2012 log (9)

(4 Sep) Bernie (2012, Richard Linklater) 83
[ I knew next to nothing about this one before seeing it beside the fact that it was directed by Linklater, reuniting with “The School of Rock” star Jack Black. So when it said at the top that it was a True Story, I didn’t know whether or not to believe it (the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” has forever made me suspicious of films claiming to be based on a true story). Likewise, I was never sure whether the documentary-style interview bits with folks from Carthage, East Texas were the real deal or not. But these fact-or-fiction? tensions were not a drawback, quite to the contrary. All through “Bernie”, I felt engaged by them, wondering if I should laugh or not at these people/characters. Once Matthew McConaughey shows up, about half an hour in, in another hilarious turn this year (see also: “Magic Mike”) I started to suspect this was all a big bunch of straight-faced silliness à la Christopher Guest. One thing’s clear from the get-go: Jack Black is a treat as a super-sweet funeral parlour employee who may or may not also be a bullshit artist and may or may not be gay. Oh, and he spends nearly as much time singing here than he did in “School of Rock” (gospel, mostly)! Much of the story deals with his unhealthy relationship with a mean old widow played by Shirley MacLaine, which is ambiguous like the rest of the movie. Who’s exploiting whom there? And there are more such questions we ask ourselves further down the line, as things grow more dramatic. The kicker? This actually IS a true story! Reality can be stranger than fiction, eh. ]

(5 Sep)   Young Adult  (2011, Jason Reitman) 72
[ I always find it amazing how art in general and movies in particular can get their finger on the pulse of something in such a clear, eye-opening way. I mean, not everything in “Young Adult” spoke to me (I’m nowhere near either the mess or the hottie that is that film’s hottie/mess protagonist), but there’s a beat early one where Charlize Theron’s character Mavis wakes up, fools around a little bit, then sits down to write her novel. Chapter One. Blank page. She writes two lines, then switches to one of the other windows open on her computer and skims a bunch of new emails. Ha! That’s so what’s it’s like! Is there anyone in these 21st century lives almost always centred around one’s computer/internet…  Procrastination has always been a thing but nowadays, it’s monumentally easy to put aside writing the Great American Novel or whatnot to tweet, update your status, Google something, etc. Another thing: a tad later in this post-”Juno” reunion of writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, Mavis goes on a road trip and brings an old mixtape, and she keeps rewinding it just to listen to that one song. That made me nostalgia so hard! Not that I miss-miss cassette tapes, but I spent so much time listening to them that I kinda do, actually… Same thing for the way Mavis is going back to the suburban town where she grew up: I can’t say that I *like* the suburbs, but they are part of what made me who I am so, again, nostalgia. It’s so weird…  I just looked up Diablo Cody’s Wikipedia page and yup, she was born around the same time that I was (less than 2 years apart), which explains the 1990s stuff littered all over “Young Adult”. The film is all about arrested development, a huge generational issue obviously, what with all these folks in their 30s more or less clinging to their youth – Theron’s Mavis being a particularly pathetic example of it. It’s okay to still be fond of the music and stuff you liked back in the day, like Patton Oswalt’s endearing geek character, but to still be obsessed with your ex from high school even though he’s now married and has a newborn kid. Eesh! It starts out funny, but eventually grows mostly cringeworthy to watch this trainwreck happen. Great performance by Theron, in any case.  ]

(6 Sep) Cyrus (2010, Jay & Mark Duplass) 70
[ Having enjoyed “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” a great in spite of some obnoxious directorial tics on the part of the Duplass brothers, I was looking forward to discovering their earlier work. “Cyrus” for one is very much in the same spirit as “Jeff”, dealing as it is with a guy (the great John C. Reilly) having a hard time getting out there and doing something, anything. Except that in this case, he’s not a 30-year-old still living with his mom, but a divorced man feeling lonely and desperate to meet someone new. To paraphrase one of the non-Reilly characters from “Magnolia”, he has so much love to give, he just doesn’t know where to put it… This is the kind of raw emotion at the heart of “Cyrus”, which is also full of awkardness and quirks… And it’s really funny! It truly and forever won me over 10 minutes in with a quasi-musical number involving a super-drunk Reilly singing and dancing to The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me, embodying one of the greatest qualities someone can have, in my opinion, namely to just do what feels right and have some fun, damn it, without caring what other people will think. The wonderful thing here is that early on, just around the time of that number actually, he does meet somebody to love, a woman played by the adorable Marisa Tomei, and things seem to be looking up… Until he meets her son, a 21-year-old weirdo portrayed by Jonah Hill, which leads to a lot of the aforementioned awkwardness and laughs. It’s not always an easy watch, as you really wish Reilly could get a break and be happy with Tomei, but hey, that’s life I guess. ]

