Saturday, May 31, 2014

Monthly Round-up: May 2014 Viewing

In May I watched 32 films. And didn't do much else but work. I read Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, which was excellent. The first film I watched in May was Under the Skin and nothing matched that experience. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the worst film I have seen this year with a cinema release.

Sydney Film Festival is only a few days away. There may be more changes yet, with the announcement of some late additions on Monday, but here's how my schedule looks so far.

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

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

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014)

On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954) - Brando's performance is commonly regarded as one of the greatest in cinema. He's fantastic, but the film is outstanding through-and-through. And the famous 'contender speech' is every bit as heartbreaking as I was led to believe.

The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928) - Groundbreaking (and cynical, bleak) silent drama of an ordinary dreamer whose professional failures and irrational ensuing anxieties threaten the harmony of his real treasure - family. One cannot help but think of Sunrise (Murnau) at times here, but this is damn impressive on every level. A tad melodramatic. I wonder if I would have been rolling my eyes at some of these developments if it was released today. But I was so thoroughly invested in the characters that the tragedies are affecting.Also, great performances. Far more emotive and real than most others in silent features that I have seen.

Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman, 2014) - GROUNDHOG DAY meets ALIENS, and a thoroughly entertaining collaboration it is. Strikes a great balance of action spectacle, character-driven stakes and injections of effective humour. An intense, thoughtful and fun film. Cruise and Blunt work very well together. I'd say the season's best blockbuster so far. Review to come.

The Trip To Italy (Michael Winterbottom, 2014)

Sunshine on Leith (Dexter Fletcher, 2013)

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

Night Moves (Kelly Reichhardt, 2013) - Reichhardt, the director of excellent Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, makes it four for four. It is perhaps her most accessible film to date, but still thought-provoking and thematically interesting. Night Moves is an absorbing slow-burn thriller that cleverly elevates its consistent tension with a grounded sense of realism, a keen eye for stylish composition and a neat score. It focuses less on the political motivations of the radical environmentalist trio - rather their preparations, the sabotage itself and how they individually react when burdened with the weight of their actions (the consequences and whether it registers enough to make a difference or simply dismissed as irresponsible 'theatre'). Eisenberg, Fanning and Sarsgaard in top form.

Breadcrumb Trail (Lance Bangs, 2014) - Britt Walford is a really weird guy. As a big fan of the incomparable 'Spiderland' I found this a fascinating insight into Slint's Louisville roots, and their post-recording, pre-release break-up. They were so young at the time. 20. Incredible that such an iconic work came together the way it did, and yet would be their last album.

Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, 2014) - This 'may' appreciate, especially if I focus hard on the incredible monster effects, the catastrophic scale and the effective mounting of dread. But the blundered human story was just so disengaging and bland, and the quite awful Aaron Taylor-Johnson is not the guy you want to lead an audience through an unbelievably convenient series of close encounters. Save for perhaps Cranston, none of the characters are remotely memorable. A curiously conflicting film. I was rarely on the edge of my seat, but remained in constant awe of the colossal spectacle and admired the way the action sequences were shot from the human POV. And yet, a few hours after seeing it, I can't summon much enthusiasm. UPDATE: It hasn't really. Plenty to admire for sure, but a now-certain disappointment.

Chef (Jon Favreau, 2014)

My Sweet Pepper Land (Hiner Saleem, 2013)

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, 2014) 

The Keeper of Lost Causes (Mikkel Norgaard, 2013) - Based on a bestselling Danish novel. Nicely shot and performed with a compelling enough mystery (for a while) - a psychologically battered homicide detective is relegated to sorting through cold cases when one ignites an obsession. Testimonies cue flashbacks, and we begin to piece the truth together. Then we are privileged to an untitled POV and from there it falters. Wraps up pretty quickly and easily too. Some tension, but disappointingly generic.

Joe (David Gordon Green, 2014) - Quality performances by Nic Cage and Tye Sheridan, who share a dynamic chemistry, and an effectively grimy Southern U.S 'nowhere-ville' setting. I admired the unflinching look at lower class hardships, Joe's personal struggles with suppressing his violent temperament and controlling his various addictions, and his professional work detail. BUT after a suitably moody build-up and the introduction of some interesting characters this got increasingly sillier, seriously plagued by dramatic contrivance, unnecessary subplots, excessive nastiness and weird tonal shifts. A disappointing follow up to the wonderful Prince Avalanche for David Gordon Green.

Young and Beautiful (Francois Ozon, 2013) - Adolescent desire, sexual enlightenment and unprovoked rebellion receive shallow, vacant coverage in Ozon's opulent drama. Young lead Vacth stuns, though.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicholas Meyer, 1982) -  I'll probably get crucified for this. Maybe I shouldn't have watched this separated by ads, but it was disappointing. Apparently, the best of the original Star Trek series? Yikes. I recognized similarities between this and Star Trek Into Darkness, which understandably insulted and angered fans at the time. Still, I'd watch Abrams' film again over this, but at the same time I have lost respect for it too. This has aged poorly, for one, but save for a couple of compelling sequences, is was also pretty boring. When your chief action sequences involve characters just standing around looking at screens and data off-screen, then you have issues. To sum it up - buff space hippies v a geriatric brigade, a dramatically unbuttoned William Shatner and an elfish-looking Kirstie Alley.

Palo Alto (Gia Copolla, 2014) - I imagine James Franco's collection of short stories that inspired this project are far better than his performance here, and this film overall. Some poignant observations of teenage life in America, but whenever it attempts to relay a message, subtlety is sorely absent. Jack Kilmer and Emma Roberts are admittedly quite good, but the film is populated by poor dialogue, weak acting (and bizarre cameos) and forced, incredible drama.

A Million Ways to Die in the West (Seth MacFarlane, 2014) - I didn't get to see the whole film, which was initially disappointing but perhaps a blessing. A handful of genuinely funny bits but mostly excruciating misses. I quite like Seth MacFarlane, but this crude concoction of Western jabs and bodily excretions is a sorry one. It relies on fish-out-of-water gags, through the prism of someone being dropped in from the 21st Century with a tired repertoire of ways to rant about the 'idea' of the hardships of the Wild West, as influenced by preceding representations in pop culture. That Mustache song sure got stuck in my head, though. Best in show: Theron.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb, 2014) - I will speak of it no more.
I also watched Sydney Film Festival titles Ne Me Quitte Pas, The Kidnapping of Michel Houllebecq, At Berkeley, The Possibilities are Endless, Ruin, Born to Fly, The Great Museum, The Referee, The Captive and National Gallery, but all are currently embargoed for comment.

Re-Watches (In Order of Preference)

Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Shaffner, 1968)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956) - After several re-makes/imaginings this one is still the best. One of the most economic sci-fi/horror films ever made.

The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)


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