomes practically hallucinogenic. Throughout, it’s also incredibly emotionally affecting. This is a full-on masterpiece, easily the best work of art I’ve experienced all year. Incredibly, this is only the first part of a planned trilogy. I truly wonder how Hertzfeldt could possibly top what he’s accomplished here.”

Somehow I never got the chance to see the second film, “i am so proud of you”. But during Fantasia 2012, again in a shorts program curated by my friend DJ XL5, I saw the final chapter of Hertzfeldt’s trilogy and found it as brilliant, unique and profoundly moving as “everything will be ok”. In only 23 minutes, the filmmaker manages to encompass nearly everything primordial about human life and death, both on an achingly intimate and a staggeringly universal level.

I’ve never seen mental illness depicted as masterfully and powerfully as it is in these films. The use of the aforementioned deceivingly simple stick figure drawings, spliced with live action footage and various other visual elements, combined with the voice-over narration, again achieve to put us right into Bill’s fractured mind, and the alternately (or simultaneously at times) emotional, psychological, lyrical, comical and metaphysical journey we go on with him is absolutely unforgettable. “it’s such a beautiful day” is nothing less than a perfect film, from start to finish, but I still have to single out two sequences: the “Isn’t everything amazing?” bit and the nursing home scene. The latter in particular is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen on screen.

Now, I’ve finally seen the full trilogy, which has been edited into a feature film with the same title as the third and final short, “it’s such a beautiful day”. Clocking in at 62 minutes, it offers an epic look at various forms of psychosis, as the second chapter, “i am so proud of you”, reveals that Bill comes from a long line of people with mental problems. “Genetics is pretty messed up.” I’m sure the silly ways his relatives behave will appear hilarious to some, but to me, it was all very, very sad. The brain is such a fragile, vulnerable little thing. Most of the time, it works well and it can do extraordinary things… But when it doesn’t work so well, it can get pretty damn messed up.

Throughout, there are also all kinds of fascinating observations that can be naive, profound or often, both at the same time. The use of images and sound is thoroughly brilliant, pure cinema at its best. I could – and I will – watch this film over and over. I’ve honestly almost never seen a work of art so rich and rewarding. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

Gone Girl


When it comes to big screen literary adaptations, having read the book first is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can mean you’re already fully immersed in the world of the movie, you know the characters already, maybe you’re even able to quote lines from the dialogue. On the other hand, that familiarity can mean that there is no sense of discovery for you, no surprises. Worse, it can mean that you’re only too aware of what wasn’t included in the film, all the details and texture that may be missing.

With David Fincher movies alone, I’ve now had the two kinds of experiences. In 1999, I read and loved the hell out of Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” first, then when I saw it, I was thrilled to see its most memorable scenes transposed into live action, I adored what Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and the rest of the cast brought to the characters and it was a joy to hear all of the novel’s great lines performed aloud.

Earlier this year, in anticipation of Fincher’s cinematic adaptation of it, I read and loved the hell out of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”. Then today, I finally saw the movie and… Well, I liked it, liked it a lot really, but I have this nagging feeling that I may have liked it a whole lot more if I hadn’t read the book. There are some major twists in “Gone Girl”, but their impact was lessened by the fact that I already knew about them.

Of course, there is at least one major twist in “Fight Club” too, but maybe because it happens very near the end, it didn’t really matter to me that it wasn’t a surprise to me when I saw the film. Or maybe “Fight Club” just has juicier scenes, characters and dialogue that are more enjoyable to watch being brought to life. “Gone Girl” just might be more plot driven, more of a page-turner where the twists are in great part what keeps you hooked.

That being said, I still liked Fincher’s movie a lot. Like everything he’s ever made, it’s brilliantly crafted, from the shadowy cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth to the unsettling score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. And as the two leads, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike both deliver wonderfully multilayered performances. The supporting cast is great as well: Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry and many others, including my personal favorite, Emily Ratajkowski, whose role is a spoiler in itself, so I’ll just mention that it’s just perfect how ridiculously young and hot she looks.

As for the plot, it remains relatively engaging even if you’re familiar with the beats: guy’s wife goes missing on their five-year anniversary, media circus ensues, the guy quickly becomes a suspect, then… Oh, I’m definitely going to stop now in case you’re lucky enough not to know about anything but the basic premise I just summed up!

Beyond the plot mechanics, there are interesting things that are said or that we can observe about the way relationships sometimes evolve, how cuteness, romance and sexiness can be replaced by complacency, tension and resentment. Thankfully, things hardly ever become as dark and twisted in real life as they do in “Gone Girl”!

