Saturday, October 4, 2014

September 2014 Film Wrap-Up

Blue is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013) = 3.5/5

I generally love when drama films are given the 180-minute treatment. Think Magnolia or Fanny and Alexander. It's a gutsy move, because there are seldom any flashy battle sequences, exhilarating car chases, or other miscellaneous CGI hijinks to pad the generous runtime. You're relying on the strength of your performers and the ingenuity of your screenplay. Characters' neuroses are laid bare for scrutiny as an audience is invited into their minds. I expected to be floored by Blue is the Warmest Color. While the film is by no means a failure, it wasn't imbued with the emotional gravitas I was expecting. Kechiche languishes over the minutiae of day-to-day life but his innumerable close-ups didn't serve to immerse me in the film's central relationship. On a positive note, the performances are fantastic and the cinematography is sumptuous. I also admired the film's rebuke of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.

The Immortalists (David Alvarado & Jason Sussberg, 2014) = 3.5/5

An oddly touching doco about two men who believe they can "cure" mortality. On the surface, it is easy to dismiss this as pseudo-scientific fluff, but this is actually a balanced film that gave me some hope that my death phobia may one day be redundant. While all the theory about the science of ageing is fascinating, this documentary's accessibility is largely helped by the two eccentric men at the helm of this anti-death crusade—Bill Andrews and Aubrey de Grey.  

Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981) = 2.5/5

While it serves its function as a time capsule for 1970s Sydney, the film treads water and plays things too safe. I'm so glad this was adapted into a TV series (which is quite good), because these characters and scenarios REALLY needed some fleshing out. The measly 87-minute runtime just isn't enough for something memorable to transpire.

Gravity (Alfonso CuarĂ³n, 2013) = 4/5

The film is a tactile experience. Moments of immersion and intimacy contrast with scenes of detachment and isolation. I watched this at home in a 3D Blu-ray format, and while I did consider it a spectacular visual experience, I think I made a mistake by not seeing this on an IMAX screen.

Shoeshine (Vittorio De Sica, 1946) = 4.5/5

A heartbreaking film about the corruption of youth who so desperately wish to do the right thing. Ahead of its time. 

Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) = 4.5/5

The film ushered in the New Hollywood movement. It is an exhilarating ride, propelled by a memorable screen duo. Dunaway is smoulderingly sexy, while Beatty exudes classic everyman charm, even if we're supposed to root against him. Also, wow...what an ending!

Alice (Woody Allen, 1990) = 3.5/5

Not as funny as some of Allen's other comedies, but it's a competent blend of whimsical romantic drama and fantasy. Carlo Di Palma's gorgeous cinematography really stands out here.

Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987) = 4.5/5

Wisely, the film does not shock us with brutality. Its horror is subtle; its tragedy quiet yet devastating. An icy colour palette is not the only thing that chills us to the bone.

Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999) = 4/5

A macabre revenge story with an atmosphere so grim and seedy it feels like you've fallen into a bottomless ashtray.

The Double (Richard Ayoade, 2013) = 3.5/5

We spend more time ruminating than basking in the film's aura, and I feel that detracts from the overall viewing experience. Nonetheless, this is a visually engaging existential nightmare that entrenches Richard Ayoade as one of the most refreshing voices in cinema today. I had a lot of fun noticing all the nods to Submarine.

Slacker (Richard Linklater, 1991) = 4.5/5

Through Linklater's lens, the mundane becomes endlessly watchable. This is an example of perfect casting. The actors nail their roles with nuance. I could've stayed in this bizarre microcosm for at least another hour. "Style over substance" is a phrase often used to belittle a director's work. I think Richard Linklater serves as the antithesis to that. He is substance over style, and I mean that as a major compliment.

Down By Law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986) = 3/5

It's original, and Jarmusch makes great use of locations. Alas, nothing compelled me to emotionally invest in the story. Personality-wise, I have nothing in common with the three focal characters, nor can I relate to their situation. I daresay the characters even felt archetypal—my "original" compliment was in relation to the film's subversion of traditional prison flick formula.

September (Woody Allen, 1987) = 2/5

You've got problems when an 82-minute film drags. One of Allen's most uninspired efforts. Allen has said he intended for this to be "a play on film." Why didn't he just write a goddamn play? For completists only.

The Backyard (Paul Hough, 2002) = 3/5

This doco may be illuminating and shocking to the uninitiated, but for past and current wrestling fans, there's little here that you haven't already seen on a late-night YouTube binge. Would have been a much more interesting movie if the subjects had more enlightening views about their "sport" than the generic "It hurts but we love it" spiel, but I guess backyard wrestling doesn't attract a lot of educated people.

Sorcerer (William Friedkin, 1977) = 3.5/5

A masterclass in editing. A brutal, mud-washed journey of epic proportions where a sense of impending doom clings to the air like dirt to a sweat-soaked shirt. I just wish it had gripped me more, emotionally. The characters felt too identical to one another, and the early vignettes felt a bit unnecessary and displaced.

In Summary - The Must-See Films (4.5 or 5 Stars)
* Shoeshine
* Bonnie and Clyde
* Au Revoir Les Enfants
* Slacker