L’affaire Dumont

This is the kind of review I like writing the least: those for good films that somehow leave me frustrated. The last thing you want to do is sound like you want to tell a talented filmmaker what he should have done differently, but then…

So what’s my beef with L’affaire Dumont? In short, I wish director Daniel Grou-Podz wouldn’t have been so dead set on making such a stark, cold, gray, barebones film. This also describes his previous features I suppose – Les Sept jours du talion, which I liked quite a lot, and 10 1/2, which I rather disliked – but it particularly bugged me this time around.

Part of it might have had to do with the fact that I recently watched Richard Linklater’s Bernie which, like L’affaire Dumont, is a true crime story set in a lower-class milieu. By all accounts, Linklater’s film is very faithful to what really happened and he perfectly captured the way the people and places involved were, but he also took some liberties and allowed himself to make one hell of an enjoyable movie. Whereas Podz’ film, in spite of all its qualities (a terrific cast, among other things), can be a chore to sit through.

Did it have to be so humorless? I’m not asking it to be as hilarious as Bernie, but that film did show that you can tell a tragic story without being stone-cold serious all the time. Poor, miserable, desperate people joke around too, you know! Laughter being one of the best way to cope with rough circumstances, often times.

Some of Podz’ best qualities as a filmmaker are sharpness and precision – he always shows just what he needs to, avoiding anything superfluous. His films are very direct, they don’t fuck around… Now, here’s the thing: to me, it can be a good thing to fuck around in a movie. To color outside the lines. To go over the top. Otherwise, why not make a documentary?

L’affaire Dumont tells the story of Michel Dumont (Marc-André Grondin, who completely disappears into the role – I literally forgot it was him during long stretches) who, in the early 1990s, was convicted for a rape he didn’t commit. The film shows in detail how the Quebec legal system screwed him over and over, and it’s infuriating to see but, again, a documentary could have done the same thing. The part that’s most fascinating about it and which needed to be recreated through fiction is the amazing love story between Dumont and Solange Tremblay (Marilyn Castonguay) that not only survived but flourished during his ordeal.

Wouldn’t it have been appropriate for the movie to reflect the wonder of that? Here’s a real-life example of Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love triumphing over endless obstacles, but all those positive things are extremely subdued and we never really get that triumphant feeling. Podz is always willing to show the worst real-life horrors. more power to him for that, but in return, couldn’t his films also embrace the best things in life? I’m not saying that Podz should go all Spielberg on us (though I personally would love to see that!), but how about going for the general tone and style of Erin Brockovich? Here’s another film based on actual events that told a rather dramatic story but that still managed to be funny, charming, inspiring and whatnot, while not going for all-out Hollywood fireworks, thanks to the strong and steady hand of the great Steven Soderbergh.

One relatively simple way L’affaire Dumont could have been improved, I feel, is through the use of music. Podz already had the brilliant idea to hire Man an Ocean to compose and perform an original score, and every time we hear said score, it’s very effective. It’s crazy how cathartic a simple piano melody can be, in a movie or anywhere else for that matter. But I would have liked a lot more of it, to really get to the emotions clearly present in the story, but that are so muted in the way it’s told.

So yeah, that’s what frustrated me. But let me stress again that this remains a solid, well crafted, brilliantly acted film. I should also mention the ballsy inclusion of actual news footage, which doesn’t break the illusion but actually reinforces it.

Superman: The Tetralogy

Forgive me, Superman, for I have sinned. As a child, I was a true believer. I was in awe before the almighty Superman, flying across the skies in his iconic red and blue suit, powerful enough to overcome just about anything, not a puny mortal but a god, really. As portrayed by Christopher Reeve, the big-screen Superman is probably the first movie hero I ever worshipped and one thing that never wavered is the visceral reaction I get from seeing the character’s iconic visual design and from hearing the legendary John Williams score.

