Sunday, June 1, 2014

May 2014 Film Wrap-Up

Carrie (Kimberly Peirce, 2013) = 1/5

Terrible. The antithesis of subtlety. In the 1976 adaptation, there was an undercurrent of sadness throughout the entire film. We ached for Carrie White and thought all of her bullies were complete dicks. In this film, mood and atmosphere are totally discarded. When bad things happen to Carrie, we think "How unfortunate!", not "How sad!". I wasn't cheering on the good characters and I wasn't despising the bad characters. And when you can't emotionally invest in a film, you sure as hell won't enjoy it.

De Palma's adaptation was a film driven by emotion. Peirce's remake feels superficial and dumbed-down. It is made with the premise that a film featuring many teenage characters must be pitched to teenagers, and fails to appreciate that the emotions of those teenagers are present in people younger and older, too.

Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989) = 4/5

This was my second viewing of Do the Right Thing—an important, emotionally-charged film that would not be made today. It's fiercely original with memorable characters, and I love how Lee never divulges what the "right thing" is.

Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996) = 2.5/5

A film of daring originality that is unfortunately too cold to penetrate (no pun intended). For the uninitiated, the film is about a deviant subculture of people who channel the energy of car accidents to reinvigorate their sex lives. It just didn't offer a shred of empathy. And perhaps that was the intention as some statement on sexual objectification, but I am allowed to be opposed to that intention.

P.S. I will never look at an automobile in the same way again.

MAY 10
Another Year (Mike Leigh, 2010) = 3.5/5

For a film that covers an entire year, I expected it to encompass a broader emotional spectrum. Now, I am only 21, so I obviously lack a lot of life experience that informs Leigh's screenplay and, by extension, his characters' lives. That said, I followed these characters from spring through to winter and learned nothing about myself. I feel too much emphasis was given to the Lesley Manville character. It was just really difficult to empathise with her.

This is an actors' and writers' film. It is good, but it lacks the emotional gravitas I was expecting based on the poster's sprawling branches. If the leaves of the tree are symbolic of human experience, then the roots do not run too deep.

MAY 11
The Passion of Anna (Ingmar Bergman, 1969) = 3.5/5

Far from my favourite Bergman, but still great. The pace was unbearably slow at times, but with his searingly honest dialogue, Bergman never allows enough time for boredom to set in. A bleak exploration of deceit and cruelty, with excellent performances all round.

MAY 16
Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie, 2013) = 4/5

I'm ashamed to say that I had to wait until I was completely alone to watch this. If anyone else in my household had walked past the TV during a homoerotic scene, they would make ignorant comments. Thankfully, I have the maturity to watch cinema that caters to sexual orientations other than my own. I feel sorry for people who don't, because they miss out on gems like this.

Carnal desire meets carnal demise in this intensely gripping film. It is deftly directed and I particularly admire Guiraudie's aesthetic choices. Despite taking place in one location, visual monotony never threatens to permeate the film. On a less important note, the poster is fucking beautiful!

MAY 17
This is the End (Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen, 2013) = 3.5/5 

I'm not entirely sure what I just watched, but I liked it. A delightfully bizarre and outrageously funny film that thrives on spontaneity. It must have been tempting to make this film as a collection of in-jokes with nothing at stake for the viewer, but the film does not venture down that path, and that really impressed me. Oh, and a word of advice: you may want to dust off those Backstreet Boys CDs to get you in the mood for this. 

MAY 18
Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1984) = 3/5

A revelation of its era that is unfortunately not as impressive today. I wish the characters were as engaging as the cinematography. Maybe I just expected too much from it.

MAY 19
You're Next (Adam Wingard, 2011) = 3.5/5

It may not be as clever as it thinks it is, but the film is slickly directed and imbued with a wry sense of humour. It was also refreshing to see some jump scares that were genuinely jolting. So much better than two similar films: The Strangers and The Purge.

MAY 20
The Crying Game (Neil Jordan, 1992) = 3.5/5

Jaye Davidson and Stephen Rea give brilliant performances in this bittersweet tale of love and redemption. People can't seem to talk about this film without mentioning its twist. Jordan knows better than to use the twist as a cheap payoff, instead couching it in the middle of the film to magnify everything that has gone before, and make the remainder of the film more interesting.

I guess the thing that stopped me from truly loving this film was the lack of an emotional centre. I couldn't squarely identify with anyone as the film teetered awkwardly between political thriller and love story. After such an engaging first act, Jordan attempts to tackle too many plot lines and the film suffers as a result.

MAY 22
Kicking and Screaming (Noah Baumbach, 1995) = 4.5/5

This sorely underrated film is so delightfully quotable. I think the key to its success is that it explores the hipster mentality but was made at a time when the word 'hipster' had not permeated mainstream culture. Thus, it doesn't fall into the trap of being self-aware.

Its depiction of life after college is deadly accurate, and these characters' hopes and fears become our own as the film progresses. For a film about pseudo-intellectuals, the film is not lacking in heart. Baumbach understands the disconnect that arises from being well-versed in Keats yet clueless about the trajectory of your own professional life...of referencing theorists but not extending your own theories. All of these characters display a charming, relatable naivety, and it proves a challenge to not fall in love with them.

Oh, and just for the record, the closing lines of this film are some of the most beautiful words you will ever hear.

MAY 30
Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013) = 4.5/5

On the way to see this, I joked with my friends that 90% of the audience for this film would be horny teenage boys who can't afford Mr Skin subscriptions. First of all, that wasn't the case. Secondly, if any horny teenage boys do see the film to get a glimpse of Scarlett Johansson's lady parts, I'm sure they will walk out of the theatre with a lust for something else: cinema. 

This was one of the most profound, engaging viewing experiences I've had in my entire life. A haunting reverie where atmosphere is key, and where minimalistic plotting allows feeling to come to the fore. The lighting in this film is absolutely incredible...some of the best I've ever seen. Some of the landscapes conjured up my own memories of brisk dawns, rainy afternoons, and seemingly endless nights.  

When I watch a film as powerful as this, I am reminded of the Nietzsche aphorism, "And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." The term 'art film' has long been criticised as a vague, pretentious term, but films like Under the Skin justify its existence. I can't stop thinking about this film, and I don't think it will ever leave me. It has formed a communion with my soul.

In Summary - The Must-See Films (4.5 or 5 Stars)
* Kicking and Screaming
* Under the Skin

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