(7 Sep)  Capitalism: A Love Story   (2009, Michael Moore)
[  I used to love Michael Moore, but… Well, I still like him, but it’s telling that it took me three years before bothering to watch his latest. There are a few things at work here: for one, I feel that each Moore flick more or less seems to be lesser than the previous one. To me, “Roger & Me” is a stone-cold masterpiece. Skipping ahead a bit, “Bowling for Columbine” was pretty great as well… And “Fahrenheit 9/11” was rather memorable too, though by then we knew the formula (and shortcuts) rather well… Then came “Sicko”, which was good enough, but hardly as impactful in popular culture as the three aforementionned titles. And now (well, three years ago) we have “Capitsalism: A Love Story”, which doesn’t feel like a unique kind of documentary anymore, but like one of many, many films that similarly use satire, montage and filmmaker-as-character beats to get their message across. Even the subject is hardly original: how many documentaries have been made about the 2008 financial crisis? Too many to count, I’m afraid. All that being said, there’s no denying that Michael Moore can still be effective, if not as distinctive and refreshing as he once as. Take an early sequence drawing parallells between life in Ancien Rome and 2000s America: not the most original idea, but the execution is clever and pretty striking. Then you’ve got a bunch of heartbreaking footage of people being evicted from their homes.. Again, nothing we haven’t seen before, but it’s still painful to watch. Most impressive is the way Moore manages to get genuinely evil capitalist bastards to talk on camera about how it’s sometimes all about taking advantage of the weak and unfortunate – one guy litterally compares himself to a vulture! It’s everything we’ve grown to expect from Michael Moore movie… No surprises, but still good stuff! Every other sequence is a keeper, a brilliantly edited assemblage of archival footage, movie clips and home movies that can be both funny and sad, enjoyable and angering… Like capitalism, basically. Not a bad system per se, but boy can it be abused! According to Moore, it’s the Reagan administration that is to blame first, for the way they removed/crippled the things that made the U.S. economy viable, allowing banks and corporations to gut the middle class for quick profit. And then things got even worse under Bush, leading to the 2008 crash…  It’s all very depressing, even though Moore throws in gags here and there, and a hopeful message at the end. But it’s well worth watching nevertheless.  ]

(8 Sep) The Queen of Versailles (2012, Lauren Greenfield)
[ Another film about the 2012 financial crash, in this case as experience by a filthy rich family who hits a wall after years of living a ridiculously decadent lifestyle. A riveting depiction of how even the most arrogantly wealthy can be humbled once their luck run out. ]

(9 Sep) Wedding Crashers (2005, David Dobkin) [ review ] 69

(10 Sep) Superman (1978, Richard Donner) 71
(11 Sep) Superman II (1980, Richard Lester & Richard Donner) 77
(12 Sep) Superman III (1983, Richard Lester) 18
(13 Sep) Superman IV (1987, Sidney J. Furie) 3
[ A look back at the Superman Tetralogy ]

(14 Sep) L’affaire Dumont (2011, Daniel Grou-Podz) [ review ] 62

(15 Sep)   Shark Attack  (1999, Bob Misiorowski) 45
[ Here’s a rare shark movie that’s NOT a “Jaws” knockoff. Instead it’s a pretty cool little action flick packing a bunch of explosions, fights and shout-outs, as well as a series of shark attacks. The plot is too silly to summarize, the best thing about it being how it revolves around Steven McKray, a character who, as portrayed by the great Casper Van Dien, has got to be the most badass marine biologist of all time! Also of note is the fact that the film features a lot of real footage of sharks in action, even though this sometimes makes for incoherently edited sequences mixing said real footage with shots of actors (or stuntmen) pretending to be attacked by off-screen sharks. Still, this remains an enjoyable enough B-movie. ]

(17 Sep)   Bronson (2008, Nicolas Winding Refn) 49
[ Tom Hardy may be the ultimate chameleon in movies today. It’s like he looks and sounds different in every film of his I see. I mean, even though he plays brutish forces of nature in “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Warrior” and this here “Bronson”, each character is distinctive in the way he speaks, moves and, well, fights. Because like in the other two titles, Hardy spends a lot of time beating the shit out of other people in “Bronson”, a film inspired by the life of a notorious British convict who went by the borrowed name of action movie star Charles Bronson. Here’s a bloke who actually enjoys being in prison, which he finds to be the perfect place for a guy like him who likes to deal with every situation with his fists! Director Nicolas Winding Refn tells his story by using a lot of colorful visual flourishes, a mix of classical music and pop / techno on the soundtrack, and transitions featuring Hardy in character talking to camera or performing on stage. A lot of effort to keep the thing feeling lively, basically, to no avail. You see, even though Hardy is riveting in the lead part, “Bronson” suffers from a shapeless narrative, wonky pacing and rampant self-indulgence. It feels long and deeply uneven at 90 minutes. The 20 minute version would be insane, though. ]