Still, when I grew up to be a kid old enough to actually read comic books – before that superheroes came into my life through other media, specifically the films in Superman’s case, the 1966 TV show for Batman and cartoons for Spider-Man and the Marvel super-heroes – I didn’t go for the Man of Steel but for things like the X-Men which, even at around the age of 10, seemed much cooler to me. And as the years went on and my memories of the Superman movies dissipated, I often dismissed them as dorky and dated, but I never bothered to properly revisit them…

Until now. Now being the most appropriate time because I’m currently in a phase where superhero mythology fascinates me more than ever, thanks to this year’s amazing The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, but also to my renewed interest in comic books and to book-books I’ve read recently such as Grant Morrison’s Supergods, in which Superman plays a key part of course.

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the Superman movies, which I’m watching again for the first time in decades with a completely open mind, free of cynicism. What I’m looking for is to reconnect with Superman the way I did when I was little, but also to rediscover him as a mythical figure, as well as to see how superhero movies have changed (or not) between then and now.

SUPERMAN (1978, Richard Donner)

The first thing one notices about the original Superman feature is the utterly unrushed storytelling. We spend some 20 minutes on doomed faraway planet Krypton with Jor-El, then 20 more in Kansas with Ma and Pa Kent and, following a 7 or 8 minute long existential interlude around the Fortress of Solitude in the Great North and back into space and our first brief glimpse of Superman, there’s another 15 minutes or so spent setting up the city of Metropolis, the Daily Planet newsroom and mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. Only at the 65 minute mark do we go into the first bona fide Superman set piece, a short and sweet helicopter rescue followed by a rather badass montage of crime-stopping, kitty-rescuing (!) and other heroics!

But going back to the first hour of the film, there’s a lot of great stuff in there. In fact, some of my favorite stuff in Superman is that early material. You gotta love the solemn, hard sci-fi first act with misunderstood Krypton visionary Jor-El, portrayed by none other than Marlon Brando, who predicts his world’s end but is forbidden to sound the alarm or to flee. What he does manage to do is to send his only son Kal-El across galaxies, all the way to Earth, along with all his civilization’s knowledge and power. These Krypton scenes somewhat feel like German Expressionism with their very stylised shot composition, lighting scheme and art direction – we’re not far from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, fittingly enough, with a touch of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I love this exchange between Jor-El and wife Lara before they send their son away to safety:

Lara: “But why Earth, Jor-El? They’re primitives, thousands of years behind us.”
Jor-El: “He will need that advantage to survive. Their atmosphere will… sustain him.”
Lara: “He will defy their gravity.”
Jor-El: “He will look like one of them.”
Lara: “He won’t be one of them.”
Jor-El: “No. His dense molecular structure will make him strong.”
Lara: “He’ll be odd. Different.”
Jor-El: “He’ll be fast. Virtually invulnerable.”
Lara: “Isolated. Alone.”

To be honest, the subsequent movies don’t really follow up on it, but still, I love the idea of Superman as a lonely, strange alien whose greatness makes it impossible for him to fully fit in with us. In order to somewhat pass for a normal man, he’ll need another father figure, namely adoptive father Jonathan Kent (Glenn Ford), who’ll warn him against the temptation to show off, while also assuring him that his patience and humility will eventually be rewarded. “You are here for a reason.”

That reason will become clear when young Clark gets to have a conversation with his father from beyond:

Jor-El: “Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.”

Holy Christ figure, Superman! Again, I’m not sure that what follows lives up to this. In fact, a considerable chunk of Superman is rather lame: the Daily Planet stuff, the villains (Gene Hackman is okay as Lex Luthor I guess, but Ned Beatty’s nincompoop henchman and Valerie Perrine’s bimbo sidekick are embarrassingly campy), the romance with Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) in general and the “Can You Read My Mind?” bit in particular…

Thankfully, Christopher Reeve is perfect as Superman: imposing, earnest, charismatic… He embodies Truth, Justice and the American Way. In addition, I find that the practical FX used to make him fly, break stuff and whatnot are still very much effective, and every time Superman gets to do what he does best, the film soars along with him, all the way to the relatively epic disaster movie climax. Even then, the Earth rotation reversal twist feels like a cheat so, clearly, this is hardly a flawless film. But there’s definitely some great stuff in it, from the John Williams score to Reeve’s performance, and one wonders if they weren’t better showcased in the first Superman sequel…

Superman II (1980, Richard Lester & Richard Donner)

You know what? Superman II is indeed considerably better than the first flick, which never quite lived up to the early Jor-El / Pa Kent scenes.

