2014 log (10)

(1 Oct) Taken 2 (2012, Olivier Megaton) 60
[ As in “Taken”, it takes a good 20-25 minutes before the action kicks in. Say what you will about these being low-rent, cheap-thrills B-movies, they clearly want you to care for Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and their daughter (Maggie Grace), and thanks in no small part to good acting (especially from Neeson and Janssen), it works. Still, we know from the first scene that the relatives of the Albanian bastards Mills killed in the first movie want revenge and we do look forward to our hero having to use his “particular set of skills” again. Now, the action is shot a bit too close and cut a bit too quickly for my taste, but it’s still pretty effective. I also like how Mills is not just a brute: he’s a smart man, a man with a plan, which is obvious in scenes like the one where he more or less figures out where the bad guys have taken him and his ex, even though they had bags on their heads. Ultimately, “Taken 2” is not quite as good as its predecessor, but it’s still a satisfying enough sequel. Count me in for “Taken 3”. ]

(3 Oct) Gone Girl (2014, David Fincher) [ review ] 78

(6 Oct) it’s such a beautiful day (2012, Don Hertzfeldt) [ review ] 100

(7 Oct) Tom à la ferme (2013, Xavier Dolan) 39
[ I’m a sucker for old-school film scores. Seriously, right when the ominous, Bernard Herrmannesque Gabriel Yared score kicked in, some 5 minutes into the film, it had me hooked, even though at that point, we know next to nothing about what brings Tom (Xavier Dolan with longish bleached blonde hair) to the Quebec countryside. That music immediately lets you know that something dark and twisted is about to happen. Tom, it turns out, is here to attend the funeral of his late lover, whose mother Agathe (Lise Roy) is unaware he was gay, an information the deceased’s brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) wants to remain unknown to her. And – here comes the dark and twisted part – Francis also instantly begins to intrude on Tom in disturbing ways, harrassing him while he’s in bed, while he’s in the bathroom, etc. But then the way things evolve (or devolve) seems off, with events happening by fits and starts, characters behaving erratically and the Hitchcockian thriller the score seems to promise never quite materializing. “Tom à la ferme” also suffers from uneven (at best) acting and from direction that fails to make us forget that it’s an adaptation of a stage play by Michel Marc Bouchard. I grew increasingly bored of the scenes between Tom and Francis, which often feel stiff and uninvolving no matter how much psychosexual violence they involed. Things pick up slightly when Evelyne Brochu shows up, but not enough to salvage things. Frankly, this is probably my least favorite Xavier Dolan movie. But that score, man… ]

(8 Oct) Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014, Miguel Arteta)

(9 Oct) NYMPH()MANIAC: VOL. I (2014, Lars von Trier) 89
[ “I’m just a bad human being,” says Joe (alternately Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin, both tremendous) early into this first part of Lars von Trier’s epic, supposedly pornographic film (I watched the “censored”version). We listen to Joe as she tells Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) the long, “moral” story of her life as a sinner, starting with discovering her “cunt” at age 2, then later losing her virginity at age 15 in the least romantic, most mechanical way (thanks, Shia LaBeouf!), and so on. The events she recounts are often captivating, as tales of sex tend to be, but there’s something to be said about the way von Trier presents them, throwing in various visual inserts, on-screen captions and whatnot, not to mention a lot of really interesting dialogue laced with philosophy, psychology and of course, black humor (that Uma Thurman scene!), plus a bunch of references to anything from fly-fishing to botany, literature, music and mathematics. It all culminates with a stunning split-screen sequence and a cliffhanger of sorts, leaving us eager to watch the next part! ]

(10 Oct) NYMPH()MANIAC: VOL. II (2014, Lars von Trier) 65
[ As was revealed at the end of “VOL. I”, Joe is suddenly numb down there, incapable of having an orgasm. But instead of stopping her sexual adventures, this pushes her futher, into the arms of “dangerous men” and into more perverted practices, such as a Negro sandwich and bondage/S&M (thanks, Jamie Bell!). The tone is less fun and wild, more dark and troubling… But as is always the case with von Trier, there’s still room for a bit of black humor. Plus, Joe’s storytelling and Seligman’s “digressions” remain interesting. Now, this is definitely not as great as the first half and the ending is questionable, but taken together, both parts do add up to a somewhat satisfying whole. All the same, I would be curious to see the 5 1/2 hour uncensored director’s cut to compare. ]

