Film Journal

FILM JOURNAL | June 2012

I look back at the films I watched through the previous month, whether they were brand new in the cinema or simply new to me. Here are my thoughts.


 

June was an incredible improvement over May – I watched so many films, my eyeballs almost exploded (true story. Maybe I’ll tell you sometime). There were some movies that I deemed perfect such as Rosemary’s Baby and Jaws, and others I deemed quite imperfect. You’ll have to read to find out which ones, however. Enjoy the read, and pick out some to watch yourself – if I’ve said a film is good and you watch it and don’t like it, you can have your money back. And if you watch a film I’ve said is bad and you do actually like it, then you’re clearly wrong and / or an idiot. What are you doing reading my blog? Get out.

• Unmissable
Those pieces of work that prove cinema is one of humanity’s better endeavours.
Example: Apocalypse Now

• Recommended
Extraordinary films that are must-sees, but perhaps not considered masterpieces.
Example: Kick-Ass

• Avoid
Movies that exhibit technical ineptitude, cause severe ideological malaise, or both.
Example: Grown Ups

~ ~ ~


Prometheus [2012]

One of the most anticipated films in recent memory doesn’t live up to the hype, but there’s plenty of science fiction madness, spectacle and philosophical rib-poking to keep you thrilled, grossed out and on the edge of your seat. A worthy addition to one of the greatest film franchises ever.

Into the Abyss [2011]
 Not quite the unmissable doc that’s been promised, yet still a ghoulishly captivating eulogy on a man who is facing death row, and a portrait of the victims of the fallout his actions creates. Werner Herzog directs with his personal anti-death penalty stance.

Dark Shadows [2012]
Both Alice in Wonderland and Sweeney Todd were black pits of movie-going despair, so Burton coming back to a passion project was intriguing. Dark Shadows has plenty of his typical visual flair, yet falls flat with a story that’s too busy for what it should be. Not a return to form, but there’s still hope for Frankenweenie.

The Squid and the Whale [2006]
Clocking in at roughly one hour and ten minutes, this brisk yet equally fast-paced drama successfully dredges up the emotional dirt that a divorce lumps on a family,  and does so hilariously and poignantly. A great early-ish performance from Jesse Eisenberg included.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut [2007]
It took Ridley Scott this long to get his perfect vision of Blade Runner made, and its poetic vision of a bleak future is heightened. However, something about this sci-fi classic still leaves me cold.

Persepolis [2007]
A wonderful animation about punk rock, war, and growing up. Its biographical stance doesn’t  mean this inventive little picture suffers from the same dry point-to-point plotting that other biopics employ; instead, it’s a marvellous journey through one girl’s rich, and often sad, existence.

Death Watch [1980]
Little-known and little-seen but, thanks to the BFI, the courageous Death Watch has been enjoying a surge in interest. It’s a sci-fi that has barely any sci-fi to it, and a chase movie that’s got minimum running, yet this is a multi-layered essay on the ultimate version of Big Brother: watching someone die. Harvey Keitel stars as a man who believes in what he’s doing, but that is put into doubt toward the end.

Punch-Drunk Love [2002]
Adam Sander is good in this. Yes, you heard me. Like, really good. Sandler’s neurotic protagonist finds himself the target of a porn-ring scam, all the while trying to awkwardly woo his love interest played by a wonderfully vulnerable Emily Watson. The highly idiosyncratic direction from Paul Thomas Anderson is the real star, however – sorry Sandler.

The Birds [1963]
Let’s be honest with ourselves: birds just aren’t scary. Sure, they’ve got really evil pokey little eyes, but they’re generally quite small and make annoying noises. Leave it to Alfred Hitchcock, then, to make The Birds a barnstormer of suspense out of a ridiculous premise.

Weekend [2011]
Probably one of the most romantic movies I’ve seen, Weekend is a very conventional yet deeply nuanced love story for the 21st century. It’s an ode to what you can do with two characters in a room and a camera. This is essential for anyone anti-gay – true love exists anywhere.