For all these reasons, I liked “Gone Girl” quite a lot, I really did… But maybe because I read it first, I loved the book more.

Tusk


I’m a Kevin Smith fan. A fan of his View Askewniverse comedies (“Clerks”, “Chasing Amy”, “Dogma”, etc.), mostly, but while I’m not crazy about his mainstream period (“Jersey Girl”, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”, “Cop Out”), I don’t even think those movies are that bad. Most importantly, I’m a fan of his first foray into horror, “Red State”. Furthermore, I’m a fan of his podcasts and I remember loving episode 259 of SModcast, The Walrus and The Carpenter, which inspired his latest picture. Hence, it is with no pleasure that I write that not only did I not like “Tusk”, but also that it is easily my least favorite Kevin Smith movie.

If you’re not familiar with the original podcast episode, it had Smith and his friend and cohost Scott Mosier reading an ad (later revealed to be a hoax) in which an old man recounted how he once lived alone with a walrus on an island and went on to express his desire to welcome a lodger into his house on the condition that he would wear a realistic walrus costume and pretend to be said animal for his enjoyment. In the podcast, Kevin and Scott started riffing about how this could make a great horror movie if the old man actually forced his would-be lodger to go “full walrus”, surgically altering him in order for the illusion to be complete and whatnot.

It’s a ridiculous premise, but it could indeed have made a great horror movie, or at least a great horror comedy. Unfortunately, “Tusk” is neither. Poorly paced, dialogue-heavy and sometimes embarrassingly self-indulgent, the film lacks in both thrills and laughs. To be honest, the scenes in which the creepy old man, Howard Howe (Michael Parks), plays around gently and then not-so-gently with the man he turned into a walrus, an asshole podcaster named Wallace (Justin Long), are morbidly fascinating, thanks in no small part to the grotesque rubber creature makeup FX by Robert Kurtzman.

Alas, the vast majority of “Tusk” is not devoted to B-movie Grand Guignol, but to endless blabber. Now, I usually can’t get enough of the dialogue in Kevin Smith movies and I love to hear him chat up a storm on stage or in his countless podcasts, but for some reason, the dialogue felt flat, if not downright tedious to me this time around. I thought Michael Parks was riveting in “Red State” and he has his moments here, but there are times where I grew bored of him mumbling and rambling on and on.

And then there’s the “secret” supporting performance by an almost unrecognizable Johnny Depp as ex-Sûreté du Québec policeman Guy Lapointe, which is hammy beyond belief. And I’m sorry but the beret, the accordion music and the French accent all come off as France-French, not French Canadian. That being said, I did find some of the gags about the Canadian setting of the story to be amusing, so there’s that.

Here’s hoping “Yoga Hosers”, the next installment of what Smith calls his True North Trilogy, will be better. I still have hope, because in spite of my overall feelings about “Tusk”, one fact remains: I am a Kevin Smith fan.

Mommy


Hey! I finally liked a Xavier Dolan movie! Or at least, part of a Xavier Dolan movie. I wasn’t sure about the first act and I thought the third act was a mess, but I did enjoy much of what came in between.

After being the best thing about “J’ai tué ma mère”, Anne Dorval once again dazzles us as Diane “Die” Després, another mother figure who, this time around, is more of a working class, rough around the edges woman. Plus, the tensions between her and her son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), are much less inconsequential than in Dolan’s first film.

Early on, Die picks Steve up from a rehabilitation centre where he set the cafeteria on fire, injuring another boy, and right away, we can tell that he’s a handful, all trash talk and brash attitude. His mom’s quite the loudmouth herself and things often escalate between the two, but her son is clearly a problem child. We’re told he suffers from ADHD and from something called attachment disorder, but it goes further than that, as we realize at the end of the first act when Steve goes into a fit of rage and becomes violent and downright dangerous. At that point, the film shifts gears and really becomes intense.

It’s also at that moment that we’re finally properly introduced to Suzanne Clément’s character, Kyla, a teacher on sabbatical who lives across the street and who ends up forming a somewhat unlikely triangle with Die and Steve. While mother and son spend a lot of time yelling, she’s more the quiet type, stuttering her way through brief, soft-spoken outbursts. Still, we can tell she also has her dark side…

I really liked the dynamic that develops between the three of them, who make the most out of a difficult situation. I should also mention that I appreciated the way Dolan truly focused on his characters and on their story, indulging in very few show-offy stylistic flourishes and needless disgressions.

