Saw II


After I brought my jaw back up when it considerably dropped at the end of Saw II, I pondered whether it fit within the happenings of sequel and predecessor, or whether it instead sparked a ton of questions. It was the latter with Saw’s final twist, which was just as stunning as it was hard to believe for a number of reasons. And I have concluded that the twist in this latest offering is pure demonic brilliance in concept and execution, a true shocker which demands both familiarity with the first film and avoidance of specific ideas about where the second one might be taking you to maximize the surprise.

If you love horror films you’re no doubt familiar with Saw, the mega-hit of last year’s Halloween, a film that cost a little more than a million, grossed 35 M $ after two weeks (including an 18 M $ opening) and went on to make 55 M $ in the USA. It was the brainchild of Australians James Wan as director and Leigh Whannell as screenwriter and co-star, and it was a raw vision of terror that obviously scored big with genre fans. It introduced us to the serial killer nicknamed Jigsaw and to his evil games, whose twisted purpose was to make people appreciate being alive by placing them in traps that virtually guaranteed their gruesome deaths.

This time Darren Lynn Bousman is the director, and he shares the writing credits with Whannell. Cinematographer David O. Armstrong and composer Charlie Clouser are back and they bring well-done continuity to the proceedings. The music, for example, is still foreboding and nervous but more restrained than in Saw. The story is very good but the film loses some points because of a definite lull in intensity before the final revelation and also because as clever as it is, the film comes close to cheating in terms of its editing.

The movie begins with one of several gory death scenes. A police informant has fallen victim to Jigsaw after finding himself in a death mask, with the only way out of it too horrific to attempt. This leads to the involvement of Det. Matthews (a solid Donnie Wahlberg), who has a difficult relationship with his teenage son Daniel. A day later, John the Jigsaw killer is captured by the authorities, but not before he has locked eight people unrelated to one another, including Daniel, in a house where they’ve been breathing a deadly nerve gas. Through his usual tape recorders, Jigsaw tells them the only way they can survive is by finding the antidotes he has hidden somewhere inside the booby-trapped house. John, played once again by an excellent Tobin Bell, also starts a battle of wits with the detective, who hears more than he would want to about his own past. We also get some good background, although the insight is not entirely satisfactory, about the motivations of this unusual killer, a moralizing terminal cancer patient.

The eight people trapped in the room where the game starts are played by people that quite frankly I’ve never heard of, except for Shawnee Smith playing Amanda, the sole survivor of Jigsaw’s deadly games in the first outing. Boy, this girl can’t seem to catch a break. Also noteworthy are Erik Knudsen as Daniel, Glenn Plummer as Jonas, Emmanuelle Vaugier as Addison and Franky G as Xavier. Acting is by and large decent but unremarkable, and with that many people there’s always someone who stands out in ways that aren’t necessarily good. That’s the case with Franky G, who basically plays Xavier as a more extreme version, if that can be, of Maurice Dean Wint’s Quentin in Cube.

But all things considered, Saw II easily remains one of the year’s best horror films. It’s even more audacious than the original, it has plenty to satisfy gore aficionados and the “Holy shit!” ending puts it a good notch above the vast majority of the horror films of 2005. Don’t trick yourself out of such a treat this Halloween.

Review by Jean-François Tremblay

2005 log (11)

(1 Nov) Strangers on a train (1951, Alfred Hitchcock) 91
[ “Wanna hear one of my ideas for a perfect murder?” Naughty boy Bruno wants to get rid of his father, tennis player Guy needs his wife out of the picture but she won’t give him a divorce. Killing them would help, but they’d be caught right away – they have the motive. But what if they swap murders? Adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel, this noirish Hitchcock thriller is subversively clever and darkly humorous. Particularly engrossing is how Bruno, smarmily played by Robert Walker, keeps revealing new layers of batshit insanity. The merry-go-round climax is pretty insane, too. ]

(2 Nov) South Park 9.10 (2005, Trey Parker) 79
[ MRS. GARRISON – “You can’t get married, you’re FAGGOTS!”
MR. SLAVE – “Aw, Jesus Christ!” ]

(5 Nov) L’annulaire (2005, Diane Bertrand) 53
[ Part of Voir’s Cinemania coverage ]

(7 Nov) pur♥ (2005, Jim Donovan) 70
[ Reviewed for Voir ]


(7 Nov) L’équipier (2005, Philippe Lioret) 46 (Émilie Dequenne: 100)
[ Reviewed for Voir ]

(8 Nov) Lifeboat (1944, Alfred Hitchcock) 88
[ Hitch shows you he means business right from the opening shot, a long pan over the sea littered with debris and floating corpses. A ship going from New York to London has been torpedoed by a German U-boat, which was then sunk itself. Few have survived, but we eventually get to a lady sitting pretty in a big lifeboat, with her luggage (!), smoking a cigarette and pointing her camera at the surrounding dismay. She is soon joined by various other folks who swim up to or are picked up, including crew members, a nurse, a black steward, a millionaire, a woman and her baby… and the Nazi captain from the U-boat that shot them down.

