2014 log (12)

(2 Dec) Only Lovers Left Alive (2014, Jim Jarmusch) 68
[ If anything, this artsy vampire movie is beautifully designed, shot and edited. Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, John Hurt and Mia Wasikowska are striking, haunting presences as well. Oh, and there’s some great music, too. But the narrative is very sparse and the tone is rather funereal, which is fitting for an artsy vampire movie, I guess… I still found myself admiring the film more than I enjoyed it. ]

(2 Dec) Scrooged (1988, Richard Donner) 65
[ In this contemporary 80s version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, the rich asshole who’s visited by three ghosts during Christmastime is a TV network president played by Bill Murray. As such, there’s a lot of sarcasm thrown into the mix, as well as some black humor, showbiz satire and whatnot. Not all of it flies, but the payoff really works. ]

(3 Dec) Locke (2014, Steven Knight) 74
[ I love Tom Hardy, but do I really want to spend an hour and a half watching him talking on the phone to various people while driving? Well, there are some other things going on here. Writer-director Steven Knight keeps the dramatic twists coming, for one. I knew nothing about the plot beside “Tom Hardy talking on the phone to various people while driving”, so every new thing we learn about who he is and what’s going on in his life on that fateful night came as a surprise and managed to maintain my interest. Then there’s the way Knight shoots Hardy sitting behind the wheel in his car. It should grow tedious visually, but somehow, it doesn’t, since there’s a captivating rhythm and mood to the images, enhanced by the post-rock score by ex-Tindersticks member Dickon Hinchliffe. But yeah, ultimately, it’s all about Tom Hardy, who delivers a typically great performance as a man who’s used to always being in control, a man as solid as concrete who suddenly starts to show a few cracks. It’s all quite fascinating. ]

(4 Dec) Lucy (2014, Luc Besson) 82
[ “Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?” asks Scarlett Johansson in voice-over as we see a prehistoric woman drinking water from a river. Cut to sped-up images of modern-day Taiwan, where we meet Lucy, Johansson’s character, as she’s tricked into delivering a mysterious briefcase to a certain Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi). This early sequence is very suspenseful, in part because director Luc Besson cleverly intercuts image of a mouse approaching a trap and of a leopard stalking his prey. Soon enough, we’re introduced to CPH4, a drug that enhances intelligence, among other things. There are many interesting things that are said throughout the film about intelligence, which may not all be profound or even always make sense, but on a moment-to-moment basis at least, the ideas in Besson’s screenplay are stimulating, especially when they’re expressed by Morgan Freeman. This also leads to more use of intercut images and montage, which makes for a very visually dynamic film – cinematographer Thierry Arbogast and editor Julien Rey both do killer work here. And it’s not all lectures and documentary footage, of course: “Lucy” encompasses sci-fi and action movie elements, while also acting as a super-hero movie of sorts. Scarlett Johansson gets to be badass while also having some surprisingly emotional moments. Plus she has an opportunity to embrace her somewhat otherwordly quality, since Lucy grows increasingly post-human throughout the movie, which builds up to a sequence that calls to mind “2001” or “The Tree of Life”… All in a flick that also packs preposterous twists, a car chase and shoot-outs! “Lucy” is a pretty crazy ride that could easily be dismissed or mocked… I loved every minute. ]

(5 Dec) 22 Jump Street (2014, Phil Lord & Chris Miller) 84
[ I liked, but didn’t love “21 Jump Street” when I caught up to it on VOD last year. Buddy cops going undercover in high school? Sure, why not. Best thing about it, in any case, was the chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. And guess what? That’s also true of “22 Jump Street”. I’ve been a Hill fan since “Superbad”, but it’s only recently that I, like many others, realized Tatum could be so fun. And right from the get-go, it’s a hoot to watch the two of them goofing on Michael Bay/“Bad Boys”-style action posturing. It’s also amusing how the film throws in a bunch of self-aware jokes about sequels, how they tend to be more of the same, but bigger and whatnot. So now, our buddy cops are going undercover in college – hilarity ensues. I’m not kidding, it really does! I haven’t laughed out loud during a movie as often in a long time. This is way funnier than the first flick, for one. Kudos to screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman, who just hit us with one hilarious one-liner or visual bit after another. Hill getting into character as a Latino thug; his attempt at slam poetry; Rob Riggle’s cameo; Tatum’s meet-cute and subsequent bonding scenes with a football player (Wyatt Russell); Hill’s ridiculously obvious investigating methods; the guys’ split-screen WHYPHY trip, the further lampooning of the homoerotic overtones of buddy-cop movies, the repercussions of Hill hooking up with a girl (Amber Stevens)… There are times in the second act when maybe the film becomes too concerned about the generic plot and the laughs die down a little, but things pick back up again during the Spring Break third act, which is full of gags and stunts (™ LexG). My favorite part? Hill’s “sexy” fight with Jillian Bell… Or the helicopter scene? Anyway, good times, man. Good. Times. ]

