Montreal Film Journal

2010 LOG (1)

(1 Jan) Death Wish 3 (1985, Michael Winner) 41
[ There's no bigger fan of 1980s Hollywood action movies than me, but somehow I'd never seen this infamous third instalment in the Charles Bronson vigilante franchise. Infamous, because it's such a fucktarded depiction of urban crime, with the goofiest, most ridiculous gang members overrunning an East New York neighbourhood, stealing and vandalizing everything they can and beating, raping and killing countless people out in the open. Badly written, badly directed and badly acted, the film is entertaining for all the wrong reasons, up to and including the last 15 minutes, during which Bronson finally fully lets loose on all the degenerates, murdering dozens of them with not only his trusted .475 Wildey Magnum, but also a World War 2 machine gun and an anti-tank missile launcher! ]

(2 Jan) The Hurt Locker (2009, Kathryn Bigelow) 92
[ Simply put, this is one of the most suspenseful movies I've ever seen. Following a bomb squad while they do their thing around Irak, "The Hurt Locker" constantly keeps us on the edge of our seats, as everything the characters do could instantly kill them if they make a mistake... Or even if they don't, because there's seemingly always threatening individuals waiting in the shadows. Even in between the half dozen of nerve-wrecking set pieces, during the male bonding scenes, things remain tense, as our daredevil heroes always appear to be a moment away from blowing a fuse. Shot in a guerilla documentary style that reminds of Paul Greengrass, the film also features note perfect performances from the three leads (Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty and the particularly badass Jeremy Renner), as well as a few memorable guest star appearances (Guy Pearce, David Morse and especially Ralph Fiennes). A truly great action flick.

Note: this is a repost of a blurb written in July 2009 after I first saw the film. ]

(3 Jan) L'Heure d'été (2009, Olivier Assayas) 64
[ This seems to have become the default answer of American critics to the question of what was the Best Foreign Film of 2009. It makes sense: it's very French, very literate, very concerned with art and the fine things in life... In other words, it's very bourgeois. Starting with a pleasant family reunion where a 75 year old woman (Édith Scob) welcomes her three children (Charles Berling, Juliette Binoche and Jérémie Renier), her grandchildren and a bunch of dogs, the movie soon skips forward to after the matriarch's (off-screen) death and tackles the delicate issue of managing an inheritance. In this case, this involves not only a house but also a lot of antique furniture and an art collection, Édith Scob's character having spent most of her life preserving her painter uncle's works and his belongings. This is interesting, but again, very bourgeois and thus kinda hard to relate to, even though the idea that objects' meaning and worth can often vanish or at least change after their owner dies is universal, I guess. ]

(4 Jan) Les Grandes chaleurs (2009, Sophie Lorain) 22
[ When I see a movie like this, I'm always befuddled by how a filmmaking team's instincts can be so wrong. I mean, they had millions of dollars and a good enough cast to adapt what was, from what I hear, a solid play by Michel Marc Bouchard, but scene after scene, moment after moment, bad artistic choices are made so that it all feels phony, shallow and dull. It's in the slick but soulless TV commercial visual look, the overcooked direction, the shaky performances, the dialogue that's too on the nose, the lame music cues, the dumb gags, the ridiculous depiction of young folks, the unearned sentimentality... Unless you're a desperately sexless fiftysomething woman who gets all hot and bothered at the sight of a bare-chested young man, there's no reason to bother seeing this. ]

(8 Jan) New Denmark (2010, Rafaël Ouellet) 87
[ Part of our RVCQ coverage ]

