Montreal Film Journal

2009 LOG (9)

(1 Sep) Adventureland (2009, Greg Mottola) 80
[ I got a liking for Jesse Eisenberg 10 years ago, when he started out his acting career on the short-lived series "Get Real" (which also introduced to the world Anne Hathaway, incidentally). In that show, he was already playing the awkward young guy who's having a hard time making things happen with girls... Which we've seen him play again in the brilliant "Roger Dodger", and now in this here "Adventureland", and he's still great at it. Also perfect is Kristen Stewart who, next to Zooey Deschanel and Kirsten Dunst, is probably the ultimate cool and sexy dream girl in movies these days. Even though her character is confused and all, we can't help but fall in love with her right along with Eisenberg... So by now, I guess you can tell that Greg Mottola hasn't made another "Superbad" here. Even though he's brought along a few players from the Apatow company (Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Martin Starr) and the usually wisecracking Ryan Reynolds, don't expect another hilarious comedy. There are some laughs in this movie about young folks working as carnies for a summer, but it's mostly a sweet, nostalgia-fuelled (it's set in 1987) coming of age story. Beautifully shot by Terry Stacey, it also features an awesome soundtrack with songs by Lou Reed, The Cure, The Rolling Stones, INXS, Crowded House ... and Falco! ]

(2 Sep) Gaz Bar Blues (2003, Louis Bélanger) 84
[ In 1989 Québec, Sébastien Delorme, Danny Gilmore and Maxime Dumontier all work at their dad (Serge Thériault)'s gas station, but what they really want to do it, respectively, become a photograph, play harmonica in clubs and make movies. We never actually hear about the latter during the film, but Dumontier's character is based on Louis Bélanger himself and this is a very autobiographical picture, so... This is a very much a hanging out movie, as the "gaz bar" is the spot where a lot of old guys spend their days and nights, and some local hoodlums also wander around the place. This allows for a great ensemble of supporting actors (Gilles Renaud, Gaston Lepage, Claude Legault, Réal Bossé, Emmanuel Bilodeau, Marc Beaupré, etc.), but this remains an intimate family drama where we really grow to care about these three brothers and their father, who's struggling not only with Parkinson, but also with a rapidly changing world in which small mom and pop businesses have a hard time surviving. Filled with melancholy, as well as humor and tenderness, "Gaz Bar Blues" is truly a gem. ]

(4 Sep) Signs (2002, M. Night Shyamalan) [ review ] 94

(5 Sep) Unbreakable (2000, M. Night Shyamalan) [ review ] 92

(5 Sep) Girl 27 (2007, David Stenn)
[ Set in 1937 Hollywood, this is a tale of excess, deceit, rape, character assassination and cover-ups. It's like a James Ellroy novel, but it's in fact a documentary about the real-life case of Patricia Douglas, one of 120 underage chorus girls who were conned into being the entertainment at an MGM salesmen convention, was violated then filed a report against the studio... Only to come face to face with the might of golden age Hollywood, which crushed her and made the story disappear. That is, until David Stenn stumbled upon it and made this film, which is as engrossing as a mystery thriller.

Note: it's currently streaming on SnagFilms. ]

(6 Sep) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966, Sergio Leone) [ review ] 100

(7 Sep) World's Greatest Dad (2009, Bobcat Goldthwait) [ review ] 76

(10 Sep) Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989, Stephen Herek) 68
[ I guess it's a generational thing, but all those late 1980s, early 1990s flicks make me so giddy... Now, this is hardly a masterpiece, but as a pit stop between the "Back to the Future" trilogy and the "Wayne's World" movies, it really delivers! In a way, Keanu Reeves will always be Ted. And Alex Winter... Well, whatever happened to that guy? Whoa! Dude! Excellent! (guitar riff) ]