It’s still not a perfect film, as the Lois Lane relationship stuff is still kitschy and they made the mistake of bringing back Lex Luthor and his cronies (for very limited screen time, at least). But the movie is pretty action-packed, starting with the opening Eiffel Tower terrorist attack which culminates with Superman getting rid of an hydrogen bomb by flying it into outer space, unaware that its explosion there would liberate three evil interstellar criminals from the Phantom Zone they’d been imprisoned in by his father Jor-El before Krypton was destroyed.

Sounds far-fetched enough, but I dig this kind of comic book sci-fi nonsense, plus it leads to the introduction of some of the most badass supervillains in the history of superhero movies, who we first see in action when they assault astronauts on a mission on the moon! It is especially important to have worthy villains in a Superman film because the Man of Steel is so strong and fast that it’s a joke for him to take care of regular human bad guys like Lex Luthor.

Whereas General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) are a formidable menace, taking over a city, then the White House and ultimately all of Earth in what seems like a matter of hours. “These humans are beginning to bore me,” arrogantly states Zod in the process, referring to how pathetic their attempts to defeat his fellow Kryptonian convicts and him are.

And where is Superman while all this is happening? In an amusingly silly turn of events, he spends the first half of the movie romancing Lois in Niagara Falls (!) then taking her back to his Bachelor Pad of Solitude for some sweet, sweet loving. He also stupidly gives up his super powers to be with her at that point, but fear not, by the time he has to go save Earth from General Zod and company, he gets his powers back easily enough (don’t ask).

One of my favourite moments is the bit where the hilariously megalomaniacal supervillain memorably played by Terence Stamp calls Superman out on TV, like a loudmouthed wrestler:

“Come to me, Superman, if you dare! I defy you! Come! Come and kneel before Zod! ZOD!”

The climactic super brawl between Superman, Zod, Ursa and Non is thrilling and awesome, leaving much of Metropolis in ruins as the four super-powered fighters throw each other across streets and through buildings while flying all over the place, before the action moves to the ever more crowded Fortress of Solitude for the final confrontation. ZOD!

Superman III (1983, Richard Lester)

I really tried to have an open mind, to avoid being cynical, to take this third episode for what it was… For the first 10 minutes or so, I almost convinced myself that it could be enjoyable as a colorful cartoon, a slapstick take on comic book antics…

Who am I kidding? This is pure crap! Let’s start with the casting of Richard Pryor, who is not even just there to provide (unfunny) comic relief: he’s practically the star of Superman III, taking over the lead of the film for whole sequences at a time. Even if you appreciate his achievements as an influential stand-up comedian, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s an awful actor, and what the hell is he doing in a Superman flick anyway?

Any supervillain would pale in comparison to General Zod, but that’s not a reason to not even bother coming up with one! There’s literally no one for Superman to fight in the movie, so he ends up having to kick his own ass, in what may be the only somewhat entertaining scene. Then again, the set-up of the Clark Kent vs. evil Superman face-off is spectacularly stupid: tar-laced Kryptonite turns him into a Super Asshole, one of many WTF? moments throughout Superman III.

Like how they have Clark Kent go to his high school reunion, then spend way too much time time hanging out with the girl he pined for back then, Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole), who’s now a single mom. So Clark/Superman take her and her little boy bowling, they have a picnic, etc. So dumb! So dull!

Meanwhile, even though he’s accurately described as “a complete and utter moron”, Pryor’s character turns out to be able to make computers do impossible things, which mostly goes to show how ridiculously naive the filmmakers’ conception of what computers could do was back then! Just wait until you see the climactic fight between Superman and, wait for it, a super computer!

By now it’s clear that no one involved with the Superman franchise was all that interested in exploring his godlike status or his alien nature. Why do that when you can just turn him into a big joke, right?

