Monday, April 1, 2013

Monthly Round-up: March 2013 Viewing

I watched a total of 38 films in March - a busy month of viewing. Home viewing involved me catching up on a bunch of classics - Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, High Noon, Stop Making Sense, The Innocents, The Iron Giant, The Goonies and Black Christmas - while with the exception of Mea Maxima Culpa, Trance, Sister and Laurence Anyways (the latter pair screened at the French Film Festival), the cinema line-up has been dire. 

I would like to find the motivation to write feature length reviews again in April. In March I only wrote six reviews, and two Five Star Films features, for Graffiti With Punctuation. That is significantly less than usual. I guess I didn't have a lot to say about many of the films I watched (beyond my thoughts below) - and the awfulness of films like A Good Day to Die Hard and The Loneliest Planet for example, did not help the cause. 

The April/May line-ups, highlighted here, do look much better

New-to-Me Films (In Order of Preference)

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

Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004) - Incredible. Jesse and Celine discuss their changing ideals and contemplate on 'what could have been' post their brief encounter nine years earlier, which resulted in them never meeting again six months later, as proposed. Surely one of the greatest sequels ever made. I simply couldn't imagine Sunset competing with Sunrise (which I thought was flawless) but it covers many social challenges - relationships, aspirations and the psychology of living - involving us intimately with these fascinating characters. Hawke and Delpy are fantastic, required to show more acting range this time, and it is intelligently written and directed on every level.

Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995) - Flawless. Immediately susceptible to the charms of Delpy and Hawke, their chance Vienna encounter shares love's youthful optimism and the mysteries of life.

High Noon (Fred Zinnerman, 1952) - You have to suspend some disbelief that all of this takes place in a little over an hour, but this is a great, thematically layered Western. At just 81 minutes it covers a compelling showdown between a small town Marshall (Gary Cooper) torn between a welcomed future (marriage to Grace Kelly, retirement) and a figure from his past returning to threaten the peace he has proudly brought to his town. Subplots involving Cooper's deputy's crisis of masculinity and desire to take over as Marshall, his ex-lover's decision to sell her business, leave town and seek a new life, and civil concern about the setbacks a street showdown will have on future town developments resonate too. Certainly one of the greatest Westerns I've ever seen. That's not that many, but I can see why it is widely regarded as a pinnacle of the genre.

Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984) - An amazing Talking Heads live concert film. Great collection of flawlessly performed songs with wild David Byrne stage antics and inventive direction. The way this film opens - with Byrne on stage alone with his acoustic guitar as the rest of the band and crew build the stage behind him - is very clever.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (Alex Gibney, 2012) - A devastating documentary that made me deeply upset. Suggests that high level Vatican are involved in cover-up/protection of priests involved in horrific cases of sexual abuse, including one who preyed on deaf children and will likely die free of his repercussion. Shocking. 

The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961) - Looks can be deceiving and childhood trauma lingers in creepy haunted house classic, THE INNOCENTS. Expertly calculated suspense and fine photography. Deborah Kerr is outstanding.

The Iron Giant (Brad Bird, 1999) - Beautifully animated tale of a unique friendship with plenty of inspiring moments and strong messages about destructive weapons and US foreign fears.

The Goonies (Richard Donner,  1985) - Fun effects-free lost pirate treasure adventure from bygone era. Rambunctious child characters, secret tunnels, booby traps and adolescent development wrapped up in good intentions. Was a blast to see Astin before he was Sam, and Brolin before he was Llewellyn Moss, and Pantoliano in another hair piece.

Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan, 2012) - Affecting tale of challenges posed to enduring love through personal evolution. Dolan keeps sense of style but matures narratively, dealing with the emotional journey of transsexuality. It's an acting clinic with Poupaud, Baye and especially Clement - who won Best Actress in the Un Certain Regard at Cannes - excellent. Length and music video-esque indulgence, while they're beautifully shot and scored, are the only detriment, but Dolan's eye for his costumes again impresses.

Sound City (Dave Grohl, 2013) - Entertaining and insightful music doc about a small and dilapidated, but renowned recording studio in the San Fernando Valley. Past producers and the artists who made it their home reflect on their experiences. Love that director Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) has sought to maintain the human element of music in an increasingly digital age. Worth a look just to see him rocking out with Trent Reznor and Paul McCartney.

