Monday, October 27, 2008

Passchendaele

With a budget of $20 million (which makes it the most expensive 100% Canadian movie ever),* this epic film is rather well-balanced: not a masterpiece, but hopefully not lame. Yeah, let's be proud of it! Since last year, the movie came with high expectations. However, if there's any flaws at all, they're mostly in the middle of the movie.

The movie follows Sgt. Michael Dunne (Paul Gross), a member of the 10th Battalion (whose members were historically recruited from Calgary). After he's got diagnosed with neurasthasia, Michael is sent back to Canada to work as a recruiter. Moreover, he also meets Sarah Mann (Caroline Dhavernas), a nurse whom he falls in love with. However, when Michael learns that David (Joe Dinicol), Sarah's younger brother, joined the army out of patriotism, he also decides to go back on the battlefield to look after David.

Although Passchendaele might not win the Genie Award for the best movie, it sure rivals with Saving Private Ryan and Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War! Forget the Second World War (1939-1945), the Vietnam War (1964-1975) or the American point of view on any war: should this movie be released in other countries, Passchendaele could fill a void.

If we momentarily forget how the script is built, Passchendaele is an original movie and looks like it could have been a power house judging from the trailer. After all, how many films have you seen that deals with the First World War (1914-1919) or rather the bloodiest battle of that war? However, while the script is fairly good overall (despite being predictable at times) thanks to its breathtaking ending, its middle part slightly mars the film.

As a scriptwriter, Paul Gross doesn't seem to have the sense of priority when he deals with the movie's main plots: 1) the love story between Michael and Sarah; 2) David's burning desire to join the Canadian army. Indeed, while too much focus is put on the first plot, the second one is not as developed as it should have been. This makes us feel that the love story is a little bit corny at times since it is clumsily introduced to us. Besides, this kind of excessive attention given to the love story creates some long periods. A little bit of attention could have been given to illustrate even more the social pressure that young men, like David, faced to join the army at that time, in my opinion. Hopefully, while the story is the movie's heart, it's not as cheesy as the one in Pearl Harbor.

Obviously, if the cast did a good job with the lines they had, the performance were clearly unequal. While Paul Gross (Slings and Arrows; H2O) and Caroline Dhavernas (Hollywoodland) - who forms a wonderful couple on screen - shined with their performance, Joe Dinicol's (The Virgin Suicides) character is unfortunately victim of a one-dimensional treatment during most of the movie. In short, one may notice Caroline Dhavernas's talent to play a a character who represses a family secret (that partly explains David's desire to join the army).

Finally, Passchendaele is a movie shot in the pure Hollywoodian tradition (in the good sense of the term). The final battle scene alone is worth the price of your ticket! Moreover, for those who are not familiar with the First World War, the movie's finale shows us quite well how, at that time, people still fight - albeit with a few variations - like in the 19th century, this means having battalions fighting face to face.

Rating: 3.5/5

*: One may say that Nouvelle-France, with a budget of $33 million, is the most expansive Canadian movie ever. Nonetheless, unlike Passchendaele, Nouvelle-France is a Canadian, French and British co-production.


Passchendaele
Canada (2008)
Length: 114 minutes
Genre: War drama
Screenplay: Paul Gross
Director: Paul Gross
Starring: Paul Gross, Caroline Dhavernas, Joe Dinicol, Jim Mezon, Meredith Bailey and Adam Harrington

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Young People Fucking

Here comes the review of the most talked about Canadian movie of this year. That's the type of movie that you rent just to laugh after a day at work. What is there to say about this film that came out on DVD on the day of the Canadian federal election (October 14, 2008)? The title does contain a vulgar slang. Despite that, this movie is graphically nothing compared to Atom Egoyan's Where the Truth Lies.

Shot in Toronto, the movie interwines the story of four couples and a threesome. Matt and Kristen are best friends, but on one night, they both end up in bed. Abby decides to make love with Andrew, her husband, on his birthday, but he doesn't seem to be in the mood for it... Mia and Eric meet up for a one-off after having broken up some time back. Jamie brings Ken in her apartment. Gord and his girlfriend Inez invites Gord's roomate, Dave, to have sex with Inez while Gord watches.

