2003 log (9)

(2 Sep) Starman (1984, John Carpenter) 65
(4 Sep) Prince of Darkness (1987, John Carpenter) 36
(4 Sep) They Live (1988, John Carpenter) 84
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(5 Sep) Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz) [ review ] 100

(5 Sep) Even Dwarfs Started Small (1971, Werner Herzog) 57
[ Herzog’s nucking futs. How else to explain his making a movie about nothing but midgets messing around, midgets riding motorbikes and cars, midgets tearing down trees, midgets laughing hysterically, midgets chasing chickens and pigs, midgets looking at porno mags, midgets teasing blind midgets, midgets burning stuff, midgets smashing dinner plates, midgets talking a lot of nonsense in German and, of course, midgets crucifying a monkey. This is all pointless and insane and disturbing… But it does make for a memorable dwarfsterpiece. ]

(6 Sep) Moulin Rouge! (2001, Baz Luhrmann) [ review ] 98

(6 Sep) Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz) [ review ] 100

(7 Sep) 21 grams (2003, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) [ review ] 53

(8 Sep) Mariées mais pas trop (2003, Catherine Corsini) [ review ] 40

(9 Sep) In the Mouth of Madness (1995, John Carpenter) 80
(10 Sep) Village of the Damned (1995, John Carpenter) 27
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(12 Sep) Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003, Robert Rodriguez) [ review ] 71

(12 Sep) Matchstick Men (2003, Ridley Scott) [ review ] 47

(12 Sep) Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992, John Carpenter) 13
(13 Sep) Escape From L.A. (1996, John Carpenter) 67
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(13 Sep) Ghost World (2003, Terry Zwigoff) [ review ] 91

(14 Sep) Vampires (1998, John Carpenter) 75
(15 Sep) Ghosts of Mars (2001, John Carpenter) 39
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(16 Sep) Four Rooms (1995, Anders, Rockwell, Rodriguez & Tarantino) [ review ] 34

(17 Sep) Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino) [ review ] 93

(17 Sep) Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino) [ review ] 100

(18 Sep) Sur le Seuil (2003, Éric Tessier) [ review ] 66

(18 Sep) Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003, Jonathan Mostow) [ review ] 90

(18 Sep) Chouchou (2003, Merzak Allouache) 57
[ An offbeat fairy tale about a young transvestite (Gad Elmaleh) from Maghreb staying illegally in Paris who crashes in a church, gets a job working for a shrink (Catherine Frot) and finds Prince Charming (Alain Chabat). Elmaleh’s character is endearingly naïve and high-spirited and I liked the witty wordplay, absurd flourishes and drag queen numbers. This is like an updated “Cage aux Folles”, complete with gay-friendly priests. Messy but sweet. ]

(20 Sep) Comment ma mère accoucha de moi durant sa ménopause (2003, Sébastien Rose) 51
[ A treatise on the male identity in a post-feminist world, it revolves around a skirt-chasing man-child (Paul Ahmarani) trying to deal with his overbearing mother (Micheline Lanctôt), sister (Sylvie Moreau) and shrink/lover (Anne-Marie Cadieux). The shared sex lives between family members is a surprising, interesting twist, but the story feels increasingly disconnected, with overwritten dialogue and characters that are less like people than plot devices that the filmmaker uses to prove his point. Still, the film is quite amusing and sexy (Lucie Laurier in a thong? Yes, please!) and while Paul Ahmarani is not quite convincing as a supposedly irresistible seducer, he does make for an enjoyably offbeat lead. ]

(21 Sep) Vénus de Milo (2002, Diana Lewis) 9
[ You gotta love Simon Boisvert. He’s like Quebec’s Ed Wood, writing, producing and acting in his movies with as much enthusiasm as he lacks talent. Diana Lewis, who co-writes, co-stars and directs, completes him perfectly, rushing through scenes without stopping for details like missed lines, bumpy camera moves or bad lighting. This story of a rock band that goes from obscurity to stardom overnight is kinda like “Almost Famous”, except that it was shot in 10 days on a 35 000$ budget, with less than 15 extras for the concert scenes and songs that sound like leftovers from a Worst Of Foreigner album. ]

(23 Sep) Family Guy (2000, Seth MacFarlane) 76
[ It seems today that all you see is violence in movies and sex on T.V.
But where are those good ol’ fashion values on which we used to rely?
Lucky there’s a family guy! Lucky there’s a man who positively can do all those things to make us laugh and cry! He’s, A, Family, Guuuuuuuuuuuy! ]

(24 Sep) Lost in Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola) [ review ] 49

(24 Sep) Je n’aime que toi (2003, Claude Fournier) 62
[ Claude Fournier has spent a career making wildly popular but critically reviled sex comedies, from 1970’s “Deux femmes en or” to 1997’s “J’en suis”. His latest initially strikes you with its seriousness, opening with Maude (Noémie Godin-Vigneau), a young woman attempting suicide, then introducing George Guérin (Michel Forget), a middle-aged writer whose inspiration is running short. The two meet and something happens, they’re fascinated by each other and that gets Guérin writing again. Ok, Maude happens to be a prostitute unafraid to talk about blowjobs, butt sex and her pussy, but Fournier’s writing here is surprisingly good and while the characters’ coffee shop conversations can be crude, I never found it vulgar or excessive. Nelly Arcan’s “Putain” is obviously an inspiration, but Fournier adds an older man point-of-view, which brings creepy but interesting Freudian overtones to the central relationship. Forget is a bit too stiff, but newcomer Godin-Vigneau is very touching in a performance that reminds of Marie-Josée Croze’s in “Les Invasions Barbares”, with its balance of melancholy and playfulness. And then there’s the absolutely marvelous score by JoRane, who fills every frame with heart and soul through her cello and voice. The film is not without flaws (the third act is particularly uneven) but like his protagonist, Fournier reinvents himself, still obssessed with sexuality but in a more thoughtful way. ]

(25 Sep) Equilibrium (2002, Kurt Wimmer) 54
[ Christian “Batman” Bale is a top cop in a post-WW3 world where emotions and the things that trigger them (art, notably) have been outlawed in an attempt to maintain peace. Part “Minority Report”, part “1984”, part “The Matrix”, this sci-fi flick uneasily blends philosophical discourse and explosive mayhem. It’s as if after saying that “Those willing to give up a little freedom for a little security deserve neither”, Ben Franklin had taken out twin handguns and gone Chow Yun-Fat on his audience! The fights and shoot-outs are pretty awesome and Bale is surrounded by many great faces (Sean Bean, Taye Diggs, William Fichtner and especially Emily Watson), but the film strives too bluntly for significance in between massacres. The premise is contrived in the first place – badass cop from the future gets soft when a puppy licks his face? Well-meaning, but a little ridiculous, especially when the next scene has him gunning down ten dudes without blinking. ]

(25 Sep) Detroit 9000 (1972, Arthur Marks) 50
[ After masked thugs hold up a swanky fundraiser for a black candidate for governor, racial tensions heat up in Motown and it’s up to two mismatched cops (one black, one white) to break the case. Propelled by a funkalicious score and rough action scenes, this Tarantino-approved exploitation flick doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it delivers enough cheap thrills and righteous indignation towards political corruption to keep one engrossed. It’s no “In the Heat of the Night”, but it’s a solid effort. ]

(26 Sep) The Rundown (2003, Peter Berg) [ review ] 55

(29 Sep) Filles Uniques (2003, Pierre Jolivet) 51
[ After liberating her on parole, a judge (Sandrine Kiberlain) befriends a young shoplifter (Sylvie Testud). The two women become like the sisters they never had, going out, fooling around, talking about shoes and even breaking cases together. The film starts from a sitcomish premise and doesn’t really go anywhere with it, but it’s full of deadpan humor and the lovely lead actresses have a lot of chemistry. ]

(30 Sep) 100% Bio (2003, Claude Fortin) 44
(30 Sep) Nobody Someday (2002, Brian Hill) 29
[ Part of our FCMM 2003 ]

August / October

2003 log (8)

(1 Aug) American Wedding (2003, Jesse Dylan) [ review ] 57

(2 Aug) Vincent (1982, Tim Burton) 65
(2 Aug) Frankenweenie (1984, Tim Burton) 62
(3 Aug) Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985, Tim Burton) 27
(4 Aug) Beetlejuice (1988, Tim Burton) 76
(5 Aug) Batman (1989, Tim Burton) 24
(9 Aug) Batman Returns (1992, Tim Burton) 68
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(10 Aug) Edward Scissorhands (1990, Tim Burton) [ review ] 93

(11 Aug) Johnstown Flood (2003, Mark Bussler) [ review ] 61

(12 Aug) The Wild Dogs (2003, Thom Fitzerald) [ review ] 34

(13 Aug) Gigli (2003, Martin Brest) [ review ] 49

(13 Aug) Un Homme et son péché (2002, Charles Binamé) 11
[ This purely French Canadian story has been adapted for radio, TV and film before, and now it’s been reinvented for a new generation with staggering success, becoming the biggest box office hit in Quebec history. Now how do I say this gently… THIS IS CRAP! Shallow, sappy, heavy-handed, badly paced, manipulative, clumsily directed… The romance is uninvolving, the melodrama is contrived, the performances (by a who’s who of local actors) are uneven… Crap, I tell you. This makes “Les Dangereux” look like “Mon Oncle Antoine”. ]

(14 Aug) American Splendor (2003, Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini) [ review ] 63

(16 Aug) Mars Attacks! (1996, Tim Burton) [ review ] 65

(16 Aug) Ed Wood (1994, Tim Burton) [ review ] 94

(17 Aug) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper) 64
[ In his current EW column, Stephen King calls this “the all-time champeen (sic) when it comes to pure fright.” Um, no. But it IS funny as hell! Here’s a film that doesn’t even pretend to hold a plot. It’s just these dumb hippies and hysterical bimbos who run across a family of batshit insane rednecks who go at them with knives, hammers and a chainsaw, natch. Highlights include the revelation of how wacked out hitchhikers can be, a surreal dinner scene where everyone yells like the lunatics that they are and every single moment involving Franklin, the hippies’ hilariously whiney wheelchair-bound sidekick. “If I have any more fun today I don’t think I can take it!” ]

(18 Aug) Sleepy Hollow (1999, Tim Burton) [ review ] 58

(18 Aug) Planet of the Apes (2001, Tim Burton) [ review ] 65

(19 Aug) Glen or Glenda (1952, Edward D. Wood Jr.) 13
[ I love Burton’s “Ed Wood” but until tonight I hadn’t actually seen any film from the alleged “worst director of all time”. Having just survived his transsexploitation lesson in tolerance, I’m stunned. I knew it would be bad, but damn! Heavy-handed yet naïve narration, hammy dialogue and hammier acting, clumsy direction, botched editing, inappropriate use of stock footage (buffalos?), the inexplicable inclusion of Bela Lugosi as the puppet master, not to mention a cameo by the Devil himself! No wonder this is considered one of the worst films ever made, yet it’s too amusingly inept to simply dismiss. “Beware! Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys… Puppy dog tails, and BIG FAT SNAILS… Beware… Take care… Beware!” ]

(20 Aug) La vie nouvelle (2003, Philippe Grandrieux) 16
[ This latest provocateur French film is like the rape scene in “Irréversible” stretched to feature length. Director Philippe Grandrieux isn’t concerned with bourgeois details like storytelling, dialogue or characters – that would just get in the way of all the misogyny, sexual violence, brutal haircuts and raging dogs. There is a certain oppressive flair to the often dimly lit or out of focus visuals, but in the end it’s mostly tiresome. ]

(20 Aug) Dark Star (1974, John Carpenter) 21
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(22 Aug) Assault on Precinct 13 (1976, John Carpenter) [ review ] 75

(24 Aug) I Capture the Castle (2003, Tim Fywell) 48
[ Set in 1930s England, this is the story of a girl who lives in a decrepit castle with her eccentric family. She pines for their American landlord, but her gold-digger sister has already enraptured him. Handsomely shot romantic melodrama moonlighting as cutesy family comedy, this inconsequential adaptation of the Dodie Smith novel is drenched in flowery narration and would-be poetic clichés, but it has a certain “consciously naïve” feel that’s not unpleasant. ]

(24 Aug) Green Card Fever (2003, Bala Rajasekharuni) 20
[ Murali is an Indian illegally working in New York, desperate for a green card and lost between second-generation Indians who’ve dismissed their culture, corrupted immigration lawyers and rude people who wonder where he parked his elephant. This is a well-meaning attempt to convey how immigrants with American Dreams struggle with the harsher American reality, but it’s undermined by clumsy direction, corny humor and cornier sentimentality. ]

(24 Aug) Fanfan la Tulipe (2003, Gérard Krawczyk) 45
[ This remake of the 1952 Christian-Jaque classic puts Vincent Perez in the boots of the dashing Fanfan, a notorious skirt-chaser who joins the Louis XV’s army after a beautiful gipsy (Penelope Cruz, acting in French) predicts him fortune and glory. This modern take on the swashbuckling epic is no “Adventures of Robin Hood”, but the irreverent tone and high-spirited action scenes are winning. ]

(25 Aug) C’est le bouquet! (2003, Jeanne Labrune) 42
[ After “Ça ira mieux demain”, Jeanne Labrune is back with another fantasy that juggles Kant, Lafontaine, an elusive flower bouquet, the search for an actor who doesn’t act, clueless stockbrokers and the women who love them. Invoking Buster Keaton, borrowing Philip Glass music then filling your film with the endless chatter you expect from French comedies might sound like a disaster, but here it results in a rather original, amusing if inconsistent movie. ]

(25 Aug) Karmina (1996, Gabriel Pelletier) 64
[ A lady vampire about to be married off by her parents flees Transylvania and ends up in Montreal, where she falls in love with a human keyboard player. This horror-laced “Coming to America” rip-off is messy, campy and cheapy, but its absurd humor and the cast’s over the top performances are sorta enjoyable. ]

(26 Aug) Halloween (1978, John Carpenter) [ review ] ???