(12-13-14 Sep) Lance et compte - saison un (1986, Jean-Claude Lord)
[ Can you believe that until now, I'd never seen any of this most classic of Quebec TV series, save for a few out of context scenes? Now, the thing has certainly aged. A lot. As much as it might have brought a more cinematic feel to TV back in the day, it's still very much marred by téléroman conventions. It's also full of continuity errors, narrative shortcuts, laughable production values, casual misogyny and racism... And yet it's thoroughly addictive all the same. I attribute this to the undying power of sports drama. The story of an underdog who overcomes many obstacles to become the champion of his people - that's Rocky, of course, but it's also Luke Skywalker and almost every mythical hero in history. Here, it's Pierre Lambert (Carl Marotte), a rookie from Trois-Rivières who becomes the new sensation of the Québec city hockey team Le National, much to the chagrin of veteran star Marc Gagnon (Marc Messier), who desperately craves the spotlight all to himself... Not to mention as much hot young tail as he can grab, including Lambert's 18 year old sister Suzie (Marina Orsini). Now it's Pierre's time to get pissed at his teammate! Will they be able to put aside their rivalry to work together towards winning the Stanley Cup? Obviously, but the 13 hour-long episodes it takes to get there are chockfull of twists and turns involving, beside those mentioned above, the team's coach and general manager (the priceless Yvan Ponton and Michel Forget), other players (Robert Marien, Eric Hoziel, Jean Deschênes, etc.), Lambert's various girlfriends (Marie-Chantal Labelle, Sophie Renoir, France Zobda), his on and off best friend (Jean Harvey), local journalists (Denis Bouchard, Sylvie Bourque) and more. Not all of it works, not by a long shot, but when it does, it really scores! ]

(12 Sep) The Untouchables (1987, Brian De Palma) 77
[ This is a cop drama, a gangster movie and a quasi-Western, too, what with the Ennio Morricone score and stuff. All of which is really engrossing, thanks to the hardboiled David Mamet and the show-offy De Palma set pieces and long takes, sure. But also because of the great cast led by Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness, who's well supported by Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith and, last but not least, Sean Connery at his most badass. Watch out as well for a young Patty Clarkson as Ness' wife and, of course, the great Robert De Niro chewing a whole lot of scenery as Al Capone! ]

(13 Sep) La vie moderne (2008, Raymond Depardon) 80
[ Winner of the Prix Louis-Delluc of the Best French film of the year in 2008, this documentary is the third in the "Profils paysans" series, after "L'approche" (2001) and "Le quotidien" (2005). In it, Depardon pays visits to various farmers in the French countryside, in the region of the Cévennes mountains. Alain, who recently brought a wife and her teenage daughter into his household, which doesn't fare too well with his uncles, two old-timers who never married and who seem more at ease with livestock than with people. Germaine and Marcel, who've been milking cows in the same village their whole life and who can't even remember when they got married. Abel and Gilberte, whose six children have all gone away except Daniel, who's begrudgingly taken over the farm. The main figures are 70 and 80 year olds who've been working hard and long on their land their whole lives, not nearly getting rich in the process. A dying breed, it seems, because the film's few younger characters seem to be having an even harder time than their elders, or at least they don't appear to want to put up with it. Now, this isn't a message movie, not in any overt way. It's a slow and quiet picture, warmly observed (and narrated) by Depardon, who's been checking in on many of those folks for ten years or more. First and foremost a photographer, the filmmaker uses long tracking shots through country roads as a leitmotiv, as he moves from one subject to another. And when he settles to have a conversation with one of said subjects, his camera is often perfectly still, offering one splendidly composed living portrait after another. The result is a film that is both luminous and somewhat sombre, as the beauty of the images contrasts with the realisation that we're witnessing the last days of a certain way of living. "C'est la fin." ]

(19 Sep) Ghost (1990, Jerry Zucker) 67
[ I wasn't planning of watching this now because Patrick Swayze died this week... But that's why a local station chose to air it tonight, I happened to stumble upon it and for some reason, I just couldn't stop watching. There's the romantic aspect of it, sure, plus Swayze and Demi Moore make a beautiful couple, but I think what really got me is the whole supernatural thing. Everyone wonders about what happens when you die, right? Is there an afterlife? Can you contact your loved ones? Films as different as "Beetlejuice" and "The Sixth Sense" have explored this, and it's always fascinating, to me anyway. Now, "Ghost" ain't that great a movie: the Oscar-winning performance by Whoopi Goldberg is sometimes more annoying than funny, the special effects have kinda aged badly, the murder mystery is rather predictable... But still, at its core, it remains quite moving. ]