The movie Young People Fucking was presented at the Toronto International Film Festival, but the former hopefully doesn't try to take itself too seriously. Even though Martin Gero's first flick is better than some American comedies, we shouldn't expect this film to be a masterpiece. In fact, Young People Fucking is, at best, a chain of funny lines that will obviously make you laugh. Moreover, these lines - while some of them are not necessarily original - avoid being simplistic and vulgar. Indeed, the beauty of Young People Fucking's humour probably lies in a sort of effect that you expect from some of Quentin Tarantino's movies: you just don't see these lines coming because they may look like a conversation that you may have had!

However, while the movie doesn't contain that much dramatic moments, it distinguishes itself from most of its American competitors by dealing with its topic in a mature way. In fact, how many movies (maybe with the exception of Kinsey) have you seen that deals with all the problems related to romantic relations and sexuality? However, the main weakness of the movie lies in the relatively thin development of the characters, which looks quite contrived at times just to deliberately make all kinds of situations happen. For instance, in the plot involving "The Exes", who are Mia and Eric, the scriptwriters don't elaborate that much on the feelings that these two characters still have for each other despite having broken up.

Despite these flaws, the movie is well served by Martin Gero's competent directing and the cast's performance that shows a lot of enthusiasm at work. However, if the actors do play quite well, it's definitely not because the lines are hard to play! Of all, the actors I really enjoyed the performance of Kristin Booth (who deals with the psychologically most elaborated character), Aaron Abrams and Carly Pope (who are both great in mastering the humour behind their lines).

Finally, for all those people out there, while Young People Fucking openly deals with sex, don't expect to see a XXX movie! If you want something better than most American comedies, then rent this film and you wouldn't regret it if you do like to laugh a little bit.

Rating: 3/5


Young People Fucking
Canada (2008)
Length: 90 minutes
Genre: Comedy
Screenplay: Martin Gero and Aaron Abrams
Directed by: Martin Gero
Starring: Aaron Abrams, Carly Pope, Diora Bird, Callum Blue, Sonja Bennett, Josh Cooke, Kristin Booth, Josh Dean, Ennis Esmer, Natalie Lisinska and Peter Oldring

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Que Dieu bénisse l'Amérique

With this movie, Quebecker director Robert Morin (Le Nèg) remains loyal to his reputation: while wanting to provoke, the story he came up with is average. Moreover, this movie is not much of an effective thriller.

September 11, 2001: In Laval, a suburb to the North of Montreal, Pierre St-Roch, a men who's taken for a paedophile, is thrown out of his house by his wife to whom he claims his innocence. Pierre faces the silent and negative judgement of his neighbours. Moreover, they fear him even more given that a list of sexual delinquents is illegally pinned on street lamps. However, things don't look too good when three of the five listed sexual delinquents are brutally killed and maimed by a vigilante...

As you read the movie's summary, you probably feel interested to rent this movie. With an interesting premise, Que Dieu bénisse l'Amérique had a chance to be a worthy precursor of the outstanding Canadian TV series Durham County. However, from the beggining to the story third quarter, this film is almost a flash in the pan mainly because of the approach used by Morin to deal with the story's subject, that is criminality in the suburbs. In short, this film is an example that looks (i.e. the cover) can be really deceptive.

Obviously, Morin doesn't seem interested to closely deal with the movie's premise. As a result of that, this film seems to get away from what ought to be its chief purposes: dealing in a balanced way with 1) vigilantism against sexual delinquents and 2) a neighbourhood's reaction toward a criminal of that kind, given that the suburbs often give us the feeling that nothing wrong can happen. In addition to that, as a movie that is supposed to be a thriller, there's actually no suspense that grips us and the film often looks like a satire that fails to make us laugh.