The Paperboy (Lee Daniels, 2012) - It is hard to take your eyes off this sordid Southern backwater mystery. It throws enough slimy curveballs to maintain intrigue, despite patchy story and distractions. A film that prompts one to ponder: where to begin? Featuring an excellent cast pushed to new limits, wading through the muck and mire is ugly, but there are a lot of great elements.

----- Essential Viewing -----
Sister (Ursula Meier, 2012) - Unpredictable life of young ski season pilferer continues at the bottom of the mountain with his efforts to care for irresponsible family. Set against stunningly captured mountain backdrop and accompanied by a discordant soundtrack, this atmospheric drama builds a fascinating central relationship, driven by the natural performances from Lea Seydoux and Kacey Mottet Klein. While repetitive initially, and a tad melodramatic, Simon's forced bypass of adolescence has repercussions that give this bleak story emotional weight.

Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013) - TRANCE is a tough film to discuss without revealing significant developments, but it is essential cinema viewing. Reliant on misdirection, both within plot and for the observer, this dynamic heist thriller evolves into a violent, psycho-sexual cat-and-mouse. With an incredible s/track, it is a very intense film - beautifully shot, ferociously edited. McAvoy is outstanding. Plot dense enough to warrant multiple viewings. Unsure whether twists wholly satisfy. Indulgent messing with consciousness/reality stretches plausibility.

Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) - Early (first?) slasher effectively uses killer's POV shots, unsettling prank calls and has a strong key heroine, but my enjoyment was somewhat plagued by abundance of now-tired tropes. Also, the impact of a weak subplot involving an inept cop was disappointing. Worth watching, though. It has a neat ending and though I am no slasher expert, I feel like Clark's techniques still remain effective. A creepy film.

Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986) - Glowing 80s classic features incredible aerial action and possesses enough heart to balance out the romantic cheese. Cruise has swagger in Maverick/Iceman pissing contest. Saw it at the IMAX in 3D (which was unnecessary), but the sound was awesome. 

Paris (Cedric Klapisch, 2008) - Livened by a likable ensemble (Binoche, Laurent, Luchini) PARIS often spectacularly captures the beauty of the titular city, intertwining the charming stories of multiple individuals with an emotional crisis.

Les Invisibles (Sebastian Lifshitz, 2012) - 11 French men/women (born 1919-39) provide startlingly honest and open reflections on their sexuality and the impact it had on their lives. They discuss times when their homosexuality was marginalized and their defiance of homophobia and prejudice. Present interviews/footage accompanied by well utilised archived pics/clips. Perhaps a tad long, but it is enlightening and powerful and very broad. Worth a look at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, in major Australian cities March and April.

Carnival of Souls - Tense, disorienting '60's creeper about a car accident survivor who begins to see ghostly spectres and is mysteriously drawn to rundown carnival. Mary's lack of interest in neither religion - she accepts a job as a church organist - or socializing - a fellow tenant repeatedly asks her out - is complimented by her feelings of disengagement from the living- the scenes where's she seems invisible and inaudible to everyone around her. Features quite a decent performance from a gorgeous Candace Hilligoss, actually, who would have fit well in as one of Hitchcock's blonde damsels. I imagine the Criterion release of this rare film would look great. The story is slim, but there are some well-earned frights and an effective organ score.

Opera (Dario Argento, 1987) - Hit and miss giallo shows off Argento's greatest skills (the costume studio/keyhole killings) also with interesting commentary on terror and spectatorship. The killer's unclear motivations, their abnormal predictability and the pretty terrible ending leave this falling short of Argento's 70's works for me, however.

Demons (Lamberto Bava, 1985) - Schlocky gore-fest is chaotic, silly fun. Cursed trashy horror terrorises trapped cinemagoers who turn into bile-spewing monsters. Disturbingly gruesome but hilariously toys with genre (Romero's 'Dawn') and stereotype - a knife-wielding black pimp - laying on the sloppy excess. 

Hour of the Wolf (Ingmar Bergman, 1968) - Max Von Sydow plays an artist trying to repair his sanity, disintegrated due to a pair of incidents in his past. He has moved to a secluded Swedish Island with his pregnant wife (Liv Ullmann, great), who stays up with him throughout the night, attempting to understand and even surrenders herself to his demons. I struggled to engage with this psycho-horror that blurs instances of paranoia and hallucination with reality. There are some haunting images, and a particularly disturbing scene of necrophilia. As has been suggested, I feel I will appreciate this difficult film further on another look.