“Throw the Nazi buzzard overboard!”
“That’s out of the question, it’s against the law.”
“Whose law? We’re on our own here, we can make our own law.”

The brilliant plotting, deft characterizations and sharp dialogue of “Lifeboat” come from renowned American author John Steinbeck, who crafts a survival story crossed with a morality play that can be darkly humorous or sometimes just dark, with everything from suicide, amputation, the elements, thirst, hunger and madness weighing down on the people in the boat. Add to that striking B&W cinematography and strong performances (especially from Tallulah Bankhead as the pretentious and bitchy photojournalist and John Hodiak as proletarian badass Kovac) and you’ve got another truly great picture from Hitchcock. ]

(9 Nov) South Park 9.11 (2005, Trey Parker) 71
[ Fancypants can scoff at me all they want for loving “South Park”, but Trey Parker is and remains a genius. Every goddamn episode I’m amazed at his capacity to use line delivery, music cues and the such so perfectly in service of satire or plain silliness. This fall in particular, every new episode seems to rely really heavily on warping film clichés, but with goofy twists. This episode, for instance, is like a horror movie story, except with red-haired kids – “gingers”!

CARTMAN – “Guys, don’t forget, Kyle is a daywalker. Daywalkers are half-ginger themselves. Make no mistake, ginger kids are evil. Remember who was ginger? Judas. And what did Judas do? He got Jesus killed, that’s all.” ]

(11 Nov) Paradise Now (2005, Hany Abu-Assad) 78
[ Reviewed for Voir ]

(11 Nov) kiss kIss bAng banG (2005, Shane Black) [ review ] 59

(11 Nov) The Big Lebowski (1998, the Coen brothers) [ review ] 93

(14 Nov) Walk the Line (2005, James Mangold) [ review ] 67

(15 Nov) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005, Mike Newell)
[ review ] 71

(15 Nov) Casino (1995, Martin Scorsese) [ review ] 92

(16 Nov) South Park 9.12 (2005, Trey Parker) 65
[ “Dad! Tom Cruise won’t come out of the closet!” ]

(17 Nov) Grizzly Man (2005, Werner Herzog) [ review ] 90

(19 Nov) The Beautiful Country (2005, Hans Petter Moland) 34
[ Reviewed for Voir ]

(20 Nov) Les fautes d’orthographe (2005, Jean-Jacques Zilbermann)
[ Fat kid gets picked on in boarding school, does les 400 coups, etc. I didn’t hate the film, didn’t love it. I saw it, I won’t remember it in a week. Can’t even find the will to grade it. Moving on. ]

(21 Nov) Match Point (2005, Woody Allen) [ review ] 78

(21 Nov) Yours, Mine & Ours (2005, Raja Gosnell) 13
[ Reviewed for Voir ]

(22 Nov) No Direction Home (2005, Martin Scorsese) 85
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(24 Nov) Cake (2005, Nisha Ganatra) 61
[ Reviewed for Voir ]

(28 Nov) RENT (2005, Chris Columbus) [ review ] 83

(29 Nov) Désobéir (2005, Patricio Henriquez) 62
[ Reviewed for Voir ]

(29 Nov) Madagascar (2005, Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath) Madagascar 26
[ This is smug and shrill and little more than a showcase for bad celebrity voice-overs: Ben Stiller’s witless lion, Chris Rock’s unfunny zebra, David Schwimmer’s annoying giraffe, Jada Pinkett Smith’s boring hippo… The animation’s pretty good, but so what? This should have lasted 10 minutes, with the lion eating all his friends as soon as they hit the wild. That woulda been cool. ]

October / December

Shopgirl


“Shopgirl” is Steve Martin’s screen adaptation of his novella of the same name, and he stars alongside Claire Danes (Romeo + Juliet, Les Misérables, Stage Beauty) and Jason Schwartzman (Slackers, i ♥ huckabees ) in a bittersweet meditation on the hurts and healings one can experience in the search for love. Martin here shows a deft hand at streamlining ever so slightly the themes and actions of his novella, which was exceedingly introspective and intellectualized too much too often.