(26 Aug) Man with a Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov) [ review ] 95

(27 Aug) Man with a Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov) [ review ] 95

(27 Aug) Escape from New York (1981, John Carpenter) 57
(27 Aug) The Fog (1980, John Carpenter) 62
(29 Aug) The Thing (1982, John Carpenter) 70
(29 Aug) Christine (1983, John Carpenter) 23
(29 Aug) Big Trouble in Little China (1986, John Carpenter) 66
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(30 Aug) All the Real Girls (2003, David Gordon Green) [ review ] 93

(30 Aug) The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003, Jim Fall) [ review ] 64

(31 Aug) El Mariachi (1992, Robert Rodriguez) 69
[ Part of the Directors Series ]

(31 Aug) Desperado (1995, Robert Rodriguez) [ review ] 67

(31 Aug) The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003, Jim Fall) [ review ] 64

July / September

2003 log (7)

(1 Jul) Être et avoir (2002, Nicolas Philibert)
[ I have very little patience for documentaries that just stick a camera someplace and record life at its most banal. With this “film”, which expects us to care about watching a French grade school teacher and his little students, I barely lasted 15 minutes. Zzzzzzzz… ]

(2 Jul) Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003, Jonathan Mostow) [ review ] 90

(3 Jul) Gladiator (2000, Ridley Scott) [ review ] 85

(4 Jul) All the Real Girls (2003, David Gordon Green) [ review ] 93

(5 Jul) Say Anything (1989, Cameron Crowe) [ review ] 97

(6 Jul) Miller’s Crossing (1990, the Coen brothers) 43
[ Thick plot, thick dialogue, thick characters… There’s hardly any room left to breathe! Oh, the Coens mix in some deadpan humor, stylish shoot-outs and colorful supporting players (Polito, Turturro and Buscemi are great), but overall the film feels to me like a well designed toy that’s not actually all that fun. You want to enjoy it, but it’s like it won’t let you. ]

(7 Jul) Tokyo Drifter (1966, Seijun Suzuki) 61
[ I had a hard time following this “incomprehensible” (says the Criterion notes!) story of double-crossings and triple-crossings, but I dug the energy of the actors, the go-go dancing at the Manhole Music Tea Room, the trippy use of color and the titular reformed Yakuza’s melancholy theme song. ]

(7 Jul) The African Queen (1951, John Huston) 90
[ Movie star heaven, with Humphrey Bogart doing his gruff man’s man boat captain against Katherine Hepburn’s sophisticated English lady. Laughs, thrills and sensuality ensue as the two come across white water rapids, wild animals and German soldiers. “I never dreamed a mere physical experience could be so stimulating!” ]

(7 Jul) Barbarella (1968, Roger Vadim) 69
[ This campy sci-fi flick stars Jane Fonda as a supremely arousing “astral navigatrix” who encounters blue bunnies, killer dolls, a blind angel, orchid-eating slaves, leather-men, an evil nympho Queen and more wacky stuff in her quest to rescue the elusive Duran Duran. This is like “Star Wars” on acid- and Viagra! ]

(8 Jul) Mon Idole (2002, Guillaume Canet) 46
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(8 Jul) Blood Simple. (1984, the Coen brothers) 87
[ More “straightforward” than most of the Coen’s subsequent films, there’s still a sardonic streak to their debut. Then there’s the virtuoso cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld, juicy dialogue and solid performances by Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, John Getz and M. Emmet Walsh. “Blood Simple.” is a shrewd, powerful noir thriller. Great use of The Four Tops’ It’s the same old song, too. ]

(9 Jul) Mortadelo y Filemon (2003, Javier Fessen) 51
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(9 Jul) Pirates of the Caribbean : The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003, Gore Verbinski) [ review ] 40

(10 Jul) Separações (2002, Domingos de Olivieira) 68
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(10 Jul) Switchblade Sisters (1975, Jack Hill) 85
[ Here’s a B-movie that’s outrageously over the top and campy, but the catfights and gunfights are genuinely exciting, the dialogue is snappy and all the crazy sexy cool chicks rock. As Quentin Tarantino (he rereleased the film through his Rolling Thunder company) points out in the commentary, Jack Hill is like the Howard Hawks of exploitation flicks and while “Switchblade Sisters” works as a terrific popcorn romp, this girl-gang take on “Othello” (seriously!) is also kind of moving as a tragedy. ]

(10 Jul) La Grande Séduction (2003, Jean-François Pouliot) 73
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(11 Jul) Popeye (1980, Robert Altman) 18
[ Unfunny slapstick, badly staged fights and stunts, Robin Williams mugging and mumbling, everyone else being even more obnoxious… Maybe they’re just being faithful to the cartoon, which was never that good anyway, or maybe the Film Snobs are right to say that Altman, Williams and producer Robert Evans were so coked-up that it’s no wonder that the movie is so unwatchable. I rented it only to hear Shelley Duval singing He Needs Me in its original context, but I’ll stick to “Punch-Drunk Love” etc. ]

(11 Jul) Rub and Tug (2002, Soo Lyu) 52
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(11 Jul) Cinemania (2003, Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak) 66
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(11 Jul) Swimming Pool (2003, François Ozon) [ review ] 79

(12 Jul) Des gars, des filles et un salaud (2003, Diana Lewis) [ review ] 33

(14 Jul) Modern Times (1936, Charlie Chaplin) 70
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(15 Jul) Bad Boys (1995, Michael Bay) 55
[ Right from the pre-titles opening minutes of his debut, Michael Bay established his style: golden skies, quick cuts, loud sound effects, fetishized violence… Tony Scott flirted with those before, but Bay’s taken it to the balls-to-the-wall extreme. For most critics, this makes him the Antichrist. Myself, I have a soft spot for this flashy noisy nonsense. Even the ever obnoxious Martin Lawrence can’t take away from the visceral impact of “Bad Boys”. Fast cars, hot women, shit blowing up, Will Smith running with his shirt open and his gun out… Sure, half an hour later you’ve already forgotten most of it but when it’s on, it’s ON! ]

(16 Jul) Steal it if you can (2002, Lim Kyung-su) 18
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(16 Jul) Tales from the Crapper (2003, Lloyd Kaufman) 54
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(17 Jul) Spellbound (2002, Jeffrey Blitz) [ review ] 47

(17 Jul) Manitou’s Shoe (2001, Michael Herbig) 21
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(17 Jul) The Kiss of Debt (2002, Derek Diorio) 32
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(17 Jul) I’ll be there (2003, Craig Ferguson) 26
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(18 Jul) Bad Boys II (2003, Michael Bay)[ review ] 75

(18 Jul) Stupidity (2003, Albert Nerenberg) 37
[ reviewed in my Comedia coverage ]

(21 Jul) Spy Kids 3D: Game Over (2003, Robert Rodriguez) [ review ] 34

(21 Jul) May (2003, Lucky McKee) 87
[ Creepy, gory, fucked up? Oh yeah, but more than anything this is sad sad sad. From the first time you see her, your heart aches for little May. Sheltered by her cold mother, ostracised by other kids because she’s “weird”, friendless but for a porcelain doll… What’s saddest of all is that she’s still full of love and hope, especially after she meets Adam. Suddenly everything is sweet and funny and sexy… But you just know this can’t end well, yet you can’t look away. Between the confident visual style, greatish music cues and Angela Bettis’s amazing performance, and Anna Faris hot as hell as May’s lesbian coworker (“Do you like pussy… cats?”), it’s all the more disconcerting that this movie barely saw a release. Now that it’s out on DVD, hopefully it can become the cult film it should be, like “Carrie” or “Audition”. ]

(22 Jul) Terror Firmer (1999, Lloyd Kaufman) 52
[ Piss, shit, vomit, torn apart limbs, chopped heads, exploding bodies, forced abortion, dick and fart jokes, gay and blind jokes, naked boobies, a girl masturbating with a pickle, ugly naked men, “life-affirming rape scenes”… Disgusting and juvenile, or funny and subversive? How about all of the above, Troma-style! ]

(23 Jul) Barton Fink (1991, the Coen brothers) 86
[ While concocting the Byzantine plot of “Miller’s Crossing”, Joel and Ethan Coen hit a bad case of writer’s block, out of which came out “Barton Fink”. John Turturro stars in the title role of a New York playwright who dreams of “a new living theater OF and ABOUT and FOR the common man”, but ends up selling out to go work in Hollywood. Writer’s block engulfs him as his hotel room becomes his own personal hell, with John Goodman’s brutish salesman as the damned-next-door. Alternately a hilarious satire of the 1940s movie biz and a surreal character study, “Barton Fink” is one of the Coen’s most expertly crafted and engaging films. ]

(23 Jul) In the Heat of the Night (1967, Norman Jewison) 85
[ Forced to investigate a murder case with the Mississippi cops who initially brought him in as a suspect, a Philadelphia “Negro” homicide detective clashes with the town Sheriff as they try to find the killer. Propelled by lively direction, a soulful score by Quincy Jones and powerful performances from Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, this Oscar winner for Best Picture is both a provocative drama about race relations and an entertaining mystery thriller, and maybe even the first blaxploitation flick. When you slap this Nigger, he slaps back! ]

(23 Jul) Fargo (1996, the Coen brothers) [ review ] 95

(24 Jul) Raising Victor Vargas (2003, Peter Sollett) [ review ] 91

(24 Jul) Bubba Ho-tep (2003, Don Coscarelli) [ review ] 67

(25 Jul) Seabiscuit (2003, Gary Ross) [ review ] 35

(25 Jul) Forrest Gump (1994, Robert Zemeckis) [ review ] 100

(26 Jul) Raising Arizona (1987, the Coen brothers) [ review ] 62

(27 Jul) The Hudsucker Proxy (1994, the Coen brothers) 87
[ Part of my new Directors Series ]

(28 Jul) Histoire d’O (1975, Just Jaeckin) 42
[ This softcore “classic” is nowhere near as effective as Jaeckin’s “Emmanuelle”, maybe because bondage leaves me indifferent, it doesn’t have exotic locations, and one can take only so much soft-focus and syrupy music before losing interest. Corinne Clery is easy on the eyes, though, and it’s fun to see Udo Kier looking so young. ]

(29 Jul) The Big Lebowski (1998, the Coen brothers) [ review ] 93

(29 Jul) O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000, the Coen brothers) [ review ] 39

(29 Jul) The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001, the Coen brothers) [ review ] 71

(30 Jul) Let Me Die a Woman (1978, Doris Wishman) [ review ] 46

(30 Jul) American Pie (1999, Chris & Paul Weitz) [ review ] 65

(31 Jul) American Pie 2 (2001, J.B. Rogers) [ review ] 65

June / August

2003 log (6)

(1 Jun) Carmen: A Hip Hopera (2001, Robert Townsend)
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ] 77

(2 Jun) Conan the Barbarian (1982, John Milius) 91
[ The film opens with the Nietzche quote “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”, and Crom damn it if the brutal tale which follows doesn’t make a strong case for it. Conan goes through all kinds of hell, watching Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and his snake-cult slaughter everyone he loves, being enslaved, pitted in gladiator death matches, bred like an animal and eventually even crucified! Conan certainly comes out of all this suffering stronger – and mad as hell! This is a ruthless gore-soaked revenge story, but one that unfolds through high adventure, fantasy, romance and some deadpan humor. Add great imagery, a rousing score and a great physical performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger and you got one kick ass flick. ]