(6 Dec) The Addams Family (1991, Barry Sonnenfeld) 63
[ A fun little black comedy, most notable for the stylish art direction and for the iconic performances by Raúl Juliá, Anjelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd and especially little Christina Ricci. ]

(8 Dec) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Peter Jackson) 52
[ It begins with a prologue about dwarvish lore, narrated by the old Bilbo (Ian Holm). Then, Frodo (Elijah Wood) walks in and we realize that what we’re seeing takes place around the same time as Bilbo’s party at the beginning of “The Fellowship of the Ring”. But then we cut to 60 years earlier, as Ganfalf (Ian McKellen) visits young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to try and convince him to take part in an adventure. Bilbo refuses, but soon after, a bunch of dwarves show up at his doorstep anyway and there’s this long, tedious scene in which they eat, drink, belch, throw dishes around and sing. Then they talk for a while, trying to convince Bilbo to take part in an adventure, which he refuses. Again. But the next day, he changes his mind and finally, some 40 minutes into the movie, the adventure begins. Though not before a flashback to a battle between Thorin (Richard Armitage) and some motherfucking orcs… And an odd scene devoted to the wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), friend to the animals… Then we’re back with Bilbo and there’s this dumb bit with talking trolls… At this point, I should mention that all of this is well crafted, with impressive production values and whatnot. But there’s something off about the pacing and the tone, among other things. Things often feels like a rehash from “The Lord of the Rings”, minus the heart, the urgency and the sense of wonder. Do we really care about all these dwarves? Or even young Bilbo, who’s a rather passive character? It’s nice to spend time again with the likes of Gandalf, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and a sorta friendly Saruman (Christopher Lee). But not all that much happens with them, they mostly deliver a lot of exposition foreshadowing what will lead to the events of the “LOTR” trilogy. You know, prequel stuff. Every so often, there’s an action scene, something to do with orcs or stone giants or goblins, but none of these setpieces are all that memorable. Even what should be one of the highlights, Bilbo meeting Gollum (Andy Serkis), is pretty dull. Hopefully, the next installments in this trilogy will be much more involving. ]

(9 Dec) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013, Peter Jackson) 60
[ It starts with a flashback to an ominous meeting between Thorin and Gandalf in Bree, at the Prancing Pony, then we cut to 12 months later, as Bilbo and the dwarves are still being hunted by Orcs on the road to the Lonely Mountain. But first, they must go through Mirkwood, which is inhabited by disgusting big-ass spiders. This leads to yet another near-death experience for our heroes, but once again, they overcome impossible odds and survive. This seems to be a trend in these “Hobbit” movies: over the top danger, with tons of monsters, but little consequences. Whereas in “The Lord of the Rings”, even though no one really died either, it always felt like they came close, you know? Another thing that kinda bothered me is how Bilbo keeps being separated from the group while they get captured, then comes to their rescue. Once is okay, but it grows repetitive when it happens over and over. There’s also some cutesy prequel bullshit, e.g. “Sting!”, “That’s my wee lad, Gimli”, etc. Or the idea to incorporate Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who’s joined by badass she-elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a character entirely created for this movie, involved in a groan-inducing romantic triangle with Legolas (who’s kind of a dick here, like his father Thranduil, played by Lee Pace) and the least goofy looking of the dwarves, Kili (Aidan Turner). At least, Tauriel and Legolas kick ass, as seen in the thrilling setpiece where the dwarves go down a river in wine barrels. Meanwhile, Gandalf discovers more hints of the upcoming return of “the Enemy”… But “The Lord of the Rings” is set 60 years after “The Hobbit”, right? I wonder what’s supposed to happen during all that time… Back with the dwarves, they reach Laketown, a human city in which they’re smuggled by Bard (Luke Evans), then they finally get to the Lonely Mountain, wherein lies the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch)… Overall, as I hoped, “The Desolation of Smaug” is indeed a more involving film than “An Unexpected Journey”, even though there is undeniably some filler, things being needlessly stretched out and whatnot. Still, like all of Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth pictures, it’s gorgeously designed and shot. We’re still not nearly on the level of “The Lord of the Rings”, but at this point, I have a feeling the third and final “Hobbit” movie might be the best of the prequel trilogy. ]

