(On Cable TV, December 2013) Either I’m reaching terminal boredom with the zombie genre or my expectations ran too high for this unusual take on the zombie mythos: Warm Bodies has exceptional qualities, and yet I found myself bored through most of its duration. On the positive side, Warm Bodies attempts something new(ish) with the zombie genre: Setting up a romance between a zombie guy and a human girl. Making Johnny Undead sympathetic, of course, requires two complementary strategies: Making our hero more human than zombie, for once, and setting up something-worse-than-regular-zombies for another. Once you figure out the course of Warm Bodies, though, there isn’t much left to watch: This Romeo-and-Juliet adaptation goes to the expected places, and while it does so with a certain amount of wit, the shambling walk to the next plot point feels overly long. At least Nichola Hoult is fine as the narrating zombie protagonist, and director Jonathan Levine does the most with his material. Montréal-area viewers will delight to see a film explicitly set in the city: not only featuring Mirabel airport and the Olympic Stadium, but showcasing a few long-shots of the city as seen from Mont-Royal. I suspect that my mind may have wandered during Warm Bodies, and that it should work a little better for most. It remains another quirky entry in the zombie canon, one that shows better than most the inevitable domestication of even our starkest fears.
(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.
(In-flight, August 2010) I want a lot of people to see The Trotsky. It’s pleasant enough to discover a quirky comedy with wit and brainy allusions; but it’s even better when you realize that it has been filmed less than 200km away. So it is that the cheerfully Montréal-based The Trotsky is a comedy starring a young intellectual convinced that he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, fated to recreate his namesake’s biography. Hailing from the privileged ranks of Montréal Anglophones, our hero tries to organize workers at his father’s factory and ends up at a public school where he eventually leads a student revolution. The film is too long for its own good and takes a while to truly spark up, but when it’s good –it’s great. Jay Baruchel turns in one of his best performances yet as the Trotsky-obsessed hero, but he’s surrounded by capable actors (among them Liane Balaban, Geneviève Bujold, Colm Feore and Saul Rubinek) who each get a shining moment or two. The film is deep in historical allusions, but the script by Jacob Tierney (who also directs) is kind enough to let in most viewers on the jokes. The rest of The Trotsky doesn’t hesitate to tackle subversive issues of popular rights and authoritarian exploitation, making it a crowd favourite for anyone looking for high-school comedies with more ambitious goals than usual. The added bonus as far as I’m concerned is that the film is pure Montréal (down to familiar police cruisers) and highlights why it’s such a great city: The freedom to discuss social issues, the endearing mixture of French and English, the European influences in a North-American urban setting… it’s all there, and it couldn’t have been highlighted in a better showcase.
(Second viewing, on DVD, April 2011) I like the film even more after a second viewing: It’s fresh, funny, clever and endearing at once. The director and editor’s commentary track shows that the filmmakers fully intended the film’s political content (director Tierney has an… interesting background), and their anecdotes about how the film was shot are interesting. The making-of featurette is a bit thin, but the various deleted scenes each get a chuckle or two.