The Great Gatsby


I’m a huge fan of Baz Luhrmann, particularly of his “Moulin Rouge!”, which is just about my favorite movie of all time. So it was a delight and a thrill to catch his latest, especially since it features everything I love about his cinema, at least at first.

Adapted of course from the classic F. Scott Fitzerald novel, it bring us back to the Roaring Twenties, at a time when Wall Street was booming, people were getting rich and everyone was seemingly partying it up, especially in and around New York.

Tobey Maguire plays a naïve, innocent newcomer to this world, not unlike Christian in “Moulin Rouge!”, and like that character, he’s tempted early on into taking part in the decadence of his surroundings. You see, he happens to now be living next door to the titular Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious man who lives in a spectacular palace where he hosts equally spectacular soirées every weekend.

The scenes depicting this are wildly entertaining and filled with all things Baz: dizzying cinematography and editing (in 3D!), gorgeous art direction, plus breathless storytelling that blends history with pure fantasy… It’s the past and the future at the same time, the film is both modern and gloriously old-fashioned, meticulously recreating the period while using all kinds of 21st century tricks and special effects… Everything is wonderfully choreographed, we swing along in an overdose of glamour and luxury, to the sounds of jazz music mixed with hip hop… “It’s like an amusement park!” Exactly.

But then, maybe halfway into it, the party slows down and “The Great Gatsby” becomes more about the specifics of the plot. Gatsby, we discover, has made himself into a man of wealth and fame all in the hope of winning back the love of his life, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who lives across the bay and is married to a rich heir (Joel Edgerton) who shamelessly cheats on her…

What happens to them is interesting and eventually grows into a veritable romantic tragedy, but I can’t say it involved or moved me as much as I wish it did. Ultimately, I found myself missing the tremendously enjoyable audiovisual extravaganza of the first half. I still liked the film a great deal, even though it feels a bit unbalanced. Oh well, that’s okay, Baz, we’ll always have “Moulin Rouge!”.

Iron Man 3


Coming after the extraordinary “The Avengers”, which may have been the best goddamn superhero movie ever made (give or take the “Dark Knight” trilogy), this third “Iron Man” flick demands that we lower our expectations somewhat.

It’s a fun enough watch, maybe not as fresh as the first one, but less scattered than the second one… In any case, it’s certainly not on the level of “The Avengers”.

Maybe that’s why Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., as great as ever) has a panic attack every time he thinks about the otherworldly events that happened in New York? Seriously, I liked the way they played with the fact that that whole mess in “The Avengers” really shook up Stark. Which makes him somewhat more vulnerable when the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) launches a series of terrorist attacks, ostensibly to teach America a lesson.

Making things even more challenging for Tony is the way the plot keeps him out of the Iron Man armor or puts him in a not fully functional one for most of the movie. A superhero being put to the test like that is not unheard of, but writer-director Shane Black (reuniting with Downey Jr. 8 years after their enjoyable “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” collaboration) makes it work well enough here.

I also liked the sparse but effective use of voice-over narration, plus Black cooked up a couple of twists that are quite clever. The one thing I really wasn’t crazy about is the subplot involving Guy Pearce’s character and all those quasi-T-1000 henchmen who can burn through stuff and regenerate themselves… Felt silly to me, and the action scenes involving them are so-so in my opinion.

At this point, I don’t know how much we need another “Iron Man” movie. But I’m still looking forward to seeing him show up in “The Avengers 2”!

Spring Breakers


I haven’t been this excited about a movie in quite a while. Not because I have this big fancy auteurist thing going on with Harmony Korine. Let’s be honest: I went in for the young hotties in bikinis partying it up.

Film doesn’t have to be all about serious and important, there’s a place for naughty fun, too. There’s plenty of that in “Spring Breakers”, but it’s also got more than a little something to say if you’re willing to listen.

With its unblinking depiction of the search for the American Dream at its most aggressively superficial, it sometimes comes off like a 21st century “Easy Rider” (with scooters!), or like “Scarface” if it had been directed by Terrence Malick and if it featured as much titties as guns.

Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine star as college girls in their early 20s who take the trip to Florida during spring break to indulge in a whole lotta sex, drugs and dubstep, getting in all kinds of trouble along the way, much of which involves a gangsta rapper nicknamed Alien, played with sleazy bravado by James Franco.