(3 Jun) Chaos (1999, Hideo Nakata) 80
[ An intricate, time-jumping kidnapping yarn – the less you know about it the better. This is a truly creepy, unpredictable and ingenious thriller that would have made Hitchcock proud. ]

(4 Jun) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron) [ review ] 90

(5 Jun) Bringing Down the House (2003, Adam Shankman) 3
[ Uninspired writing, hack direction, elevator music score, unconvincing actors with zero chemistry, eye-rollingly unfunny humor with absolutely no sense of timing… It’s like the crappy ‘80s comedies that play on local TV at 2 in the morning, but what’s worse is how damn offensive it is. This is what the Boondocks refer to as an embarrassment to the race; they should revoke Queen Latifah’s African-American status. Note to the once brilliant Steve Martin: MOTHERFUCKER, do you need the money this bad? ]

(6 Jun) 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003, John Singleton) [ review ] 52

(6 Jun) Mambo Italiano (2003, Émile Gaudreault) [ review ] 35

(7 Jun) Puce Moment (1949, Kenneth Anger) 99
[ Whoa. Just the accompanying song is WAY ahead of its time, and so’s this 6 minute short as a whole. Glittering colors, womanly perfection, big dogs… I can totally understand baaaaab’s fixation on this mesmerising piece of psychedelia. It’s possibly* the best music video I’ve ever seen, made decades before there were music videos. ]
* Other contenders would include “Hurt” (Mark Romanek version), “Street Spirit (fade out)”, “33”

(8 Jun) Frida (2002, Julie Taymor) 70
[ The Oscar-winning score is wonderful, the visuals are spectacularly inventive (incorporating everything from Brothers Quay puppets to photomontage to King Kong to animated paintings) and Salma Hayek is such a hot cutie (or a cute hottie?) that she’s irresistible even as a temperamental cripple with a unibrow! This makes for a worthy tribute to Frida Kahlo’s artistic brilliance and strength of character, even though it’s a little superficial and rather unfocused: more attention is paid to Frida’s serial adulterer and fellow painter “Communist pig” of a husband (well portrayed by Alfred Molina) than to her. ]

(9 Jun) The Animatrix (2003, various Japanese animators) 80
[ The opening short, “The Final Flight of the Osiris”, features the most lifelike computer-generated imagery I’ve yet to see (the girl turned me on, and she’s just pixels!) and it’s is a nice reminder of how mind-blowing and kick ass cool the “Matrix” mythology and aesthetic can be, the underwhelming “Reloaded” notwithstanding. Most of the following anime stories also outdo the live action trilogy’s middle chapter, be it the thought-provoking allegory of “The Second Renaissance part I & II”, the intriguing “A Detective’s Story”, the lyrical “Beyond”, the action-packed “Program” or the urgently involving “A Kid’s Story” (I could have done without “World Record” and “Matriculated”). ]

(10 Jun) All the Real Girls (2003, David Gordon Green) [ review ] 93

(11 Jun) All the Real Girls (2003, David Gordon Green) [ review ] 93

(13 Jun) Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary (2003, André Heller & Othmar Schmiderer) [ review ] 45

(14 Jun) Narc (2002, Joe Carnahan) 80
[ This film impressed Tom Cruise so much that he helped getting it distributed and hired director Carnahan to direct the upcoming “Mission: Impossible 3”, and just from the fast-stylish-gritty opening chase, you can see why. This is the kind of smart, ballsy, character-driven filmmaking which was the norm in the ‘70s, but with a modern, SE7ENish vibe. A tale of junkies, drug dealers and flawed cops, “Narc” breathes urgency back into old clichés and boasts powerful performances by Ray Liotta, Jason Patric and Busta Rhymes. ]

(15 Jun) Victory (1981, John Huston) 40
[ I saw the DVD case and I was like, no way, this ain’t for real, this is one of those fake movies people remember Troy McClure from: “Leper in the Backfield”, “Locker Room Towel Fight: The Blinding of Larry Driscoll”… And here we have “Victory”, about a soccer match in occupied Paris between Nazi all-stars and Allied POWs, starring Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Pelé, Max Von Sydow and even French Canadian actress Carole Laure! The actual film is a routine sports flick crossed with World War II escape clichés, but it makes for an amusing curiosity. ]

(16 Jun) Hysterical Blindness (2002, Mira Nair) 85
[ Big frizzy hair, tacky clothes, Valley girl accents, cheesy power ballads… You gotta love the ‘80s. Then you’ve got total cuties Uma Thurman and Juliette Lewis being dumb, slutty and, yes, hysterical… But eventually they turn out to be more sad than ridiculous. Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara are touching as well, and Mira Nair keeps this HBO movie as visually interesting as it emotionally devastating. I never thought Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun could move me close to tears. ]

(17 Jun) La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928, Carl Th. Dreyer) 90
[ The story of Jeanne d’Arc’s trial and execution by fire, this outstanding silent film is shot almost only in close-ups, putting us directly face to face with all the vile clergymen haranguing the poor girl, and with Jeanne herself, portrayed with overwhelming heart and soul by Falconetti. ]

(18 Jun) Nicholas Nickleby (2002, Douglas McGrath) 50
[ The movie opens with bursts of flowery narration and music, fitting for this flimsy but not unenjoyable adaptation of the classic Dickens story of a young man learning to assert himself into the world. Charlie Hunnham is a blank in the lead, but colorful turns by Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent, Nathan Lane, Timothy Spall and others maintain our interest. ]

(18 Jun) Body Snatchers (1993, Abel Ferrara) 45
[ I haven’t seen the 1956 original or the 1978 remake, but this new update on the classic B-movie tale is pretty creepy, and the film’s a potent allegory for how the majority always tries to make individuals conform. The performances are uneven, but Gabrielle Anwar’s a cutie and R. Lee Ermey and Forrest Whitaker have neat scenery-chewing moments. ]

(18 Jun) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Ang Lee) [ review ] 92

(19 Jun) Destroy all Monsters! (1968, Ishiro Honda) 34
[ The year is 1999 (!), men make daily trips to the moon, monsters are kept on a nature preservation island, everything is swell… Until alien lady scientists in sparkling silver tights take control of “Monster Land” and use Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and the other mutated creatures to take over the world! This is all pretty dumb, with badly dubbed dialogue delivered by wooden actors, but you gotta love all the charmingly fake Toho models that get pummelled by dudes in rubber suits. ]

(20 Jun) From Justin to Kelly (2003, Robert Iscove) [ review ] 65

(20 Jun) The Hulk (2003, Ang Lee) [ review ] 36

(21 Jun) Les Dangereux (2002, Louis Saia) 22
[ It opens with pop star Roxane Labelle (Véronique Cloutier) performing a schmaltzy ballad in front of her adoring fans… Actually, it opens with a Subway commercial, the first of many instances of product placement. Anyway, after the concert Roxane is kidnapped by “dangerous” thugs who demand a million dollar ransom from her manager and father (Marc Messier), to be delivered by his young accountant (Stéphane Rousseau). What follows is a disconcertingly misguided blend of “Amélie”-style storytelling, Guy Ritchiesque visual tricks and sudden bursts of violence and painfully unfunny comedy. Even then, this critically panned box office flop is actually not that bad. Oh, it is bad, really really really really really bad, but it’s also surprisingly well designed, photographed and edited; it’s hard to believe that it was directed by the same guy who made the amateurish-looking “Les Boys” movies. Too bad Saia is working from one of the worst screenplays ever written. ]

(22 Jun) La Planète Sauvage (1973, René Laloux) 83
[ A trippy animated feature in which humans (“Oms”) are like bugs, roughly played with or exterminated by the Traags, a race of huge blue-skinned humanoid creatures. This is pretty creepy, but it’s also a wonderfully imaginative slice of psychedelia full of oddball sights and sounds. ]

(25 Jun) Levity (2003, Ed Solomon) 46
[ Billy Bob Thornton plays a man who just got release after 22 years in prison but feels he doesn’t deserve to be free. “I know I’ll never be redeemed.” This leads to much heavy-handed but not uninteresting voice-over about “making amends” and “making it right with your neighbour [and] with God”, and to a series of contrived encounters with unconvincingly colorful characters. A mysterious preacher (Morgan Freeman) who offers free parking to club-hoppers if they listen to a 15 minute sermon Thornton do custodian work and baby-sit black juvenile delinquents. Meanwhile, Thornton takes a self-destructive party girl (the always irresistible Kirsten Dunst) under his wing and stalks then dates (???) the sister (Holly Hunter) of the liquor store clerk he killed in that botched robbery decades ago. None of this makes more sense, and the contemplative, half-assed David Gordon Green tone goes for doesn’t quite pan out despite glowing cinematography by Roger Deakins and trippy music. What we’re left with is an uneven flick with some good performances and, for my fellow Montrealers, the cheap thrill of seeing our metro, the 1000 de la Gauchetière, the Romance sex shop and all that goddamn snow on film. ]

(26 Jun) Punch-Drunk Love (2002, P.T. Anderson) [ review ] 94

(27 Jun) Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003, McG) [ review ] 59

(27 Jun) 28 days later… (2003, Danny Boyle) [ review ] 83

(28 Jun) The Real Cancun (2003, Rick de Oliveira) 18
[ If this is supposed to be a “reality” movie, then why does it look more carefully designed, lit and framed than most fiction? Even the “non-actors” don’t feel natural. The conversations do feel improvised, in a bad way, but everyone is like a stock character from a bad teensploitation flick. There’s the loud black guy, the surfer dude, the big-titted bimbo, the asshole jock, the manipulative bitch, the dork… And while I like partying as much as the next guy, watching other people party is boring as fuck. All that’s left is the girls-gone-wild stuff they sold the film with but come on, if you wanna see some boobies be a man and rent a real porno. ]

(29 Jun) Cradle 2 the Grave (2003, Andrew Bartkowiak) 27
[ Despite slick visuals and pounding hip hop on the soundtrack (including a great new Eminem track), this forgettable flick fails to raise one’s pulse. The story and action scenes are generic Joel Silver schlock and DMX is not a particularly compelling screen presence. Even Jet Li doesn’t make much of an impression here, and neither do Mark Dacascos and Kelly Hu. The only highlight is the fight where Li uses a midget to clobber his opponents! ]

May / July

2003 May

(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

April / June

2003 April


(1 Apr) Party Girl (1995, Daisy von Scherler Mayer) 12
[ Cheap-looking, dull, witless flick about an obnoxious bimbo (Parker Posey) who gets a job as a librarian and romances a Falafel street vendor. Hilarity DOESN’T ensue. ]

(2 Apr) Stardom (2000, Denys Arcand) 37
[ This satire of our media-addicted society and of the cult of youth and beauty is notable for its clever use of various film and TV styles to tell the story of a hockey player turned model turned trophy wife (played by the astonishingly gorgeous Jessica Paré) but, quite ironically, it’s generally as superficial and inconsequential as its subject. ]

(4 Apr) Falling Down (1993, Joel Schumacher) 44
[ D-Fens (Michael Douglas in one of his strongest performances) has had enough. Enough of traffic jams, overpriced grocery products, street gangs, visiting rights (or lack thereof), beggars, fast food restaurants that won’t serve you breakfast after 11, neo-Nazis, rich old men playing golf all day… And so he stalks through Los Angeles, primed to go off at anyone crossing him. “Falling Down” is an oddball flick, uneasily juggling black humor and blacker social commentary. Interesting ideas are approached but they give way to cheap thrills and by-the-numbers hogwash about a cop (Robert Duvall) one day away from retirement tracking the vigilante. Schumacher doesn’t have the deft touch of a Scorsese (whose “Taxi Driver” this vaguely resembles) and the screenplay lacks depth and subtlety. It’s loud, but it’s not saying all that much. ]

(7 Apr) Roger Dodger (2002, Dylan Kidd) [ review ] 93

(8 Apr) Phone Booth (2003, Joel Schumacher) [ review ] 72

(10 Apr) Leaving Metropolis (2003, Brad Fraser) [ review ] 31

(10 Apr) Emmanuelle l’antivierge (1975, Francis Giacobetti) 52
[ “Emmanuelle the Anti-Virgin”! Priceless. Otherwise this sequel to the “classic” French softcore flick is more of the same: images pretty in a cheesy postcard way, dialogue that amusingly balances naiveté and pretentiousness and of course Sylvia Kristel, still an irresistible creature. ]