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987, Sidney J. Furie)

To shake off the bad taste left by Superman III, I reread parts of Supergods, a treatise on superheroes by famed comic book writer Grant Morrison that brilliantly incorporates a myriad of mythological, scientific, philosophical, psychological and historical concepts to make its points.

Here’s an excerpt relating to Superman as a mythical figure, an idea that only the Jor-El and Pa Kent scenes in the first film tackle:

“Superman was the rebirth of our oldest idea: He was a god. His throne topped the peaks of an emergent dime-store Olympus, and, like Zeus, he would disguise himself as a mortal to walk among the common people and stay in touch with their dramas and passions. The parallels continued: His S is a stylized lightning stroke – the weapon of Zeus, motivating bolt of stern authority and just retribution. And, as the opening caption of the Superman “origin story” from 1939 suggested […] he was like the baby Moses or the Hindu Karna, set adrift in a “basket” on the river of destiny. And then there was the Western deity he best resembled: Superman was Christ, an unkillable champion sent down by his heavenly father (Jor-El) to redeem us by example and teach us how to solve our problems without killing one another.”

Try finding any hint of these lofty ideas in, say, Superman IV!

Now, actually, there is a bit of that going on in The Quest for Peace, but not in any mythic way, only in the most politically correct, self-righteous, preachy way. There’s this little kid, see, who pleads with Superman to single-handedly end the nuclear arms race. So we get a scene in which the Man of Steel goes to the U.N. to deliver a speech. How exciting! That’s what all comic book fans crave, right?

Or how about more soap opera bullshit involving Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane and new romantic interest Mariel Hemingway, clunkier scenes than ever set in the Daily Planet newsroom, Clark Kent doing aerobics … God bless Christopher Reeve, who manages to make these movies somewhat watchable even at their worst, thanks to his charismatic screen presence.

When the returning Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman needed the money, I guess) and his ‘80s hipster doofus nephew (Jon Cryer) create a supervillain to destroy Superman – Nuclear Man, naturally – we’re allowed to expect an epic battle between Good and Evil. But starting with how laughable Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow) looks with his hair metal singer / gay wrestler costume, flamboyant hairdo and retractable nails (!), there’s nothing epic about his confrontation with Superman which, like the rest of the flick, suffers from clumsy direction and cheap-looking, not-so-special FX.

Revisiting the Superman tetralogy, it becomes obvious why the current Golden Age of superhero movies didn’t happen in the 1980s. Hollywood filmmakers had some unbelievably misguided ideas about what a comic book movie should be like. As I’ve mentioned a few times, there is some great stuff in the original film and especially Superman II, but by the time we get to the third and fourth features, it’s pretty much all garbage.

To a lesser extent, the same thing happened with the first Batman film series. I’m no great fan of the Tim Burton flicks but they’re certainly better than those by Joel Schumacher! Still, to me, superhero movies started becoming really great with such Marvel Studios productions as Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man, building up to this year’s The Avengers, which is pretty much the high watermark of the genre… Unless you count Christopher Nolan’s less overtly comic book-y Dark Knight trilogy, which took it to a whole other level.

All the same, Hollywood had to start somewhere and as such, the 1978-1987 Superman franchise will always hold a special place in the history of superhero movies, for better or worse.

The Expendables 2

The original The Expendables was enjoyable enough, but… Well, it was a great idea – let’s put a bunch of old-school action stars together and let them go to town – but the execution was flawed at best. As I wrote at the time, “If it had come out in the 1980s, during the golden age of the genre, it wouldn’t be held up as a classic, nor would it have been forgotten. It’d be just another one of these titles that’s fun to rent or catch on TV once in a while for a good dose of testosterone.” Whereas this here sequel would indeed classify as an action cinema classic, then and now.

It brings back everything that was good about the first movie and makes it truly great, then adds a whole bunch of extra awesome on top of it. The plot (which involves Cold War relics, fittingly enough) is more streamlined, the characters are better defined and the cast members showcased more efectively, and the actual action scenes are way more fun, bloody and memorable. Simon West has directed a lot of crap over the years, but with The Expendables 2, he finally fulfills the promise he showed in Con Air, his badass 1997 ensemble flick. The action set pieces in his latest film are inventive, skillfully staged and consistently thrilling.