Mirabelle (Danes) works at the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, in a part of the store that can only be described as so secluded it’s almost forgotten. This fact underlines her sense of isolation from the world. She’s an artist who sells a few drawings once in a while, a transplant from her native Vermont and a sufferer of depression, for which she takes medication. From the movie’s narration (Martin going through it as an omniscient presence unrelated to the character he plays), we gather that what Mirabelle yearns for the most is for somebody to care about her. The narration is a device that could easily be didactic, but it’s used sparingly enough to be valuable and interesting instead of sounding hollow.

Anybody who’s ever loved (and possibly lost) can empathize with Mirabelle’s longing, and perhaps that’s what draws us in when Jeremy, an unkempt and slightly weird young man, says a brusque but heartfelt “Hey! I mean, Hello” to her one day, out of the blue, at a Laundromat. A tale could be spun with just those two in it, but things are expanded, meaning severely complicated, when wealthy computer entrepreneur Ray Porter (Martin) shows up at her counter and buys a pair of gloves. He sends them back to her as a gift along with an invitation for dinner. She accepts. It leads to more dates. Those dates lead to sex. He lavishes her with magnificent clothes, even paying off her substantial student loans, while she glows from the feeling of finally being important to someone.

But there’s an insidious problem in their relationship. A speech is made, wishful interpretations of it differ strongly, and then later sensibilities are really hurt. There’s a scene among others that tells us a lot about Ray Porter. As she can hardly believe she’s having an Armani dress fitted for her, Ray is nonchalantly leafing through a catalog. It’s a seemingly innocuous moment, but it helps demonstrate that while she may very well be in love, for him love is that door he’s right in front of but whose handle he cannot muster the will, or courage, to turn.

Meanwhile, Jeremy is on the road with a rock band to promote his company’s amplifiers (he designs the logos which appear on them). Happenstance puts him in contact with self-help and meditative books and tapes, and surprisingly enough this just might help him polish his off-kilter appearance and personality. It’s all handled in a very mature fashion by Martin’s script and perceptively captured by director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie). This is a story that’s well served by a superb performance by Danes, a solid one by Martin, especially in the film’s second half, and a quietly tone-perfect one by Schartzman. Martin once played romantic hopefuls around the mid-80s and early 90s (The Lonely Guy, Roxanne, L.A. Story), and this is definitely a change of pace after his recent roles in films like Bringing Down the House and Cheaper by the Dozen. Danes, who has the widest scope of emotions, is a gorgeous ray of light, equal parts vulnerable but strong, hurt but resolute. And Schwartzman makes us believe that Jeremy can indeed be “an OK guy, by the way”, and then some, as he tells Mirabelle that day at the Laundromat.

I’d be at fault not to mention the inspired use of Dusty Springfield’s catchy “I only want to be with you” tune and the evocative, if a bit heavy-handed, score by Barrington Pheloung. There’s also a distant echo of Lost in Translation in the ending, and that’s a good thing in my book. “Shopgirl” is ultimately about life, and it’s a touching film about its complexity, the bumps on the road and the rewards along the way.

Review by Jean-François Tremblay

Thumbsucker


Justin Cobb (Lou Taylor Pucci) is 17 years old and he still sucks his thumb. Is this the cause or the consequence of the rest rest of his problems? This teenager in angst is counseled by various people around him, who all believe they know how to miraculously cure him. First there’s Perry (Keanu Reeves, in what Matthew Hays accurately describes as a “parody of a Keanu Reeves performance”), an orthodontist fond of hippie psycho-babble who uses hypnosis to allow Justin to connect with his “power animal” (!). Then his school’s psychiatrist diagnoses that he has attention deficit disorder and prescribes him Ritalin. Everything seems clearer for Justin, who suddenly does better in class and is even recruited by a teacher (Vince Vaughn, cleverly used against type) to be part of the debate team.

If you’re among those strongly disapprove of the use of medication on kids and who consider Ritalin to be a street drug (hello, Tom Cruise), fear not, the movie addresses these concerns and shows that you can’t really change by taking a pill. Justin also experiments with pot, alcohol and sex but, again, he must realize that magical solutions don’t exist. This lesson could also benefit his parents, who hold on themselves to childish hopes. His mother (Tilda Swinton) dreams of meeting a TV star (Benjamin Bratt) she has a crush on, while his father (Vincent D’Onofrio) thinks that his wife will stop pulling away from him if he gets a big promotion at work.