In fact, the story excessively focus on the characters' reaction (while knowing that they may be living near a criminal) by looking at the most insignificant aspects of their life (i.e. shopping, driving, etc.). As a result of that, we get useless sub-plots that create many long periods since the movie has way too much main characters per se. Moreover, these sub-plots give us the feeling that the criminal investigation (i.e. looking for both the mysterious vigilante and the sexual predator) is ignored thanks to most of the dialogues that are not appropriate for the movie's context. All in all, the ideal method would certainly have consisted in focusing a little bit more on the two cops who are quite well played by Gildor Roy and Patrice Dusseault.

Despite these flaws, the movie's finale seems to be the only moment when Que Dieu bénisse l'Amérique is interesting at all. However, the identity of the mysterious vigilante seems to be given away so that the movie can end. Hopefully, one may regret a little bit less renting this movie. In fact, the performance of the cast is good even though their characters form a caricature of suburbans.

Rating: 3/5

***

Que Dieu bénisse l'Amérique
Canada (2006)
Length: 105 minutes
Genre: Dramatic thriller
Screenplay: Robert Morin
Directed by: Robert Morin
Starring: Gildor Roy, Patrice Dusseault, Sylvie Léonard, Sylvain Marcel, Marika Lhoumeau, Gaston Lepage and René-Daniel Dubois

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A New Orientation for this Blog

As you're all aware, I've been questioning since this summer my interest for politics. Where am I after all of this? Obviously, though I still keep myself posted about what's going on in politics, I'm just not as interested by it as I used to be. This in part due not just to the way politicians tarnish politics, but also to the way our media covers politics as a whole.


Speaking about the media, what makes me less inclined to share with you my opinions on politics? Here are the main reasons:


  1. Bad research. While political journalism and "columnism" (if that word exists) in English Canada is relatively top-notch, the same thing can't be said about Quebec's media. In fact, most of Quebec's political columnists, though they can be better, don't do enough research to support what they say. Here are some examples. In Quebec, most political columnists think that Canada is a secular country (let me laugh!). Secondly, in a footage of Radio-Canada (the French-speaking equivalent of CBC), while Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, was labelled by a journalist (not a columnist, mind you!) as a "progressist", Michelle Bachelet, the president of Chile, was labelled as a "moderate progressist". I'm sorry, but is state interventionism at all cost - no matter what you do - an absolute requirement to be seen under a nice day? Thirdly, many Quebecker journalists believe that no movies and TV series are produced in English Canada (no offence, but those who said that should give me their journalism certificate). Fourthly, while some newspapers and media outlets of English Canada took the time to expose Obama's and McCain's political ideas, Quebec media (no surprise here) concentrated mostly on Obama's public image (i.e. charisma).

  2. Excessive focus on polls. Seriously, do I need to read at least three times a week in the same newspaper how "popular" a political party is? Unlike a hockey column where you may say whatever you want on a team (its offencive or defencive improvements or regression, for instance), the same thing can't necessarily be said about an analysis of a poll. For instance, what explains the "popularity" of the Liberals, for example? Well, it seems that the only explanations that pollsters can give you is this (a fictitious broadcasted dialogue): "You know Pierre [Bruneau], says Jean-Marc Léger, the Liberals are extremely popular in the centre and the West of Montreal (no, you're kidding?!!??). However, as you move outside of the Island, you notice that the Tories put up a good fight. Besides in some rural areas, Harper has a good chance of making a breakthrough." Dude, I don't give a business about a party's regional popularity; is it too much to ask from our "pundits" to analyze a party's ideas?

  3. Excessive focus on insults between politicians. Whether you read an English Canadian or a Quebecker newspaper, you often see a big coverage of an insult that a politician threw at the other. Is it seriously important? As far as I'm concerned, insults thrown between politicians should only be the object of a small snippet.


So, I hereby announce you that my blog will now be a cultural blog. Ha, ha, I can hear some people say that they'll no longer read my blog. Rest assured, when I'll feel like doing it, I WILL post something on politics. Thus, what should you mostly expect from me in the future? Movie reviews along with news on what's going in the movie and the television industry. Of course, from time to time, I will share with you a few thoughts on what I've read (books).