Now that he doesn’t have to worry about being both in front and behind the camera, Sylvester Stallone seems more at ease in the lead role of Barney Ross, the grizzled big poppa of the Expendables. For instance, I got more out of his rapport with right-hand-man Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), and I also loved the way Barney interacted with his other guys: Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren, who may just deliver the best performance in the movie!), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and especially newcomer Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth). The six of them work great as a team, whether they’re driving trucks into enemy lines, flying their plane in and out of danger, blowing all kinds of shit up, shooting, stabbing, punching and kicking their way through hundreds of motherfuckers, or just indulging in some good old male bonding. Oh, there’s a lady thrown in there too, Maggie (Nan Yu), who’s fine, but let’s not kid ourselves: macho men are the name of the game here.

One of the best moments in the first movie was the scene putting together on screen Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, even though all they did was talk. Not only is the trio reunited in the sequel, they actually go around blasting away bad guys this time around, all the while trading wonderfully cheesy one-liners! This is the stuff geek-boys-who-grew-up-in-the-1980s’ dreams are made of. Imagine: John Rambo, John Matrix and John McClane, together in battle at last!

As if that wasn’t enough, they bring in another very special guest star in The Expendables 2, none other than Chuck Norris! They also went all out in the villain department, casting Jean-Claude Van Damme as a real mean, crazy son of a gun terrorist, plus the always imposing Scott Adkins as his main henchman.

Just writing all the above feels unreal for me, diehard old-school action movie fan that I am. But actually seeing it all on screen is even better, it all lives up to expectations and then some. As LexG might say, EXPENDABLES POWER.

The Dark Knight Rises

Having recently revisited the first two episodes of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy about the Caped Crusader’s journey in and out of Gotham City over multiples decades and realized more than ever how each was about an overarching theme (overcoming fear in “Batman Begins”, maintaining hope in the midst of chaos in “The Dark Knight”), I went into “The Dark Knight Rises” looking for one… But of course, the first time you watch a movie, you’re mostly processing the twists and turns of its story – only after multiple viewings can you really look beyond the plot. Still, right now, I would say this final film is about anger… or death… or redemption… or all three, and more.

One thing’s for sure: this is one hell of an ambitious, provocative, epic picture. I don’t want to spoil the countless surprises it holds, but you’re probably aware of the first gutsy move Nolan made: setting this sequel 8 years after “The Dark Knight”, establishing that after Commissioner Gordon covered up Harvey Dent’s psychotic Two-Face episode and allowed the Batman to take the blame in order to preserve the late district attorney’s legacy, the masked vigilante hung up his cape and cowl and hasn’t been seen since. What’s more, Bruce Wayne has also become a recluse. What will it take to make both his identities go out into the world again?

I’ll let you discover the details, but let’s just say it involves supervillains Catwoman (enjoyably played in full-on femme fatale mode by Anne Hathaway) and Bane (interpreted with imposing menace as well as a sly, wicked sense of humor by Tom Hardy)… As well as Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale in what may be his strongest, most complex turn as the Dark Knight)’s growing entourage, including the returning Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Gordon (Gary Oldman), who are all more endearing than ever, plus earnest young cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, delivering one of the film’s most powerful performances) and romantic interest Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

After opening with an insane high-altitude set piece, “The Dark Knight Rises” takes its sweet time catching up with its cast of characters and introducing new ones, and it takes a whole act before the Batman even shows up! Through developments I won’t reveal, he’s soon enough forced into the shadows once again, as things grow darker than ever for Gotham, which is saying a lot. Even if you’ve seen glimpses of the explosive mayhem and terrorism that occurs then in the trailers, you have no idea how grand the scale of it is.