“Thumbsucker”, written and directed by Mike Mills based on a novel by Walter Kirn, is an actors movie, held high by Lou Taylor Pucci, a young actor whose sensibility is as deep as his big blue eyes. Vincent D’Onofrio and Tilda Swinton also offer remarkable performances, helped by the fact that his scenario doesn’t reduce them to simply Daddy and Mommy. The characters of the parents might be all grown up, but they don’t have any more answers than their son.

Mills delivers here a rather original first feature, even though it follows the steps of other tales of teenage alienation, like a less stylish Rushmore or a more down to earth “Donnie Darko”. Let’s also mention the extraordinary soundtrack, composed and performed by Tim DeLaughter and his symphonic pop group The Polyphonic Spree, with additional songs by the late great Elliott Smith.

Manderlay


CHAPTER ONE, in which the inevitable comparison is made

While “Manderlay” is indeed the S to the U that was Dogville in Lars von Trier’s United States of America Trilogy and while it does share some of the same protagonists, themes and aesthetic devices as its predecessor, it is a different film. For starters, Grace is not played by the same actress, and her role in this new tale is reversed. Whereas she was victimized through almost all of her stay in Dogville, she holds a position of power in Manderlay. Still, some will insist to know how the two films compare, so let’s address that right away. Yes, “Dogville” was better. No, Bryce Dallas Howard isn’t the goddess Nicole Kidman is. Moving on!

CHAPTER TWO, in which the background of Manderlay is established

The Manderlay the title refers to is a cotton plantation in Alabama where Negroes are still submitted to forced labor, even though slavery was abolished 70 years prior. When Grace (Howard), her father (Willem Dafoe, taking over for James Caan) and his gangsters drive by the place, the young woman, whose idealism has apparently grown back since the events of the previous picture annihilated it, decides to get involved. She confronts slave master Mam (Lauren Bacall) and her family and before long, she finds herself in charge of the community. While she sincerely wishes to eradicate the evil legacy of “Mam’s Law” and help the Negroes learn to run the plantation for themselves, it soon becomes obvious that it’s more difficult to free a man’s mind than his body.

CHAPTER THREE, in which controversial issues are explored

Like “Dogville”, this is a movie where it’s better not to know too much about it beforehand, so I’ll tread carefully. What von Trier is after here is shedding light on the dark history of post-slavery America, a subject all too relevant even today, as these old scars still haven’t healed. The Danish filmmaker also evokes that old saying about how power corrupts, even if you give power to the people. Grace sets up meetings, then lessons on democracy and the slaves-turned-shareholders are soon voting about problems and potential solutions… But what if the decisions they reach don’t fit Grace’s sense of what’s right? As Homer Simpson once memorably said, “Democracy just doesn’t work!”

More seriously, “Manderlay” is a giant kick in the balls of the US, in which African-Americans are still often ghettoized or oppressed and where the unwise idea of implanting democracy by force is still alive and well coughIraqcough.

CHAPTER FOUR, in which Lars lets his kinks fly

Here’s a film with a subject begging to be taken deadly serious, but that would be underestimating von Trier’s wicked sense of humor. He’s obviously getting off on pissing the hell out of people, but I guess I’m twisted enough to laugh along with him. From the seemingly irrelevant macho remarks that Dafoe’s character makes at the beginning of the film to Dr. Hector’s third act revelations, “Manderlay” could be taken as a 139 minute dick joke, with Grace feeling “heat in her loins” for a Munsi, i.e. an African of royal descent… But this is “more bizarre than erotic”, and I don’t feel this undermines the picture. Your mileage may vary, natch.

CHAPTER FIVE, in which Dogville is brought up again. Drats.

I’m having trouble understanding those who not only think “Manderlay” lesser than “Dogville” (it is, then again, what isn’t?) but actively dislike it. It makes similarly brilliant use of minimalist set design, chapter titles and storybook narration by John Hurt, it’s epic in length but remarkably devoid of filler and it’s endlessly thought-provoking and emotionally affecting, all the way to the end of the end credits, again showing a photomontage set to David Bowie’s Young Americans. Where the movie kind of is less involving indeed is in the supporting cast, not because the Black actors aren’t capable but because they’re mostly playing one-dimensional stereotypes. This sounds like a huge minus, but it’s totally justified by the story, which implies that the slaves were made to fit in neat little boxes (“proudy nigger”, “pleasin’ nigger”, etc.). And sure, the Kidman is missed, but I actually find Bryce Dallas Howard quite extraordinary in her own way, and if von Trier ends up using a different actress in each of his USA – Land of Opportunities episodes, that might work in making them more universal. Or not. In any case, “Manderlay” is indeed one of the best films of the year, and I eagerly await the final installment, “Wasington”.