Men in Black III [2012]
Mentioning this is better than the first sequel is needless, as you already know just how truly, truly terrible Men in Black II was. Thankfully, this time round a compelling time travel narrative keeps things slightly interesting, and a winning performance from Josh Brolin as a young(er) Agent K keeps this unnecessary sequel relatively fresh.

Boogie Nights [1997]
• Recommended
Paul Thomas Anderson further proves his flair for the camera with this early work. ‘Dirk Diggler’ (Mark Whalberg) is the latest young talent on the porn scene, and is looking to change the landscape forever. It’s overlong, yet it’s never boring and the characters are as crazy as the premise (watch out for Philip Seymour Hoffman as an overtly flamboyant assistant).  Giddy filmmaking.

Slap Shot [1980]
Paul Newman is a badass. Move over Luke and Papillon; a disgruntled and morally bankrupt ice hockey coach was Newman’s true calling. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why this this forgotten comedic gem is so funny, but the team’s antics during its rise to fame (read: notoriety) is laugh-out-loud hilarious, yet bizarrely endearing.

Casa De Mi Padre [2012]
Will Ferrell’s latest vehicle is a small work, evident of the comic actor’s pleasure of doing something commercially meagre yet still a labour of love. It’s in Spanish, is set in modern-day Mexico with a retro feel for the romantic, and is unfortunately not gag-a-minute. However, some parts are so funny you’ll be woken up by your own sleep-laughter, especially the sequence involving a crude animatronic tiger.

Ill Manors [2012]
He wants to be known as Ben Drew, the sophisticated filmmaker with a real name – but that’s not going to happen, because ‘Plan B’ isn’t a name I’m willing to stop using any time soon. I’m not going to allow him to escape that one. So, your music is plastered with your stupid nickname, but the film world is too good for that kind of moniker-bashing? What a wankerific dickhole! (By the way, Ill Manors is actually pretty good.)

Family Plot [1976]
Hitchcock’s swansong is less an fantastic final act, and more a dull and poorly-written mix of better things he’s done. There’s plenty of Hitch’s signature aptitude for absurd plotting and twists, but the actual instances the characters find themselves in are more akin to  inspire kitsch than genuine suspense.

Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut [2005]
Ridley Scott’s crusades epic gets his traditional director’s cut treatment, and while the critics were favourable to this restored version of the film, it still doesn’t fix the extraordinarily dry characters and glacial pacing. The inclusion of roadshow presentation – the ‘overture’ and ‘entr’acte’ – does add some indulgent scope, but Kingdom of Heaven just ends up feeling like Gladiator‘s fat older brother who was invited to the party, and turned out to be a terribly boring guest. And he ate all the food, too.

Red Lights [2012]
Cillian Murphy? Sigourney Weaver? Robert DeNiro? I can hear a resounding ‘this movie’s going to be friggin’ awesome’, and yet my heart says otherwise. This promising supernatural thriller has many solid, sincerely gripping moments and the premise is great, yet directorially there’s too much of a mish-mash of different elements which end up jarring. You won’t see the eventual twist coming, but it does cheapen the apparent heart of the movie.

Jaws [1975]
• Unmissable
Steven Spielberg’s debut feature, Jaws is the tale of a small town coming into conflict with a powerful and mysterious outside force – in this case, a huge motherfucking shark. Spielberg manages economic yet graceful direction, and the triumph of his behind-the-camera work is in making the shark a truly menacing figure of horror cinema (even if he couldn’t get the damned thing to work). Hey, the first time you saw it, did you dare dip a single toe in the sea for the next six months? Thought not.

Frenzy [1972]
More Hitch, and more ludicrous setpieces. A serial killer who’s into the more kinky side of neckties, an ex-RAF pilot down on his luck making pittance working in pubs as our reluctant hero, and a characteristically dirty London setting made for AH’s comeback after a trio of commercial failures. Certainly not his finest, but a nonetheless absorbing crime flick with disconcerting sexual overtones.

Rosemary’s Baby [1968]
• Unmissable
As close to a perfect horror movie you can get, Roman Polanski should never be allowed near children again (oh, shut up). Rosemary’s not quite sure what’s growing in her belly, but after moving into what she believes is the perfect apartment for her and her also seemingly perfect husband, paranoia builds to a truly Satanic climax. An impeccably written masterpiece, spilling over with supernatural undertones.