(11 Jan) Julia (2009, Erick Zonca) 81
[ Unexplainably never released in Quebec theatres, this comeback movie from French director Erick Zonca, who hadn't helmed a feature since the 1998-1999 one-two punch of "La vie rêvée des anges" and "Le petit voleur", is a must-see first and foremost for Tilda Swinton's incendiary performance. The recent Oscar winner (for "Michael Clayton") would definitely deserve to be honoured again for he turn as this harrowing film's titular character, an absolute fuck-up of a woman who seemingly does little but smoke, drink and sleep around, waking up every other morning with strange men in strange places, not remembering what happened the night before. Early on, when she attends an A.A. meeting, we figure this is gonna be a melodrama about her kicking her drinking addiction and finding redemption but actually, Julia will only make worse and worse decisions through the rest of this dark and twisted story, including getting involved in the ridiculously poorly planned kidnapping of her Mexican neighbour's young son (Aidan Gould). As such, "Julia" is not only a raw, intense character study, it's also a quirky and unpredictable thriller not unlike some of those the Coen brothers have given us over the years ("Fargo", "No Country for Old Men", etc.). While Zonca does a good job behind the camera, always keeping us on edge (especially when the action moves to Tijuana, leading to violent sequences that wouldn't have been out of place in "Amores perros"), the film almost entirely rests on Swinton's shoulders. The actress proves to be absolutely fearless as Julia, a spectacularly unsympathetic yet fascinating character the likes of which we don't often see on the big screen. ]

(17 Jan) Détour (2009, Sylvain Guy) 18
[ Léo Huff (an intentionally dull but dull nonetheless Luc Picard) jumps at the chance to leave his obnoxious wife (Suzanne Champagne) and his office work routine, if only for a day, to go present his company's latest project at an assembly in Le Bic. However, things become more complicated when he crosses paths with a femme fatale (the rather tame Isabelle Guérard) and her violently jealous boyfriend (a cartoonish Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge)... "Détour" is a drab, ill-conceived pseudo-film noir, with a pointless story and characters we never care about. It doesn't even cut it as an exercise in style (what style?). ]

(18 Jan) Carcasses (2009, Denis Côté) 55
[ A series of static tableaux showing an old man working/screwing around in a car cemetery out in the sticks, where he's eventually joined by a bunch of intruders with Down syndrome, this fourth feature by Québec iconoclast Denis Côté is certainly his most radical film to date. A stark, wilfully uneventful quasi-documentary, "Carcasses" is quite interesting conceptually, and there are certainly some arresting visuals and amusing bits... But even at less than 70 minutes, it feels needlessly stretched out. Still worth seeing as a curiosity. ]

(21 Jan) À l'Aventure (2009, Jean-Claude Brisseau) 67
[ Brisseau could be -and has been- called pretentious, perverted and misogynistic. His latest movie is all about female desire, which is alternately shown and dissected, through philosophical and psychological theories. At best, one could compare this to some of the films of the late Éric Rohmer; at worst, this could be dismissed as a pseudo-intellectual softcore porno. So which it is? Honestly, I don't know, but I must admit that, whether it's because of Brisseau's provocative ideas or because of the sexy actresses (Carole Brana, Lise Bellynck, Nadia Chibani) doing wild things, I found "À l'Aventure" quite captivating, up until the mystical, "Martyrs"-like climax (pun intended). Your mileage may vary, etc. ]

(23 Jan) Spider-Man 3 (2007, Sam Raimi) 91
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(26 Jan) The Burning Plain (2009, Guillermo Arriaga) 52
[ Arriaga's screenplays (he also wrote González Iñárritu's first three features) tend to swing back and forth between being grounded and preposterous, subtle and obvious, sincere and pretentious... These artsy melodramas also generally tell interweaving stories, in this case those of a restaurant owner (Charlize Theron) who likes to sleep around and cut herself, a young Mexican man (J.D. Pardo) whose father (Joaquim de Almeida) died while fucking his mistress (Kim Basinger) in a trailer that blew up, the teenage daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) of said mistress, and of a crop-duster pilot (Danny Pino) and his young daughter (Tessa Ia). As a director, Arriaga neatly juggles the fractured chronology and establishes moods, and he gets good work from his cast, especially Theron and Lawrence, but the characters take such unfathomable actions at times and the plot can be so contrived that it's hard to really be moved by it all. ]

(27 Jan) Say Anything... (1989, Cameron Crowe) [ review ] 97

(29 Jan) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 91

(29 Jan) A Serious Man (2009, Joel & Ethan Coen) 86
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(30 Jan) Bad Boys II (2003, Michael Bay) [ review ] 75

December / February