Elizabethtown


So the film was badly received at the last Toronto Festival and all but 30% of critics think it’s rotten. Fuck them. I’m here to tell you that if you love movies, music and that amazing girl you thought only existed in dreams, “Elizabethtown” will rock your world.

Granted, Cameron Crowe is my favorite working filmmaker (I always assume Tarantino is never gonna get off his ass and make another movie), so you could say I was predestined to love his latest like I love every flick he’s ever directed. Then again, it’s not like I’m unable to see the weaknesses in his work. Like in this case, I’m aware of how dumb it is to make the central tragedy of the protagonist’s life revolve around a running shoe, and I found Susan Sarandon’s performance as the hysterical widowed mother as embarrassing as everybody else. But what does that add up to, ten minutes of screen time? Why get stuck up on those few flaws when the remaining two hours are just about brilliant?

First, there’s Orlando Bloom, leaving sword and horse behind and revealing unexpected warmth, vulnerability and charm, like a young Jack Lemmon. So his character Drew is a freakin’ shoe designer whose latest creation is a fiasco that will lose his company nearly a billion dollars. Ok, that’s pretty stupid, as is the mean he intends to use to kill himself. But right about then, his cell phone rings and his ringtone is The Temptations’ I Can’t Get Next to You: “I can turn a grey sky blue…” That is beyond cool on so many levels that, right there, I knew the movie was gonna pick itself up from its shaky beginning.

Second, there’s Kirsten Dunst, lovelier than ever as Claire, a stewardess who befriends Drew on a flight from Oregon to Kentucky, where he’s to attend the memorial for his father, whose death has somehow postponed his son’s. Again, some could and have nitpicked the contrivance of there being apparently no one but the two on the plane, but it’s a fantasy, alright? More precisely, it illustrates the feeling you get when you meet someone special, that feeling of being the last two people on the planet, caught between the earth and the skies… Either that touches you or it doesn’t. You know in which category I fall.

The bulk of the picture takes place in the titular Kentucky small town, where Drew has to deal with a bunch of distant relatives who keep assaulting him with homemade food, anecdotes and noisy kids. Once more, I can see why someone wouldn’t respond to these scenes, but I liked how through this, we can feel the spirit of the father Drew didn’t get to know before it was too late. I also love how he’s guided through by his cousin Jessie, played with mucho gusto by Paul Schneider. The sideburns, how he feels that a dad should be able to be buddies with his kid, the old pipe dream of being the next Skynyrd… Great supporting character. Another nice touch is how the hotel Drew is staying at is overtaken by a particularly raucous weeklong wedding celebration (Chuck & Cindy!).

Then comes the already classic scene in which Drew calls Claire in the middle of the night. Haven’t you ever desperately wanted to talk to somebody in the wee hours but didn’t have anyone you could ring? “J’aimerais appeller quelqu’un, mais qui dieu?” Drew doesn’t get to talk to just anybody but to that elusive dream girl, all funny and weird and crazy/beautiful… And forward! I love how she’s not afraid to make all the moves, she just WON’T allow the guy to let laziness, insecurity, fear or self-pity stop him from taking that chance to be happy, you know? I love the real and insightful way their “almost romance” is handled by Crowe. There are all these reasons why their relationship shouldn’t work, but why not give it a try, goddammit!

Likewise, there are some false notes and some Whaaaa? moments in “Elizabethtown”, but I choose to take the good with the bad and to embrace this imperfect film. Let others be haters. It’s not all great, but the Bloom-Dunst scenes at least are, all great. I spent practically all of them swinging between happy tears and sad laughs and when the film ended, I genuinely missed these characters. Ain’t that the best thing you could say about a movie?

Domino


When he’s got a halfway decent screenplay to work with, Tony Scott can direct a pretty entertaining flick (Enemy of the State for instance) and if said script is downright brilliant, he’s able to deliver a near- masterpiece like True Romance. Put Scott at the helm of a movie with a problematic script, though, and he’ll make it seem even more superficial and dumb. This is what happened with the underwritten Top Gun and now with the overwritten “Domino”.