(11 Apr) Anger Management (2003, Peter Segal) [ review ] 65

(11 Apr) Le Déclin de l’Empire Américain (1986, Denys Arcand) 43
[ The film opens with a university teacher telling his students that History is all about numbers, i.e. South Africans can overcome yet African-Americans never will. “History is not a moral science.” Interesting. Then we have the Head of the History Department talking to a reporter about how “the expectation of receiving instant gratification in daily life constitutes the normative parameter of existence.” Bleh, not so interesting anymore. This is a pretentious filmmaker setting loose pretentious characters to make pretentious audiences nod in recognition, “Aren’t we sophisticated and erudite?” But the filmmaker/characters don’t want to seem pretentious, of course, so they start talking about and having sex. And there’s your “Déclin”, a wildly overrated film alternating a few actual insights with a lot of tedious intellectual grandstanding and genitals-gazing. ]

(12 Apr) The Truman Show (1998, Peter Weir) [ review ] 95

(12 Apr) Thir13en Ghosts (2001, Steve Beck) 30
[ You take “The Frighteners” (already an overblown B-movie) and you remove all the wit and style Peter Jackson brought to it, then you replace the always charming Michael J. Fox by the ever obnoxious Matthew Lillard and you make sure that the resulting flick is as idiotic, vile and pointless as possible and ta-daa! “13 Ghosts”. The art direction and the make-up effects are pretty good, but don’t expect any scares or thrills. ]

(15 Apr) Les Invasions Barbares (2003, Denys Arcand) [ review ] 88

(17 Apr) Bulletproof Monk (2003, Paul Hunter) [ review ] 33

(17 Apr) Under Hellgate Bridge (2001, Michael Sergio) 29
[ Gangster movies have run their course, it seems. The tough talk in Italian accents, the double-crossings, the drugs, the miserable wives, the religious echoes, the vendettas… An inspired filmmaker can still jazz these clichés into something interesting, but Michael Sergio is not that filmmaker. ]

(18 Apr) Hey Arnold! The Movie (2002, Tuck Tucker)
[Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ] 52

(19 Apr) Schindler’s List (1993, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 95

(22 Apr) Amores Perros (2001, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) 91
[ It opens with a stunningly shot car chase that culminates in a brutal accident. The narrative then shifts around back and forth in time following the various people involved in the car crash. There’s Octavio, a young man who puts his Rotweiler into dog fights to raise money to get away with the abused wife of his no-good brother; Valeria, a supermodel crippled in the accident who takes out her frustrations on her lover; and El Chivo, a shaggy hitman who hasn’t talked to his daughter for twenty years. The title translates as “love’s a bitch” and it sure is, for these characters at least. The film is often violent and emotionally ambiguous, amoral even, but that’s because it’s an honest (and intense like a mofo!) look at how cruel life can be. The cast is great (especially the rivetingly charismatic Gael Garcia Bernal) and the cinematography, score and editing are all top notch. This is a tremendous debut for Inarritu. ]

(22 Apr) Breakdown (1997, Jonathan Mostow) 86
[ Kurt Russell’s looking for his wife. There’s the desert, the highway, the redneck assholes, and that’s it. This is the simplest of stories, but Mostow takes this and wrings unbearable suspense out of it. This is one damn effective thriller, and an awesome calling card for the filmmaker, who’s next challenge is to close the “Terminator” trilogy. If “Rise of the Machines” is as well crafted and action-packed as this, James Cameron won’t be missed! ]

(23 Apr) Bowling for Columbine (2002, Michael Moore) [ review ] 79

(24 Apr) George Washington (2000, David Gordon Green) 92
[ A smalltown wasteland, crushed by the Deep South heat. An interracial group of kids (their common poverty seems to make skin color irrelevant), not too bright but with their hearts in the right place. No clear plot, but much contemplation, much lyricism and an unlikely super-hero. Add great Cinemascope cinematography, a haunting score and casually philosophical narration, and you can’t help but think of Terrence Malick’s oeuvre, but a series of quirky flourishes and the sometimes clumsy but always natural actors make Gordon’s heartbreakingly beautiful first film into its own beast. ]

(24 Apr) Pillow Talk (1959, Michael Gordon) 75
[ This film uses a dated premise (party lines?), cheesy visuals and a cartoonish score, but these aren’t necessarily bad things. I actually liked the campiness of it all, with the colorful clothes and sets, the use of split-screen and the gratuitous musical numbers. And while I’m not sure it was Oscar-worthy, the playful sex banter between Rock Hudson and Doris Day is certainly amusing. ]

(25 Apr) Identity (2003, James Mangold) [ review ] 48

(25 Apr) Gerry (2003, Gus Van Sant) [ review ] 60

(27 Apr) X-Men (2000, Bryan Singer) [ review ] 90

(29 Apr) Nid de Guêpes (2002, Florent-Emilio Siri) 29
[ On the 14th of July (the French national holiday), a SWAT unit transporting a vivious Albanian Mafioso is attacked by thugs trying to break their leader free and they are forced to hide in a nearby warehouse. The place is being robbed by a group of unlucky French dudes, but when it becomes clear that the Albanian mobsters surrounding the building are ready to kill them all, cops and robbers must band together to fight for their lives. In other words, this is a blatant rip-off of “Assault on Precinct 13”, but with uninteresting stock characters and desperately generic action scenes. A noisy bore. ]

(29 Apr) Filles Perdues Cheveux Gras (2002, Claude Duty) 76
[ A cheapie but lively contemporary musical about three depressed young women looking for themselves. The electro-pop songs are beyond campy (but catchy as hell) and the blend of melodrama and silliness doesn’t always work, but the actresses are amusing, especially the adorable Marina Foïs as an alcoholic hairdresser mourning her cat. This is clearly not for all tastes but I loved the stupid thing. ]

(30 Apr) Tuck Everlasting (2002, Jay Russell) 33
[ A cute but rather dull fairy tale about a literally and figuratively corseted 15 year old (the infinitely beautiful Alexis Bledel) who falls in love with a 104 year old man (who looks like 20 year old Jonathan Jackson) whose family has discovered the secret to eternal life. The film has that Disney glow, supporting parts by William Hurt, Sissy Spacek and Ben Kingsley (as the Man in the Yellow Suit!), and it presents a nice message (“You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live”), but I still had trouble staying awake. Your mileage may vary. ]

March / May

2003 March

(1 Mar) National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978, John Landis) 24
[ That’s a smash hit, wildly influential cult comedy? Huh. Oh, the pieces are there, with Harold Ramis co-writing, Ivan Reitman producing and John Landis directing, and there’s no denying that John Belushi is a force of nature, but like “Caddyshack”, I just didn’t find “Animal House” all that funny. It’s enjoyable enough as a goofy parade of boozing, gratuitous nudity, futile and stupid gestures and great ‘60s rock & roll but the cast, mostly constituted of non-professionals, is interchangeable and the humor seems tame by today’s standards. Maybe it’s a you-had-to-be-there thing, the way that people might not get what’s the big deal with “American Pie” in 25 years. One more thing: am I just Spike Leeing or are the racial attitudes in “Animal House” damn questionable? There’s the scene where they mistakenly walk into an all-Black nightclub and end up running out in terror (“The Negroes took our dates”) and what’s with a movie that finishes with the frat boys running their “deathmobile” into a float marked “Togetherness” and tearing apart the big black hand from the big white hand it was shaking? ]

(2 Mar) Tigerland (2000, Joel Schumacher) 84
[ Colin Farrell plays Bozz, an angry army draftee who’s full of charisma, arrogance, passion and profound disrespect towards authority. He’s the exhilarating protagonist of this unexpectedly compelling Viet Nam movie. We’ve seen so many war movies in recent years that I’m finding them tiresome, but Joel Schumacher (of all people) brings surprising intimacy and edginess to this film. It’s actually less a war movie than a rather homoerotic yarn about rugged young men training to go kill or get killed in a pointless conflict overseas who are growing ever more tense until they have to jump on each other and fight or hug and cry (and maybe make out). “Tigerland” is like “Full Metal Jacket” but without the underwhelming second half. Who knew the man behind “Batman and Robin” had such a raw, powerful film in him? ]

(4 Mar) Fun in Acapulco (1963, Richard Thorpe)
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ] 70

(5 Mar) Mary Poppins (1964, Robert Stevenson) 93
[ Entirely shot on the Disney studios backlot with elaborate sets and matte paintings, overflowing with magic and song, “Mary Poppins” is as artificial as it is irresistible, as corny as it is charming. The blend of live action and various forms of animation is dazzling, the musical numbers are catchy and the cast is wonderful. Julie Andrews makes for one foxy English nanny and Dick Van Dyke steals many a scene as a cheerful chimney sweep. “Mary Poppins” might just be the most “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” family movie I’ve ever seen! ]

(6 Mar) Julie Walking Home (2003, Agnieska Holland) [ review ] 69

(6 Mar) Buying the Cow (2002, Walt Becker)
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ] 25

(7 Mar) The General (1926, Buster Keaton) 64
[ Keaton stars as a train engineer who’s rejected from enlisting in the Civil War and is seen by his peers as a “disgrace to the South”. His girlfriend even tells him that she doesn’t want him to speak to her again until he is in uniform! I have always been uneasy with this kind of rah-rah patriotism and as the current President of the USA encourages “either you’re with us or you’re against us” sentiments, it’s even harder to swallow even in a light-spirited film like “The General”. In any case, other than from a historic viewpoint I don’t see how this should rate as one of the best films of all time (according to a Sight & Sound poll). It’s little more than a couple of long chase sequences (between a locomotive driven by Keaton and one filled with soldiers from the North) filled with slapstick. Keaton’s stunts and pratfalls are impressive and amusing enough but then so’s the average Jackie Chan movie! ]

(10 Mar) Anchors Aweigh (1945, George Sidney) 89
[ Aaah, the glory of MGM musicals! This was high spectacle, unconcerned with stooping down for attention-deficit-disordered audiences and tying things back into reality (like last year’s overrated “Chicago”). This is fantasy, really, a pure balls-to-the-walls song-and-dance extravaganza where people sing just because they feel like it, thank you very much. This 1945 classic features THE dancer in Gene Kelly and THE singer in Frank Sinatra, but Kelly can sing himself and Sinatra can dance, too! The two play marines on leave for three days in Hollywood who end up having to babysit an orphan boy- and his pretty aunt Susie! Highlights include Kelly and Sinatra’s tapdance duet, impressive performances by pianist-conductor José Iturbi (playing himself) and the scene in which Kelly teaches Jerry (the mouse from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons) how to dance! ]

(12 Mar) Best in Show (2000, Christopher Guest) 90
[ This mockumentary about show dogs and the people who love them is a hilarious satire but also a keen character study. The script by Guest and Eugene Levy is full of wit but it’s the cast’s endearing performances that make “Best in Show” such a treat. Not to mention all the cute doggies, cuuuute dooogiiiies!]