(10 Oct) Gurov & Anna (2014, Rafaël Ouellet) 46
[ Rafaël Ouellet might be my favorite working Quebec filmmaker, but I can not for the life of me figure out why, when he decided to direct someone else’s screenplay after writing his 5 first features, he picked Celeste Parr’s oh so lame debut script. Here’s the boring story of a complete loser, not elevated in the least by the insistent, pseudo-intellectual references to Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog”. The acting by leads Andreas Apergis and Sophie Desmarais is OK, but even the best actors in the world couldn’t make sense of the way the affair between their characters, a married college professor and one of his students, develops. Did I mention that the guy is a complete loser? And his young mistress is not much more likable. “Gurov & Anna” has some redeeming qualities, notably the gorgeous cinematography by Geneviève Perron and the evocative score by Viviane Audet, Robin-Joël Cool and Erik West-Millette. But this is still by far my least favorite Rafaël Ouellet film. ]

(11 Oct) it’s such a beautiful day (2012, Don Hertzfeldt) [ review ] 100

(14 Oct) Stretch (2014, Joe Carnahan) 20
[ Opening with a blast of briskly edited footage of everything from a car crash to a sex scene and a montage starring Ed Helms before the title even flashes on screen, “Stretch” is clearly a movie that doesn’t have time to waste. It soon throws in a deadline for good measure: Patrick Wilson’s limo driver character has until midnight to find the $6,000 he owes to a bookie. So far, so good… But then, the movie quickly starts becoming grating, thanks to an overabundance of voice-over narration, a couple of unfunny celebrity cameos (David Hasselhoff, Ray Liotta) and a bunch of WACKY! happenings. By the time a longhaired, bearded, bare-assed Chris Pine falls out of the sky, it pretty much lost me completely. This is a total cocaine movie, in the worst sense of the word, all hyper and obnoxious and empty. This movie blows. ]

(15 Oct) Out of Print (2014, Julia Marchese)
[ I’m not a film purist. I know that nearly every film I see in a multiplex these days was shot and is being projected digitally and I can’t say it really bothers me. I’m also a fan of many directors who are pro-digital, e.g. Cameron, Soderbergh and Fincher. Then again, I also love some of the filmmakers who are all about 35mm (or 70mm): Nolan, P.T. Anderson, Tarantino… And when you watch a documentary like “Out of Print”, which is ostensibly about the importance of actual film projection, it’s hard not to be convinced. I say “ostensibly” because one thing that is bothersome about this docu is that it focuses so heavily on one movie theater in particular, L.A.’s New Beverly revival cinema, where director Julia Marchese worked until recently. So there’s this sense that this is a movie first and foremost about this place she loves and the people there, her friends basically, which is great for her, but not always that interesting to us. Marchese herself is on screen an awful lot of time. Who is she, Michael Moore? Still, it’s great to hear from the likes of Edgar Wright, Kevin Smith and Rian Johnson. One thing that’s odd: where the hell is Quentin Tarantino, who now owns the New Beverly? ]