Finally, let me tell you that although my interest for politics did wane a little bit, it's always been a pleasure for me to share with you my views on politics. Of course, even though that blog has often created some controversies, I will always be thankful to my friends Léonard and SC (and other unmentioned people) for 1) always expressing their disagreement without making hasty judgement of personal values (ex: You advocate French-style secularism? Rot in hell, you @$£*& Jacobin!); and 2) showing their support for this blog (even though they mostly don't agree with the content).

To all my readers (present and potential), welcome to the second version of my blog. I hope that you'll like the new orientation that the blog took. Who knows? Maybe a movie review of mine has the potential to make you react more or less the same way some of my political views do ;-)

Yours friendly,

Anh Khoi

Friday, October 10, 2008

Stardom

Without its interesting premise Stardom wouldn't be worth watching. However, the movie might displease many people.

Despite his talent, director Denys Arcand is also able to give us questionable movies. With the approach that he used, he thought that he'll come with a great movie.

The story follows Tina Menzhal (Jessica Paré), a girl from Cornwall (Ontario), a small Canadian town. During a hockey game, Tina is spotted by a sport photographer. As her picture goes around the world, Tina instantly becomes a celebrity. On her journey, she becomes the protégé of Bruce Taylor (Robert Lepage), a worldwide-known fashion photograph. However, as she knows fame, Tina's intimacy is constantly under attack, which will lead to her fall as a star.

One would have the feeling that Stardom plays very well with its premise. As a matter of fact, through this mildly funny film, Arcand proposes a rather strong reflexion on how our imbecile consumer society worship celebrities like any products. As a satire, Stardom is shot like a "mocumentary" that mocks talk show animators, entertainment journalists and the media as a whole. From Tina's visits and the opening of clubs, talk shows (in the like of Oprah Winfrey's) or appearances in fashion magazine, the mass media's flaws are well shown, albeit in a very exagerated way.

Nevertheless, no matter how funny it might look, Stardom is rather a failed "mocumentary". Indeed, unlike some - let's change the genre - a docudrama like Michel Brault's outstanding Les ordres, Stardom hardly seems to have a story and is a little bit too predictable. Just to give you an idea, Stardom is nothing more than a slide show of scenes that are only here to ridicules mass medias. Unfortunately, this slide show does not necessarily serve the purpose of building of coherent storyline, for some scenes don't have a logical link between them.

With that said, Stardom suffers in the execution of its script. While we switch from the "interviews" of characters (as we can see it "mocumentaries") and the story's scenes, all we see, from our own point of view (as a viewer), is what Tina is living during a moment (being interviewed by journalists or chased by paparazzis, for instance). Unfortunately, it's surprising to see that Arcand doesn't actually focus on Tina's feelings.

As a result of that, we see that Arcand doesn't seize his chance to propose us a reflexion through the development of characters. Indeed, even though Tina do say that people sees her as a product without caring for her humanity, she only does it through bland dialogues/monologues. Besides, she often repeats the same remarks on her feelings throughout the movie. In the end, we don't get to see how Tina feels when she becomes a celebrity and how she lives her fame. In a nutshell, Arcand seems better in capturing shocking scenes rather than telling a good story.

Hopefully, one might find solace in the incredibly funny performance by the cast. However, let's have in mind that their performance is just a caricature that still can't make the movie an enjoyable ride.

Rating: 2.5/5

***

Stardom
Canada/France (2000)
Length: 103 minutes
Genre: Comedy
Screenplay: Denys Arcand and Jacob Potashnik
Starring: Jessica Paré, Robert Lepage, Dan Aykroyd and Camilla Rutherford



Wednesday, October 8, 2008

No to Waste of Money!

Shall he become Canada's Prime Minister, Stéphane Dion repeatedly boasts about his ability to handle our economy in times of uncertainty. However, he's got things to prove.

Of course, Stéphane Dion, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC), is right when he criticizes Stephen Harper, our current Prime Minister. In fact, since the latter recently proposed a plan to face a possible economic recession, Dion can rightfully call Harper a "snoozer". However, Dion's right to criticism ends somewhere: with his typically-Liberal spendthrift habit, would he be a better economic manager than Harper?