(13 Mar) eye see you (2002, Jim Gillespie)
[Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ] 33

(13 Mar) My neighbour Totoro (1988, Hayao Miyazaki) 95
[ In typical Miyazaki fashion, this film is beautifully animated, the characters are endearing and the story is magical and fun and touching, too. But what really makes this one special is the Totoros, fuzzy creatures with superpowers that only children can see. These guys are kick ass superfly cool! ]

(14 Mar) Willard (2003, Glen Morgan) [ review ] 35

(15 Mar) Bringing Up Baby (1938, Howard Hawks)) 44
[ I’m generally quite fond of old American movies, but I had much trouble sitting through this “classic” screwball comedy.. The humor seemed rather contrived to me and Katherine Hepburn’s manipulative loudmouth and Cary Grant’s stuffy nerd of a zoologist quickly grow obnoxious. I didn’t root for them to hook up, I just wanted them to shut up! The leopard’s pretty cool, though. ]

(16 Mar) Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen) [ review ] 100

(17 Mar) Waiting for Guffman (1996, Christopher Guest) 91
[ Guest (who also co-wrote the script with Eugene Levy) stars as a faaabulous Off-Off-Off-Off-Broadway playwright and director relocated in the Midwest who’s mounting a musical play celebrating the 150th anniversary of Blaine, Missouri, “The Stool Capital of the World!”, using a cast of locals which includes a dentist (Levy), a Dairy Queen clerk (Parker Posey) and the couple who runs the travel agency (Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara). Basically, this mockumentary is to community theater what “This is Spinal Tap” is to hair metal and “Best in Show” to dog shows: a hilarious send-off but also an affectionate social snapshot. ]

(19 Mar) Le rayon vert (1986, Eric Rohmer) 20
[ The ’80s weren’t kind to pop culture, even when it comes to Rohmer’s classy, contemplative art films. Like in all his work, nothing happens for 98 minutes, we just watch as self-centered French people talk on and on and on, and then they eat, and then they whine some more, they eat, they go to the beach, they talk, they eat… What makes this title morbidly boring is how uninteresting and obnoxious the actors/characters and the (badly) improvised dialogue are. My pal Olivier calls it the dullest movie ever made, but I found it strangely compelling and unintentionally amusing in its relentless uneventfulness. ]

(19 Mar) The Hot Chick (2002, Tom Brady) 65
[ “A Happy Madison production.” These words fill most critics with nameless dread, but as a fan of ‘90s Saturday Night Live I’m actually giddy to see every juvenile comedy starring the likes of Adam Sandler and yes, Rob Schneider. I mean, Schneider switching bodies with a gorgeous but bitchy high school cheerleader? Priceless. “The Hot Chick” might be dumb as a pile of bricks, but it’s funny and kinda sweet, too. ]

(19-20 Mar) The Osbournes – The First Season (2002, MTV) 81
[ They fight, they yell, they curse but more than anything, they love each other. The appeal of the show (now available on DVD) is in how it manages to make us feel empathy for the Prince of Darkness! Ozzy turns out to be quite the regular schmoe, struggling to raise teenagers (amusingly oddball Jack and the absolutely lovable punkette Kelly) picking up dog dookie and watching TV, all the while hilariously moaning and mumbling. Then there’s his wife Sharon, whom he clearly couldn’t live without: she’s discipline, affection and craziness all wrapped into one irresistible package. Beware: watching this unique yet typical family through their ups and downs can be addictive! ]

(20 Mar) This is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner) 78
[ The mother of all mockumentaries, it follows England’s loudest band on an increasingly pathetic North American tour. What’s funniest about the film is that however ridiculous these hairy metal-heads can be, they’re not all that stupider than other rock bands before and since. “It’s such a thin line between clever and stupid.” I personally prefer the mockumentaries directed by Christopher Guest (who co-wrote and starred in “Tap”, along with Harry Shearer and Michael McKean), but this is still a really fun film to watch. ]

(21 Mar) Dreamcatcher (2003, Lawrence Kasdan) [ review ] 54

(22 Mar) Swing Time (1936, George Stevens) 66
[ Generally regarded as the best of the Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire musicals, this song and dance romance tells the simple story of a gambler who falls in love with a pretty dance instructor (as if Astaire needed tapping lessons!). The humor is corny (cuffs on pants? Hi-larious.) and the attitudes are outdated (who ever thought that white actors in blackface was a good idea?) but still, how could one resist the sight of Rogers and Astaire waltzing so gracefully? ]

(22 Mar) Emmanuelle (1974, Just Jaeckin) 72
[ “Mélodie d’amour chante le coeur d’Emmanuelle…” Cheesy music, loose direction, laughably pretentious dialogue, soft-focus cinematography, exotic locations around Thailand, sleazy French (I mean, “Freedom”) playboys and gorgeous women who swing both ways: does that add up to an amusingly “classy” erotic classic? Almost. What seals the deal is the presence of Sylvia Kristel, who conveys an intoxicating blend of naiveté and sensuality, innocence and lust. “Mélodie d’amour chante le corps d’Emmanuelle…” ]

(22 Mar) Seconds (1966, John Frankenheimer) 94
[ Propelled by quasi-expressionist black & white cinematography and a gloomy score, this surreal film noir about faking your own death and getting a second chance to live the life you dreamed of is as visionary and thought-provoking as Frankenheimer’s earlier “The Manchurian Candidate”. John Randolph and Rock Hudson are both amazing as the ‘before’ and ‘after’ faces of the protagonist whose midlife crisis takes into “Twilight Zone” territory. “Stomp those grapes!” ]

(23 Mar) Chopper (2000, Andrew Dominik) 39
[ The Australian accents are almost incomprehensible, the “bleached” cinematography is an eyesore, and while real-life criminal Mark “Chopper” Read’s story is one of ultraviolence and amorality, the movie’s supposed to be funny, right? Long story short, I didn’t “get” this film. It’s ugly, mean and pointless. Star Eric Bana does have a nice intensity, though. Hopefully it’ll be put to better use in “The Hulk”. ]

(24 Mar) Spy Kids 2 – The Island of Lost Dreams (2002, Robert Rodriguez) 63
[ A few minutes into this second film of the all-ages franchise I thought, whoa, this looks damn cool for a kiddie flick! Well of course it does, it’s directed by Rodriguez, he who can craft wonders with little money and almost all by himself! This is fascinatingly illustrated in “Robert Rodriguez Ten Minute Film School: Big Movies Made Cheap”, one of the best DVD special features I’ve ever seen. This behind-the-scenes featurette is as dynamic as the movie itself, establishing furthermore what a virtuoso Rodriguez is. Think about it, his film is as impressive and action-packed as George Lucas’ “Attack of the Clones” yet it cost five times less! “Spy Kids 2” is all over the place and the plot makes absolutely no sense, multiplying characters, extravagant locations and goofy creatures into one big colorful mess, but it’s all in harmless fun and in the midst of all the craziness, Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara manage to hold the film together as the adorably badass Carmen and Juni. ]

(26 Mar) Hero (2003, Zhang Yimou) [ review ] 93

(27 Mar) Hero (2003, Zhang Yimou) [ review ] 93

(29 Mar) What a Girl Wants (2003, Dennie Gordon) [ review ] 45

February / April

2003 February

(3 Feb) Lovely and Amazing (2002, Nicole Holofcener) 74
[ Why is that the most insecure women attach themselves to the most inconsiderate jerks? You want to feel for these characters, but at the same time it’s frustrating how they can’t get over their neuroses or at least try to do something about it. Thankfully, the actresses are engaging enough. There’s Catherine Keener doing her usual fuck-off thing, Emily Mortimer offering a brave/vulnerable performance as a self-deprecating actress and Brenda Blethyn breathing decency as the other two’s hapless mother. Writer-director Nicole Holofrener lays it on thick and her film can be obnoxious at times, but it’s got a sweet core. ]

(4 Feb) The Recruit (2003, Roger Donaldson) [ review ] 57

(4 Feb) Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 93

(5 Feb) Chasing Amy (1997, Kevin Smith) [ review ] 87

(6 Feb) The Favourite Game (2003, Bernar Hébert) [ review ] 80

(6 Feb) The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Movie (1979, Chuck Jones) 88
[ Compilation films are often a cheap marketing ploy, but you must appreciate the opportunity to watch all your favorite Looney Tunes cartoons back to back. Is there anything as hilarious in its cruel fatalism as Wile E. Coyote’s vain attempts at capturing the Road Runner? Or what about “Duck Amuck” in which animator and character collide in a manner as wonderfully meta as anything Charlie Kaufman has ever written? Didn’t “What’s Opera, Doc?” introduce generations of kids to classical music? Has there ever been a more accurate depiction of the exquisite agony of unrequited love than Pepe Le Pew’s? And most importantly, is there anything sexier than Bugs Bunny in drag? ]

(7 Feb) Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale) 91
[ A moving story, gorgeous animation, catchy musical numbers, barely a hint of condescending kiddie stuff… This just might be Disney’s best film. ]

(7 Feb) The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor) 93
[ Katharine Hepburn as a spoiled socialite about to get remarried, Cary Grant as her bitter ex-husband and James Stewart as a snobbish tabloid reporter: quite the cast, isn’t it? This old-fashioned yet incisive romantic comedy is a bit stiff, looking every bit like the filmed play it basically is, but the flawless performances and the wise and witty dialogue more than make up for it. And this that rare movie romance where you actually don’t know who will win the woman’s heart until the very last minute. ]

(7 Feb) Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock) 95
[ Another great James Stewart film but in quite a different register. Stewart plays a wheelchair-bound magazine photographer who fights boredom by looking out the window into the apartments of his neighbours: the newlyweds, the sexy ballet dancer, the lonely single woman, the pianist… the murderer? This makes for one of the most voyeuristic and suspenseful films Alfred Hitchcock ever directed. “Rear Window” is packed with virtuoso visual storytelling, managing to remain absolutely engrossing even though we never leave Stewart’s tiny little apartment. It doesn’t hurt that his girlfriend is played by the most beautiful woman in the world, Grace Kelly, who never looked better than in this movie. That first close-up of her when she bends to kiss Stewart would make anyone’s heart melt. ]

(11 Feb) To Catch a Thief (1955, Alfred Hitchcock) 90
[ Cat burglar John Robie has been clean for fifteen years but a new wave of jewel robberires has started and, to prove his innocence, Robie must catch the copycat thief himself. Cary Grant came out of semi-retirement to star in this Hitchcock caper, and who could have resisted such an offer? A location shoot around the beautiful beaches of the French Riviera, endlessly clever and amusing dialogue, cool cars and the prettiest woman in the world as his romantic opposite, Grace Kelly. That ain’t work, that’s the best vacation you could wish for, and so is watching this wildly inconsequential but utterly entertaining film. ]

(11 Feb) Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi) [ review ] 85

(12 Feb) The Street Fighter (1974, Shigehiro Ozawa) 92
(13 Feb) Return of the Street Fighter (1974, Shigehiro Ozawa) 48
(13 Feb) The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge (1974, Teruo Ishii)
[ My thoughts on the Street Fighter trilogy can be found h e r e ]

(13 Feb) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937, David Hand) 86
[ I remembered how beautiful and colorful the animation is (gotta love all the cute animals) and how goofy them dwarfs are, but I’d forgotten how evil that Stepmother Queen is: “Kill Snow White and bring back her heart in this box”? Damn! And is it just me or Snow White sounds like she’s a “very special” princess? In any case, this remains a truly charming picture. ]

(13 Feb) Daredevil (2003, Mark Steven Johnson) [ review ] 68

(14 Feb) The Heroic Trio (1993, Johnnie To) 39
[ Maggie Cheung is an amoral superwoman-for-hire, Anita Mui is a cop’s wife who moonlights as vigilante Shadowfax and Michelle Khan is a kung fu expert with an invisible cloak who kidnaps infants for an evil wizard. There’s some kind of absurd plot linking the three together and by the end they do form a “heroic trio”, but for the most part what we get is a lot of idiotic nonsense devised only so everyone will get to fight everyone else. The cheesy dialogue, campy acting and the uneasy mix of goofiness and ultraviolence add up to something pretty crappy, but it’s amusing crap. ]

(14 Feb) Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock) 96
[ Hey, I didn’t know John Woo’s “M:I-2” was a remake! Seriously, doesn’t its plot bear striking resemblance to this Hitchcock classic? An American government agent recruits a woman with a shady past, he falls in love with her in the process and is torn apart when he must assign her to seduce and spy on one of the bad guys. Switch terrorists based in Australia for Nazis in 1946 Rio and they’re the same film… Except that “Notorious” favours complex and provocative drama instead of over the top action scenes and it presents a much more affecting couple with the great Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Espionage thrillers have hardly ever felt this intimate and devastating. ]

(14 Feb) Possession (1981, Andrzej Zulawski) 94
[ So Andrzej Zulawski wrote and directed a film about his marriage’s break-up in 1981… It’s a tale of love and betrayal, desire and jealousy, obsession and madness… Sam Neill is the husband going nuts over the departure of his wife, played by Isabelle Adjani, who’s taken not one but two lovers: a slimy guru-type man and, mmm, how do you say… Oh, yeah, a freaking octopus/lizard creature! Andrzej, dude, what kind of break-up was that?!? “Possession” is a relentlessly over the top, unflinching look at utter madness. The nervy camerawork, the inescapable brightness of daylight and the bizarre lounge-from-hell score all work at creating a riveting surreal atmosphere unsettled increasingly often by outbursts of ultraviolence. Isabelle Adjani will creep the hell out of you with her disturbing and hysterical performance. This has got to be the most fucked up film I’ve ever seen; it makes David Lynch’s movies look like fairy tales. ]

(15 Feb) High Society (1956, Charles Walters) 82
[ This musical remake of “The Philadelphia Story” is not quite as insightful and involving as the original, mostly because Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra don’t have half the screen presence that Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart had. Grace Kelly doesn’t quite match Katharine Hepburn’s performance either, but the gorgeous actress is endearing and funny nonetheless. And how can you not get a kick out of a movie featuring the always enthusiastic Louis Armstrong and his band jazzing things up? All of the Cole Porter songs are a treat, really, especially the irreverent Crosby-Sinatra duet “Well, Did You Evah”. ]