It’s truly fascinating the way this all plays into the 21st century sociopolitical zeitgeist, while also brilliantly tying up story threads that were set up in “Batman Begins” then built upon in “The Dark Knight.” Is it the best film in the series? Not quite. [Since it opened a few weeks ago, the movie has kept growing and growing in my mind and has even become a powerful source of inspiration for me. So yeah, it’s totally the best of the trilogy for me, even though…] As written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, and especially as played by Heath Ledger, the Joker still towers above everything else in these three films. That being said, there’s still tons of mind-blowing, heart-pounding stuff in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Again, I don’t want to just spoil a whole bunch of stuff before you get a chance to see the flick, but allow me to just share how thrilled I was to find that, to me anyway, some of it plays like one of my favourite movies, “Rocky IV”, what with a seemingly washed up Batman having to train harder than ever to fight a seemingly unbeatable monster of a man. How awesome is that?

Katy Perry: Part of Me

Has there been a better bubblegum-pop album released since 2010’s Teenage Dream? I actually didn’t even listen to it until earlier this year when I was sent a promo copy of the Complete Confection special edition, but over the past two years, I’d been grooving to the sound of such ubiquitous hits as California Gurls, Teenage Dream, Firework, E.T. and Last Friday Night, and I can’t even count the number of times I’ve watched the accompanying music videos, and not just because  Katy Perry is basically a cheesecake version of Zooey Deschanel, as I once wrote.

Needless to say I was dying to see Katy Perry: Part of MeDan Cutforth & Jane Lipsitz‘s concert movie/documentary about her 2011 California Dreams tour, which I had the chance to catch today during one of its “fan sneak previews,” and I wasn’t disappointed. Now, I guess you have to like her and her music to fully enjoy it, but why would you bother to go to her movie if you don’t?

Then again, fan or not, you’d have to be really grumpy not to have a smile stuck on your face during much of Part of Me, what with it being, in its most jubilant moments (all the live song numbers, basically), a live-action cartoon of a Technicolor musical, in eye-popping 3D! The candy-colored costumes, the bright lights, the dancing cat, the fireworks, the bubbles, the confetti… It’s a veritable sensory overload.

Intercut with the concert scenes is a bunch of interesting behind-the-scenes footage, plus old home videos and new interviews with Katy, her family and her friends that allow us to relive the life story so far of this preacher’s daughter turned Alanis Morissette wannabe turned goofy sexpot pop star. The structure of the film is quite similar to that of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, with which it also shares an understanding of the importance of social media in today’s pop culture and a willingness to include the fans themselves as much as possible.

What makes Part of Me even better than the JB doc is, unfortunately for her, the way fate set up a truly dramatic arc in her life while the cameras were rolling. As you must know, while she was doing her big international tour and scoring a record five #1 singles in a row, her still-recent marriage with Russell Brand crumbled and eventually ended. That personal heartbreak must have been a bitch and a half for her, but it makes for really compelling cinema, especially because of the way it leads to Katy impressively embodying that famous phrase: the show must go on.

Magic Mike

When I went to see Magic Mike on opening night, in a theatre full of groups of giddy ladies with just a few gentlemen sprinkled throughout, I was probably not only the sole straight male spectator in there, but also most likely one of the only ones who was there not to see hot guys work it, but to see director Steven Soderbergh continue his streak of great filmmaking.

I must sound like a broken record by now, but I just can’t get over how prolific and versatile the man is. There’s really no one else like him, at least as far as contemporary American directors go. Following two astonishing genre movies – 2011’s sci-fi/horror/disaster thriller Contagion and this January’s badass action flick Haywire – we find him seemingly going back to doing a lower-budget, character-driven film.

Then again, even though it has Soderbergh’s cinematographer alter ego Peter Andrews interestingly playing around with filters and oddball angles while editor Mary Ann Bernard (another Soderbergh alias) gives the film a somewhat atypical stop-and-start rhythm, Magic Mike is actually one of the most entertaining movies he’s ever made, further blurring the line between indie and Hollywood, auteur and commercial.

It’s not Ocean’s Eleven-slick, but it’s certainly not a Godardesque experiment à la The Girlfriend Experience. And unlike that peculiarly sexless Sasha Grey-as-an-escort film, Soderbergh’s male strippers joint delivers the goods, skin-wise! I’m not gay, but I still have to admit that the stars of the film are incredibly cut and, for the most part, they certainly know how to move.

