Thursday, October 31, 2013

Monthly Round-up: October Viewing

In October I watched a total of 34 films, including Gravity twice. It was a patchy month, with some long stretches where I watched nothing, and some days when I watched three of four films. Also this month I got stuck into House of Cards. Amazing. It was a pretty good month at the cinema, though some of the month's best releases (Mystery Road, Captain Phillips) I actually caught back in September. Two straight Friday nights Sam and I saw a film in IMAX (Metallica and Gravity) - before then, just a pair of IMAX visits this year - while the local DVD store must have got tired of us.

-------- Essential Viewing --------

Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, 2013) TWICE - The greatest 3D film experience yet. An astounding, immersive achievement. Sandra Bullock is very good, but the praise goes everywhere. Cuaron of course, but also (obviously) for the effects, photography, score and sound editing.

Aftermath (Wladyslaw Pasikowska, 2012) - Floored me. Tackles a taboo topic, Polish-Jewish relations and anti-Semitism. In this harrowing thriller two brothers investigate an atrocity that occurred during WWII on the land they occupy. Estrangement is forgiven when united by the quest to reveal long-ignored truths. Bold and gut wrenching, with extraordinary suspense. Screens at the Jewish Film Festival (Sydney, 2/16 Nov). Essential.

Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971) - Civilized city-dwelling Brit youngsters find themselves abandoned and traverse the harsh, primitive Australian outback aided by an indigenous man undergoing a coming-of-age initiation. Gruesomeness paired with beauty. Some extraordinary captures. A collision of cultures - experiences, sexual desires - and a conflict between respect for/exploitation of the natural land.

Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve, 2013)

Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler, 2013)

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichhardt, 2008) - Heartbreaking, minimalist human drama of young woman's (Michelle Williams) penniless struggles stalling her only option, a fresh start. Williams creates such a sympathetic character - a woman without an address, a cell phone, a companion - a luckless stranger in a small town. Oh man, the ending.

The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933) - Impressive effects, an imposing Rains performance and some shocking maniacal villainy keep this Universal horror classic compelling today.

Bullhead (Michael R. Roskam, 2011) - Childhood/manhood collide in tragic and original crime drama about a lurching, hormone-fueled cattle farmer with a distressing past. Matthias Schoenaerts is an intense giant, commanding attention and evoking rage/sadness purely through his eyes. A visionary debut from a director to watch.

The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005) - Not my favourite from Baumbach (oddly, I still prefer Greenberg above all) but this is very well written and acted. Tremendously sad, but also darkly humorous, this is a pretty realistic look at divorce-related mess, and how a separation affects everyone - the children, who are at the beginning and middle stages of adolescence here, especially.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Declan Lowney, 2013) - Very funny and thoroughly entertaining. Live siege-cast the tip of the craziness. Coogan, a genius here, owns the one-liners.

Drug War (Johnny To, 2013) - Exciting and engaging. A cop and an out-of-options collaborator push the boundaries as they attempt a risky sting. Intelligently conceived, the final shootout is spectacular.

Metallica: Through the Never (Nimrod Antal, 2013)

Tremors (Ron Underwood, 1990) - Two handymen lead a small desert-dwelling resistance against destructive subterranean creatures. Clever, suspenseful and so much fun.

The Wolfman (George Waggner, 1941) - Efficient, tragic classic creature pic. Unconscious physical transformation vs. psychological trauma. With romance and a complex father/son bond.

-------- Essential Viewing --------

The House on Haunted Hill (William Castle, 1959) - Entertaining, atmospheric spook fest with a playful whodunit premise - strangers assemble at a haunted house, the host challenging them to stay throughout the night for a reward. Twists emerge through an effective blurring of the supernatural and human manipulation.

Performance (Nicolas Roeg, 1970) - Sex, drugs and identity disillusionment ensues when an underworld enforcer winds up in the home of an eccentric ex-rocker. Watched in bewilderment; a surreal cocktail of ideas. Just 2nd Roeg film (after personal favourite Don't Look Now). Appreciation over enjoyment.