Part MTV, part experimental cinema, “Spring Breakers” adopts an impressionistic, unchronological, quasi non-narrative style.

Filled with stimulating visuals and trippy editing, plus an evocative ambient score by Cliff Martinez, the film is an artsy snapshot of generation of empty thrill seekers, whose YOLO lifestyle is taken to the extreme.

It’s sure to remain one of the best movies of 2013.

Now what?


As you can probably tell, this website hasn’t been updated regularly for a while.

Not sure whether things will pick up again anytime soon.

Why? A mix of being busy with other things and of lacking motivation to review movies here.

Thanks for reading over the almost 15 previous years.

I’m sure I’ll come back here once in a while with a new review, but hardly on any regular schedule.

K.

Django Unchained


I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s the season, but movies aren’t thrilling me all that much this fall. I mean, I’m usually a diehard Quentin Tarantino fan, so how come his latest isn’t instantly one of my favorites of the year? Not that it’s a bad film.

There’s plenty to enjoy in “Django Unchained”, a well crafted Western that notably features a bunch of ultra bloody shootouts, while also interestingly dealing with the reality of slavery in an overt way, something you rarely see in this genre.

Then again, whereas QT movies are usually full of wild twists and surprises, this one is rather straightforward.

There’s also the fact that I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters. Jamie Foxx is okay as Django, but not as badass and cool as one might expect. As for Christoph Waltz, he’s pretty great, but this is hardly as refreshing and unforgettable a performance as the one he gave in “Inglourious Basterds”. I wish I had as much fun with Leonardo DiCaprio’s villainous part as he clearly did, but again, I only moderately enjoyed it.

I’m used to loving the hell out of everything in a Tarantino movie, but it wasn’t the case this time. As I wrote above, the jury’s still out on whether it’s the film or just me that wasn’t in the right mood. Bummer…

UPDATE (06/02/15)

I finally revisited “Django Unchained” and while it’s still my least favorite Tarantino movie, I liked it considerably more this time. No big revelation, I just appreciated more fully all the qualities of the filmmaker’s work that we kinda take for granted, now that my expectations weren’t too high.

Lincoln


This historical drama is not so much a biopic about President Abraham Lincoln as a look at a very specific time in his life, namely the weeks and months leading up to the vote to pass the 13th Amendment that would abolish slavery. At the time, the Civil War was still raging on, but we don’t see that much of the battlefield horrors during the film; most of it takes place in various rooms where politicians argue about issues.

This inevitably makes for a talkative and somewhat dry picture, but it remains engrossing and lively enough throughout. The period recreation seems impeccable, for once, and there’s much interest just in looking at all the work done on the costumes, the hair and makeup, the production design and whatnot, all of which are superbly shot.

Then there’s the screenplay by Tony Kushner, which almost takes the form of a thriller at times, as we find ourselves worrying about whether or not Lincoln and his team will be able to rally about the support necessary to pass the amendment, even we know through History that they will. Quite a feat! All of the scheming that takes place shows that politics are rarely all about ideals and that hopefully, the end justifies the means.

In any case, it’s hard not to believe in what Lincoln says, portrayed as he is by the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis as an amazing orator with a truly commanding presence.

The cast also includes the likes of David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook and Tommy Lee Jones, who all deliver strong work. I particularly enjoyed the trio played by James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson, who are given the mission to convince Democrats to vote with the Republicans, in ways that may or may not be legit. Then there’s Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife, plus Joseph Gordon-Levitt and little Gulliver McGrath as his sons, who each take part in the more personal parts of the film, which I found a bit weaker than the political stuff.

Altogether, “Lincoln” is undoubtedly a good film, if not classic Spielberg or anything.

Skyfall


Daniel Craig once again proves to be a fiercely badass, rugged James Bond in this third outing, in which he’s further put to the test and through the ringer.

There’s only little time for booze and babes as 007 finds himself in the middle of a cat-and-rat game with an effete hacker (wonderfully played by Javier Bardem) who’s out to destroy MI6 in general and M (Judi Dench) in particular.