(10 Dec) Joe (2014, David Gordon Green) 79
[ Was this ever released in Montreal theaters? The film earned very positive buzz during its festival run, but its (limited) release in April 2014 didn’t make a huge impact. In any case, David Gordon Green is one of my favorite filmmakers, both for his early arthouse films and for his broad comedy period, so I for sure wanted to see his latest. “Joe” stars Nicolas Cage in the titular role of a Texas ex-con now working as the boss of a all-black lumberjack crew. Right away, the Southern setting, the magic-hour cinematography, the ambient score and the tone call to mind Green’s “George Washington” or “Undertow”. The first act has a loose, hanging-out feel, though because of the violent opening scene involving 15-year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan) and his selfish old drunk of a father (Gary Poulter, a homeless man who died soon after the shoot), we know the movie won’t all be about the camaraderie between Joe and his crew, which Gary soon joins. Sure enough, about half an hour in, things turn violent again via the appearance of a scary looking motherfucker played by Ronnie Gene Blevins… But “Joe” doesn’t become a full-on thriller or anything. It’s like it just happens to take place in this rough environment where getting shot is something that happens from time to time. Next thing you know, Joe’s back in the woods with his workers or at home, drinking, smoking, watching TV, going to the general store, going to the brothel… This is hardly a plot-driven film, it’s mostly about atmosphere and character. I had problems with Green’s previous “Prince Avalanche” for being so uneventful, but the difference here is that I really cared about Joe and Gary, plus the antagonists are perfectly loathsome. Great acting all around, with Cage in particular delivering one of his best performances in a long time. ]

(11 Dec) Obvious Child (2014, Gillian Robespierre) 79
[ Running time: 83 minutes. So what, you may ask. Well, even though I’m not against long movies per se, I do feel that the concept of getting-in-then-getting-out is underrated. A comedy, especially, has no business lasting 146 minutes (I’m looking at you, Judd Apatow). I mean, “Dr. Strangelove” lasts 95 minutes! “Annie Hall” lasts 93 minutes! “The Producers” lasts 88 minutes! And those are some of the best comedies of all time! Of course, ultimately, that’s a detail, but I was still happy to discover that “Obvious Child” wouldn’t outlast its welcome. It’s sharp, it’s tight, it’s got great comic timing and it’s pretty moving, too. Not to focus too much on the running time, but it’s really quite impressive how in, like, the opening five minutes, we’ve seen protagonist Donna do a stand-up set, then she gets dumped by her boyfriend and she’s totally heartbreaking. Laughs and tears, in 5 minutes. As Donna, Jenny Slate is an adorable mess, not unlike Greta Gerwig in “Frances Ha”. But with more fart jokes, heh. The story deals with how, shortly after getting dumped, Donna has a one night stand, gets pregnant, then immediately decides to get an abortion. I guess this makes it feminist, but it’s not a big self-important statement film or anything. It remains amusing and touching, mostly concerned about how this one woman deals with this difficult situation. We follow Donna through it and then it’s over, after a brisk 83 minutes. ]

(11 Dec) Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Kathryn Bigelow) 90
[ It grabs you right away with an audio-only sequence in which we hear real distress phone calls that were made on September 11, 2011. Disturbing stuff, obviously, and also a more original way to depict that tragic day than showing the same news footage we’ve seen a million times. Cut to 2 years later, as CIA agent Dan (Jason Clarke) interrogates suspect Ammar (Reda Kateb) while the latter is being roughed up by men in black ski masks. It’s soon revealed that there was also a woman under one of the black ski masks, Maya (Jessica Chastain), and from her facial expressions once her face is uncovered, we can tell she’s uncomfortable with Dan’s methods, which can only be described as torture and which are painful to watch. Much has been made around the time of this film’s release about how it’s supposedly pro-torture, but it seems obvious from this early scene that we’re meant to find it horrifying. Even if some valuable information is gained, no human being deserves to be hurt and humiliated like that, right? The first stretch of Mark Boal’s screenplay focuses mainly on the “enhanced interrogation” of Ammar, while also introducing a lot of information about various terrorists and their whereabouts, which can get dizzying, but director Kathryn Bigelow keeps us hooked in, making everything feel tense, urgent and visceral, even beyond the attacks and bombings that occur regularly. Jessica Chastain’s intense, multilayered performance also contributes greatly to keeping us involved, and she’s well supported by the likes of Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, Édgar Ramírez, Harold Perrineau, James Gandolfini and Mark Duplass. Years go by, the film takes us to various CIA black sites, Maya keeps looking for “actionable intelligence”… One name keeps popping up: Abu Ahmed, and the efforts to locate him are really engrossing. But of course, everyone is really looking for the guy Abu Ahmed works for: Usama bin Laden. And well, it’s no spoiler to reveal that the third act of the movie is devoted to the raid on his secret compound that led to his assassination, which makes for a riveting action sequence starring a team of Navy SEALs, some of whom are played by Joel Edgerton and my favorite, Chris Pratt. Why did “Argo” win Best Picture over this again? ]

