Whenever you hear about James Cameron, it’s generally about what an arrogant prick he is. I admit that his acceptance speeches don’t advantage him, but since I don’t know him personally, I can’t say if he’s a good guy or not. What I do know is that he’s one of the most brilliant craftsmen in Hollywood. You could say that his talent is mostly in FX, but it goes deeper than this.

Cameron has a skill at shooting, editing, pacing and scoring everything so it really gets under your skin. Very few filmmakers can work their audiences that finely. His films usually start out rather quietly, as we get to know a bunch of characters and involve ourselves in the plot. Then Cameron starts building tension, making the film more and more intense until you’re literally on the edge of your seat, and he keeps throwing more shit at you even when you think he’s done!

That’s what I love about Cameron’s work: no matter your expectations, he achieves to win you over and make you submit to the wild ride he’s got cooked up. You’re so excited that you completely lose your notion of time; at 3h14, “Titanic” is still more exciting than many 90 minute movies!

“Aliens” is probably the picture in which this is the most obvious because there’s barely any story, just pure action thrills. This is one of these rare sequels that totally outdo the original. In Ridley Scott’s film, you had a group of scientists on a mission on an uncivilized planet who came across a fierce alien creature who killed them one by one, until it got its gooey ass kicked by one tough broad, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver).

In the sequel, Cameron takes these two awesome characters (the babe and the beast), and then he adds a dozen ultra-macho Marines (Michael Biehn, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton, Al Matthews, Lance Henriksen, etc.) and a whole fucking lot more aliens! The film is set 57 years after the original, as Ripley is recovered by a corporate asshole (Paul Reiser). Unaware of what the scientists discovered in the meantime, he sent people to colonize the planet. Their station doesn’t respond, so he asks Ripley to go back with him and a troop of Marines to see what happened. The place they find is real hell: aliens have slaughtered the humans and taken over. Only a little girl, Newt (Carrie Henn), has survived. It’s up to the Marines and mostly Ripley to get back at these damn dirty aliens…

You really have to see “Aliens” to understand how much ass it really kicks. How can I put into words the terrifying atmosphere, the in-your-face violence or the nerve-wrecking suspense of the film ? This is truly one of the most frightening films I’ve ever seen.

And of course, the Alien series belong to Sigourney Weaver, arguably the toughest gal in Hollywood. Like a Schwarzenegger with boobs, her Ripley is a sympathetic yet take-no-shit chick who ain’t afraid to take action. Weaver really has a strong on-screen presence. Next to her, even these razor-toothed, acid-filled scumbags don’t stand a chance!

Air Force One

Ha! This is an extremely unoriginal action film : foreign terrorists take a plane hostage. Hello “Delta Force”, “Passenger 57”, “Executive Decision”… And anyway, these are all reminders of the classic “Die Hard”. The only difference is that the hero this time is the President. Yeah, right! I haven’t seen any plot that unbelievable in a long time. I mean, the President is just an administrator! I doubt that he could pull a Schwarzenegger, or even a Seagal! Still, the action is enjoyable. There’s enjoyment to be had out of all these shoot-outs, fights, explosions and attitude. Wolfgang Petersen’s direction is effective enough, even though he did a better job on “In the Line of Fire”, one of the finest thrillers ever made.

As for the performances, I’m kinda tired of Harrison Ford. I mean, I loved him as Han Solo, and his turn as Indiana Jones is mesmerizing, but these days, he’s too much of an old stiff. His presidential portrayal is far from good ole Bill Clinton. He’s way too serious. Unbelievable action is better digested when it doesn’t take itself too seriously; ask Ah-nuld. The most interesting thing in the film is probably Gary Oldman, always impeccable. He’s a strong villain, and he’s the only convincing presence in the picture. Still, I was always entertained, if not thrilled. It’s like, I had seen every twist and turn a thousand time, but the whole enterprise is mostly well oiled, so I had a good time.