Channing Tatum, whose own experiences as a stripper back when he was an 18-year-old in Tampa, Florida, is particularly impressive. He was the star of the first Step Up after all, so imagine that, but with him taking his clothes off! More importantly, Tatum oozes with easygoing charm as the title character of Magic Mike, getting a lot of laughs and also making us care for his character.

In a way, it reminded me of Mark Wahlberg’s performance in Boogie Nights, and Soderbergh’s film in general reminds a bit of that early Paul Thomas Anderson directorial effort, in the way the first half conveys the excitement of the sex-industry lifestyle (“Women, money and a good time,” as Mike puts it) and the second shows the darker side of this world. Now, Magic Mike never gets all that dark and right up to the wonderful final scene, it remains a really enjoyable romp, notably thanks to the unforced quality of the flirtatious relationship Mike has with Cody Horn, who plays the no-nonsense sister of his protégé (Alex Pettyfer).

The camaraderie between the strippers is also tons of fun, the whole ensemble (Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodríguez, Joe Manganiello, etc.) grooving nicely together, on and off the stage. And then there’s Matthew McConaughey, who almost steals the film as Dallas, the owner/MC of the strip club, with his “all right, all right, all right” Texas drawl and Frank T.J. Mackey-style predatory machismo.

At the risk of losing my comic book geek credentials, Magic Mike is so much more satisfying than The Amazing Spider-Man (Emma Stone notwithstanding) it’s not even funny.

The Amazing Spider-Man

I’m sure every review will touch upon this, including the positive ones but really, why would they reboot the Spider-Man franchise barely 10 years into it? Because they expect to make tons of money with this new version, of course, but wouldn’t just recasting and making another Spidey adventure work? Do we really have to go through the whole origin story again?

The first time around, I enjoyed how the filmmakers took their time before putting Peter Parker in the suit, but during this second go-around, it bugged me (pun unintended). I found act one (and most of two) rather dull, with a lot of the beats being the same as in the original flick, but not as good, and whatever little twists and changes being made generally feeling wrong.

Like, suddenly, Peter Parker, while still a science whiz who gets bullied, isn’t that much of a geek anymore, but a brooding skateboarding rebel. Andrew Garfield’s cool in the role – maybe too cool. To me, Tobey Maguire’s endearing dorkiness fitted the character much better. Emma Stone, on the other end, is perfectly lovable and goofy-fun as Gwen Stacy (didn’t care for Denis Leary as her police captain father, though). As for Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, they’re okay I guess, but they’re hardly as touching as Rosemary Harris and the late great Cliff Robertson.

One seemingly big difference is that they don’t go into the whole Norman and Harry Osborn thing, though much of the plot does revolve around Oscorp, where Peter Parker’s father used to work and which now employs Gwen Stacy, as well as Dr. Curt Connors, who eventually turns into the Lizard… i.e. another scientist turned psychotic super-villain after injecting himself with an experimental serum. He even hears voices like the Green Goblin! So again, been there, done that for the most part, except that Rhys Ifans is nowhere near as deliciously creepy as Willem Dafoe and that the Lizard looks rather ridiculous.

So even when we finally get to the big super confrontations, they feel a bit off. Technically, a lot of the action is awesome, even though director Marc Webb (of (500) Days of Summer fame) is no Sam Raimi and the film as a whole isn’t that comic-booky, whatever that means.

I could go into some other nitpicks, like how the plot relies on all these coincidences or the annoyingly amount of times Spidey unmasks himself (way to keep a secret identity, Webhead!)… But the main thing that bothered me was the rehash thing.

Still: Emma Stone, man.

Rock of Ages

Adam Shankman may be a good choreographer but man, is he a bad director! It’s pretty amazing how he manages to make a jukebox musical about the 1987 L.A. rock scene feel so flat, then he doesn’t seem to have any sense of what story he’s trying to tell, the pacing is off, the tone is all over the place (from campy to sappy to pseudo-trashy, in no consistent way)…

Still, I got a kick out of all the cheesy 80s hair metal and power ballads (Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Poison, Foreigner, etc.), even though some of it has been put to better use by “Glee” (Journey anyone?), and some of the performances are entertaining, if uneven, including those by Tom Cruise as a cross between Bret Michaels and Axl Rose, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as the owner and manager of a legendary rock club, Paul Giamatti as a sleazy manager and Malin Akerman as a reporter for Rolling Stone. Oh, and the monkey is awesome!