(16 Oct) De rouille et d’os (2012, Jacques Audiard) 70
[ Maybe I watch too many Hollywood movies, but I’m always taken aback by films in which you still don’t know what they’re about half an hour in (see also: “Le Passé”). I mean, here you’ve got this guy Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) who suddenly has to take care of his young son, he gets a job as a bouncer in a bar (ROAD HOUSE!), where he meets this girl Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), who works at a Marineland-type marine mammal park… Then (spoiler) she’s involving in an accident involving an orca that forces her to get her legs amputated (via CGI, Lt. Dan-style). Now what? My question exactly, about half an hour in. For some reason, after a few months, Stéphanie decides to call up Ali and they end up going to the beach. Wonderful, luminous scene, beautifully shot like the whole film. Now, maybe an hour in, Ali starts participating in underground MMA fights, which had been subtly set up, I guess, but it’s still peculiar how that’s suddenly what the film is about, an hour in. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, just that the film is unusually structured. In any case, we get some really good, diverse scenes involving violence, sex, Katy Perry’s Firework (!), the orca, etc. Late into the film, I still didn’t know where it was going, but again, this isn’t a bad thing. Hollywood storytelling is great, but a looser, more impressionistic yarn like this can work as well. Well, not everything works: the whole subplot about surveillance cameras doesn’t really add up and Ali’s son often seems like an afterthought, though that last bit might be intentional (Ali’s an awful, awful father). And then there’s rushed ending, which feels particularly odd considering how the rest of the film so doesn’t feel like it’s in a hurry. All the same, I liked “De rouille et d’os” quite a bit. ]

(17 Oct) Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014, Kenneth Branagh) 42
[ Following in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, Chris Pine stars as Jack Ryan in this latest reboot of the the franchise inspired by the Tom Clancy spy novels. Here, Ryan is a post-9/11 patriot and Afghanistan veteran who is (shadow) recruited by a CIA officer played by Kevin Costner. After 10 years of doing covert work while pretending he’s a Wall Street banker, even to his girlfriend (Keira Knightley), he’s sent on a mission to Russia that proves to be quite dangerous… Yet not particularly exciting. There are a few action scenes, but they are rather bland and the plot is very generic as well. Kenneth Branagh’s direction is relatively slick, but no scene pops all that much. As for the cast, which also includes Branagh himself as the Russian bad guy, everyone does serviceable work, but none of the characters makes much of an impression. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ” is watchable enough, but it’s eminently forgettable. ]

(20 Oct) Upstream Color (2013, Shane Carruth) 83
[ It’s been nearly 10 years since I saw and loved Shane Carruth’s debut feature, 2004’s $7,000 time-travel flick “Primer”, even though I’m not sure I understood all of it. Now I’ve just seen his long-awaited sophomore effort, a mindfuck of even more epic proportions, a veritable exercise in confusion that spectacularly takes its time to reveal its cards. Larvae. Some kind of drug or poison. Hypnosis. Fraud. Automutilation. Pig surgery. What does it all mean? We don’t know, but we’re still captivated thanks to masterful, mostly visual storytelling (writer-director-producer-actor Carruth also did the cinematography), nimble editing (again by Carruth) and an evocative score (still by Carruth). After the creepy first act with the larvae and hypnosis and whatnot, the film becomes sort of a relationship drama, while remaining unconventional narratively, as Carruth plays a lot with images and sounds, throwing in more pigs for reasons that are still not clear and further making us wonder what the damn hell is going on. Maybe watching it a second time would help. Maybe not. In any case, I found “Upstream Color” fascinating in all its opaque glory. ]

(21 Oct) The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson) 76
[ Alternately garish and pastel colors, varying aspect ratios (1.37:1, 1.85:1, 2.35:1), elaborate production design… “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is certainly rich visually, but it’s almost equally dense narratively, telling a story-within-a-story-within-a-story about the days when the insistution’s owner (F. Murray Abraham) worked as a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) under the guidance of concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who made an habit of romancing rich old ladies. There is an odd mix of sophistication and vulgarity to M. Gustave and to the film in general, which alternates between depicting the lifestyle of high society and various murders and chases. Now, ultimately, the plot is rather inconsequential and the characters are generally one-dimensional, but Wes Anderson’s direction is consistently delightful and there is further pleasure to be had from the all-star cast, which also includes Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Mathieu Amalric, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson and Léa Seydoux, among others. ]