As you can probably tell, this time it’s personal and shit. The filmmakers seem to have borrowed a few tricks from the Christopher Nolan playbook in order to raise the stakes and to make the story resonate more.

But it’s not all gloom and doom: there are also some exciting action scenes and stylish set pieces; I particularly enjoyed the opening chase, which starts with cars, then switches to motorcycles before ending up with Bond and his target running across the top of a moving train.

Like “Casino Royale”, this is a 007 flick that even non-fans will love.

Cloud Atlas


“You will find there is a method to this tale of madness,” a character assures us early on, and clearly there is, but it’s certainly a challenge to comprehend it. But that’s okay, in fact, I personally love films like this that throw all kinds of stuff at you and let you gradually make sense of it.

You know, ensemble movies that tell different stories at the same time, stories which take place at different times, in different places, with different characters, but that are interrelated in one way or another, whether directly or indirectly. “Magnolia”, for one, is among my very favorite films of all time and for a while during “Cloud Atlas”, I was holding out hope that this was that kind of film, namely a symphony of human drama where the various stories complement or play against each other in fascinating ways, building up to a series of moments of intense emotion where everything suddenly comes together…

But while that may have been the intention of Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski, they failed to achieve it, in my opinion anyway. As the sextet of tales unfold, multiple layers of philosophical, existential and metaphysical meaning come to the surface and it’s all quite interesting, but it often seems like we’re told about these things instead of being made to feel them.

More importantly, when taken at face value, each of the stories isn’t that involving and I personally didn’t fully connect with any of the characters. For all those reasons, after spending about half the running time invested in making sense of things, holding out hope that with enough patience and trust in the filmmakers, I’d be rewarded with an amazing payoff, I started losing interest and fearing that it wasn’t really worth the effort.

That being said, both before and after that feeling of disappointment sunk in, I got to enjoy parts of “Cloud Atlas”, which can be visually stunning quite often, notably when it deals with the more overtly fantastic sci-fi elements. There are also some truly gripping sequences here and there, and the way that the leads in every of the six stories are played by the same group of actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Hugo Weaving, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, etc.), sometimes hiding under elaborate makeup effects, is rather impressive.

But while I was never bored per se, I wasn’t consistently stimulated either intellectually, emotionally or aesthetically. As others have pointed out, Darren Aronofsky achieved a lot more with a lot less in “The Fountain”.

Looper


Here’s a brilliant sci-fi flick that’s at once relatively small-scaled in terms of fireworks (though it does feature some of the best action scenes of the year), with its 2044 main setting having only a few sketched in futuristic flourishes, but that’s downright epic when it comes to ideas.

From the trailers, you know that it involves loopers, i.e. hitmen who kill targets from the future who’ve been sent back in time in order for their bodies to be impossible to trace, and that an early twist has the protagonist played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt having to shoot his older self, played by Bruce Willis (the way JLG is made-up to look like Willis is a bit stunt-y, but convincing nevertheless).

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I’m glad I didn’t know what this leads to, so I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s exhilarating the way the film builds and builds and builds, twisting itself in all sorts of fascinating knots. Now, is it completely unique? I guess not, since you could say it juggles elements from “The Terminator”, “Back to the Future”, “12 Monkeys”, “The Matrix”, “Memento”, “Minority Report” and whatnot. But it still feels original and exciting in the end and, in any case, all those other movies are awesome so why not borrow a thing or two from them?

Strikingly shot and tightly edited, “Looper” features many cleverly designed sequences that play present and future against each other, but ultimately, the “time travel shit” doesn’t matter so much in a superficial way: what’s great is the way it raises thought-provoking philosophical questions about the way we live our lives, the way our older and younger selves can clash against each other figuratively, the “fuzzy mechanism” that is our memory and the way we put together our own personal timelines, often forgetting other people’s point of view and the way our actions affect them in the process…  

It’s a film constituted of all these intriguing setups and riveting payoffs, as it conveys a message of sorts about the need to not close loops or patterns, but to change them.

The Master


“If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know. For you’d be the first person in the history of the world.”