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Wanna smile? A lot? Rent this movie. Watching this adventure flick, I was a kid again. I was grinning the whole time, getting all excited, sometimes needing to restrain myself from jumping up and prancing around. I just LOVED this movie! The uplifting score, the glorious Technicolor cinematography, the heroics of Errol Flynn… It all gels to perfection and makes the viewer regress to childhood. It makes you grab a stick or anything and pretend to be in a swordfight, then put your fists on your hips and laugh heartily. The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz (taking over after William Keighley proved unable to make the action exciting), just a few years before he made “Casablanca”, and you can feel the man’s undying love of cinema. That’s the thing with a lot of movies from the 1930s and ’40s; they have a sense of innocence, a lack of irony and cynicism that’s very refreshing.

Unlike the recent Robin Hood flick starring Kevin Costner, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” doesn’t try to be gritty and realistic. It’s not an accurate depiction of medieval times, it’s an over the top adventure in a fairy tale world in which men prance around in bright colored tights and hats, in which there is trouble and danger, but also a hero nearby who is there to save and protect the good people of England. You know the story, King Richard the Lionheart has gone on a crusade and has been captured, leaving his sneaky brother Prince John (Claude Rains) and the crooked Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) to reign over his land. A real pair of tyrants, they robs, tortures and kill peasants for greed and power. Fortunately, from the woods of Sherwood rise a brave, reckless man, Sir Robin of Locksley (Flynn), who gave up his property and title to help his fellow Saxons, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. With his band of merry men, he’ll keep on keeping on until England is safe again and Richard is back on his throne…

You really have to check this one out. To watch Errol Flynn is to love Errol Flynn. Whether he’s caught in a duel, making inspirational speeches in front of his men, shooting arrows through enemy guards with perfect aim, or romancing Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland), Flynn is pure charisma. Like a John Wayne or a Humphrey Bogart, he’s a true movie star, equal parts casual charm and badass attitude. The rest of the cast is also colorful and fun, but there’s no doubt that this is Flynn’s game. Yet it’s even more enjoyable that the movie serves him so well. He could light up the corniest action flick, but here he’s surrounded by great talent. Erich Wolfgang Korngold‘s Oscar winning score is always there to spruce up things, the editing is quick and precise and the art direction creates a world of castles and villages in which we wish we could live. Altogether, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is celluloid proof that you don’t need ultra-violence, foul language or explicit sex to cook up great action and romance. This is a movie that will thrill kids of all ages.

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland

It’s a bright morning on Sesame Street, and that fuzzy little red monster we know as Elmo is having fun playing with his beloved blanket. And then Zoe comes along and wants to play with his blanket, but Elmo doesn’t want to share, so they fight and both end up with nothing, as the blanket escapes them and falls into Oscar’s trash can. Elmo follows it, only to get sucked into a magical doorway to Grouchland, Oscar’s native world. Here’s a place where people are all for dirtiness and stinkiness, throw trash everywhere, act like jerks and wash themselves with cheese. But even these careless grouches have someone to hate, the evil Huxley, who steals all that makes Grouchland disgusting to make it his, the blanket included. Elmo will have to go through various adventures and learn the values of kindness and sharing to defeat the villain…

Okay, don’t get me wrong, I love Sesame Street as much as the next guy. But stretched to feature length, it’s kind of a letdown. I did enjoy pretty much “How Elmo Saved Christmas”, a made-for-TV feature that airs often on PBS during the holidays, maybe because my expectations are lower when it’s “just TV”. But when I cough up some of my hard-earned money to see a movie on the big screen, I expect more than just cute and colorful. I’m not asking for the Children Television Workshop to go “Fight Club” (though that’d be interesting), but this movie gets pretty dull and moronic by moments. Maybe it’s because Elmo is the most childish of all the Muppets. Like, Kermit and Gonzo have an edge, but Elmo is just Mr. Nice Guy.