I guess you could say that the decision to shoot the film in the rare 1:1 ratio (think of a square Instagram picture) is a bit of a gimmick, but while I don’t see why it was necessary, beyond the potential to create an effect by suddenly going widescreen, it’s not that distracting either. In any case, I admired the golden hues of André Turpin’s cinematography and the way it sticks close to the characters.

Also admirable is the use of music, from the dreamy instrumental score by Noia to the many 1990s songs (including Sarah McLachlan’s Building a Mystery, Céline Dion’s On ne change pas, OasisWonderwall and Counting CrowsColorblind, which Dolan borrowed from “Cruel Intentions”).

Getting back to the involving dynamic at the heart of the movie, it seems to get sidetracked a little when an external problem surfaces and Die has to reach out to another neighbour (Patrick Huard), who happens to be a lawyer. From then on, the dramatic progression didn’t make a lot of sense to me and I’m not sure the film earns the big climax it clumsily builds towards.

That being said, I still came out of “Mommy” having liked most of it, which is more than I was ever able to say about a Xavier Dolan movie, even though I always thought he had talent. I’m still far from being ready to say that he’s made a masterpiece and it’s hardly one of my favourites of the year or anything, but again, I can say that I mostly liked it.

The Expendables 3


I liked the first “The Expendables”, but somehow more in theory than in practice. Sylvester Stallone and other old school action stars getting together and kicking ass? Count me in. Now, to me, “The Expendables 2” awesomely built up on that concept and actually delivered a classic action flick, with tons of bloody thrills and hearty laughs. Unfortunately, this third episode doesn’t continue to improve on the formula. It rather feels tired and repetitive, despite the numerous attempts at shaking things up.

After facing off against Jean-Claude Van Damme, the gang must now battle with Mel Gibson. Sounds good, but Mr. “Lethal Weapon” doesn’t seem to be nearly having as much fun playing the villain as JCVD did. Likewise, I can’t say that replacing Bruce Willis with Harrison Ford as the team’s CIA liaison works out very well. Ford really seems bored on screen, like he’s just cashing in a cheque. I’m afraid the same can also be said of the returning Arnold Schwarzenegger, who doesn’t make much of an impression through the film.

Faring a lot better are the two new Expendables: Wesley Snipes (who Stallone costarred with in “Demolition Man”), who’s actually an old Expendable who just spent 8 years in prison, and Antonio Banderas (Stallone’s “Assassins” costar), a chatty, overexcited late addition to the crew.

And then there’s the “kids”, i.e. four new Expendables who are recruited by Stallone (and Kelsey Grammer, for some reason) during the misguided second act, where the other old guys are forcefully retired. I don’t have a problem per se with newcomers Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz, but I am bothered by how the screentime they take up means benching Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Randy Couture and Terry Crews for way too long.

Thankfully, they -minus Crews, unfortunately- do come back for the action-packed third act, which is ultimately exciting enough to make the movie worth seeing after all. I’m not a fan of the decision to tone things down from an R rating to a PG-13, but to be honest, even though we don’t see any blood or anything, the non-stop shootouts and fights are still pretty intense.

So there you have it: “The Expendables 3” remains a good enough time at the movies, it just doesn’t have the novelty factor of the original or the sheer effectiveness of the second one.

Boyhood


It kicks off with Coldplay’s “Yellow”, the first of many great music cues in the film. I’ve always loved that song and it always felt cinematic to me, which is the first of many moments of resonance for me in the film.

The other thing you realize right from the get-go is that writer-director Richard Linklater really lucked out when he cast Ellar Coltrane, the young actor he would depict growing up from 6 to 18 years old. You’re immediately taken in by his big expressive eyes and by his very natural performance.

Linklater’s daughter Lorelei is also good as Coltrane’s sister, though she’s a bit more of the precocious, cutesy type. Then you’ve got seasoned pros in Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as the divorced parents and they’re as solid as you would expect them to be. Together, these four actors form a very believable family who we quickly grow to care about as they go through various ups and downs.

Even though the film lasts 165 minutes, it doesn’t feel long because the storytelling is so effortless, skillfully using ellipses to capture 12 years in the life of a boy and his family. It’s endlessly fascinating to watch Coltrane and the others get older right in front of us; kids especially change so fast!

It’s also interesting to catch the little bits of current events and pop culture sprinkled through the film as we go through a decade and change, which, again, make us marvel at how fast time goes by!

That’s the main thing about “Boyhood”. Some drama happens here and there, but for the most part, this is a thick slice of life or a hanging out movie, very much in the vein of Linklater’s “Slacker”, “Dazed and Confused” and the “Before” trilogy…

And then it ends with Arcade Fire’s “Deep Blue”,  the last of many great music cues in the film.