Every man has some things that trouble him to some degree, consciously or not. Doubts. Fears. Worries. Regrets. Desires. Things you don’t necessarily talk about, things you don’t even necessarily think about. Unless you get to a point where it’s just too much and it has to be expressed, one way or another. This often occurs after a high-stress or traumatic situation – the walls come down and suddenly a big old mess of emotions overwhelm you, which you’re then forced to either deal with, or bury again, or run away from…

This seems to be what’s going on with Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) when we meet him, on a U.S. Navy ship coming back from the Pacific front of World War II. His behavior is slightly erratic and he spends an awful amount of time finding exotic ways of getting drunk, including by concocting booze using torpedo fuel… And then when’s he back on American soil, he keeps drifting between odd jobs and travels, punctuated by a series of breakdowns and screw-ups, some of which may be self-sabotage. Basically, he’s having a hell of a hard time readjusting to normal life, trying to fit in a post-war world.

“What a day. We fought against the day and we won.”

Enter Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man who appears to be as confident as it gets. A man who seemingly has all the answers. A man with a way of quickly becoming the centre of attention in any gathering. And when he meets Freddie, he sees right through him, unveiling the vulnerability the young veteran hides behind an aggressively defensive exterior and pinning him down as a “hopelessly inquisitive man” and a “scoundrel.” But at the same time, Dodd finds Quell very familiar and through the course of the film, it will become increasingly clear that the two men are very much alike, even though they act in often very different ways. They’re mirror images of each other.

The Master is often being described as a movie about Scientology, but that’s way too reductive. It does show the way cults tend to work, but also the way religions and any cause, really, can take over someone’s life if they’re led by someone who abuses his power and if the believer is in an impressionable state.

“I can leave anytime I want, but I choose not to. I choose to stay here.”

But it’s not as simple as, one guy being evil and manipulative, and the other guy being an innocent victim. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is way too wise and insightful to make it so black and white – his films always deal in gray areas, in nuances, in ambiguity. As such, we spend much of The Master wondering whether the titular character is a genius or a madman. Because some of what he says during his cryptic but deeply engaging speeches makes sense… Even though at times, it does feel like “he’s making all this up as he goes along.” It doesn’t hurt that he’s an extremely charismatic figure, thanks to a towering performance by Hoffman, who can come off like like a shark, a lion or any other predatory animal, yet with a lot of charm on top of it.

The scenes showing “sessions” or “processing” of people by Dodd are very interesting. It’s never explained, but you can understand how a system like this can get in people’s heads. Like, the person has to answer a series of questions without blinking, or to refrain from reacting to direct provocations… It’s basically forcing confessions out of people – and recording them. It must be a huge relief for the “patient” to get that shit off their chest, but then the “master” owns you, no?

“Pick a point and go at it as fast as you can.”

At some point, Dodd’s methods are compared to hypnosis and in a way, this is also true of what Anderson is doing. The Master is a film with a hypnotic, surreal quality. It can feel episodic, especially early on, but we later realize that it uses fractured storytelling – some pieces are missing and we get to them later on, through flashbacks or when Freddie talks about them during sessions. The film also seems to follow some kind of dream logic, sprinkled as it is with Is-this-really-happening? moments, e.g. the Master singing a song at a party where all the women are suddenly naked. Here’s an eminently unsettling and unpredictable picture, one where you never know where it’s going.

The Master features stunning cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr., with crisp whites, deep blacks and evocative use of color, thoroughly meticulous shot composition and lingering camera movements… Plus another bloody brilliant score from Jonny Greenwood which, like his There Will Be Blood music, is rivetingly eerie, often calling to mind the work Bernard Herrmann did with Hitchcock. Both the visuals and the music play a great part in giving the film its aforementioned hypnotic, surreal quality.

“We’re tied together.”

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is magnificent in every way, but I have to go back to the actors. The whole cast does stellar work (I should also mention Amy Adams as Dodd’s wife, who hides chilling darkness behind a sweet exterior), but both Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman outdo themselves in a spectacular way. I was particularly taken by a scene showing the two of them in the same frame but separated by a wall in the middle, Phoenix on the left and Hoffman on the right, the former completely out of control, kicking and screaming, and the latter almost perfectly still, trying to talk things through.

It’s primal emotions versus rational thought. A struggle as old as humanity. But of course, whether Dodd’s thoughts are actually rational remains questionable… There are no easy answers in The Master, which makes it all the more fascinating.