The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956]
Only two directors instantly come to mind who have remade their own films: Michael Haneke with Funny Games, and Alfred Hitchcock with this. Not departing too differently from the original in terms of story, the setting is different minus the climatic Royal Albert Hall finale, and the inclusion of a typically dazzling Jimmy Stewart marks it up slightly over the original – even if it does lose some stylistic class.

Snow White and the Huntsman [2012]
Bereft of a tight script and some much-needed narrative oomph, this otherwise visually sophisticated epic is an ambitious bit of fluff. Charlize Theron is a thoroughly enjoyable Evil Queen (given a name – ‘Ravenna’), but it’s simply a shame she’s so wasted here.

Dial M for Murder [1954]
• Recommended
This is one where all the action happens in the dialogue – Hitch was one who knew how to draw tension out of the barest circumstances characters found themselves in, even if it’s just talking. A fantastically taut murder mystery, it’s a sometimes critically maligned tale, but it’s simply too clever to overlook.

Monsieur Lazhar [2012]
• Recommended
The French really are the best at this, aren’t they? An affectionate tale about the aftermath of a schoolteacher’s suicide, a replacement tutor with questionable methods – Mr. Lazhar -appears from the ether to try and bring some kind of order to the traumatised students. Watch now, and be moved by the simplest, most affecting final frame in recent memory.

Cosmopolis [2012]
What are they talking about? Why is everyone having sex? This is about money, right? Why did he shoot that guy? Why does he want a haircut so badly? Why did they even get married in the first place? What is Jay Baruchel yapping on about? What the fuck is going on?

The Five-Year Engagement [2012]
You can always count on House Apatow to deliver another instantly likeable romcom, this time realistic in its depiction of relationships yet playfully toying with surreal moments of hilarity. The on-screen chemistry between Segel and Blunt is something of a revelation in modern ‘chick flick’ cinema, and while it’s definitely over-long, you’ll never feel it drag.

Crash [1996]
You know when you get turned on by a horrific car crash? You don’t? Then you’re definitely not a character in Cronenberg’s nineties film about automobile erotica. The subject matter is deeply bizarre and therefore endlessly compelling; it’s just a shame that the characters are resolutely uninvolving and pretentious.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter [2012]
• Avoid
Dogshit.

Chernobyl Diaries [2012]
• Avoid
Technically inept and completely void of suspense, a group of annoying American backpackers get chased through what is a potentially awesome setting by a bunch of mutants. That was a spoiler? Come on, what else could it have been. Seriously. It’s just a shame it wasn’t the X-Men hunting them – now that would have been cool.

The Manchurian Candidate [1962]
Possessing plenty more bite than its 2004 remake, this war movie about mind control is still shocking in its indictment upon treatment of American soldiers and the extent the Great Nation will go to for victory – and it’s all based more in reality than in fantasy. Heartbreaking, shocking, formal in composition yet crazy in theme.

Martha Marcy May Marlene [2011]
• Recommended
Chilling without really ever showing anything that awful, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a powerhouse of allusion. What happens to you psychologically when you’re part of a cult? What happens when you eventually escape? MMMM never gives any easy answers, and is an astute meditation on self.

The Angel’s Share [2012]
Ken Loach hasn’t lost any of his urgency – the Kes director turns his eye to a Scottish group of delinquent community servers, who hatch an insane plan to steal the most sought-after whisky on the planet. Very warm and funny if at times directionless, this is an emotional mark-up from Looking for Eric.

Storage 24 [2012]
B-movie scares make for a relatively enjoyable British thriller, if unoriginal. The alien boos are plentiful, but it’s the emotional riffing between the core relationship which drives the film onward. It’s no Alien, but then again, you’d be an idiot for thinking that in the first place.

Rock of Ages [2012]
Nonsense? Absolutely. Redonkulous fun? Absolutely. If you love rock n’ roll and are indifferent to bland storytelling, you’ll enjoy this for sure – go along for the ride, and you’ll be rewarded. Just don’t stop believing (sorry).

Follow the editor @GaryGreenScreen

About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.

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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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