2015 log (2)

(2 Feb) Tu dors Nicole (2014, Stéphane Lafleur) 77
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(4 Feb) Enemy (2014, Denis Villeneuve) 70
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(5 Feb) Jupiter Ascending (2015, The Wachowskis) [ review ] 63

(9 Feb) La Bare (2014, Joe Manganiello)
[ In between shooting “Magic Mike” and “Magic Mike XXL”, Joe Manganiello directed this really good documentary about legendary Dallas, Texas male strip club La Bare. It’s really interesting to learn about the lifestyle of the dancers, many of whom are colorful characters. There’s even some unexpected drama when they recount how one of them was murdered one night while they were out on the town… ]

(10 Feb) To the Wonder (2012, Terrence Malick) 85
[ The first sequence is shot on crappy video, which worried me. Thankfully, after two minutes or so, the film switches to glorious 35mm and we’re treated to some absolutely gorgeous and luminous cinematography, courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot all of Alfonso Cuarón’s features, in addition to my beloved “Birdman” and Malick’s own “The New World” and “The Tree of Life”. Also amazing is the use of classical music which, along with the superb images, elevates everything into something incredibly sumptuous. That might be Malick’s greatest skill right there: making the ordinary extraordinary, if not downright magical. There’s not much of a story here, we’re just following Ben Affleck, who’s dating a French woman played by Olga Kurylenko, who has a 10-year-old daughter (Tatiana Chiline), then later (or earlier – it’s that kind of movie), Affleck hangs out with Rachel McAdams… And I guess it’s kind of a problem that Affleck’s character is such a blank. And what’s with the subplot featuring Javier Bardem as a priest? But every shot is so beautiful! Who needs tons of dialogue and a clear plot when a film conveys so much emotion and provokes so many thoughts through visuals? “To the Wonder” is not quite on the level of Malick’s masterpieces, but it’s still pretty damn great. ]

(11 Feb) The French Connection (1971, William Friedkin) 90
[ In France, he guy walks around, buys a baguette, goes home and gets shot in the face. Back in the New York, Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman (the latter dressed as Santa Claus!) run after a “nigger”, then rough him up. Later, our two cops tail a “greaser”, just because he looks suspicious… 20 minutes into the movie, we don’t really know what’s going on, except that the protagonists seem to be antiheroes and that director William Friedkin has a knack for making everything feel tense and gritty. Scheider and Hackman do stakeouts, listen to wiretaps, follow people around… But again, for a long time, we’re not sure what they’re after and the thing is, maybe they don’t either. They just have a hunch or something. Yet thanks to the way each scene is shot, cut and scored, it remains engrossing. “The French Connection” is basically a feature-length chase scene, culminating with the famous sequence in which Hackman tries to catch up to a train in a car. Add a few shootouts and you get one of the best action films of the 70s. ]

(11 Feb) And the Oscar Goes To… (2014, Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman)
[ Here’s a really well put together documentary on the history of the Academy Awards, with lots of great archival footage and interesting interviews with tons of Hollywood stars and filmmakers who’ve won or been nominated for Oscars over the years. Good times! ]

(12 Feb) Green Zone (2010, Paul Greengrass) 77
[ Bombs Over Baghdad. Machine gun fire in the streets. Total chaos. The year is 2003 and the U.S. has invaded Iraq with shock and awe, which Paul Greengrass conveys in just a few minutes with his patented guerilla filmmaking style. Shaky handheld camerawork, quick cutting, Matt Damon running around: this is almost like another “Bourne” sequel. Why was this a critically maligned box-office flop again? It’s action-packed, it’s thought-provoking, it shows what a giant clusterfuck the Iraq War was, with the search for nonexistent WMD and whatnot, while also delivering a lot of thrills. It’s not as great as, say, Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”, but it’s still a solid flick. ]

(13 Feb) Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015, Matthew Vaughn) 52
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(14 Feb) Terms of Endearment (1983, James L. Brooks) 65
[ This film is adapted from a Larry McMurtry novel, but what it felt like to me is a condensed version of five seasons of a TV dramatic series. We first see Emma (Debra Winger) as a baby, then we see her grow up, get married, have a kid, then another, then another… Meanwhile, her mother (Shirley MacLaine) has an affair with her neighbour (Jack Nicholson), a drunken, womanizing astronaut. There’s a whole lot happening over many years, with ellipses ahoy! And then, in the third act, it becomes about cancer and it gets really moving, maybe because we’ve seen these characters go through so many things. ]

(15 Feb) Banshee – “Pilot” (2013, Greg Yaitanes)
[ I heard from a few places that this Cinemax series is a treat for any action movie fan, so I figured I’d check it out. The premise, which has an ex-con (Antony Starr) arrive in the town of Banshee, witness the murder of the new Sheriff who no one has met yet and decide to prentend to be him, is rather preposterous, at least in the age of the Internet (it would have worked perfectly in a Western setting). But there’s more than enough gratuitous sex and excessive violence to keep us entertained. Consider me hooked. ]

(18 Feb) The Ides of March (2011, George Clooney) 68
[ Sometimes, the best thing about a film is the screenplay. Sometimes, it’s the visuals. Or it could be the music, the special effects, the art direction or whatnot. Then you’ve got movies that are good enough overall, but that are truly elevated by the casting. Watching “The Ides of March”, I spent basically the whole first act exclaiming: “Oh! I love that guy! Ah! She’s great!” I knew the stars were George Clooney and Ryan Gosling, wonderful actors both, but what really got me is discovering the all-star supporting cast: the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright… Clooney also does a solid job directing and the screenplay, which he cowrote with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, has a feel of the latter’s “House of Cards”, with its depiction of the nasty side of politics… But mostly, it’s that cast that makes it flies. ]

(20 Feb) The Last Five Years (2015, Richard LaGravenese) 84
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

(24 Feb) Only God Forgives (2013, Nicolas Winding Refn) 57
[ Nicolas Winding Refn is the textbook definition of a love-him-or-hate-him director. His biggest critical and popular hit is by far “Drive”, but even that film is rather divisive, with lots of folks hating it. I myself adored it, but the other NWR movies I’ve seen so far, “Bronson” and “Valhalla Rising”, have disappointed me. I’m now catching up to his latest, “Only God Forgives”, which has its fans I think, but which has most often been called a total failure by people I respect. What first hit me is that, as always, NWR proves to be a masterful visual filmmaker. The use of light and shadows, of colors and of framing is very striking, if anything. Alas, it’s soon obvious that this is solely an exercise in style, with not much of a plot, many shots of Ryan Gosling staring in silence and some downright abstract stretches. That, and a lot of bloody violence and general unpleasantness. Plus an almost unrecognizable Kristin Scott Thomas as Gosling’s mother, who likes to talk about cocks and whatnot. I don’t think this is completely worthless, but it’s definitely flawed and uneven. ]

(26 Feb) Starring Adam West (2013, James Tooley)
[ One of the most memorable interviews I’ve ever done was with Adam West, a childhood hero of mine for his portrayal of Batman in the campy 1966 TV series. So of course I wanted to watch this documentary when I stumbled upon it on Netflix. It’s a fun watch, recounting West’s life and career up to when KROQ (and Hollywood Babble-On!)’s Ralph Garman campaigned for him to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. ]

January / March