Montreal Film Journal

2012 LOG (1)

(1 Jan) In the Name of the King II (2011, Uwe Boll) 35
[ Ostensibly a sequel to 2008's In the Name of the King: A  Dungeon Siege Tale, even though neither star Jason Statham  nor any of the characters from it are back, this typically  low-rent Uwe Boll production once again suffers from an  undercooked screenplay, muddled direction and rotten acting. It  does have one saving grace in the casting of the undeniably  charismatic Dolph Lundgren as an ex-Special Forces soldier  who's sent back in time to fulfill a prophecy about vanquishing  Dark Ones or something. "I can't believe this medieval crap,"  says Lundgren at some point, and neither can we, but at least  the movie has a sense of humour about it. There are also a few  decent action scenes, including a kind-of awesome climactic dragon attack. ]

(5 Jan) A Dangerous Method (2011, David Cronenberg) 62
[ Thank God for Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel! If it wasn't for these three compelling screen presences, "A Dangerous Method" might have been a total letdown. An adaptation of Christopher Hampton's play "The Talking Cure" which fails to make us forget about its stage origins, this is one of Cronenberg's most formally conventional pictures. An elegant period piece, unavoidably talkative considering that its protagonists are psychoanalysts, it deals with a lot of fascinating, thought-provoking, still provocative a hundred years later ideas. There's also something potent and somewhat amusing about the fact that the aforementioned psychoanalysts are all neurotic, more or less repressed perverts... But save for a few rare moments when the darker, more twisted aspects of this psychosexual drama are depicted visually, the film never really takes off; it also sometimes feels oddly disjointed. And then there's Keira Knightley, who indulges in over-the-top scenery-chewing as the patient at the heart of the story, contorting her face, pushing her jaw forward, crying, laughing and shaking like she's playing a possessed woman in an exorcism B-movie. That being said, I would still marginally recommend the film just to see Fassbender as Carl Jung, Mortensen as Sigmund Freud and Cassel as Otto Gross. Again, thank God for those guys! ]

(7 Jan)     Bridesmaids  (2011, Paul Feig) 74
[ This Judd Apatow production has been described in some quarters as a female "Hangover", but I think it'd be more fitting to call it a female "I Love You Man" because, as hilarious as the comedy scenes can be, this also happens to be a pretty darn insightful and touching story about friendship. Kudos to star/writer Kristen Wiig for delivering the laughs bit time with all kinds of witty, raunchy and/or absurd gags, but also for keeping things relatively grounded in regards to the way women (mis)behave amongst each other. She couldn't have picked a better on-screen BFF than Maya Rudolph, with whom she had great chemistry for all those years on SNL. Also a lot of fun are Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, Wendi McLendon-Covey and especially Melissa McCarthy. And the use of Wilson Phillips' Hold On? Perfect, just perfect. 

Note: this is a repost of a blurb written in May 2011 after I first saw the film.  ]

(8 Jan)     Bad Teacher (2011, Jake Kasdan) 69
[ You can kinda tell from the title alone that this will be a twist on "Bad Santa," i.e. an irreverent comedy about a foul-mouthed, drunken, sleazy individual who should really not be allowed to work around impressionable children... But instead of Billy Bob Thornton as a mall Santa, we get Cameron Diaz as the worst 7th grade teacher in the world, who's current goal in life is to get enough money to 1) buy herself "new tits" and 2) use them to seduce a rich man. Also featuring great comic performances from Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch, John Michael Higgins and Phyllis Smith, among others, "Bad Teacher" still works mostly because of the hilariously, thrillingly shameless lead turn by Diaz.  ]

(14 Jan)     Bumrush (2011, Michel Jetté) 47
[ There are two films at odds in "Bumrush": 1) A heavily researched exploration of the dynamics of the Montreal criminal world, in which bikers, the Italian mafia and black street gangs maintain a volatile equilibrium, and 2) a cartoonish urban thriller / 80s-style action B-movie à la "Road House"/"Death Wish 3"/etc. that has a group of ex-military bouncers (Emmanuel Augé, Pat Lemaire, Sylvain Beauchamp, Constant Gagné, Alain Nadro) waging a war against gang member Loosecanon (the late Bad News Brown) and his cohorts for the control of the no man's land that is the Kingdom strip club (!). Marred by low production values, sometimes excessive exposition, not always believable characters and story developments, and uneven acting, "Bumrush" still sporadically captivates, either for its insights into this reality or its outrageously over-the-top fights, shoot-outs and torture scenes. It's certainly an unholy mess, but I enjoyed watching it all the same. ]