This latest piece of Scott bombast was actually penned by Richard Kelly of “Donnie Darko” fame, so there was some hope that this would be as successful a Hollywood recuperation of an indie maverick as Tony’s collaboration with the Quentin, but no luck. I don’t know if Kelly’s work was taken away from him and doctored to death or if he’s solely responsible for all its failings, but this is one spectacularly incoherent and pointless mess. It takes an intriguing “based on a true story (sort of)” premise and pushes it in the background, spending nearly all of the film’s bloated 127 minute length setting up a needlessly complicated criss-cross that inevitably ends in a big-ass blaze of bullets.

This was also the general outline of “True Romance”, all the way to the climactic Mexican standoff between the antiheroes, the FBI, the mob, some billionaire asshole and his henchmen, but whereas Tarantino’s gallery of characters all had interesting quirks and memorable lines, no one is given much of anything to work with in “Domino”. The likes of Mickey Rourke, Delroy Lindo and Christopher Walken still manage to be somewhat enjoyable, but others such as Lucy Liu, Mena Suvari and Tom Waits are simply wasted while Mo’Nique embarrasses herself and our whole race.

And then there’s Keira Knightley, the most inexplicable movie star of her generation. I don’t know many who could take the part of a supermodel turned bounty hunter and make it boring, but she found a way. Granted, the film doesn’t help her any, skipping over the how and whys a respected actor’s daughter gets to trade the silver spoon she had in her mouth when she was born for a shotgun, but she might still have made an impression if she wasn’t so sorely lacking in personality and womanliness. “What’s it like to have the body of a ten year old boy?” Well said, Mean Sorority Girl!

Meanwhile, Scott goes even more nuts with the visual tricks than in Man on Fire – I don’t think there’s a single shot in the film that isn’t either slowed down, sped up, tinted, tilted or tricked out in some way. But all the quick-pans and cross-fades in the world can’t hide the fact that not only do we not care about any of the characters, even the shoot-outs and explosions on their own are dull. There are some amusing touches (the robbers in First Ladies masks, the 90210 dudes playing themselves) but even then, they garner more bemused smirks than actual laughs. And, again, Knightley just isn’t that hot. Or cool. She’s… lukewarm. Like the movie.

Nouveau Cinéma 2005 (by Alexandre and Kevin)


Petit Pow! Pow! Noël (Robert Morin) 90

Robert Morin is a video virtuoso, we already knew that, but with this incendiary new falsely (?) autobiographic yarn à la “Yes Sir! Madame”, he punches us in the gut once more. With nothing more than a voyeuristic camera and an accusatory voice pacing around an elderly man in a hospital room, Morin delivers an ultra dense, dynamic, sometimes funny but mostly disturbing film.

Morin is an incredible storyteller and a fiercely clever filmmaker and it’s endlessly impressive how he manages to keep us hanging to his every word. All that time, the objective is pointed at objects, photographs, objects, body parts, the TV or out the window, punctuating the discourse with seemingly banal images that become evocative.

“Petit Pow! Pow! Noël” is the story of a man who visits his dad on Christmas with the intent of making him suffer and eventually die for his crimes against his family. The catch is that whatever torture (psychological or otherwise) he inflicts on the old bastard, it pales in comparison with the daily pain and humiliation of having to be fed, washed and get your diapers changed. Even though the protagonist is motivated by hatred, the evident loss of human dignity on display makes a striking pro-euthanasia case.

Morin’s movie takes a situation often seen in Québécois cinema, the neglected son who confronts his father on his deathbed (see also: “Les invasions barbares”, “La vie avec mon père”), but here it’s devoid of superfluous flourishes, romanticism or pretension. “Petit Pow! Pow! Noël” is a thought-provoking, unforgettable real-life horror tale. (KL)

Gabrielle (Patrice Chéreau) 80

First of all, I have to say that I love Patrice Chéreau, and that’s why I bought a ticket for his new film “Gabrielle”. Chéreau is one of the best directors of France because he is very reliable – each of his films is different, but they’re always of a very high quality. To appreciate “Gabrielle”, you have to know that Chéreau also directs theatre and opera, because his new film is very theatrical. The action is set in a big house during the early 1900s and revolves around a couple that does not go well together. Gabrielle (played by the great Isabelle Huppert) leaves her husband by writing a letter to Jean (Pascal Greggory) and then she realises that she is making a mistake and wants to come back. Chéreau wrote a great script with beautiful dialogue. It’s so well written and the direction of Chéreau is as good as the script. He knows how to make his actors move and how to nicely compose images. At the end of the film, you can think easily ot the films of the great Italian director Antonioni, with the feeling of coldness, silence, things left unsaid, etc. Finally, if you want to see that film, go see it in a theatre because on your T.V. you will lose all the beauty of it. I’m already waiting for Chéreau’s next film.