(13 Dec) CITIZENFOUR (2014, Laura Poitras)
[ “It’s not science-fiction. This stuff is happening right now.” You know, how in George Orwell’s 1984, people are under constant surveillance from the government? “Big Brother is watching you”, right? Well, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that we’ve actually gotten to that point, as has been revealed by the leaks to the media by whistleblower Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old National Security Agency (NSA) employee who felt the need to alert the world about the countless ways in which the U.S. government has been infringing on civil liberties and personal privacy, even though it meant sacrificing any hope he had of living a normal life. The NSA, it turns out, has the tools to monitor everyone’s emails, phone calls, texts, Google searches and whatnot. And post 9/11, there are less and less obstacles stopping them from collecting information about people, whether or not they’re potential terrorists or not. This is all very scary and hard to believe, really, but it’s unfortunately all too true. The Snowden leaks only started in June 2013, yet they’re already the subject of this here film. Even more amazing is that “Citizenfour” isn’t just about that story, it IS that story. You see, Edward Snowden contacted director Laura Poitras directly and she was in the Hong Kong hotel room with him when he spent eight days talking to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill. So this is like a documentary version of “All the President’s Men”, a fascinating glimpse of history in the making. Snowden is this young geeky guy, obviously smart and rather eloquent, and the film is riveting whenever he’s on screen. I was aware of what he did before seeing “CITIZENFOUR ”, but watching it made me feel like I experienced it from the inside. ]

(14 Dec) The Polar Express (2004, Robert Zemeckis) [ review ] 64
[ Note: I first saw this in IMAX 3D back when it came out and was quite blown away. Watching it in 2D on my TV was nowhere near as thrilling. ]

(15 Dec) Ida (2014, Pawel Pawlikowski) 63
[ A B&W Polish drama about a young woman who wants to become a nun is not usually my definition of a good time at the movies. But when nearly every critic or organization is calling something the best foreign language film of the year, I pay attention. So Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) wants to become a nun, but before she takes her vows, she is sent to meet her only living relative, an aunt named Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza), who reveals to her that she’s Jewish. Then the two of them wind up taking on an investigation to discover how Ida’s parents died and where they are buried. So it’s sort of a mystery. A slow, quiet, dour mystery. The B&W cinematography is stunning – the film is not only set in 1962, it looks like it was shot in 1962, so there’s that. And for what it’s worth, “Ida” is certainly short at about 80 minutes. But again, this is not really the kind of movie I love usually. I like to laugh, cry, be provoked, get excited… To feel something, you know? I can appreciate the artistic qualities of Pawel Pawlikowski’s film, but only in a polite, unpassionate way. ]

(18 Dec) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014, Peter Jackson) [ review ] 64

(19 Dec) Wild (2014, Jean-Marc Vallée) [ review ] 91

(21 Dec) Foxcatcher (2014, Bennett Miller) [ review ] 82

(24 Dec) The Interview (2014, Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen) [ review ] 65

(29 Dec) Neighbors (2014, Nicholas Stoller) 62
[ Comedy directors should get more respect. I myself am kinda guilty of not putting as much auteur theory push behind them. Nicholas Stoller is a good example. Has he made an all time great masterpiece? No, not yet anyway. But when I finally sat down to watch “Neighbors” (which I skipped in theaters for some reason), I looked up Stoller’s filmography and realized that I enjoyed all his movies: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, “Get Him to the Greek”, “The Five-Year Engagement” and now “Neighbors”. Again, no masterpiece in the lot, but there’s something to be said about a director who reliably delivers one fun comedy after another. And I haven’t even mentioned that Stoller co-wrote “The Muppets”, one of my favorite movies of the last few years! “Neighbors” stars Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as a young couple who, even though they now have a baby and a house, don’t reckon they’re boring grown-ups quite yet. But when a fraternity of loud party animals led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco move in next door, they soon realize that they’re hardly fun-loving #YOLO kids anymore. They need their sleep, dammit! The movies takes a while to set this up, but once the war between the couple and the frat guys begins, things escalate rather quickly. All that chaos is well orchestrated by Stoller and cinematographer Brandon Trost, who also shot This Is the End and The Interview. The party scenes in particular are really wild! So yeah, Nicholas Stoller, man. Good comedy director. ]