His debut on the big screen has its moments, as director Gary Halvorson tries his hand at audience interaction (Elmo asks us to help him and stuff), witty nudges (a movie theater in Grouchland is playing “Basically It Stinks” starring Sharon Groan) and most amusingly, self-reflection, as the film freeze-frames from time to time to let Bert and Ernie come in to comment on the plot and goof around, kinda like those robots in “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. I also liked some of the songs (the first number is particularly catchy), and I guess kids will like the slapstick, the colorful sets and all. I did enjoy most of the Muppets’ antics, but I can’t say the same about the human actors. Mandy Patinkin is more obnoxious than fun as the mean-spirited Huxley, and Vanessa L. Williams oughta be embarrassed of her lousy turn as the Queen of Trash. Basically, this is a movie that grade schoolers will dig and that their accompanying parents won’t be bored too much by, but it ain’t no “Babe” or “The Iron Giant”. Don’t bother if you have hair in funny places.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

From 1959 to 1965, animator Jay Ward cooked up 325 episodes of The Rocky and Bullwinkle show, a crudely drawn but surprisingly clever cartoon about a goofy moose with a penchant for corny puns and his flying squirrel straight man. Together, they strained again and again to stop the evil schemes of Pottsylvanian spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale and their fearless leader, Fearless Leader. The show was aimed to kids, but it’s obvious that Ward was also hip to older audiences when he poked fun at the Cold War and weaved always more elaborate puns so pathetic you couldn’t help but chuckle. And now, after 35 years of reruns, everybody’s favorite moose and squirrel are back for new adventures, and this time they’re on the big screen!

The movie takes off as Fearless Leader and his mischievous spies con a studio executive (Janeane Garofalo) into signing them a deal, which somehow leads to their arrival in the “real world”, no longer cartoons but three-dimensional characters played by movie stars. Robert De Niro seems to be having a great time going all-out zany as Fearless Leader (well, he did produce the film), but as for Jason Alexander’s Boris and Rene Russo’s Natasha, they sorta look the part but they seem to wonder what they’re doing in this silly, nostalgic romp. Anyways, Fearless’ evil plan this time around is to launch RBTV, a channel consisting solely of Really Bad TeleVision that will hook American audiences and transform them into mindless zombies. Fearless will them go on the air and tell them to vote for him as their next President, which they will do promptly in their brainwashed state.

But wait, there is still hope, as the head of the FBI (Randy Quaid) sends out wide-eyed, bumbling agent Karen Sympathy (Piper Perabo) to save the day with the help of, you guessed it, our old friends Rocky J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, who have been living out in retirement in Frostbite Falls. The three are in for a wild ride through America, as they go from Hollywood to the RBTV station in New York. This road comedy will include numerous attacks from Boris and Natasha, a speech at Wassomatto U (say it out loud), smashed cars, incidents with justice, celebrity cameos from the likes of John Goodman and Whoopi Goldberg and of course, plenty of lame puns! “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” isn’t high art, but like that other adaptation of a Jay Ward cartoon, the Brendan Fraser vehicle “George Of The Jungle”, it’s a colorful, amusing kiddy flick that you can enjoy even if you have hair in funny places. It sometimes drags, but it remains modestly entertaining, which is due in no small part to the cheerful, very sympathetic performance of Piper Perabo. Worth a rental, or a matinee if you’re a fan.

Addicted to Love

What a strange little film! I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to be. To give you an idea, it’s kind of a cross between “Cape Fear” and “When Harry Met Sally”! Boy, what a mix, eh! Maybe the filmmakers wanted to make a romantic comedy with an edge, but the more the movie advances, the more perverse it becomes, until the usual happy end. Hence, you don’t know how to respond to the movie. When you watch “Cape Fear”, you’re terrified by De Niro: it’s at thriller. When you see “When Harry…”, you get all sweet and you want them to end up together. But “Addicted to Love”?

