Saturday, February 1, 2014

January 2014 Film Wrap-Up

First of all, two things:

1. I only watched 14 films last month, which is a fairly low number for me. The main reason for this is that I was a slave to tennis (most notably the Australian Open) for the majority of the month.

2. In last month's wrap-up post, I vowed I would have finished Woody Allen's entire filmography by now. Sorry to let you guys down, but I'm still not there. Let's just say watching You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was a huge blow to my morale.

Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963) = 3.5/5

Damn...I should have picked a much stronger film to kick off my year of viewing. To my defence, this has all the ingredients of a film I should love. So why didn't it completely satisfy me?

Firstly, I should point out that the DVD I watched provided me with a poor print. I would have found something of higher quality if I'd resorted to illegal downloading, as bad as that sounds. The quality was watchable, but quite distracting.

The film features some great individual scenes and some compelling characters, but it doesn't come together as a whole. The marriage of suspense and comedy feels uneasy. This is often hailed as "the best Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made," but I feel it lacks the fluid simplicity the Master of Suspense was renowned for. This is evident in the film's excessive plot twists.

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011) = 5/5

I had seen this film before, but this was my first watch on Blu-ray. As predicted, it looked spectacular and the movie held up. This film is amazing in the way it draws you into the story, making you feel like you belong to the King family. It is immensely rewarding to watch these characters grow, as every sentiment feels genuine. Payne has crafted a picture of real human emotion. Clooney and Woodley are real standouts. 

Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow, 2012) = 3.5/5

Based on a novel? Nope. Based on a play? Nope. This quirky film is based on a 1997 Backwoods Home Magazine classified ad. The film is gimmicky on the surface, but emotionally earnest at its core. Plaza and Duplass give great performances.

Kids (Larry Clark, 1995) = 4/5

In Kids, a HIV-positive teenager attempts to deflower as many virgins as he can in one day. It's a controversial film, to say the least. It feels almost ethnographic in its brutally realistic exploration of teenage delinquency. Humorous dialogue softens the gloom. I have never liked Harmony Korine as a director, but this film showcases his ability as a writer. 

Muriel's Wedding (P. J. Hogan, 1994) = 3.5/5

It's very entertaining and it does well to avoid kitsch territory. Unfortunately, it feels incomplete. We're forced to invest in Muriel so much that the peripheral characters (with the exception of Griffiths' Rhonda) feel empty.

Superbad (Greg Mottola, 2007) = 5/5

A timeless film about the thrill of anticipation that harbours a sweet tinge of melancholy beneath its vulgar exterior. Quite simply, It's a tribute to all the crazy shit you get up to with your mates...the wild nights that no one sees coming. Superbad means a lot to me. It's my fourth-favourite film of all time.

The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007) = 3/5

While not scary, the terror is convincing and the film is immersive. Let down by an overlong running time and a contrived ending. It's one of the more disappointing Stephen King adaptations. 

The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) = 3/5

This is the film that made me feel like a bad film enthusiast. Everyone loves The Conversation, right? Well, I didn't. And I've disliked highly-acclaimed films in the past, but this was different. I felt like I really should have liked this one. I think the problem is that I went in expecting something similar to Rear Window. When I see the word "spying" in a film's plot premise, that's the first film I think of. Obviously, there's so much more going on in this film...a lot of subtext beneath the surface. Ultimately, I couldn't empathise with a single character, and the slow pacing was grating. Also, I almost had to lean in closer to my TV to understand some of the muffled dialogue. I can't call this a bad film. In fact, I would say it outsmarted me. I will just call it a very tedious watch. 

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen, 2010) = 1/5

Of the 41 Allen films I've seen, this is the worst. It's a lazy, paint-by-numbers film that feels like a soap opera on steroids. This is a cautionary tale for why you shouldn't pump out one film per year. I can't believe Anthony Hopkins agreed to be in this. What's sadder is that I can't even call his performance a redeeming feature. If this film were a food, it would be white bread, perhaps specked with mould. I'm sure many people have been sucked into this film by its ambiguous title, but an interesting title does not a good film make!

The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2011) = 4/5

We feel the desperation and isolation of the characters. Beautiful cinematography immerses us in the freezing cold. To allude to Dylan Thomas, it's a film about raging against the dying of the light. It's so much more than Liam Neeson vs. Wolves: The Movie.

Her (Spike Jonze, 2013) = 4/5

An affecting film about the ubiquity and distancing effect of technology. Great as a character study, but as a film I was slightly underwhelmed. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but there was something insincere about the closing scenes. The third act felt a little rushed in general. These reservations aside, HER is still a great film that's worth seeing for its original screenplay, beautiful cinematography, and a remarkable central performance by Joaquin Phoenix. I think Jonze should also be commended for his mature approach to the subject matter. Theodore (Phoenix) is not an fedora-wearing "neckbeard" who lives in his mother's basement. He could be your neighbour, your friend, or even you.

Swimming Pool (Fran├žois Ozon, 2003) = 3.5/5

This erotic thriller offers more than eye candy, and keeps you guessing right 'til the end. Unfortunately, we're left to do too much guessing. There is only so much ambiguity I can take.

Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011) = 4/5

Only a talent like Linklater could pull off this comedy/crime/drama/mockumentary/biopic concoction. Jack Black is perfectly cast and gives the performance of his career. You can tell that Linklater wrote the script specifically with Black in mind. 

Sinister (Scott Derrickson, 2012) = 3.5/5

While I think the film tries to be too clever and butchers its ending, it delivers on scares by building an atmosphere of dread. The murders depicted on the found Super 8 footage are especially disturbing. Ethan Hawke is great as usual in the central role, and I feel he is still underrated in Hollywood. One last thing: can we just stop with the trope of scary possessed children? It's getting old. Really old. 

In Summary - The Must-See Films (4.5 or 5 Stars)
* The Descendants
* Superbad

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