(16 Feb) Perfect Blue (1997, Satoshi Kon) 77
[ Japanimation more concerned with psychological drama then post-apocalyptic mayhem and rapist creatures? That’s already interesting. “Perfect Blue” tells the story of a pop star struggling to make it as an actress who is stalked by a mysterious webmaster… But it’s more twisted than that. Think of a cross between “Mulholland Dr.” and “Psycho”, for better or worse. I particularly liked the insights into the exploitative nature of an actress’ occupation, which reminded me a little of parts of “Lovely and Amazing” (the main character is even drawn like Emily Mortimer!). What doesn’t work so well is when the film trades gritty realism for surrealism and extreme gore. Still, overall this is a picture that looks great but is also supported by an involving enough script that could have worked as live action. ]

(17 Feb) Satchmo (1989, Gary Giddins) 84
[ Engrossing documentary about the unique Louis Armstrong packed with film clips showcasing the trumpet virtuoso’s musical genius and charisma. The filmmakers and the interviewees (Tony Bennett notably) argue that Armstrong was one of the driving forces of 20th century pop culture and a pioneer of jazz. It’d be hard to disagree after these toe-tapping, uplifting 90 minutes. ]

(17 Feb) La Jetée (1962, Chris Marker) 93
[ This is the short film which inspired Terry Gilliam’s brilliant “Twelve Monkeys”. The same brilliance can be felt here, as we can see the basic ideas that were developed in Gilliam’s film. “La Jetée” is actually a photo-roman, i.e. a novella put in images. The narration tells the story of a time-traveller from post-apocalyptic Paris who gets to relive a childhood moment which stuck in his head his whole life, all of which is shown through a series of still black & white photographs. The film is drenched with melancholy and lyricism and is a must-see complement to “Twelve Monkeys” (or is it the other way around?). ]

(18 Feb) Some Like it Hot (1959, Billy Wilder) 94
[ This is the best comedy of all time according to the American Film Institute. That might be pushing it a bit (I’m partial to “Dr. Strangelove” or “The Producers” myself), but there’s no denying that this is an incredibly witty and enjoyable flick. It starts off like a gritty gangster film in prohibition era Chicago with car chases and shoot-outs and a raid on an illegal booze joint, but the tone lightens up considerably when the story shifts to Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as musicians who escape all the surrounding mayhem by taking a gig in Florida… in an all-girl band! The back-and-forth between the two actors in drag is very amusing and supporting actress Marilyn Monroe? Zowie! Now that’s a woman! But she’s also got great comic timing, overflowing charm and a great singing voice to boot. ]

(19 Feb) Exit pour Nomades (1992, Pierre Bastien) 49
[ Lucien Francoeur is one of the most fascinating/ridiculous public figures in Québec. From his bad spoken word over slightly better rock music to his current gigs as a morning man on Cool FM and as a French Literature Teacher, Francoeur is all about contradictions. Poetic or vulgar, a Rimbaud wannabe working as a spokesperson for Burger King, a would-be Jim Morrison that’s fat, balding and can’t sing, a Beat biker who thinks he’s Billy the Kid who lives in the suburbs… This 1992 documentary is as laughably pretentious as Francoeur himself, but in an endearingly naïve way. ]

(20 Feb) Rashomon (1950, Akira Kurosawa) 93
[ A priest, a farmer and a vagrant meet in rain-drenched ruins and discuss the day’s court hearing regarding the murder of a samurai. We hear and see what happened according to the accused, the widow and even the victim himself speaking through a medium. It is clear that the bandit raped the woman and that this lead to the death of her husband, but no one can agree on the details… Akira Kurosawa’s film is rather slow, with sparse dialogue and intentionally non-spectacular scuffles, but where it becomes riveting (aside from the superb b&w cinematography and Toshiro Mifune’s gleeful overacting) is in the way the story is structured. By having each protagonist’s testimony contradicting the others, “Rashomon” sets up an ambiguous morality tale in which one’s truth is another’s lie. The sexual politics are questionable (“Women are weak by nature”) but probably reflective of Japan at the time, and the conclusion is underwhelming (“Thanks to you I can keep my faith in men.” “Don’t mention it.”) but this remains a masterful picture that’s still influential to this day. ]

(20 Feb) Glengarry Glenn Ross (1992, James Foley) 91
[ This adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play still feels staged, but who cares that it’s not particularly cinematic when you’ve got such sharp dialogue acted out by three generations of the best American actors? Jack Lemmon is a real estate salesman who lost it and is so desperate that ethics and dignity hardly matter anymore to him, Alan Arkin as a slightly less hopeless loser, slow-burn Ed Harris and explosive Al Pacino as loud mouths with their own insecurities, Kevin Spacey as their relaxed asshole manager and Alec Baldwin tearing them all down as a big shot from the downtown office who comes in to give them a pep talk. This is pure, brash, foul-mouthed, adrenaline-fueled Mamet, and everyone in this great cast sinks their teeth into it with relish. ]

(21 Feb) Old School (2003, Todd Phillips) [ review ] 73

(22 Feb) Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz) [ review ] 100

(22 Feb) A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies (1995, Martin Scorsese)
[ In this fascinating exposé, Martin Scorsese takes us through his lifelong infatuation with cinema, recounting the history of the art form and discussing various aspects of it through the point of view of the director, naturally. How D.W. Griffith brought film its grammar, the eternal conflict between Art and Commerce, the evolution of genres like the Western, the Gangster film and the Musical, the impact caused by the introduction of sound, Technicolor and Widescreen, the way some filmmakers “smuggled” different ideas past the censors during the Production Code and how others were downright iconoclasts, breaking conventions and “ultimately expanding the art form”. Scorsese is always insightful and engaging and this epic documentary, packed with countless clips from films of all kinds and interviews with some of the filmmakers and players, is infused with his passion for the subject and inspires one to plunge further into it himself. ]

(24 Feb) The Great Dictator (1940, Charlie Chaplin) 88
[ Before the United States entered World War II, one of its leading filmmakers took a stand: Charles Chaplin. I personally don’t find his Tramp schtick all that funny, but the way he ridicules Hitler (“Hynkel”) is really ballsy, the better-laugh-than-cry depiction of the Holocaust is heartbreaking and Chaplin’s final plea for peace and tolerance is an inspiration, even sixty-some years later as war and hate are unfortunately still a reality. ]

(25 Feb) Mon Oncle Antoine (1971, Claude Jutra) 92
[ This was Quebec not so long ago, a nation of good-hearted but colonised Frenchies being exploited in mines or in the woods by English bosses and kept in the dark by the Church and Prime Minister Duplessis… But Claude Jutra’s film about an undertaker and his young nephew is not all bummer. There’s the joy of being a kid off school for the holidays, the warmth of family, the noisiness of the magasin général, the beauty of the Canadian winter (especially as shot by Michel Brault), the excitement of discovering girls… “Mon Oncle Antoine” is a much understated but endearing coming-of-age story most notable for its attention to detail, both in period recreation and the way people behave, and at times it works as pure poetry. ]

(26 Feb) Visitor Q (2001, Takashi Miike) 91
[ What do you call a movie where the 10 minute incest opening is the tamest scene? Another day at work for Takashi Miike. In “Visitor Q”, the twisted Japanese director takes a shot at reality TV, except that the family depicted here is so dysfunctional that it makes The Osbournes look like the Brady Bunch! Shot on video with minimal flourishes, this is little more than an 80 minute succession of taboos being giddily ignored. Sex, drugs and violence abound, and then you’ve got a dude who likes to hit people behind the head with a rock, extreme lactating and the perils of raping a corpse. What’s most shocking is how absurdly entertaining all this amorality actually is! If you like your comedies pitch black, you can’t go wrong with this one. ]

(27 Feb) Intacto (2003, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo) [ review ] 35

2003 January

(1 Jan) Far From Heaven (2002, Todd Haynes) [ review ] 79

(3 Jan) L’Invention de l’amour (2000, Claude Demers) 17
[ I rented this only for the infinitely gorgeous Delphine Brodeur, a young actress who happened to take some of the same classes as me in film school. Unfortunately, her presence is only a smallish breath of fresh air in this pseudo-auteurist bore. This film (about a self-pitying writer, a self-pitying housewife and a self-pitying prostitute connecting through lame movie sex) represents the worst kind of French Canadian movies which, as Hour critic Dimitri Katadotis perfectly words it, “feel the need to prop up typically banal stories with overblown metaphors and new-agey claptrap”, feature characters who are “ciphers – scriptwriting ideas awkwardly made flesh” and are further “undone by a self-conscious striving for significance”. There is not a single moment that rings true in “L’Invention de l’amour”, not a scene that doesn’t feel contrived… I’ll take the lowbrow entertainment of a “Les Boys” sequel over this kind of pretentious crap any day. ]

(4 Jan) Sympathy for the Devil (1968, Jean-Luc Godard) 47
[ A rockumentary focusing on rehearsals and politico-abstract vignettes about Black revolutionaries and Communists instead of high-decibel showmanship and behind-the-scenes debauchery? Hey, this non-fiction essay was directed by Jean-Luc Godard, so can you really expect another “Live at the Max”? Godard’s Marxist polemics and masturbatory deconstructionism can get tiresome, but seeing the Rolling Stones as young men working over and over on the arrangements of what would eventually become their brilliant “Sympathy for the Devil” is certainly fascinating. ]

(6 Jan) La Belle Noiseuse (1991, Jacques Rivette) 69
[ I could discourse about the themes and artistic merits of Jacques Rivette’s film, the story of a conflicted painter trying to get his groove back by having a beautiful young woman pose nude for him… But isn’t saying that it’s two hours of naked Emmanuelle Beart enough to send you running to the video store? ]

(7 Jan) Visions of Light (1992, Todd McCarthy) 83
[ An enlightening (pun intended) look at the art of cinematography. Using light and shadows, shot composition and various camera movements, directors of photography are the ones who make cinema such a visual medium. If they’ve done their job well, you should be able to turn the soundtrack off and still be involved in the story. “Visions of Light” is an engaging, very thorough documentary filled with insights into the creation of some of the most memorable images in the history of movies, and for once cinematographers get to step in front of the camera and share their knowledge and experience – recently deceased Conrad Hall, notably. ]

(7 Jan) Audition (1999, Takashi Miike) 88
[ What’s wrong with Japanese people!?! How do you turn what begins as a romantic comedy (about a middle-aged widower who decides to hold auditions to find himself a new wife) into a gory mindfuck that would shock even David Lynch? Director Takashi Miike has crafted a viscerally intense movie here, and the way it deals with “issues of trust and betrayal between a man and a woman” is certainly different and memorable but… Damn, this really is some crazy kind of messed up insanity! The giggly use of piano wire and acupuncture needles in the climax will haunt your nightmares for a long time… ]

(7 Jan) All or Nothing (2002, Mike Leigh) 84
[ Writer-director Mike Leigh’s latest working class melodrama follows a series of husbands and wives and their grown children in and around a London housing block. We meet people falling out of love, bummed out by their dead-end jobs, unhealthy, drinking too much… It could quickly become way too depressing but somehow the film is also full of life. Leigh is a very keen social observer, and he shows much compassion for his characters, who are brought to life by a great cast led by Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville. The cinematography by Dick Pope is arresting, bringing light and beauty to miserable circumstances, and Andrew Dickson’s omnipresent score effectively underlines the film’s raw emotions.

(10 Jan) The 25th Hour (2002, Spike Lee) [ review ] 59

(10 Jan) Chicago (2002, Rob Marshall) [ review ] 41

(11 Jan) Spirited Away (2002, Hayao Miyazaki) 90
[ Whoaaaa… Hayao Miyazaki is a genius. His latest (the highest-grossing film of all time in Japan!) is every bit as gorgeous and imaginative as his “Princess Mononoke”, but with a simpler, more compelling storyline. Very early on we feel for vulnerable but strong-willed little Chihiro, and her journey through an abandoned amusement park (inhabited by everything from man-pigs to talking frogs, bouncing heads, Stink gods, sorceress twins, a giant baby, bouncing heads and countless other oddball creatures) is all the more “transporting” because of it. Here’s hoping the Academy doesn’t drop the ball and gives “Spirited Away” a much deserved Best Animated Film Oscar next March. ]

(12 Jan) Ladies & Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen (1965, Donald Brittain) 87
[ Leonard Cohen is Montreal. Leonard Cohen is bittersweet love. Leonard Cohen is that feeling you get when you’re awake at 4 in the morning in a cheap hotel room. And this documentary, while way too short (44 minutes), offers a fascinating glimpse at Cohen as a young poet/novelist/stand-up/songwriter before he became a “pop” sensation. Donald Brittain’s film is very representative of the cinéma vérité the Office National du Film favored at the time, balancing information and lyricism, somewhere between a TV report and French New Wave cinéma. We follow Cohen around Montreal both “in crowds and in solitude” and we get to know him a little through little interviews and narration, a lot of which is taken right out of Cohen’s own writings. ]

(14 Jan) The Hours (2002, Stephen Daldry) [ review ] 92

(15 Jan) Sid & Nancy (1986, Alex Cox) 44
[ Trashy as hell “romance” of sex, drugs and punk rock. Gary Oldman is pretty damn good as Sid Vicious and the cinematography by Roger Deakins is awesome, but the movie’s relentless depiction of anarchist self-destruction gets tiresome. And if you’re interested in the Sex Pistols, you’re better off with the documentary “The Filth and the Fury”.