(18 Sep) The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson) [ review ] 94  

(19 Sep) Winnie (2012, Darrell Roodt) 40
[ For most of this biopic, it feels like a hagiography, a sappy, simplistic, by-the-numbers retelling of the life of Winnie Mandela and, inevitably, her longtime husband Nelson, and the way they fought against apartheid in South Africa, both of them (especially him of course) being imprisoned for extended periods and whatnot. It’s relatively well put together, but the writing is shaky, too on the nose, with Winnie and Nelson coming off like saints while characters like the security police officer played by Elias Koteas are cartoonishly villainous. If it wasn’t for how amazing an actor Terrence Howard, who plays Nelson Mandela, is, I’m not even sure I wouldn’t have walked out. For the longest time, this really feels like a mediocre TV movie… But then comes the third act and suddenly, it becomes all kinds of complex and ambiguous and idiosyncratic as Winnie Mandela, played strongly enough by Jennifer Hudson, seems to turn into almost a Blaxploitation character, what with the afro and funky music on the soundtrack, plus the “Football Club” entourage of young thugs. All of the sudden, we’re not sure what to think of Mama Winnie, who becomes a rather extreme and controversial figure. Ultimately, the film hedges its bets a little bit, trying to justify her actions or at least balance them against all the good she did do before in her life, but still, she’s hardly a purely heroic protagonist. Too bad the whole film doesn’t reflect that. ]

(20 Sep) This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006, Kirby Dick)
[ Since the late 1960s, Hollywood, or more precisely the MPAA, has been rating movies instead of censoring them. At least, that’s the official story. Because when they give a film a NC-17 (formerly X) rating, that’s a death sentence at the box-office, so filmmakers tend to censor themselves in order to get to resubmit to the MPAA and hopefully get an R. That’s one thing, but the worst part is that the MPAA is ridiculously secretive and their decisions are often hypocritical, like, they’ll allow all kinds of violence, but they’ll get their panties in a bunch over any sex stuff. Especially, it seems, when a movie depicts female pleasure, as if that was offensive! This documentary explores the history of censorship in Hollywood and the way Jack Valenti’s MPAA works, via interviews with former ratings board members, various industry observers and a bunch of filmmakers (Kimberly Peirce, Wayne Kramer, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, John Waters, Mary Harron, Darren Aronofsky, etc.). ]

(21 Sep) Thunderbolt and Lightfoot  (1974, Michael Cimino) 75
[ I’d never heard of this film until recently, and boy am I glad I took the time to check it out! Right from the opening 10 minutes, it grips your attention, as it introduces its two title characters. Clint Eastwood’s Thunderbolt is first seen in a church out in the country, dressed as a priest and addressing his flock – until a man barges into the church and starts shooting at him then chases him into a field! Meanwhile, Jeff Bridges’ Lightfoot is out in a nearby used cars lot, from which he steals a muscle car, which he drives through the same field where Thunderbolt is running for his life. Right there, we love those two guys and are looking forward to spending a couple of hours with them. I mean, just on paper, the Man with no Name paired with the Dude sounds like a great time, doesn’t it? Well, it is! 70s road movies are a dime a dozen, but this one is particularly enjoyable, as written and directed by a pre-”Deer Hunter” Michael Cimino. It’s full of charm and humor, plus some action and suspense since our anti-heroes are being hunted down by Thunderbolt’s former partners while they drive through the Midwest, and the film eventually turns into a heist flick. Oh, and there’s some insane stuff happening as well, like the scene where they hitch a ride with a basket case with a caged raccoon in the front seat and a trunk full of live rabbits! Good times. ]

(21 Sep) New Year’s Eve (2011, Garry Marshall) 33
[ While moderately better than Gary Marshall’s previous holiday-themed ensemble rom-rom, 2010’s “Valentine’s Day”, this remains a rather dull and forgettable picture that goes out of its way to waste an all-star cast. There are cute moments sprinkled throughout and even some decent ideas here and there, but barely any actual laughs or touching moments. Best in show are Robert De Niro and Halle Berry in my opinion, and I also dug Michelle Pfeiffer and Zac Efron of all people, as well as some of the material involving Ashton Kutcher and Lea Michele, Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel (and Til Schwiger!) and some others. But most of the flick is flat, flat, flat, if still watchable enough on an uneventful, turn-your-brain-off evening. ]