Aristocats (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1970) -  Undomesticated adventures and feline classism in streets of Paris in cute, catchy-numbered Disney. Has some narrative distractions in short run time, but great for kids.

Mama (Andres Muschietti, 2013) - A mother's eternal love for her child and the importance of a maternal guardian are addressed in this increasingly silly ghost thriller. The jump scares are frequent and effective, if drawn from an abundance of influences. Chastain is strong, but it's hard to buy some developments.

Jack the Giant Slayer (Bryan Singer, 2013)

A Good Day to Die Hard - A city for a file. Singing cabbies, carrot-crunching Russian baddies, lame father-son bonding and millions of dollars spent destroying cars. Appalling. Mass-destruction highway chase strongest sequence but filmmakers' went even bigger in Chernobyl showdown. No plot but plenty of big guns/bad one-liners...if that's your thing. All the fun from the first DIE HARD, and even VENGEANCE, is all-but gone now. The franchise should have stayed on 'vacation'.

The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev, 2012) - Adrenalin and snap instinct can have dramatic repercussions, but in this painfully drawn out wilderness trek through post-Soviet ruled Georgia, emotional engagement or impact is absent. The emerald landscape, and some of the photography (when it isn't set to the character's shoes or the back of their neck), is stunning, but with narrative this sparse and repetitive, and with so much withheld - un-subtitled and barely intelligible dialogue/no context - it very quickly feels laborious and it isn't the haunting experience many have claimed. 

Hyde Park on Hudson (Roger Mitchell, 2012)

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Don Scardino, 2013) 

Re-watches (In Order of Preference)

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Christian Mungiu, 2007) - Faultless work of naturalist cinema from writer/director Christin Mungiu. Unflinching look at Romanian Communist era. The lengths these women have to go to - and what they surrender along the way - is devastating to watch. So much tension.

Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007) - One of my favourite Pixar. Perhaps my favourite. I learn from RATATOUILLE that anybody can be anything that they desire, and that we must remind ourselves of the rejuvenating power of surprise.

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982) - Still holds up pretty well. Has some of Spielberg's most affecting scenes. Profound alien shakeup of American suburban family drama. Bike pursuit finale hair-raisingly good, but the cross-referencing between SS and Lucas' films feels obnoxious now.

Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)

Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011) - Defintely undervalued HUGO at the cinema - beautiful looking film with moving parallels between broken machines and lost purpose/forgotten innovation.

 Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2012) - Repercussions of failed illegal business ventures affect even the innocent in Friedkin's brutal, sordid trailer-trash drama. McConaughey owns this role.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright, 2010) - Get-the-girl action/comedy remains dizzying fun. An attractive cast and a barrage of style, it even hits the mark emotionally.

Naked Lunch (David Cronenberg, 1991) Fascinatingly surreal and disturbing hallucinatory drug-odyssey noir into darkest corners of creative inspiration. Cronenberg's weirdest.

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012) - Some dubious character traits and pacing issues aside, the latest Bond looks spectacular on Blu-ray. Bardem is great. 

Inferno (Dario Argento, 1980) - Colourful witch tale rises above conventional narrative, and weak acting, with a terrific setting and over half a dozen thrilling set pieces.

Year to date: 98 FILMS


  1. 38 films this month? I don't think I've seen that many all year. Mind you, with my year having been what it's been so far, I think I may be excused...

  2. Wow! You saw many great films this month. I've always preferred Before Sunset to Before Sunrise, but I adore both of them. Can't wait for Before Midnight!

  3. My senior year in high school, the "ditch day" rolled around. My friends and I, rather than going to a beach or an amusement park, went to downtown Chicago and watched Stop Making Sense at the Music Box Theater. Absolutely my favorite concert film ever, and in many ways my favorite musical.

    If you haven't seen True Stories and are a David Byrne fan, I recommend it completely.

  4. A Fan's Cut

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    if you have time then please take a look.

    I'm also looking to collaborate with a screenwriter.

    Comments are welcome

    Sorry for disturbing,thanks.

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