(22 Oct) The Bling Ring (2013, Sofia Coppola) 61
[ There are these hyped up hipster filmmakers that everyone loves, but that I’m not sure about, like in this case, Sofia Coppola. Yet even though I’m not her biggest fan, I could always tell that she has talent and I held out hope that I would end up liking one of her films at some point. So in this spirit, after having given increasingly low ratings to Sofia Coppola’s previous features – “The Virgin Suicides” (47), “Lost in Translation” (49), “Marie-Antoinette” (32), “Somewhere” (28) – I still figured that I might enjoy “The Bling Ring” after all. Fittingly, “Let’s go shopping” is the first real line spoken in the film, as a group of teenagers enter an empty mansion at night and start taking clothes and jewels and whatnot. This is the based-on-real-events story of California kids who broke into (or sometimes just walked into through unlocked doors) the houses of celebrities (Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr, Megan Fox, Audrey Bilson, Lindsay Lohan) in an apparent attempt to appropriate not only their belongings, but also their lifestyle or maybe even their essence. Like every Sofia Coppola movie, it’s bright and flashy and superficial, but here, it makes perfect sense and there’s barely any sense that it’s trying to be profound or anything. Plus, while all the previous films were ostensibly about ennui, in “The Bling Ring”, the characters are actually having fun clubbing, taking selfies and posting them on Facebook, doing drugs and yes, stealing. Not unlike “Spring Breakers”, the film is both an accurate depiction and a satire of the contemporary culture of ephemeral pleasures, egocentrism and entitlement, which can be depressing in real life, but which can be quite enjoyable on screen… For a while, anyway. Beautifully shot, filled with cool songs (notably M.I.A.’s Bad Girls, Kanye West’s All of the Lights and Power, and Sleigh Bells’ Crown on the Ground) and featuring winning performances by Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga and especially Emma Watson, “The Bling Ring” notheless drags by moments and its giddy pointlessness ultimately grows tiresome. But it picks up eventually when the protagonists finally get arrested and we see a bit of the aftermath of their crime spree. So there, I liked a Sofia Coppola movie! ]

(23 Oct) Video Games: The Movie (2014, Jeremy Snead)
[ I wouldn’t describe myself as a gamer, but over the kids, I did own an Atari, many Nintendo consoles (NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Wii), a PS2 and, currently, a PS3, though I now only use it to watch Netflix and DVDs. Still, watching this documentary, I was familiar with a lot of the games mentionned and/or displayed, which filled me with nostalgia. I was also quite interested to learn about the history of the medium, its culture and the creation of games has evolved, and I appreciated how, in addition to the inevitable talking-heads segments, there are these nifty montages set to songs (Queen, Michael Jackson, The Commodores, etc.) or to the original score by Craig Richey. Now, is this a deep, critical analysis of video games? Hardly. But it’s a fun watch and if anything, it makes you want to pick up a controller again. ]

(23 Oct) The Good Lie (2014, Philippe Falardeau) [ review ] 62

(24 Oct) John Wick (2014, Chad Stahelski) [ review ] 66

(24 Oct) Addams Family Values (1993, Barry Sonnenfeld) 65
[ I first saw this back when it came out on VHS, but at the time, I don’t think I realized how dark, twisted and risqué the humor is in what is ostensibly a family movie. The whole ensemble cast is great, but I particularly love Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams and Joan Cusack as the femme fatale who seduces Christopher Lloyd’s Uncle Fester. ]

(30 Oct) Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014, Frank Pavich)
[ In the mid-70s, pre-”Star Wars” (but post-“2001”), Chilean artist Alejandro Jodorowsky set out to make a “sacred” adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel “Dune” that would have the feel of LSD hallucinations. That film was never made, of course, but what it could have been is the stuff of legend, as we discover in this fascinating documentary. We listen to Jodorowsky and others tell us all about it, but we also get to see storyboards and conceptual art by Moebius and Chris Foss and H.R. Giger, which look awesome. Then we learn that David Carradine, Orson Welles, Udo Kier, Mick Jagger and motherfucking Salvador Dalí would have starred in the movie, that Pink Floyd would have done the music, that it would have had all these wonderful ideas and designs and special effects… But it wasn’t meant to be. Still, its influence can be felt in many science-fiction pictures that were made afterwards, and now we’ve got this documentary. ]

(31 Oct) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu) [ review ] 94

September / November