(16 Jan) Haywire (2012, Steven Soderbergh) 92
[ From the ever prolific and versatile Steven Soderbergh comes this early contender for the best action flick of 2012 title, starring MMA champion Gina Carano as an ex-Marine turned black ops agent who's been double-crossed by her former employer. The smart, fast-paced, chronologically jumbled script by Lem Dobbs ("The Limey") takes us from the U.S. to Spain, Ireland and Mexico as we're introduced to a gallery of shady characters played by a stellar supporting cast (Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, etc.), which the super badass Carano spends the film punching, kicking and shooting her way through in a series of jaw-dropping fight scenes. A slick, sly spy thriller that's more "Bourne" than "Mission: Impossible", with artful digital cinematography by Soderbergh himself and a jazzy score by David Holmes, "Haywire" is thoroughly enjoyable. Laced with sexy and funny bits, with further compelling turns by the likes of Michael Douglas, Mathieu Kassovitz, Bill Paxton and Michael Angarano, it just keeps moving forward and throwing twists and turns at us, leaving us almost exhausted by the end. ]

(18 Jan) The Grey (2012, Joe Carnahan) 79
[ After a plane bringing home the workers of a remote oil rig  crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, the survivors - a motley  crew of "ex-cons, fugitives, drifters, assholes," to quote  protagonist John Ottway (the always riveting Liam Neeson) -  must fend off a pack of vicious wolves in this grisly,  gruelling man-versus-nature thriller. Full of scary-intense  sequences that practically make it feel like a monster movie,  this adaptation of a short story by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (who  co-wrote the screenplay with director Joe Carnahan) is also a  surprisingly introspective, occasionally downright emo film in  which the characters spend much time reflecting upon their  lives, struggling with faith and trying to come to terms with  their seemingly impending death. ]

(19 Jan) La Peur de l'eau (2012, Gabriel Pelletier) 46
[ This initially comes off a bit like Fargo - i.e., a crime film featuring a dorky, unassuming cop (Pierre-François Legendre) and a bunch of homely small-town folks - with a touch of Vertigo thrown in, what with said cop being afflicted with aquaphobia (as opposed to acrophobia in the Hitchcock film). The early scenes depicting the aftermath of the murder of a young woman (Stéphanie Lapointe) and the beginning of the police investigation are intriguing enough, plus the Îles de la Madeleine locations are gorgeously shot, but La Peur de l'eau is soon marred by some clumsy tonal shifts, a lack of urgency and an increasingly preposterous plot, not to mention uneven performances from the supporting cast (including Brigitte Pogonat, Normand D'Amour and Pascale Bussières). ]

(21 Jan) Hard Target (1993, John Woo) [ review ] 75

(21 Jan)     Moneyball  (2011, Bennett Miller) 64
[ There's a great story here, about how Oakland A's G.M. Billy Beane's heart was broken by his team being eliminated by the New York Yankees in 2001, with a budget three times bigger than his of course... And then with the help of "Peter Brand" (actually a composite character created for the film), a Yale graduate with a degree in economics and a vision about how to build a championship team using undervalued players who happen to have a high on-base percentage, he proved that there was another way to play the game. Sort of. Interestingly, this isn't exactly a spectacular Cinderella story, even though the Atheletics' 2002 season did include a historic winning streak. It's more a "Rocky" kind of thing where you can win even if you technically lose in the end - not that Beane would agree about that (dude hates losing, even more than he likes winning). Anyway, so yeah, there's a great story here, which also works as a metaphor for how in life, you sometimes have to change the way you look at people, to try and see the worth in those usually dismissed for one reason or another. But in my opinion, "Moneyball" is not a great movie. Good, but not great. The screenplay, a Frankenstein deal in which Stan Chervin, Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin successively took cracks at adapting Michael Lewis' non-fiction book, suffers from pacing issues, awkwardly introduced flashbacks and a kinda lame attempt to make it more sentimental via the character of Beane's daughter. There are a few truly great scenes full of snappy, witty dialogue where you recognize the Sorkin touch, but other scenes are more dully functional. Likewise, I found Bennett Miller's direction kinda flat; he's certainly no Steven Soderbergh (just sayin'). Still, the cast goes a long way towards keeping us engaged nonetheless. I'm talking about Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but especially about Brad Pitt who delivers a great star turn, charismatic, cocky yet grounded, wounded even - a bit like Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire". For him alone, the movie remains worth seeing. ]

(25 Jan)     Pink Ribbons, Inc.  (2012, Léa Pool)