Sam (Matthew Broderick) and Linda (Kelly Preston) seem to be a happy couple. They’ve known each other since they were kids, and they’re in love. Sam’s an astronomer, nice and unthreatening, who likes his life simple and comfortable. Linda’s a teacher, and she has dreams of her own. She would actually enjoy change, and when she meets someone during a trip to New York, she decides to break up with Sam and move there. But our little space boy ain’t ready to let her go. You could even say that he’s obsessed. He leaves everything behind to follow her to the Big Apple, where he settles in the abandoned loft in front of the apartment of Anton (Tcheky Karyo), the French cook who stole Linda’s heart. And then Sam meets Anton’s ex Maggie (Meg Ryan), and since they both want to break this couple, they decide to work together at stalking and messing with the lives of those they’re supposed to love. And while they’re doing that twisted stuff, they find love again… with each other. How romantic…

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see how destroying the life of some innocent French guy with inventive cruelty and breaking the heart of his girl can make two people fall in love. It’s just sick! Sam and Maggie are nothing short of stalkers. De Niro has played this kind of character, but it was obvious that he was the bad guy and that you should be disgusted by his behavior. But this is supposed to be a romantic comedy, so we should feel love between the characters, not resentment. If at least Anton was a jerk and Linda was a bitch, maybe we would find it justified that the “heroes” are so mean towards them, but they’re just nice people in love. Is that a crime?

Besides that, the movie is rather enjoyable. First-time director Griffin Dunne uses plenty of stunning visual tricks, and his movie is always well crafted and dynamic. The music is particularly enjoyable, with everything from Cake’s Nugget to cool French songs like MC Solaar’s Victime de la Mode. So the movie’s fun for the eyes and the ears, but like I said, it’s really not romantic or much involving. It’s sporadically funny, but it’s mostly confusing.

Take Meg Ryan for instance. In most of her movies, she’s hella sweet, hella cute, hella lovable, hella amusing… But in “Addicted Love”, she plays a biker chick with dark eye shadow who spends the whole film being a bitch to her ex. Talk about odd casting. Matthew Broderick is a little more at his place. Even though we first watched him in 80s high school comedies, he has also been convincing in bleaker movies such as the overlooked but delightful black comedy “The Cable Guy” and in the brilliant satire “Election”. But these movies were supposed to be cynical. “Addicted to Love” might have worked as a black comedy with the necessary script and casting modifications, but under the romantic comedy label, it’s just a weird mess. Entertaing, but still a misfire.

Action Jackson

Oh man! I sure love those macho action films from the eighties! The master of this kind of film is of course Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of his best followers is Carl Weathers, the star of this film. In this kind of film, the plot ain’t important. Here, Jericho Jackson, sergeant for Detroit police, is after a rich auto executive. Of course, he has a sexy girl with him to whom he can talk about his investigation. There are also lots of cool bad guys. What’s great about these films is the machismo; in a film like that, a guy can run faster than a car, he can break a windshield with his fist, and he doesn’t care about pain. And, of course, if he’s in a showdown with his nemesis, he’ll drop his gun and fight that punk mano a mano!

Now, let’s talk about this movie in particular. The direction is very good and the action is fast. The music is excellent: I love 80s pop music ! The theme song is especially powerful. The cast is also brilliant for the genre: Weathers, Bill Duke, that Chinese guy, that big black guy, that Italian fella… The action scenes are very cool. But the best thing about this film is the main character : ACTION JACKSON! He’s almost as cool as John Shaft! He talks fast and he kicks ass, big time! I laugh every time someone says his name. One of the best example of this is when he meets the girl.
“What’s your name?”
“That sounds like a priest’s name… you have a nickname?”
“Yeah… People call me ACTION JACKSON!”

If you like testosterone, don’t miss this film!

À Bout de Souffle

Michel Poiccard’s not a regular guy. He’s French, but he wish he was American. He likes the American way of life, at least the one he sees at the movies. The big cars, the money, the cool look, the careless attitude… With his hat and sunglasses, Michel’s almost unstoppable. Basically, he’s no gangster. He goes from place to place, robbing cars, meeting people, banging girls… One day, he’s back in Paris. A friend of him owes him some cash, but he can’t get a hold of the guy. And the police is after him since he killed a cop who had stopped him on the road. Even worse than all that, Michel is actually… in love. A little American girl named Patricia caught his heart. Their relationship is weird, like Poiccard’s whole life.

