Montreal Film Journal

2003 LOG (5)

(1 May) Drumline (2002, Charles Stone III) 64
[ Who knew marching bands could be as serious as an army drill? This story of a gifted but rebellious young man (Nick Cannon) clashing with the strictness of the "coach" (Orlando Jones) is as old as it gets, but the previously little seen world of drum lines and the giddy sincerity of the cast make this a pleasant little flick. ]

(1 May) Saved by the Belles (2003, Ziad Touma) [ review ] 31

(1 May) Breaking the Waves (1996, Lars Von Trier) 91
[ "When you talk to God, it's called praying. When he answers back, it's called schizophrenia." Or is it? It's never quite clear whether Bess is insane or whether she does have a straight line with the Holy Father. What we know for sure is that the Scottish woman's love for her oil rig worker of a husband is dangerously intense. As is the film as a whole, a harrowing psycho-sexual fable shot in Dogme minimalism, but with colorful chapter breaks of ‘70s rock and quasi-surreal imagery. And then there's Emily Watson, giving one of the most powerful performances I've ever seen. As Von Trier puts it in the production notes, "Emily has a face that expresses an enormous range of emotion; a face you can never tire of watching." Indeed, she has the brightest eyes and the loveliest smile, and it's all the more devastating when the going gets tough for her character. "Breaking the Waves" is a heavy watching experience, but it's a rewarding one. ]

(2 May) X2: X-Men United (2003, Bryan Singer) [ review ] 90

(2 May) Heavenly Creatures (1994, Peter Jackson) 65
[ The opening is terrific, setting up both ‘50s New Zealand and impending tragedy. We then move to the Christchurch Girls High School and watch as Juliet and Pauline develop an intense friendship rooted in their fertile imaginations. Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey (in their debut performances) are both wonderful, managing to make these ditzy, smug, "stark raving mad" young women sympathetic. The film was directed by LOTR maestro Peter Jackson, which explains the surprisingly epic direction and the awesome special effect of what is basically your usual teen angst drama... But with a lesbianish fairy tale vibe! These quirky flourishes don't quite add up and, while the film often toys with brilliance, some stretches fall flat (everything about the parents notably). However, uneven as it may be, this is definitely a memorable film. ]

(4 May) X2: X-Men United (2003, Bryan Singer) [ review ] 90

(4 May) Starship Troopers (1997, Paul Verhoeven) [ review ] 93

(5 May) Cries and Whispers (1973, Ingmar Bergman) 34
[ Everything is either red, black or white, every other shot looking like a White Stripes album cover, but don't expect to be rocked much. This is a sloooow, bleak art film about desperately bored Swedes who stare vacantly, exchange a few solemn words, flash the occasional skin and die, eventually. Formally brilliant, but criminally dull. ]

(6 May) The Color Purple (1985, Steven Spielberg) 59
[ Whoopi gets impregnated by her daddy, her babies are taken away from her, then she's forced to marry a mean mofo of a farmer (Danny Glover) who not only cheats on her but brings his mistress home to live with them. But the two women actually become friends, and then there's something about a long-lost sister in Africa, and there's Oprah being sent to jail basically because she's got a mind of her own (and a temper to go with it)... Like many book-to-film adaptations, "The Color Purple" suffers from a scattered narrative that tries to include too many characters and events. You can tell that Spielberg's got his heart in it but he's not quite right for the material. The movie uneasily juxtaposes brutality and cuteness, social commentary and corny humor, all of which is drowned in an omnipresent score by Quincy Jones. I still cried like a baby at the end, but overall the picture misses more often than it hits. ]

(7 May) The Long Walk Home (1990, Richard Pearce)
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ] 82

(8 May) La vie a du charme (1992, Jean-Philippe Duval) 45
[ English literature's got Kerouac, us Frenchies have Réjean Ducharme (though Ti-Jean kerouac himself is of French Canadian origins). He makes us dream but instead of going on the road, Ducharme's characters travel inward, with the words themselves becoming the destination. A poet more than a storyteller, the ever mysterious Ducharme (who never gave an interview or appeared in public) wrote such lyrical, offbeat masterpieces as "L'avalée des avalés", "Le nez qui voque", "L'océantume", "L'hiver de force" and the screenplay of "Les Bons Débarras", one of the 4-5 best Canadian films ever made. This documentary is interesting enough to the extent that it overflows with quotes from Ducharme's novels and excerpts from his film work and the songs he penned for Robert Charlebois and Pauline Julien, but the sub-Godard free form structure doesn't quite work and the testimonies aren't much informative. One might as well go straight to the source on the page. ]

(9 May) A Mighty Wind (2003, Christopher Guest) [ review ] 74

(10 May) The Matrix (1999, Andy & Larry Wachowski) [ review ] 91

(11 May) The Powerpuff Girls Movie (2002, Craig McCracken) 60
[ Three badass little bug-eyed super-hero girls: red-haired Blossom (the smart one!), black-haired Buttercup (the tough one!) and blonde Bubbles (the cute one!). Together they take on evil monkey genius Mojo Jojo and save the day! Like the TV cartoon it springs from, this movie is full of eye-popping colors, angular drawings and techno music and, while it's as vacuous as it gets and it feels stretched even at 73 minutes, it's still an enjoyable bit of silly nonsense. ]