Bethlehem (Yuval Adler, 2013)

 Salt (Phillip Noyce, 2012) - Solid, brisk action thriller keeps a viewer guessing for quite a while there. Ludicrous stunts/twists aside, enjoyable. Jolie great.

Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor, 2013)

Cosimo and Nicole (Francesco Amato, 2012) - Sexy free-spirited couple (Scarmarcio/Ponsot, strong) find their passionate, whirlwind courtship challenged by an accident and the decisions they make in response. It reminded me of Rust and Bone a little bit, especially in the sexually-charged nature of the relationship, the brawny masculinity of the male lead, the active camera. The pair find work organizing rock gigs, so the soundtrack is a key feature. Screening at the Lavazza Italian Film Festival it possesses emotional tension and has political leanings. Ponsot a festival guest.

Rhino Season (Bahman Ghobadi, 2012) - Moving but elusive story - a poet is wrongly imprisoned for 30 years following the Iranian Revolution, wife believes him dead. Cinematography is astounding and the frequent time shifts and haunting dream sequences are unconventional. Affecting and rich in symbolism, but the second half really meanders.

Hotel Transylvania (Genndy Tartakovsky, 2012) - Fast-paced fun, Hotel Transylvania started with more poop jokes than minutes, but settled down to provide plenty of amusing monster-trope gags.

Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973) - Maverick detective (Charlton Heston) discovers truths about his 2022 NYC existence, an overheated/populated, synthetic-resourced hell. Some concerning ideas raised - grim view of the future. Solid thriller but arrogant protagonist, a muddled plot and other objectionable elements let it down significantly.

Evil Under the Sun (Guy Hamilton, 1982) - I've read the novel but forgot the reveal (a clever one). Ridiculously unsubtle revelation of key plot points, outrageous innuendo and over-the-top acting, but entertaining.

Twins (Ivan Reitman, 1988) - Innocent enough fun. Schwarzenegger and DeVito make an amusing comic pair, if the plot only kept me intermittently interested. 

Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980) - Has not aged well for a celebrated pioneer slasher. Inconsistent creepiness accompanying nasty kills. I lost interest pretty quickly.

Cujo (Lewis Teague, 1983) - There are some effective moments of terror in Cujo - the giant dog's unrelenting attempts to penetrate the Pinto - but overall, quite bad.

The Counselor (Ridley Scott, 2013) - Not a fan, simply. Terrific patches (dialogue especially) and some intrigue. Incoherence, inconsequential monologues weigh on patience. Gave the film's odd rhythms, disregard for an explanation many chances, but eventually relinquished and let it fizzle out. Disappointing.

The Red and the Blue (Guiseppe Piccioni, 2012) - We ended up turning this one off. A mess.

Re-watches (In Order of Preference)

Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) - In the cinema, what an experience. The big suspense scenes - the mess hall, Dallas in the air lock etc still shock today. Incredible.

The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) - There are out-there elements to The Graduate - strange camera angles, repeated music choices, the ending - but I can't imagine it any other way. A great film. A really funny study of post-college uncertainty, agitation and temptation, and when the quest for love overwhelms all other pursuits. Terrific performances, several now-famous set pieces/exchanges.

Super 8 (J. J Abrams, 2011) - I really like the kids movie and the young love angle. Better than the monster/military evacuation stuff, anyway. A fun film on re-watch.

Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) - Screen-glorified outlaws, shocking violence and celebrated crime/antagonism, a classic since '67. I don't share the enthusiasm, however. 

1 comment:

  1. I gather Performance was actually mostly the work of Roeg's co-director Donald Cammell, who originated the project. Roeg seems to have been mainly about the look of the thing (understandable, given he was a cinematographer before this) while Cammell did most of the work with the actors and the post-production. And I do think it's notable Cammell's film career essentially tanked after Performance eventually came out while Roeg flourished. Kind of difficult going, whoever you hold responsible for it; it took me more than one viewing to get.