(29 Dec) 9 mois ferme (2014, Albert Dupontel) 53
[ I remember finding Albert Dupontel’s debut, 1996’s “Bernie”, hilariously sick, violent and politically incorrect. Some 10 years later, I saw his “Enfermés dehors” and actually interviewed him about it. I had some reservations about that film, but I did like the live-action cartoon energy of it. Quite a few more years have passed since then and I now checked out Dupontel’s latest directorial effort, “9 mois ferme”, on Netflix. Sandrine Kiberlain stars as a judge who discovers one day that she’s six months pregnant, even though she’s been single for as long as she can remember. Turns out that when she got drunk during a New Year’s Eve party, she had sex with some guy… who happens to be a criminal (Dupontel). First thing that struck me about this flick is how visually dynamic and colorful it is. I also enjoyed Kiberlain’s performance, though I found some of the supporting actors too hammy, Nicolas Marié being the worst offender. I got to say that I didn’t find the movie as a whole all that funny and even though “9 mois ferme” is only 82 minutes long, the screenplay still feels thin. But again, it’s really well directed! So while I wouldn’t quite recommend it, I gotta say that I still think Dupontel truly has talent behind the camera. ]

(30 Dec) Point Break (1991, Kathryn Bigelow) 70
[ When I saw this movie when it came out on VHS, when I was 11 or 12, it made quite an impression on me. I remember thinking Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi and the Ex-Presidents were really cool, for one. But revisiting the movie decades later, while I still think Swayze is a truly charismatic screen presence, I found his character and his fellow pseudo-spiritual adrenaline junkies who love surfing, skydiving and bank robbing to be full of shit. As played by Keanu Reeves, FBI Special Agent Johnny Utah comes off rather dumb and his relationship with Bodhi is rather homoerotic, even though they both have or had the hots for Lori Petty’s Tyler. In any case, the screenplay by W. Peter Iliff is all kinds of preposterous. Still, one thing that remains effective about “Point Break” is Kathryn Bigelow’s direction. The fights, the shoot-outs and particularly the classic foot chase are all thrilling. Plus, as dumb and full of shit as the characters and plot can be, it’s often entertainingly so. ]

(31 Dec) Godzilla (2014, Gareth Edwards) 61
[ I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I like popular cinema. I’m the furthest thing from a film snob and I always like to keep up to date with the latest Hollywood blockbusters. I have a few blind spots (animated films, YA franchises), but for the most part, I see pretty much all the biggest movies… eventually. Take “Godzilla”, one of the 11 movies that grossed 200 millions or more at the North American box-office in 2014. For various reasons, notably how much the 1998 version sucked, I didn’t go see Gareth Edwards’ reboot in theaters last summer, but I knew I wanted to catch it at some point, which I now have. The first thing that struck me, during the opening credits, was Alexander Desplat’s rousing score. Second thing I liked right away: the anamorphic widescreen cinematography by Seamus McGarvey. Third thing: how sentimental and character-driven it is early on, kinda like a Spielberg picture, with Bryan Cranston and wife Juliette Binoche, then their son Aaron Taylor-Johnson and his wife Elizabeth Olsen. So it sounds good, it looks good, we care about the characters… And then giant monsters start showing up! There might be a bit too much silly exposition delivered by Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and David Stathairn, but there’s also a lot of disaster movie mayhem in Tokyo, Honolulu, Las Vegas, San Francisco… I found some of it more confusing than anything, but I was still engrossed enough. And again: giant monsters! You gotta dig this at least a little. ]

(31 Dec) Ted (2012, Seth MacFarlane) 27
[ Even though I like “Family Guy”, I skipped both of Seth MacFarlane’s movies in theaters. But when I noticed that “Ted” was on Netflix, I figured I’d check it out. The “highest-grossing original R-rated comedy of all time” stars Mark Wahlberg as John, a guy who as a child, made a wish that his teddy bear could talk. John’s now 35 and he still hangs out with Ted, who turned out to be a foul-mouthed, horny, pot-smoking, homophobic fuck-up. This may sound amusing, but to me, it just fell flat. I don’t know, all the dick and fart jokes seem really stupid and all but one or two failed to make me laugh. As for the whole thing about Ted holding John back, to the great dismay of his girlfriend played by Mila Kunis, it’s really tedious. And the third act with the kidnapping, chase and near-death experience is super lame. Pretty glad I skipped this after all and I’m in no hurry to watch “A Million Ways to Die in the West” now. Maybe when it hits Netflix. ]

November / January