Vers le Sud (Laurent Cantet) 70

After winning the grand prize at the FNC with the excellent “L’emploi du temps”, Cantet wanted to present his new film at the same festival. The big problem with “Vers le Sud” is that it was made after “L’emploi du temps”. So for sure “Vers le sud” suffers of that, but it’s still a very strong film, with a very strong casting. “Vers le sud” is the story of three depressed women in their 40’s and 50’s who don’t have love and affection at their own house, so they go to Haiti to relax and cruise little boys. So they receive unreal love and unreal affection, but they like that, they feel younger and more appreciated by life. The movie is based on three short stories by Dany Lafferière and it was a co-production with Canada. Cantet cast Louise Portal to play one of the three women, and she is really great. Maybe not as great as Charlotte Rampling, but still, she is close. As usual Charlotte Rampling is fantastic, she is just precise, loving and mean all at the same time. And of course I have to talk about the casting that was made on Haiti. Legba is a great character and Ménothy Cesar plays it with a real realism. Another thing that I like with the film is that it’s in French, English and Creole.

Le temps qui reste (François Ozon) 60

Last year, at the same festival, I saw “5×2” from Ozon. And yesterday, I saw at the FNC the new François Ozon. So every year we have the chance to see a new Ozon film and soon we will have to review his films regularly like we do with Woody Allen. So how was the new Ozon, well it was better than “5×2”, not as good as “Swimming Pool” and “Sous le sable”, but still a good little film. I really like to see a new Ozon each year, even if it’s not a great film, I always enjoy it, like I like to watch the new Woody Allen every year. So “Le temps qui reste” tell the story about Romain (handsome Melvil Poupaud), who is diagnosed with untreatable cancer. So he stops working, goes to see his grandmother, and tries not to fight with his sister. The story can be sad, but the problem is we don’t believe that Romain is sick, he is too good looking, too clean and too in shape for that to be possible. So it’s a big problem that we don’t believe the main story of the film. But there are still very nice moments, like when Poupaud visits his grandmother, played by the very talented Jeanne Moreau. That is the best part of the film, it’s very touching and well played by the two actors. But all the flashbacks of Romain when he was a child are cheesy and that bothers me, because those part are ruining the film.

Another thing I like about Ozon is that the audience is fully aware that he treats his actors like puppets and does whatever he wants with them. He always does that with his actors, like in “8 femmes” when Catherine Deneuve fell on Fanny Ardant. In “Le temps qui reste”, you feel that Ozon finds Melvil Poupaud cute, so he makes him do an erotic scene. A homosexual erotic scene, I might add. So if you like Ozon, go see his new film just because it’s him, but we are waiting for a better one next year. (AC)

Nuit noire (Oliver Smolders) 20

I went to see that film by knowing nothing about the director, the actor and the story. I only knew it was supposed to be a mix between Peter Greenaway, David Cronenberg and David Lynch. So, as a big fan of David Lynch I said to myself, why not give it a try. I got nothing to lose, and I read that the director did some great short movie. But after the viewing of the film “Nuit Noire”, it’s more a mix between David Lynch and some student of Université de Montréal trying to do a David Lynch film. I cannot tell you the story, because I’m not sure there is a story. But I can tell that I saw some strange characters, some insects and some boobies. Yes gentlemen, there is some boobies, a lot. So, after 90 minutes of nonsense, I thought right away of a student film that wants to be as cool as David Lynch. I have to admit that they are some very cool parts of dream, with some old men and some good art direction. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I love the idea that it’s always nighttime in the town. It’s only sunny for 15 seconds and they are announcing the venue of the sun in a microphone. So that was cool but that doesn’t make a film. (AC)

Manderlay (Lars von Trier) 40

The latest from von Trier is the second part of his American Trilogy. The first one was “Dogville”, one of von Trier’s greatest films, so I had some big expectations for the following film. Unfortunately my expectations were not reached at all. “Manderlay” is a big failure in my point of view. I don’t want to compare “Manderlay” with “Dogville”, but I have to because it’s the sequel and it’s made with the same Brechtian approach. I still like the style very much, and von Trier’s camera is always at the right spot at the right moment. So the technical part is very good, but it’s not enough to become a good film.

