Montreal Film Journal

2003 LOG (6)

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

(2 Jun) Conan the Barbarian (1981, 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 great 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

(13 Jun) The Birds (1963, Alfred Hitchcock)
[ I only watched half an hour of it and I couldn't decide what was more laughably bad, the idea of birds attacking people, the dialogue, the shoddy special effects or the fact that people consider this glorified B-movie to be a masterpiece? ]

(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 retarded, 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