And so is the film. There isn’t a real story. We just catch a slice of life of the characters. They wander around, they get together… The screenplay from François Truffaut is far from usual. We spend a lot of time with the couple, not to make the story go forward but just to get to know them. There’s a very long sequence in their bedroom that leads nowhere but is still absolutely fascinating. The dialogue is just so brilliant. Patricia and Michel talk about nothing and everything, exchanging their views on life. Jean-Luc Godard’s direction is really interesting too. His film has a cool feel of anarchy. Many scenes seem improvised. It’s all so natural. But at the same time, the visual style is original, and the loungy music is great. This is the exciting Godard of his debuts, when he was awestruck to can finally make some cinema of his own, in a way even today’s audiences are not quite ready for. The cast is very good. Jean Seberg is cute and very likable as the girlfriend, and Jean-Paul Belmondo is terrific in the lead. He’s a rebel yet a nice guy, a criminal yet a romantic. His performance in this flick is legendary. For all these reasons, I really enjoyed “A Bout de Souffle”. It’s as innovative as it is entertaining. It’s clever, hilarious, amazing… You just can’t miss this!

Changing Lanes

I can’t explain the sudden critical embrace this movie has received. Sure, it’s not quite the retarded revenge thriller the marketing campaign wanted you to believe it was, and it aims higher than, say, your everyday Jerry Bruckheimer production, but it’s still a not-so-smart, Swiss cheese slice of a morality tale about utterly unlikable people doing dumb and/or despicable things. Who’d want to watch that? A anti-hero is one thing, but these guys are anti-human!

So you’ve got Samuel L. Jackson downplaying the cool (à la “Die Hard with a Vengeance”) as a lower middle class insurance salesman with a drinking problem who wants only one thing: to get his family back. He thinks he has a shot, too, if only he can convince his ex-wife and a judge that he deserves visiting rights. Meanwhile, we’ve got Wall Street lawyer Ben Affleck, a Yuppie who’s really made it, working for one of the biggest New York firms, which just happens to be owned by the father (filmmaker Sidney Pollack) of his gorgeous wife (Amanda Peet). On this fateful morning (Good Friday, no less!), he’s got to present a file to the court which will give the firm power of appointment over a dead client’s 100 million foundation. Unfortunately, these two hurried men on a mission will clash on the FDR highway, as their cars get into a fender-bender. Jackson wishes to exchange insurance information, obviously, but Affleck just wants to get the hell away and just scribbles him a blank check.

Mmm. To me, this could end here. I mean, a blank check ain’t bad, why get insurance companies involved? Then again, Affleck does act like a dick and because of the incident, Jackson is late to his court hearing, arriving only to find that his ex has been awarded full custody. I guess you can understand him for being upset… To even the deck a little, Jackson already has something to get back at Affleck: the oh-so-important file, which was unwittingly dropped on the scene of the accident and picked up by Jackson. And thus begins a primitive and cruel game of cat-and-mouse between the two. I won’t tell you about all the twists and turns, even though the trailer did a good job of spoiling them, but personally I couldn’t buy most of it. First of all, why can’t Affleck just ask for the stupid file? Does he really think that screwing with Jackson’s credit and having him arrested in from of his sons will make the man want to co-operate? To me, all this would do is make me wanna burn the damn file right there!

Jackson is not much better. Initially, he appears to be the innocent victim, but soon we can see that he’s an asshole himself, the kind of impulsive jerk who beats up strangers on the street or throws a bank employee’s computer into a wall in a fit of rage! I don’t know about you, but actions like this make me lose all empathy for the character. And then comes the kicker, which you’ll remember as the money shot from the TV ads, where Jackson drives next to Affleck and waves some bolts and a tire iron at precisely the same time as a wheel on Affleck’s car comes loose. What a psychotic, criminal thing to do! This is not getting even, this is attempted murder! Furthermore, as this takes place on a busy highway, it’s not only Affleck’s life which is at risk. His out of control car could have crashed in a bunch of other vehicles, and lots of innocent family men could have been injured and make their kids orphans. Really smart move there!