(17 Jan) Kangaroo Jack (2003, David McNally) [ review ] 39

(17 Jan) National Security (2003, Dennis Dugan) [ review ] 8

(21 Jan) Grass (1999, Ron Mann) 74
[ An informative and hilarious look at the attitudes towards marijuana in America through the 20th century. Ron Mann’s lively documentary uses old newsreels, film clips, nifty graphics and deadpan narration by Woody Harrelson to show how governments and the media made up all kinds of outrageous propaganda to convince people that pot smoking turns you into an insane, murderous, sex-crazed Communist! ]

(22 Jan) Johnny Suede (1991, Tom DiCillo) 86
[ In an interview with Stephen Lowenstein for the book ‘My First Movie’, Tom DiCillo says: “Is there a way the guy can look like a hero on the surface but underneath he’s as foolish and fearful and vulnerable as everybody else?” That is exactly what’s so interesting about DiCillo’s directorial debut, the way Suede looks like a ‘50s “teenage idol” with his foot-high pompadour and black suede shoes yet inside he’s insecure and naïve. Brad Pitt is endearing as the not-so-cool Johnny, he’s got good chemistry with Catherine Keener and he’s not too bad a singer! The technique is a little shaky at times, as first movies tend to, but I love the depiction of New York as a wasteland of empty, rundown streets, and DiCillo’s use of surreal dream sequences and the overall quirkiness make “Johnny Suede” into something of a gentler spin on David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart”. ]

(24 Jan) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002, George Clooney) [ review ] 27

(28 Jan) Du pic au coeur (2000, Céline Baril) 25
[ Xavier Caféïne is THE most electrifying rock star in Québec, but this inconsequential, pretentious little romantic comedy is hardly fit to his particular energy. It’s yet another of those desperately self-important French Canadian films about pseudo-existential young Montrealers. The adorable Karine Vanasse is a kooky concierge who sleeps with Caféïne but is not insensitive to Tobie Pelletier’s puppy love. There’s no depth at all to this love triangle, so the film is filled out with uninteresting, half-assed sideplots about a middle-aged Hungarian couple, a casino owner who spends all his time in the back of a limo watching people on surveillance cameras and an ex-con looking for redemption. Xavier Caféïne’s got charisma to spare but he can’t salvage such a contrived, overwritten film and, most frustratingly, his explosive musical genius is often buried under a timid score by Jérôme Minière. ]

(28 Jan) Manufacturing Consent (1992, Peter Wintonick)
[ This infuriatingly thought-provoking documentary chronicles a series of lectures and interviews given around the world by MIT scholar and controversial activist Noam Chomsky. What’s most enraging is that nothing has changed since the film was shot almost ten years ago. The media still delves into disinformation to serve the interests of the corporations that own them, atrocities still occur around the world to general indifference, and then there’s George W. Bush and his cronies foaming at the mouth to go to war in Iraq, and they don’t even feel compelled to tell the population why or to listen to the voices of dissent. All the more reasons to seek films like this one that inform and inspire to question authority. ]

(30 Jan) About a Boy (2002, Chris and Paul Weitz) 83
[ Ohmigod! What a lovely movie! I’d skipped it last year out of a vague annoyance with Hugh Grant, but he’s actually awesome here, playing up his shallow pretty-boy image to hilarious results. This is a fun, insightful picture about men in arrested development, even more so than that previous Nick Hornby adaptation, “High Fidelity”, because the emotional journey of the juvenile lead character is much more layered and touching here (no Jack Black, though). Grant has great chemistry with 11 year old Nicholas Hoult, and Toni Collette and Rachel Weisz nicely fill out the cast as single mothers. Chris and Paul Weitz have taken the insights and pathos I could sense in their “American Pie” flicks and put it up-front while keeping things lively and humorous. Wonderful little film. ]

(30 Jan) Touch of Evil (1958, Orson Welles) 96
[ Charlton Heston stars as a Mexican (!) cop in a border town who must deal with local gangsters, the disappearance of his wife (Janet Leigh) and a racist, corrupted American police chief played with sleazy bravado by a morbidly obese Orson Welles, who also wrote and directed this powerful, morally ambiguous film noir. Masterful direction, solid performances, gorgeous black & white cinematography and an engrossing plot: this is classic moviemaking at its finest. ]

(30 Jan) I Am A Hotel (1983, Mark Shekter) 12
[ Stretched out music video that strives for lyricism but comes off ridiculous and beyond cheesy. The all Leonard Cohen soundtrack is a treat, natch, but the cheap-looking production seriously undermine the poignancy of the music. You’re better off just listening to Cohen’s old LPs.

(31 Jan) Cidade de Deus (2003, Fernando Meirelles) [ review ] 92

FEBRUARY 2003 h e r e

2002 November-December

(2 Nov) Muhammad Ali The Greatest (1974, William Klein) [ review ] 70

(4 Nov) Pump Up the Volume (1990, Allan Moyle) [ review ] 94

(7 Nov) The Real Eve (2002, Andrew Peddington) 60
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ]

(8 Nov) 8 Mile (2003, Curtis Hanson) [ review ] 86

(8 Nov) Québec-Montréal (2002, Ricardo Trogi) 32
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(9 Nov) Petites misères (2002, Philippe Boon and Laurent Brandenbourger) 62
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(9 Nov) Monsieur Batignole (2002, Gérard Jugnot) 70
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(9 Nov) Une affaire privée (2002, Guillaume Nicloux) 72
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(10 Nov) Cet amour-là (2002, Josée Dayan) 5
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(10 Nov) Oui, mais… (2002, Yves Lavandier) 93
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(11 Nov) Une hirondelle a fait le printemps (2002, Christian Carion) 47
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(11 Nov) Chaos (2002, Colinne Serreau) 84
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(12 Nov) Laissez-passer (2002, Bertrand Tavernier) 78
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(12 Nov) Ma femme est une actrice (2002, Yvan Attal) 45
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(13 Nov) Sur mes lèvres (2002, Jacques Audiard) 58
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(13 Nov) L’emploi du temps (2002, Laurent Cantet) 86
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(14 Nov) Sueurs (2002, Louis-Pascal Couvelaire) 56
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(15 Nov) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002, Chris Colombus) [ review ] 61

(15 Nov) Le Doux amour des hommes (2002, Jean-Paul Civeyrac) 89
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(16 Nov) Jojo la frite (2002, Nicolas Cuche) 44
[ reviewed in my Cinemania coverage ]

(17 Nov) Unfaithful (2002, Adrian Lyne) [ review ] 44

(20 Nov) Ice Age (2002, Chris Wedge) 42
[ Featuring the voices of Ray Romano as a mammoth, Denis Leary as a saber-toothed tiger and John Leguizamo as a sloth, Chris Wedge’s computer-animated film follows this unlikely herd as they try to take a human baby back to his father. Well made but not that well made, amusing but not that amusing, “Ice Age” is worth seeing, I guess, if you have already seen Pixar’s vastly superior flicks or “Shrek”. ]

(22 Nov) Rosetta (1999, the Dardenne brothers) 90
[ 17 year old Rosetta is like Eminem’s character in “8 Mile”: stuck living with her alcoholic mother in a trailer park, shifting between numbing minimum-wage jobs, hurt and angry as hell about all of it. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s film eschews stylistic flourishes, screenplay beats and even dialogue to a degree in favor of long unstable tracking shots keeping close to Rosetta as she goes through her day-to-day routine. This unintrusive approach, paired with a devastating performance by Émilie Dequenne in the title role, make for an affecting, unflinching look at life as a constant struggle not to sink further into misery. ]

(23 Nov) Safe (1995, Todd Haynes) 85
[ Working less like a disease-movie-of-the-week than like an all-out horror movie in which every day “fumes” and chemicals act as the monster waiting around every corner, the first half of Todd Haynes’ film is truly creepy. The use of cheesy ‘80s pop is slightly distracting and the husband character is one-dimensionally non-understanding, but Julianne Moore gives a stripped down, understated but powerful performance, and the exploration of environmental illness is terrifying and thought-provoking. What I’m really not sure about “Safe” is how midway through it hands itself to a self-help guru who attempts to help Moore not only with her health but with her spirit. Haynes has said that his film’s values run counter to those encouraged in the story, but that distinction isn’t clear on screen. Still, that’s a nitpick about an otherwise solid picture. ]

(24 Nov) Ghost World (2001, Terry Zwigoff) [ review ] 91

(26 Nov) Triumph of the Will (1935, Leni Riefenstahl) 80
[ The extreme example of cinema being used to brilliant and powerful effect but for all the wrong reasons. Leni Riefenstahl’s historical portrait of the National Socialist Party in all its glory is pure propaganda for Hitler’s movement, yet however manipulative it is an impressive piece of filmmaking. The black and white cinematography is spectacular and it’s quite something to see all those “hero shots” of the Fuhrer surrounded by hundreds of thousands of Brown Shirts, SS, Hitler youths and others, all in uniforms and formation, carrying Nazi banners and saluting as one. The DVD Special Edition features audio commentary by historian Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, who helpfully puts what we see into context. ]

(27 Nov) Solaris (2002, Steven Soderbergh) [ review ] 60

(27 Nov) Femme Fatale (2002, Brian De Palma) 62
[ I like Brian De Palma as much as the next guy, having seen about half his films and at least liked all of them, and “Femme Fatale” is no different: it’s a well crafted, fun thriller. Still, I don’t get the 4 star reviews the likes of Roger Ebert have appraised the film with. De Palma pulls a few nice set pieces here, notably a bait-and-switch diamond heist at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival set to a quasi-Bolero score, and it’s nifty how most of the storytelling is done visually (and what dialogue there is is almost all in French!). But with all the violence, sleazy sex and preposterous twists, how is this different than “Original Sin” (which also stars Antonio Banderas as the patsy)? Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is hot as hell in the lead, but De Palma is falling apart under his own stylistic and thematic fixations. At least he does entertainingly so. ]

(28 Nov) Gimme Shelter (1970, Albert & David Maysles) 88
[ They’re all so young and goofy as they perform “Jumping Jack Flash” in the opening moments of this fascinating rockumentary… And then the film cuts to the band members listening to a call-in radio show about their infamous free concert in 1969 at San Francisco’s Altamont Speedway where 300 000 “flower children” clashed with Hell’s Angels hired to do the security and all hell broke loose. To think, it was supposed to be a “microcosmic society which sets the example to the rest of America as to how one can behave in large gatherings”… The ‘60s and the Love Generation’s dreams were definitely over, but the music remains exciting. Mick Jagger is one helluvah performer, backed by arguably the greatest rock & roll band in the world, and it’s a gas gas gas to see them rip through “Satisfaction”, “Honky Tonk Women”, “Street Fighting Man”, “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Under My Thumb”… The film also features appearances by Tina Turner and Jefferson Airplane, and the crowd itself is spectacular, for better or worse. ]

(28 Nov) Barbershop (2002, Tim Story) 55
[ A sweet-spirited ghetto comedy? Hey, why not! Ice Cube’s latest flick is a bit trite and predictable, but it’s quite amusing at times (especially when Cedric the Entertainer is on screen) and it inspires a nice sense of community. Some of the dialogue is pretty smart too, controversy be damned. ]