Despite proposing an economic plan that he'll put forward in his first 30 days as a Prime Minister, Dion still doesn't know how to handle our economy in times of uncertainty. In fact, the leader of the LPC believes that for every social problems, money solves everything.

For example, Dion proposed that a Liberal government will inject $75 million in a fund for ethnic and religious groups. As an argument he said that right now, ethnic centres and religious groups are more preoccupied with hiring security agents. He added that with $75 million thrown away for them, ethnic and religious groups will not only be able to better protect their community centres (or places of worship) from hate crimes, but also focus even more on cultural services that members of an ethnic or or religious group need.

Suppose that you're a Muslim. You no longer need to worry, because your local mosque will be less preoccupied with hiring a security agent or putting a metal grid on its windows. In fact, with taxpayers' money, more religious festivities should be organized! Isn't that wonderful!

Of course, let's make it clear between you and I: racism doesn't have its place anywhere in our society!

Nevertheless, Stéphane Dion acts like an ethnic/religious populist who wants to buy off ethnic and religious votes. Obviously, it's pointless to use taxpayers' money to help ethnic and religious minorities. In fact, if Dion's plan is actually to protect these groups against hate crimes, it's preposterous to penalize most taxpayers - who didn't do anything hateful - just because of some cunts who don't understand what mutual respect is all about.

If Albert Einstein once said that as long as mankind exists, there will always be war. To put my grain of salt, I'll add that as long as mankind exists, racism and bigotry will unfortunately always exist, since human nature is so unpredictable.

Therefore, if ethnic or religious groups want to live their cultural life, they shouldn't do it at the expense of taxpayers' money. In fact, instead of asking for our government's money, any minority groups should above all rely on the money of their members. Our government is not supposed to give a business how some minority groups live their cultural life.

Secondly, the government should treat people equally without any distinction of ethnicity or religion. With that said, unlike what Dion likes to think, an ideal government is one that doesn't mix religions with politics.

As for protection against hate crimes, is Dion implying that policing is something that doesn't exist in Canada?

Dion might have earned the right to criticize Harper for his "be happy" attitude towards our economy. Nonetheless, anyone has earn the right to wonder if Dion knows what wasting money is all about.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thoughts on the Canadian Leaders' Debate

Although I've lost quite a lot of interest for politics - but I'm trying to regain it - I do have a few words to say about the leaders' debate.

First of all, congratulation to the genius who thought about the round-table format! In fact, not only it looks more civilized, but I also agree with my friend Léonard that our political candidates have to put more emphasis on their idea rather than on their image per se. In fact, with this kind of format, our candidates will understand that they're not here to impress public relation advisers (that should send a clear message to an empty shell in the likes of Justin Trudeau who wants you to know him ONLY through his biography, his videos AND his photos) but rather us, citizens. In fact, whenever I watch the leaders' debate, I'm not looking forward to elect an actor, but rather someone who can handle the country to protect our way of life!

Moreover, I've heard many people say that hopefully, this kind of round-table format favours people who have a rather developed intellect in the likes of Stéphane Dion. Well, to draw a comparison, that reminds me of the time when the NHL took measures to be tougher against hooking in order to favour finesse. Now, time to give you my thoughts

***

Jack Layton: Though I still have reservations and doubts about the feasibility of some his policies, I certainly respect him for his debating skills and his critical thinking. Moreover, unlike Harper, Layton seems to be more close to people. In fact, when Harper said that even though Canada loses jobs and it other jobs are created in other sectors, Layton had the merit of wondering out loud if Harper cares for the manufacturing sector. Moreover, the best moment is when Layton pointed out that while Dion disagrees with Harper, then why did Dion maintain Harper in power for such a long time? Ouch!

Stéphane Dion: Although he looks good in French and can show his thorough knowledge of many issues, he simply fails to look good in English. Indeed, Dion looks more like someone who learnt how to speak English by reading books rather than by speaking it. In other words, he can't tell on which syllable of any given words you have to put the emphasis. Now, here's a little bit of English 101. With the right intonation, the word "deficit" is pronounced like this according to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary of Current English: DEFFA-sit

Elizabeth May: Poor skills in French, but she's got a rather good judgement whether you like her ideas or not. Moreover, with this debate, we can see that she keeps herself posted on issues that are not always related to the environment, especially the economy.