First negative point is the choice of the new Grace, played here by Bryce Dallas Howard. After Nicole Kidman’s unsettling performance in the role, the new Grace is just not good. Nicole Kidman was so good in “Dogville” that the new Grace is just boring to watch. Bryce Dallas Howard is not a great actress. The only good point I can find in the choice of Ron Howard’s daughter is that she is more American than Kidman. But that’s it for her. There is a big waste of talent in that movie, we only see Lauren Bacall 3 minutes, Chloe Sevigny only 10 minutes, and I think she only says one line in the film. I hope Lars von Trier will choose Sevigny for the final part in his trilogy to play Grace.

Like its predecessor, “Manderlay” is about an important subject, slavery. But with a theme like that I was hoping of a better film, especially from this director. The dialogue is weak, and you don’t feel the misery of those slaves. “Manderlay” is not as powerful as “Dogville”, but I hope “Wasington” will be. So please Mister von Trier, take your time to do the last one, because I feel you did “Manderlay” a bit too fast. Take your time to write powerful dialogue and replace Bryce Dallas Howard by an actress who can act. In conclusion, I have to say that the photo-montage for the end credits to the sound of David Bowie’s Young Americans works. But it was too late to bring some good idea. (AC)

***

Unlike Mr. Caron, I found Manderlay (92) to be pretty damn great. Of course it’s not as powerful as “Dogville”, but what is?
(KL : my full review)

Caché (Michael Haneke) 95

First of all, if you’ve never seen a movie by that director I have to tell you that it’s never an easy watch. But like his other films, you will remember your experience and just by the fact that I still talk about “La pianiste” and “Funny Games” makes those films very interesting. It’s the same thing with his new film, I will remember and talk about that film for a while. It’s been a long time since I saw a great new film, and that is the case for the new Haneke, it’s a great film. I love how he manipulates the audience just by using some simple tricks. I will not reveal those things because it will ruin your experience.

Haneke wrote a great script and he chose a great actor in Daniel Auteil, who is just fantastic as that journalist and Juliette Binoche as his wife is great too. The plot goes like this, the couple receive some videotapes at their home. On the tape you recognize the house of the couple, and see them go out, go into the house. So it’s a bit like David Lynch did in “Lost Highway”, but Haneke pushes the idea further than Lynch. With that, the spectators are plunged in a great thriller, without music, without someone hidden at the end of a street waiting for someone. And of course, because you’re in a Haneke movie, there is always big tension between characters, and you have the tension between races. You got tension between white and black people, between white and Arabic people, and you feel that tension very well. And you feel the difference between them, and Haneke does represent that very well.

I have to compare it with “Manderlay”, because they are both about racism. But Haneke does it much, much better than Lars von Trier. Because you feel the difference between the white, the black and the Arabic people. In “Manderlay”, you don’t feel that difference. Maybe it’s because Haneke’s dialogue is better put together. So if you want to see a great film that you will remember, go see that film, and don’t read too much about it, because you will spoil the movie. (AC)

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit


When the night falls and the moon rises, the safety of England’s gardens is threatened by a terrifying creature: the Were-Rabbit! Roaming from one back yard to another, it devours everything in its path, from the smallest carrot to the biggest cabbage. And big veggies abound around here, a few days away from the Giant Vegetables Competition. The villagers desperately need heroes to stop the big-eared beast from ruining their annual agricultural fair, and they find them in Wallace and his faithful dog Gromit.

As the title suggests, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is an absurd homage to 1930s Universal horror movies, from the misunderstood monster born from experimentations that go against nature to the angry mob carrying torches and pitchforks. Of course, the Were-Rabbit is more cute than scary, even during a “Night of Vegetable Carnage”, but the storytelling admirably follows the codes of the genre.

This is not Wallace and Gromit’s first crazy adventure, having already gone to the moon, warded off a penguin burglar and cut short a mysterious sheep-napping scheme, as we’ve seen in the three brilliant animated shorts that led to this first feature. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has all the charm and the goofiness of A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, and the characters are as lovable as ever. Wallace is still addicted to cheese and oddball inventions and Gromit remains one heck of a resourceful pooch. We also meet a few newcomers, notably Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter, who also gives her voice to Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride), a thick-lipped lady who grows fond of Wallace.

Director Nick Park and the animators at Aardman Studios, to whom we also owe Creature Comforts and Chicken Run, spent five years working on The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. What’s most impressive, though, is not how they have to meticulously manipulate their little plasticine figures frame by frame to create the often spectacular actions called for in the screenplay, but that they manage to make it look effortless and let us simply lose ourselves in the countless stunts and gags. Good times.