(22 Sep) Spring Break Shark Attack (2005, Paul Shapiro) 17
[ The Spring Break is super lame: badly written, badly directed, badly acted, plus no gratuitous sex or nudity whatsoever! The shark attack scenes aren’t too bad, though. ]

(26 Sep) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (2012, Jay Oliva)
[ While there’s no substitute for the lasting impact of Frank Miller’s classic 1986 miniseries, this animated adaptation, the first of two parts of which was just released on DVD and Blu-Ray, is a good to way to get reacquainted with it. It’s such a damn powerful story, that of an aging Bruce Wayne who’s retired The Batman for 10 years when a crime wave involving a street gang known as the Mutants and the old demons from his past force him to put on the cape and cowl again. I love how they kept the way the narrative is framed by excerpts from TV newscasts and talk shows that form a Greek choir of sorts, analyzing the resurgence of the Dark Knight in often fascinating ways. As for the action scenes, they are swift, brutal, and bloody effective. I’m already looking forward to Part 2! ]

(28 Sep) Looper (2012, Rian Johnson) 90
[ Here’s a brilliant sci-fi flick that’s at once relatively small in terms of fireworks (though it does feature some of the best action scenes of the year), with its 2044 main setting having only a few sketched in futuristic flourishes, but that’s downright epic when it comes to ideas. From the trailers, you know that it involves loopers, i.e. hitmen who kill targets from the future who’ve been sent back in time in order for their bodies to be impossible to trace, and that an early twist has the protagonist played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt having to shoot his older self, played by Bruce Willis (the way JLG is made-up to look like Willis is a bit stuntey, but convincing nevertheless). But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I’m glad I didn’t know what this leads to, so I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s exhilirating the way the film builds and builds and builds, twisting itself in all sorts of fascinating knots. Now, is it completely unique? I guess not, since you could say it juggles elements from “The Terminator”, “Back to the Future”, “12 Monkeys”, “The Matrix”, “Memento”, “Minority Report” and whatnot. But it still feels original and exciting in the end and, in any case, all those other movies are awesome so why not borrow a thing or two from them? Strikingly shot and tightly edited, “Looper” features many cleverly designed sequences that play present and future against each other, but ultimately, the “time travel shit” doesn’t matter so much in a superficial way: what’s great is the way it raises thought-provoking philosophical questions about the way we live our lives, the way our older and younger selves can clash against each other figuratively, the “fuzzy mechanism” that is our memory and the way we put together our own personal timelines, often forgetting other people’s point of view and the way our actions affect them in the process… It’s a film constituted of all these intriguing setups and riveting payoffs, as it conveys a message of sorts about the need to not close loops or patterns, but to change them. ]

(29 Sep) Cedar Rapids (2011, Miguel Arteta) 61
[ “What isn’t wrong with me? I talk too much, I drink too much, I weigh too much, and I piss people off…”
I’m quite fond of these little indie comedies, which may not be all in-your-face, laugh-a-minute, but which let comic performers do their thing in a somewhat more grounded, nuanced manner. In this case, we have the great Ed Helms as a nebbish small-town insurance salesman trying to get his bearings in the big city during a convention, plus the always enjoyable John C. Reilly as a loud, brash, fun-loving bear of a man who Helms ends up rooming with. A classic odd-couple set-up, but it works, thanks to the way the two actors make each of their part more than one-dimensional – Reilly’s character is actually a real standup guy, while Helms’ all too easily slides into dark places once his naive illusions are broken… Well worth checking out. ]

(29 Sep) Mermaids (1990, Richard Benjamin) 60
[ An enjoyable middle-of-the-road coming-of-age / mother-daughters dramedy set in the early 1960s, most notable for the winning performances by Cher, Winona Ryder and an itty-bitty Christina Ricci. Oh, and Bob Hoskins as a the poor guy trying to make sense of this crazy family! ]

(30 Sep) Pitch Perfect (2012, Jason Moore) 43
[ A sort-of enjoyable “Glee”-type quasi-musical, this movie about a cappella singing competitions between groups of college kids could have been much better if the lead actress had more charisma and comic chops than the just-okay Anna Kendrick. It’s still watchable enough thanks to a bunch of fun song performances, plus the priceless, scene-stealing Rebel Wilson. ]

August / October