Stephen Harper: If you give me one word to describe him, I'll give you the word "disconnected". Can Harper talk directly about the loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector instead of always implying indirectly that he'll let the market solve the problem? Other than that, Harper showed us in the English debate that he has some good defencive reflexes.

Gilles Duceppe: No comments. Though he should check his pronunciation in English, he's always good at attacking his opponents.

Special Screening of Passchendaele

Since Canadian media don't do much to promote our own cinematographic culture, then allow me to individually put my grain of salt. Ok, I'm impatiently waiting to see Paul Gross's Passchendaele. However, why did Gross choose to make a movie about World War I when World War II has a bigger significance in our collective conscience? Anyway, I'll definitely go see it.



By the way, the movie's general release is due for October 17, 2008 across Canada.

As for the special screenings, here are the dates:


  • Halifax on October 6.

  • Montreal on October 7.

  • Quebec City on October 8.

  • Edmonton on October 9.

  • Calgary on October 15.

  • Vancouver on October 16.



Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Intimate Enemies

While not bad, this movie sometimes takes time to go straight to the point.

Since France's colonial archives has been opened about nine years ago, we'd expect a display of maturity when it comes to deal with colonialism. With an approach that is not too far from a documentary, this movie shouldn't displease history buffs.

In 1959, the French government decides to send troops in Algeria to "pacify" it. Lieutenant Therrien (Benoît Magimel) is sent to lead a platoon of French soldiers who are mandated to find a high-profile member of the Algerian National Front of Liberation called Slimane. While Therrien believes that the French citizens' rights should be extended to Algerians, Sergeant Dougnac (Albert Dupontel) just sees their mission as a war among others. Moreover, the chasm between Therrien and Dougnac gets bigger when Therrien disobey a direct order that consists in torturing Algerian prisoners...

With its beautiful sceneries and its gripping realism, L'ennemi intime (original French title) combines the dramatic nature of a work of fiction and the shocking effect of a documentary. This means that the movie tries to follow French soldiers in their journey. However, in the long run, looking a little bit like a documentary is a disadvantage per se. As a matter of fact, during almost half of the movie, we have the morbid feeling that the movie is not going anywhere with its story. Therefore, the problem here is the rather slow pace.

Hopefully, the movie does go somewhere when the movie's premise is finally thrown in our face for good. In addition to that, this is where we get to see that the documentary approach becomes useful. Even though the movie only shows the war from a French standpoint, its maturity lies in director Florent Emilio Siri's wonderful ability to deal with the subject without favouring any ideologies. In other words, don't expect to see any glamour or glorification.

More importantly, this documentary approach is well used by Siri in order to show how war changes people from inside. With two great actors like Albert Dupontel and Benoît Magimel it becomes quite unpredictable to guess at what moment their character will fall into madness. In the end, the movie also wants us to ask to ourselves if the line between savagery and civilization is so thin. Besides, although it will never replace history books, Intimate Enemies manages to put back into context the way the French government handled the war. For instance, did you know that in the newspapers (and news shows), journalists had to make people believe that everything was okay in Algeria?

Finally, although the movie might not necessarily please to everybody because of the small number of action scenes, Intimate Enemies brings a lot of fresh air. In fact, despite some minor flaws in the script, it is one of the few war movies that tries to combine action and provoke thoughts (if not debates) about human nature. In other words, is the character of Lieutenant Therrien going to be able to cling to his ideals?

Rating: 3.5/5

***


Intimate Enemies
France (2007)
Length: 108 minutes
Genre: War drama
Screenplay: Patrick Rotman and Florent Emilio Siri
Director: Florent Emilio Siri
Starring: Benoît Magimel, Albert Dupontel, Aurélien Recoing, Mohamed Fellag and Lounès Tazairt

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