Still, through all this madness, there is some attempt by director Roger Michell and screenwriters Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin to discuss matters of ethics and morality, which is certainly more than most Hollywood flicks are concerned with. “Changing Lanes” is also notable for rather solid performances from the leads and the supporting cast but as mentioned above, one central weakness remains: we don’t feel sympathy for either of the protagonists, therefore we’re not much involved or interested in what happens to them. When Jackson’s ex wife threatens to make sure his kids never see him again, I thought ‘Good, keep them far from this violent lunatic!’ And while Affleck’s character sort of redeems himself in time for the half-assed happy end, he commits too many devious, evil acts through the movie to be forgiven that easily. “Changing Lanes” had the potential to be a challenging, thought-provoking film, but it ends up an uneven, contrived picture. Better luck next time…

The Sweetest Thing

Damn! I get caught every time! Be it “Coyote Ugly” or “Crossroads”, I always succumb to the temptation of patronising lame girlie movies marketed with the promise of sexy jiggling. This flick is obviously tailored around the concept that Cameron Diaz is a perky hottie. It’s as if the filmmakers had watched her oeuvre and decided to do the ultimate Diaz movie, with the premise of “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (but with Cameron in the Julia Roberts part), the gross-out gags of “There’s Something Mary” and even more booty shaking than in “Charlie’s Angels”! Couldn’t miss, right? Especially with Roger Kumble directing, in a follow-up to “Cruel Intentions”, one of my favourite guilty pleasures. Well, there’s little pleasure to be had here, guilty or otherwise.

Diaz stars as Christina Walters and, what do you know, there’s something about her. Guys go crazy for her all the time, unfortunately she’s afraid of commitment. But sshh! Her insecurities are hidden behind a “grrl power” facade, which she parades with all she’s got, getting her groove on every night in bars with her roommates Courtney (Christina Applegate) and Jane (Selma Blair). In spite of it all, one evening she stumbles unto this Peter (Thomas Jane) “dick” and something clicks in her, yet she’s too indecisive to do anything about it and he gets away. This could end there, but in a spur of spontaneity, Court and her decide to track him out, as they know he’s gonna be at a wedding this Saturday…

Yeeesh. Am I the only one who’s fed up with these movies which try to make us feel bad for gorgeous women who just can’t seem to find Mr. Right? I actually have nothing against romantic comedies, but only when they’re done with wit and heart, like those of Cameron Crowe or Nora Ephron. “The Sweetest Thing”, on the other hand, doesn’t even own up to its “chick flickitude”. Hey, we gotta get those oh-so-valuable 13-to-35 male asses in theatres, too, so easy with the feelings! Girls can be retarded horn dogs too, right? In with the random profanity, bodily fluids ahoy! Let’s have Courtney pee in an urinal, and Jane bring in a cum stained dress to the dry cleaner, and Christina dive between Court’s thighs to retrieve a lipstick tube, but make it look like she’s going down on her, tee hee! Even worse, the film rips some gags right out of other movies, like having Diaz nostalgically push her breasts up like Madonna in “The Next Best Thing”, or an elaborate but tedious sequence revolving around a penis getting stuck that’s a mirror image from the infamous “There’s Something About Mary” zipper scene. And even if you point out your lack of originality yourself (“Wait a minute, do we have time for a movie montage?”), it doesn’t make it any less of a pile of lazy, unimaginative filler.

“The Sweetest Thing” is too dumb to be romantic, yet too sappy to work as a no holds barred comedy. It feels interminable at 84 minutes, plagued as it is with a predictable by-the-numbers plot balanced on an incredibly contrived pseudo-serendipitous twist, beyond generic direction and an obnoxious near-Muzak soundtrack. I never thought I could get tired of watching Cameron Diaz waving her butt around, but this utterly vapid movie did just that.