(28 Nov) 24 Hour Party People (2002, Michael Winterbottom) 76
[ This free-form narrative film follows promoter Tony Wilson as he finds himself at the center of successive cultural booms in the Manchester music scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s, from an early gig by the Sex Pistols to the emergence of New Wave bands like Joy Division and the Happy Mondays to the first raves. I remember seeing a Behind the Music-type program about that era once and it was very interesting, but nowhere near as out there and irreverent as Michael Winterbottom’s take on it. I love how Steve Coogan (as Wilson) talks directly to the camera to comment on events and how Winterbottom weaves together fact and fiction, truth and legend, throwing in real concert footage then going out on irreverent tangents of fantasy, all the while ignoring the conventions of biopics, making Wilson into “a minor character in his own life”. The end result is a glorious mess, but I believe it’s representative of that time and place. ]

(4 Dec) Max (2002, Menno Meyjes) [ review ] 65

(5 Dec) My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002, Joel Zwick) 6
[ This is THE success story of 2002. The huge box office of flicks like “Spider-Man”, “Attack of the Clones” or “Chamber of Secrets” was expected, but who would have thought that an independent family comedy which opened to less than a million dollars last April would stay in the Top 20 for 33 weeks (and counting!) and gross more than 200 M$? Nonetheless, I managed not to see the film… until now. Soooooo, how’s that “Big Fat Greek Wedding”? Excruciating! What are people thinking? This is barely a movie, it’s a sitcom. An obnoxious, contrived, shallow, trite, boring, badly directed sitcom, rehashing the same old romantic comedy clichés and stereotypical characters, only here they’re Greek stereotypes. Whoop-tee-doo. Ugly girl meets bland hunk who doesn’t notice her until she gets a makeover, they want to get married but her big fat loud Greek family gets in the way. So writer-star Nia Vardalos got Tom Hanks and his own Greek wife to produce this film adaptation of her one-woman-show and through freak circumstances people embraced it… Doesn’t mean it’s any good. The woman might be really likable in real life but it doesn’t show on screen and she’s even less of a writer than an actress. ]

(5 Dec) The Banger Sisters (2002, Bon Dolman) 62
[ This uninspired but surprisingly enjoyable comedy has Goldie Hawn playing sort of a 30-years-later Penny Lane (the groupie Hawn’s daughter Kate Hudson portrayed in Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous”). Renamed Suzette, the blond firecracker used to “rattle” rock stars like Jim Morrison back in the ‘70s with her best friend Vinnie (Susan Sarandon). But while Suzette has remained wild, sexual and fun, Vinnie has turned into an uptight rich housewife. Anyone can see where this is going, with the former “banger sisters” clashing but eventually bonding again and learning Valuable Lessons about being true to yourself blah blah blah. Yet while writer-director Bob Dolman fails to breathe much fresh air into this succession of Screenplay 101 clichés, the cast manages to at least make them fun. Goldie Hawn is damn hot and fun and game even though she’s past 50, Susan Sarandon gets good mileage out of her American Beautyish reconnect-with-your-long-lost-mojo character arc, Geoffrey Rush does what he can as an obsessive-compulsive writer who’s also predictably shook up by Suzette and Erika Christensen’s thinly veiled variation on Diane Court proves she could have played Ione Skye’s part in “Say Anything” – yes, another Cameron Crowe film. “The Banger Sisters” is nowhere near as insightful or touching as Crowe’s movies, but it’s a colorful and lively 90 minutes worth sitting through. ]

(6 Dec) La Pianiste (2002, Michael Haneke) 75
[ Isabelle Huppert plays an extremely strict piano teacher smothered by her mother who gets involved sexually with a young student who unleashes her darkest impulses. Michael Heneke directs the film in an almost clinical way. Most of the time his camera and Huppert are utterly impassive, with only great classical music achieving to soften them up somewhat. Hence, it’s quite a shock when explicit sex and violent self-abuse are introduced, and it gets to a point where “La Pianiste” is so messed up that you don’t know where to look. I can’t say I “enjoyed” watching this, but it’s certainly an intense and memorable experience and Huppert gives a rivetingly unrestrained performance. ]

(7 Dec) Legally Blonde (2001, Robert Luketic) [ review ] 72

(8 Dec) One Hour Photo (2002, Mark Romanek) [ review ] 80

(10 Dec) Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002, Alfonso Cuaron) [ review ] 91

(11 Dec) Antwone Fisher (2002, Denzel Washington) [ review ] 85

(11 Dec) Igby goes down (2002, Burr Steers) [ review ] 72

(12 Dec) The Good Girl (2002, Miguer Arteta) [ review ] 40

(15 Dec) In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-Wai) 63
[ Wong Kar-Wai’s latest is as stylish and visually stunning as his previous films, but it unfolds in a much more understated, quiet and slow manner. You gotta love the exquisite shot composition, Maggie Cheung’s colorful print dresses, the hypnotically repetitive musical cues and Tony Leung’s slow-burn charm, but the plot is so thin and the characters so passive that you could skip and shuffle scenes at random (or turn off the subtitles) without losing much. ]

(15 Dec) Lilo & Stitch (2002, Chris Sanders) 82
[ This animated flick sorta kinda rips off “The Iron Giant”, which itself sorta kinda ripped off “E.T.”, but the story of a kid-and-its-monster is as fun and touching as ever. I love that Lilo is not the usual whitebread Disney heroin, she’s a badass Hawain chick, and Stitch is even more of a hyperactive troublemaker. Add lively drawings, amusing wham-bam sci-fi and an all-Elvis soundtracks and you’ve got yourself 85 minutes of smilin’. ]

(16 Dec) The Essential Goofy (2002, various animators) 80
[ This DVD collection of all the theatrical animated shorts starring Goofy is part of the Walt Disney Treasures series hosted by film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, who set out to preserve these gems from the ‘30s, ‘40’s, ‘50s… Packing more than 4 hours of goofiness over 2 discs, “The Essential Goofy” eventually outstays its welcome (or maybe it’s the later cartoons that aren’t up to par), but for the most part the Goof’s antics are hilarious, thanks to inspired animation and tremendous voice-work by Pinto Colvig. Highlights include the How-to series, especially the ones in which Goofy stumbles through sports like hockey, baseball or skiing, which are pretty darn silly but did make me learn something as a kid: that one shouldn’t take himself too seriously. Goof away! ]

(17 Dec) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, Peter Jackson) [ review ] 94

(19 Dec) The Pianist (2002, Roman Polanski) 43
[ It’s hard to criticise a film for being too educational (there were 400 thous- no, 340 000 Jews in Warsaw before World War II and by 1942 they were down to less than 60 000) or too ruthless (Jews are beaten, abused and shot at random), but is there anything about the Holocaust that wasn’t already conveyed to wrenching perfection by “Schindler’s List”? I know, this is history that needs to be told and retold… But must it be in such a generic fashion? The events depicted are horrifying for sure, Roman Polanski’s direction is efficient enough and you can see all the weariness and quiet desperation in the world in Adrien Brody’s eyes, but I still didn’t find “The Pianist” particularly moving or artistically achieved. I think it’s supposed to be about the triumph of the human spirit, but Wladyslaw Szpilman is barely developed as a character so we don’t see much spirit, triumphing as it may be. He gets all the breaks while everyone dies around him, then he hides for half the movie… But he’s a brilliant musician so he deserved to be spared? Again, I don’t want to criticise the man’s life or the filmmakers’ noble intentions, but this just isn’t a great film, Palme d’Or or not. ]

(20 Dec) Gangs of New York (2002, Martin Scorsese) [ review ] 58

(20 Dec) About Schmidt (2002, Alexander Payne) [ review ] 26

(20 Dec) Adaptation (2002, Spike Jonze) [ review ] 83

(21 Dec) Die Another Day (2002, Lee Tamahori) 44
[ Despite an unexpected early setback that has 007 being tortured for 14 months in a North Korean prison (to the sounds of a Madonna techno-dance track!), James Bond is still the same old shallow hard-drinking fast-driving slutty killing machine. Director Lee Tamahori does a decent job trying to liven things up, but this franchise remains hampered by explosive but tiresome action sequences, cheesy one-liners, overly complicated world domination schemes, a fetish for gadgets and rampant misogyny. Pierce Brosnan has the Bond swagger down perfectly by now and Halle Berry’s easy on the eyes, but they’re playing little more than horny action figures and the villains are even more forgettable. The majority opinion seems to be that this is one of the better Bond flicks, but I’ve never been much of a fan of the series and this mildly entertaining new entry didn’t win me over either. ]

(23 Dec) Morvern Callar (2002, Lynne Ramsay) 59
[ And there’s Morvern, alone in her apartment with the corpse of her boyfriend, his suicide note (“Don’t try to understand, it just felt like the right thing to do.” ), his just completed novel on the computer, the Christmas trees with its blinking lights and his to-be-opened gifts to her (including a mix tape). Lynne Ramsay’s follow-up to “Ratcatcher” is an initially engrossing if woefully downbeat quasi-Dogme film (natural locations, hand-held camerawork, no score, sparse dialogue…). Samantha Morton is particularly involving as the title character, but as her denial of her boyfriend’s death stretches and she ends up going on a vacation to Spain with her best friend (Kathleen McDermott), the movie comes undone something fierce and just jerks around in circles for an hour. ]

(24 Dec) The Cat’s Meow (2002, Peter Bogdanovich) 40
[ A depiction of what might have happened during an infamous 1924 weekend party on the yacht of William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) attended by, amongst others, Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), Hollywood mogul Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes), gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly), novelist Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley) and of course, film star and Hearst mistress Marion Davies, portrayed with irresistible spunk by Kirsten Dunst. Unfortunately, she’s one of the few bright spots in this limply directed film dripping with chatty exposition, broad satire and even broader drama. This much whispered about tale is interesting, but the way it’s presented here it’s neither affecting or much fun. ]

(25 Dec) Personal Velocity (2002, Rebecca Miller) 68
[ Rebecca Miller wrote and directed this adaptation of hew own novel which presents three portraits of women struggling to take control of their lives. There’s Delia (Kyra Sedgwick), a housewife with a “strong heavy ass which looked great in blue jeans” who leaves her abusive husband and attempts to make a new life for her kids and her; Greta (Parker Posey), a law school dropout who married for comfort and now has problems with fidelity; and Paula (Fairuza Balk), a pregnant would-be artist who picks up a hitchhiker after a near-death experience. The three stories are only vaguely connected and the film is so literary that it’s like an illustrated novel, with almost wall-to-wall third-person narration putting what we see into context. Yet the narration is really well written and it’s filled out to a great extent by visual storytelling. The digital video cinematography brings a feel of harsh realism, but there are neat touches of whimsy and cinematic flourishes throughout. The movie is a bit uneven, with the Parker Posey story being quite more involving than the others, but “Personal Velocity” overall remains a touching and insightful film. ]

(25 Dec) Catch Me If You Can (2002, Steven Spielberg) [ review ] 91

(28 Dec) The Two Towers (2002, Peter Jackson) [ review ] 94

(29 Dec) Evelyn (2002, Bruce Beresford) 41
[ Overripe melodrama about an Irish man struggling to get the custody of his children back from the Church and the State. Pretty boy Pierce Brosnan is not particularly convincing as a drunken working class single father and director Bruce Beresford wouldn’t know subtlety if it crawled up his ass, but the (true) story in itself is touching. Who wouldn’t want the cute kids to return to their loving father? ]

(30 Dec) Baise-Moi (2000, Virginie Despentes) 33
[ This low-budget French Thelma & Louise without morals flick is hardly more “artistic” or “shocking” than your average porno. Even though it throws in some of that old ultraviolence into the mix, “Baise-Moi” fails to register as more than juvenile provocation. I kinda like the idea of girls who totally discorporate from their sexuality (“I leave nothing precious in my pussy for those jerks”), but beyond that the writing is as rotten as the direction – and the acting. At least it assumes its crassness, unlike the faux-intello posturing of Catherine Breillat or Larry Clark. ]

(30 Dec) 8 Femmes (2002, François Ozon) [ review ] 86

(31 Dec) Vulgar (2002, Bryan Johnson) 10
[ A down-on-his-luck clown (Brian O’Halloran, Dante from “Clerks”) becomes a TV sensation overnight but must still deal with the men who gang-raped him and now want to blackmail him about it. Are you laughing yet? Bryan Johnson, the “writer” and “director” of this “movie”, is apparently not aware that the vulgarity + clown outfit = hilarity equation was proved tiresomely wrong already when Bobcat Goldthwait made “Shakes the Clown”. And just because he’s a friend of Kevin Smith (who exec produced and cameos, as does Jason Mewes) doesn’t mean he has any of his wit. “Vulgar” is an amateurish mess of dumb “humor” drowned in an inexplicably dark rape/revenge storyline. I have no idea who this is supposed to appeal to. ]

2003 LOG BEGINS h e r e