Sunday, June 2, 2013

May 2013 Film Wrap-Up

I feel dirty. I only watched eight films last month. EIGHT! I was up to my neck with uni assignments. In fact, one quarter of the films I watched in May were watched because I had to analyse them for assignments. Nonetheless, I still have the dignity to give you a recap of those eight films. Enjoy!

Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978) = 4.5/5

A fraught love triangle plays out amidst the Texas Panhandle in one of the best-looking films of all time. Is this a case of style over substance? I say the style is better than the substance, but the substance is still very respectable. My favourite image from the film would have to be the one pictured above. A swarm of locusts rapidly takes to the heavens after doing its damage to a farmer's wheat fields. It's the type of cinematic image that inspires the epiphany, "This is why I love the movies." Ennio Morricone's score is the other highlight of this majestic film. My admiration for Malick as a director grew to crazy heights after watching Days of Heaven.

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2013) = 2/5

The latest film from the warped psyche of Harmony Korine is a miscalculated, directionless romp and I have no idea of the demographic he is pitching it to. The late, great Roger Ebert was fond of saying, "A film is not what it's about, but how it's about it." What that means is that a film is not inherently bad because it contains a rape scene. The film is judged on how it incorporates the rape scene and why it includes it. Now, Spring Breakers does not contain a rape scene, but it could almost be seen as advocating rape culture. I did not like what this film was about, and I only cared a little bit about the way it was about it. My full review:

Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, 2012) = 3.5/5

Seeing as The Shining is my second-favourite film of all time, there was no way I could resist watching this documentary about the wild conspiracy theories surrounding that 1980 Kubrick gem. We hear some fascinating theories but it feels very much like a rough draft of something greater. The visual style is rather inconsistent and often distracts from what is being said. Overall, this is a curious little oddity for fans of Kubrick and The Shining, although it won't be that accessible if you're not familiar with the genius director or his adaptation of the Stephen King novel.

Modern Times (Charles Chaplin, 1936) = 4/5

Modern Times is a vehicle for Chaplin’s commentary on the struggle for survival in an industrialised world. Chaplin once said, “Look into the faces of the masses in our large cities and you will see harassed defeated souls and in the eyes of most of them weary despair.” The streets are overflowing with the disgruntled unemployed, and Chaplin implies that some crime is driven by need rather than want. We see Chaplin's Tramp character as an alienated industrial worker. Working on an assembly line, he is taken by the conveyor belt and literally becomes a cog in the machine. The romantic elements are very sweet, and emphasise the importance of being grateful for what you have. I really like the ambiguous ending, whereby the Tramp and the Gamin walk down a barren road, not knowing what their future holds. 

MAY 14
All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green, 2003) = 4/5

I'm a big fan of David Gordon Green's Snow Angels, and All the Real Girls made me love this director even more. However, I realise Green also directed The Sitter, so I don't want to heap too much praise on him. Anyway, I'm here to write about All the Real Girls and I'm telling you all that you should see this film. I love how unpretentious it is. It doesn't try to transcend its status as a quiet indie drama. I didn't expect Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel to have such natural chemistry, but they proved me wrong. They are sensational here. The screenplay is bursting with truth, and special consideration goes to the opening scene, which I consider one of the most beautiful scenes in any film. I don't usually link to specific scenes in my wrap-ups, but this one needs to be seen for its romantic tenderness. 

MAY 25
Stardust Memories (Woody Allen, 1980) = 4/5

Annie Hall (1977), Interiors (1978) and Manhattan (1979) all provided glimpses of a more focused, cinematically-conscious Woody Allen. However, it was Stardust Memories that would announce Allen’s detachment from his screwball comedies of old. The film's reflexive quality marks a shift in Allen's career where he became aware of his own celebrity. We were given glimpses of this in Annie Hall, but Stardust Memories is where Allen's ego comes to the fore. Allen plays Sandy Bates, a filmmaker who recalls his life and loves while attending a retrospective of his work. Sandy is heckled by people for deviating from his comedic work and infusing his films with dramatic concerns. Allen denies that the Bates character is modelled around himself, but I think everyone considers this a half-truth at best. A character in the film observes that comedians say “I murdered that audience” when their jokes are going well, and it’s this synergy of comedy and drama that distinguishes the film from Allen’s earlier efforts.

MAY 29
An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009) = 3.5/5

It works really well as a period piece. Lone Scherfig creates a very convincing and evocative 1960s London, and John de Borman's cinematography complements the film beautifully. The performances are great, with Mulligan outshining her costars. I believe the film falters with its narrative and characters. The story is far too predictable and the conclusion borders on pseudo-profound. As for the characters, I just couldn't penetrate their minds. Or maybe the problem is that I could penetrate them all too well, but I just didn't care for them. When Jenny (Carey Mulligan) said "And I'm going to look at paintings and go to French films and talk to people who know lots about lots," I almost laughed in derision at how blatantly the film pandered to the Romantic imagination. But hey, I don't give 3.5/5 to bad films. This is worth a watch.

MAY 31
Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004) = 3.5/5

It could have been great, but it settles for being good. It holds plenty of laughs, and it's a shame that it's let down by a formulaic third act. I had the same reservations about Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Both films are laden with boundless potential, but, despite creative visual styles, they lapse into frantic 'showdowns'. Now, I understand that this film is hailed as a modern comedy masterpiece, and I also know that various sections of the Internet consider zombie films (even the parodic ones) to be sacred. There's this adolescent mindset that zombies are inherently "awesome" (whatever that means), but I just don't get it. Another thing I don't get is how this film was once in the IMDb Top 250!

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