(13 May) Charlie's Angels (2000, McG) [ review ] 89

(15 May) The Matrix Reloaded (2003, Andy & Larry Wachowski) [ review ] 58

(17 May) Down With Love (2003, Peyton Reed) [ review ] 85

(17 May) Scarface (1983, Brian De Palma) [ review ] 92

(19 May) Country, l'épopée des Cowboys Fringants (2003, Alain Star) 87
[ My first taste of Les Cowboys Fringants was their innocuous single Marcel Galarneau, and it hardly won me over. I thought the song (and the music video) was awfully tacky and I dismissed the Cowboys as a hopelessly uncool western band. A few months passed and I met a girl from Repentigny who convinced me to listen closer. I realised that their dorkiness was intentional and that, beside irresistible party songs, they could also write politically aware or poignant tunes. Two years later, I'm now a huge fan of the group and so is almost everybody my age. Les Cowboys Fringants is the best musical act in Quebec and, if it it's not too early to say so, the voice of a generation. They've just released a 2-CD live album which comes with a DVD featuring all their videos, 9 songs filmed during their "De Gaétane à Mario Dubé" tour and an immensely enjoyable feature-length documentary. Hovering between a straightforward "Behind the Music"-style recollection of the band's career and an irreverent spoof of the genre and its clichés, "Country" is sort of like a French Canadian "This is Spinal Tap", except that the band it depicts is for real even though some of the "facts" might be exaggerated (or even made up). Clearly I'm biased, but I loved every second of the film. "Country, l'épopée des Cowboys Fringants" is simply priceless. You laugh, you're inspired, you nod in recognition or you marvel at such absurdity, but you're always fascinated. It's one of the best rock movies I've ever seen. ]

(20 May) Couch (2003, Paul Thomas Anderson) 25
[ This black & white short has got to be the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Adam Sandler's overacting did make me chuckle but come on, fart jokes? Anderson can do better. ]

(21 May) Signs (2002, M. Night Shyamalan) [ review ] 94

(22 May) The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988, Nicholas Corea) 38
[ Gee, the bar is pretty damn high for Ang Lee! How can his upcoming Hulk flick measure up to this level of hokey dialogue, amateurish production values, awful acting, sappy music and to the breathtaking sight of Lou Ferrigno painted green making angry faces? Even the mighty Thor is on hand in full gay icon attire! ]

(22 May) Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brûlantes (2000, François Ozon) 40
[ Obviously adapted from a stage play, this film is dialogue, dialogue, dialogue... Plus sex, first between a 50 year old man and a teenage boy then with a young woman and a she-male. Maybe this sounds exciting, but the characters are dull and obnoxious and so's the film. Even Ludivine Sagnier's spectacular naked form and a gratuitous musical number can't salvage it. ]

(22 May) Les Immortels (2003, Paul Thinel) 43
[ The story of struggling musicians who work in a steel mill, this is like "8 Mile" in Sorel, with a charismatic and engaging lead in Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge, catchy music, sexy women and a generally convincing depiction of working class life in a small town... But the film suffers from a disconnected narrative, with characters and ideas introduced then seemingly forgotten about and a really anticlimactic ending. "Les Immortels" remains enjoyable, but I wish it'd cut deeper instead of coasting on random bits of questionable humor (al dente condoms?) and contrived drama. ]

(23 May) Bruce Almighty (2003, Tom ShadyHACK) [ review ] 17

(23 May) Les Invasions Barbares (2003, Denys Arcand) [ review ] 88

(24 May) The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989, Bill Bixby) 42
[ Seriously, these TV movies aren't so bad. They're cheesy and cheapie but at least they respect the sentimentality and character-oriented storytelling of Marvel comic books. The Hulk is not just about a green monster smashing things, it's about the anger bottled inside oneself, the beast threatening to bust out if one loses self-control. "David" Banner's powers are actually a curse, a destructive force dooming him to wander the world, terrified, ashamed and alone. And in "Trial", he also gets arrested and the Kingpin puts a price on his head. Only with the help of blind attorney Matt Murdock aka vigilante Daredevil will Banner be able to save his skin. The writing, acting and production values are much inferior to this year's big screen "Daredevil" flick but the action scenes are pretty cool in their shoddy way and, really, the sight of a pissed off Lou Ferrigno in green bodypaint is breathtaking! ]

(24 May) The Italian Job (2003, F. Gary Gray) [ review ] 70

(25 May) Commando (1985, Mark L. Lester) [ review ] 100

(26 May) A Bug's Life (1998, John Lasseter) 48
[ This is pure eye candy like all Pixar movies but, maybe because "Antz" covered the same grounds first (and better), this particular flick is not so involving. The humor is childish, the characters are forgettable... This is no "Toy Story". ]

(26 May) The Terminator (1984, James Cameron) 90
[ I hadn't seen the original in years and I'm surprised by how well it holds up despite some dated special effects and distracting ‘80s music and hairstyles. Schwarzenegger is at his iconic badass best as the killing machine and there's tragic emotional resonance to the story of a man who travels back in time to save a woman he loves even though he's only seen a picture of her. Cameron can craft thrilling action scenes like the best of them and this is a practically uninterrupted chase/shoot-out, stopping only to sketch out an intriguing post-apocalyptic possible future. Trivia note: I noticed for the first time that the blue-haired punk the Terminator kills in the first scene is played by Bill Paxton! ]

(26 May) Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog) [ review ] 98

(27 May) Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog) [ review ] 98

(27 May) L'aventure, c'est l'aventure (1972, Claude Lelouch) 36
[ Starting surprisingly with a musical overture (‘70s rock over shifting colors) then with a statement ("Enjoy life; it's much later than you think"), the film itself is nothing extraordinary. A group of French crooks decide to use the post-Mai 68 turmoil to get rich, staging political kidnappings, plane highjackings and the such. Half-clever gags, shoddy stunts and a LOT of talk ensue. I have no idea why this is a cult comedy. ]

(29 May) Marion Bridge (2003, Wiebke von Carolsfeld) [ review ] 43

(30 May) Alice (1988, Jan Svankmajer) [ review ] 79

(30 May) Finding Nemo (2003, Andrew Stanton) [ review ] 86

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