(19-21 Sep) True Blood (2008, Alan Ball)
[ "Is there anybody who isn't fucking vampires these days?"
Dude, how come no one thought about making a series (or movie) about the sex life of vampires before? I mean, there's always been an erotic subtext to vampire stories, but this is the first time I've seen it depicted in such an in-your-face way! Plus, like everything Alan Ball's ever created, it's not just sexy, it's also clever, funny and involving. Taking place in a world where vampires have "come out of the casket" (!), attracting both groupies and haters, "True Blood" more closely follows the story of smalltown Louisiana waitress Sookie Stackhouse, played by the wonderful Anna Paquin, who happens to be a telepath, which means that vampires can't "glamour" her... But she ends up falling for one (Stephen Moyer) anyway. Also interesting is how the bloodsucking goes both ways, as humans, including the hilariously flaming Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), Sookie's redneck brother (Ryan Kwanten) and sexy hippie chick Amy (Lizzy Caplan), take hits of vampire blood as if it were a hard drug. And then there's Sam (Sam Trammell), who barks in his sleep, and Tara (Rutina Wesley), who just might be possessed by a demon... A whole lot of fucked up, basically, but it's entertaining as hell! And as mentioned, it's as smart as it is horny and gory, cooking up a multifaceted allegory in which vampires stand for either homosexuals, blacks, immigrants or whatever class of people is feared or dehumanized by the majority... Except that often times, vampires are indeed scary and they aren't really human anymore, which makes it all the more ambiguous. Good stuff. ]

(23-28 Sep) True Blood - Season 2 (2009, Alan Ball)
[ "I'm a waitress. What the fuck are you?"
More awesome, perverted, weird-ass stuff... I can't get enough of Anna Paquin's Sookie, and Stephen Moyer's Bill is pretty damn great too, as are Rutina Wesley's Tara and Nelsan Ellis' Lafayette and Ryan Kwanten's Jason and Sam Trammell's Sam. I really love this cast! There are a few other characters who, though we got a taste of them during season one, truly come into their own in this new series of episodes: Alexander Skarsgård's vampire sheriff (!) Eric Northman; Deborah Ann Woll's Jessica Hamby, a teenage girl who was turned by Bill into an eternal vampire virgin ("It grew back!"); and Michelle Forbes's Maryann Forrester, a mysterious woman who mindfucks all of Bon Temps into a town full of sex-crazed maniacs. This second season also furthers the whole vampire mythology, while establishing that some humans, Texas Christians to be precise (it figures), are putting together an army to strike back against the creatures of the night. And it introduces the Queen of vamps, played by the delicious Evan Rachel Wood. I love this show. ]

(25 Sep) The Magnificent Seven (1960, John Sturges) 75
[ Big Western fan here and I think that "Seven Samurai" is an all-out masterpiece yet somehow, I'd never seen this Western transposition of the Kurosawa classic before. Now, this is kinda like "The Dirty Dozen", inasmuch as it also stars many of the coolest male stars of the era, most notably Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn, not to mention the awesome Eli Wallach as the head bandit. Director John Sturges is no Sergio Leone, but he still manages to keep things rocking and rolling and gawd, does he have an amazing secret weapon in that Elmer Bernstein score! ]

(30 Sep) The Brothers Bloom (2009, Rian Johnson) 70
[ Mischievous Mark Ruffalo and melancholy Adrien Brody star as Stephen and Bloom, two orphan siblings who have been making it as grifters around the world since their youth. But when we catch up with Bloom at age 35, he confides to his brother that he's tired of perpetually playing roles in the elaborate schemes Stephen orchestrates; he'd like to enjoy an "unwritten life" for once. So the brothers set out to do one last job, one involving "eccentric shut-in rich bitch" Penelope (an adorably quirky Rachel Weisz) and other colourful characters such as creepy Belgian curator Max (Robbie Coltrane) and devious Russian mobster Diamond Dog (Maximilian Schell), not to mention the brothers' faithful Japanese assistant Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi)... Along the way, Penelope and Bloom fall in love - or is that still part of the con? Between the Ricky Jay narration and the Dirk Diggler-style exploding logo, you get a clear sense during the film's extended prologue that Rian Johnson is a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan. Furthermore, the "Brick" director's sophomore effort seems influenced by the films of Wes Anderson, the Coen brothers and of course David Mamet, the granddaddy of con man movies. No doubt that the guy has taste, but one can't help but ask the question: where's Rian Johnson in all of that? I guess we'll have to wait until he makes a few more flicks to find that out. For now, we can still appreciate this derivative but very entertaining, whimsical and cleverly crafted movie, in which storytelling and mise en scène are at the forefront, both for the filmmaker and for the characters. ]

August / October