(Video on Demand, July 2013) As a seasoned Science Fiction fan, I rarely have trouble with suspension of disbelief: if a film has an outrageous premise, I’m usually more than willing to grant it immunity from nitpicking. But I have my limits, and Upside Down reached them in about thirty seconds with a triad of absurdly made-up rules about its invented universe. I’m good with the idea of dual worlds facing themselves; I’m even willing to allow that objects from one world can only gravitate to that world. But having stuff from opposite worlds catch on fire when held too long against each other? That’s arbitrary to the point of ludicrousness, and things don’t improve once the film starts developing the world it sketches with its three opening statements: We’re supposed to believe in socioeconomic exploitation of one world by another when matter from one world can’t even enter in contact with the other one. (Hint: political allegory doesn’t work if the underlying metaphor doesn’t.) The longer and the more detailed Upside Down goes on, the more ludicrous it becomes. Now, a reasonable objection to this may be that the film is supposed to be a fable about two ill-fated lovers, and that’s true. The problem is that the story itself is so well-worn and bare-bones as to leave plenty of time for world-building contemplation, with terrible results: the film feels artificial to a degree that even its spectacular visuals can’t overcome, and all of its wit in the presentation of its worlds can’t really compensate for the inanity of its premise. Writer/director Juan Solanas has a good eye for arresting images, but the whole justification for them just isn’t satisfying. It doesn’t help that Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess are blander-than-bland as the romantic leads. As much as I’d like to be kind about a Franco-Canadian film shot in Montréal (and even featuring remarkable local actors such as Holly O’Brien), there isn’t enough to Upside Down to earn more than a recommendation based on pure visuals. The story isn’t there, and the premise simply doesn’t work.
(On Cable TV, March 2013) I have a natural quasi-home-grown sympathy for low-budget movies produced in Montréal, and some affinity with people who like to see naked female bodies but even so –as a comedy about organized voyeurs, Peepers is dull. The central concept has potential: A group of enthusiastic peepers see their organized hobby disrupted as an academic invades their favourite rooftops. But the execution simply goes nowhere, most of the characters remaining sad-sack losers until the meaningless end of the film. It’s really too bad given that as an exploration of a weird subculture at the edges of acceptable kink, there’s some good material in there, especially when the academic discovers the principles of gentlemanly peeping. Thankfully, Peepers does not tease with its subject matter: as befits a film about voyeurism, there is ample nudity on display (where else but in Montréal could this be possible?), helping to draw viewers into the thrill of sightseeing without frustrating them with unfulfilled promises. What’s more unfortunate is that the film goes nowhere with the concept. The pacing is slack, there’s little sense of place (crucial for a film about location, location, location) and the film ends without resolving half the dramatic arcs set up throughout the script. Most of the male characters (at the notable exception of Christian Paul’s hilariously unflappable Gogo) are the kind of obnoxious socially-retarded geeks that never rise to their potential. The female characters all float above their male counterparts, whether it’s Janine Theriault’s obsessive academic, Holly O’Brien’s scene-stealing acerbic voice of reason or Quinn O’Neill’s sweetly vulnerable quasi-cameo. There’s a good film to be made from Peepers’ raw material, but what we get isn’t it. At best, it’s an unremarkable effort that’s not too sure what it wants to do, or even give significant growth to its main characters.