Not faring so well are Catherine Zeta-Jones as the self-righteous, hypocritical Mayor’s wife and Mary J. Blige as a strip joint owner, mostly because their characters feel superfluous. And then there are the two young leads, Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, who are okay I guess, but not nearly charismatic enough to make up for how trite everything surrounding their characters is. Your mileage may vary, etc.

Moonrise Kingdom

The year is 1965. A “troubled girl” (Kara Hayward) and a nerdy orphan boy (Jared Gilman) run away together in the wilderness. Chasing them are the girl’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), the boy’s Khaki Scout master (Edward Norton), a local cop (Bruce Willis) and Social Services (Tilda Swinton).

That’s about the gist of Wes Anderson’s second collaboration with co-writer Roman Coppola (following the underrated The Darjeeling Limited), but as is always the case with Anderson’s movies, the plot is just the framework for an endless series quirky, witty, trippy traits and touches, starting with all these Scouts who take themselves way too seriously and recklessly toy with violence and danger…

Then of course there is the hazy, 60s-movie quality of the cinematography, the impeccable shot composition and perfectly timed camera movements, the meticulous, dense art direction, the typically great soundtrack (the use of Françoise Hardy’s Le Temps de l’amour during the underwear dance/gawky teen make-out scene being the most priceless music cue), not to mention the wonderfully arch dialogue and all those priceless non sequiturs (“I’ll be out back. I’m gonna find a tree to chop down.”).

The only slight drawback, for me, is how the two young leads (both first-timers) seem to be having trouble with line delivery. They look the part and their characters remain adorable nonetheless, but they’re just not that great as actors, not yet anyway, especially compared to the incredible adult cast, which also includes Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban and Harvey Keitel.

Still, Moonrise Kingdon remains a major treat, packing big laughs and building up to an unexpectedly touching resolution.


Now, this is what I call visionnary sci-fi – even though the bulk of the film is made up of scenes of people sitting and talking in a car. I mean, that’s the future: not spaceships, but the back of a stretch limousine filled with touch screens, where a twentysomething billionaire does business with various associates en route while, outside the limo’s bulletproof windows, the world is in chaos.

Even though it’s based on a 2003 Don DeLillo novel that predates the Occupy Wall Street movement, Cosmopolis captures the current zeitgeist, what with its protagonist being very much the 1% and the people protesting in the streets of New York he’s being driven through or directly assaulting him embodying the 99%.

Jam-packed with fascinating, brilliantly worded, often downright philosophical dialogue about contemporary economics and capitalism as well as life in the 21st century in general, Cosmopolis is also a darkly satirical, ultimately oddly moving character study of a not only functionnal but spectacularly successful sociopath. As such, it reminded me somewhat of American Psycho and, as hard as it may be to believe, Robert Pattinson’s performance is nearly as riveting as Christian Bale’s was in that movie.

Inspired by James Joyce’s Ulysses, which itself borrowed elements from Homer’s Odyssey, DeLillo’s tale feature a succession of memorable figures whom Pattison’s character encounters during his journey, played in the film by an impressive cast that includes Sarah Gadon, Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, Samantha Morton, Mathieu Amalric, Gouchy Boy, Patricia McKensie, George Touliatos and Paul Giamatti – not to mention Kevin Durand, who’s simply awesome as Pattinson’s bodyguard.

As mentionned, the majority of the action takes place in a limo, yet director David Cronenberg and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky manage to make Cosmopolis into a consistently visually stimulating experience thanks to clever, inventive framing and shot composition…

And fear not, Cronenberg fans, there are still some startling bursts of sex and violence in his latest feature. All the same, it’s the words and the ideas that fill Cosmopolis that prove to be the most thrillingly provocative thing about it. I can’t begin to understand why the Cannes Film Festival jury ridiculously overlooked this truly amazing film.