Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | September 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. Dates are by UK release. Here are my thoughts.


 

September, September. You certainly had your share of turkeys, but also some incredible pieces of true filmmaking brilliance. A mixed bag, then.

• 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

~ ~ ~

Total Recall [2012]
Cash-grabbing remake of Paul Veorhoven’s nineties ultra-violent smash, Colin Farrell adds some real empathatic weight to proceedings, but ultimately this is a CGI overload which attempts to be entertaning. Be prepared to stop caring half-way through.

The Watch [2012]
The introduction of Richard Ayoade into the company of American comedy favourites (Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaugh) was an exciting premise, but the resultant film didn’t live up to it. Scripted with all the flair of a dying carp.


The Imposter
[2012]

• Recommended
Relentlessly surprising and disturbing, this tale of a Frenchman who purported to be a missing child of an American family is the best documentary of the year so far. Will take your breath away more than once.

The Expendables 2 [2012]
Bypassing its predecessor’s stodgy writing almost entirely, The Expendables 2 is a pleasant turnaround. This is one sequel you can become emotionally invested in, giving the ridiculous action onscreen a purpose.


A Few Best Men
[2012]

Slightly likeable characters aside, this pointless excuse for a movie doesn’t do itself any favours in any department. Predictable gags and an unevenly paced romantic throughline make sure this rolls off the same cliff its central comedic ‘set piece’ does. (Read: ‘comedic’.)

Ted [2012]
Offensively bad. Millions will watch and laugh, and the few who like good comedy, with good characters, good storylines and good gags (i.e. not riffing off the exact same humour Family Guy has been degrading itself with since season 6) are left by the wayside. As Robbie Collin of the Telegraph put it so aptly, ‘Ersatz subversion for an audience secretly terrified of the real thing’.


Lawless
[2012]

John Hillcoat brings America to its knees with Lawless, a symbolic rumination on the proud, Eagle-crowned nation during its rocky prohibition era. Hillcoat makes sure his violence is shockingly visceral – check out the first meeting between Guy Pearce and Shia Labouf’s characters. While not as articulately paced as The Proposition or as thematically redemptive as The Road, Lawless stands on its own as a character-driven American Nightmare.

The Searchers [1956]
• Recommended
Recently voted in the Sight & Sound top ten (but who really cares?), The Searchers is widely regarded as John Ford’s greatest achievement – and that’s probably not far from the truth. John Wayne is present playing slightly against type, and what happens – while a lot is off-screen – is dark stuff, despite the film’s sweeping technicolour hues. An epic Western, up there with the best.


Anna Karenina 
[2012]

While not as emotionally engaging as you would hope – which is curious given everyone’s passionate performance, and an extraordinarily tender scene between two secondary characters involving a child’s letter blocks – Anna Karenina is perhaps Joe Wright’s most ambitious cinematic outing yet. If you find a more beautifully shot film in 2012, I will definitely not eat my hat because that would be disgusting and a bit weird.

Dredd [2012]
Hallelujah! The adaptation of Judge Dredd that almost nobody was asking for has arrived. But it’s garnered its own fanfare since release: violence which is actually incredibly beautiful, and thematically relevant to the story, executed by Karl Urban in a ridiuclous helmet, and sounding like he needs a few soothers make this an excellent romp for any action lover.


The Devils
[1971]

• Recommended
As artfully mounted as you’d hope from Ken Russel, whose visually flamboyant style is here bouyed by strongly political views concerning the church and state. Its instant punches of irony and the heroic conviction of Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) as the film’s fallen priest protagonist assure this as Russel’s most highly regarded piece of provocation.

 

Take This Waltz [2012]
Another stellar turn-in from Michelle Williams
and a script that almost one-hundred percent avoids convention means that Take This Waltz is a thought-provoking document of one particular unfulfilled life. Slow-moving and splashed with wonderful moments between all the leads, it ultimately deals with the ravages of time as much as how important living in the moment is. Does the eventual disappointment of what we hold to be fate lessen the significance of the decisions we make right now? And did we really need to see all those old ladies’ vaginas in that one scene? Eternal questions, ladies and gentlemen.


Tabu 
[2012]
Touted as one of 2012’s most ambitious films so far, the quietly meditative Tabu takes place in two different halves: the first, a modern day account of a woman’s life; the second, a reverie of a deceased friend’s exotic – and eventful – past. Not quite as awe-inspiring as is surmised by its trumpeting critics, the film does deal with the very nature of cinema itself: memory, time, and romanticising something.

Even the Rain (También la lluvia) [2012]
• Recommended
A beyond-articulate look at multiple timelines, and the way the film camera has come to shape them. Gael García Bernal stars in what is a dramatically gripping, fantastically paced observation at a film crew’s attempts to capture the subordination of native American Indians, while caught in the midst of a very real uprising in the town they’re shooting in.

   


The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise (Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie)
[1972]
Overrated yet still handing out lunch baskets full of bizarreness, this bonkers French classic has managed to instil in viewers the excitement at what dream logic, when used in such a virtuoso way Luis Buñuel manages here, can accomplish. This surrealist masterwork, while not as compelling as some may have you believe, is still worth a watch for the possibilities of film direction.

Halloween [1978]
A stone-cold horror classic, this failed to get my blood pumping – it’s probably because every horror film I’ve ever seen owes its craft in tension and release from this, John Carpenter”s third big screen feature. However, there is an inherently chilling villain in the form of Michael Myers, and fantastic camera work.


The Sweeney
[2012]
Nowhere near as bad as you’d think it’d be, with Ben Drew working his acting chops while Ray Winstone wobbles his literal ones angrily at criminals. A decent crime flick, but most of the fully functional parts are simply in the wrong place.

The Turin Horse (A torinói ló) [2011]
A few mesmerising bars of music provide the ominous doom and gloom that The Turin Horse pastes over its windswept, monochrome landscape. The musical dirge is the same in feeling and tone as the movie, however not that much happens. Highly symbolic.


Rocky IV
[1985]
Rocky Vs. The Soviets. Rocky Solves The Cold War. Montage: The Movie. These are just a few alternative names for Rocky Balboa’s most ridiculous outing yet. And you know what? It’s all the better for it.

Killing Them Softly [2012]
A not too subtle display of political foreboding is splattered all over Andrew Dominik’s follow-up to the downright astounding The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Re-teaming with Brad Pitt and picking up respectable company by the likes of Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini along the way, this social commentary / crime flick is better than your average heist-gone-wrong thrill ride, if only for its  tendency to now and then grasp higher than its reach.


Topaz
[1969]
One of Hitchcock’s most exotic films, this politically slanted romance / thriller stands in his canon as another (if not entirely exciting) success. It also has one of the most gorgeous death scenes ever.

Looper [2012]
• Recommended
Science fiction is alive and well; Rian Johnson makes sure Looper is a full-blown character piece, with time travel and riotous action as side dressing. It digs those deep questions while keeping you entertained.


The Campaign 
[2012]
Middling comedy from the ever-broadening scope (and appeal) of Ferrelisms, The Campaign suffers from aping the overused niche of humour its champion has been scraping at since Anchorman. Nonetheless, it is above average and while completely predictable plot-wise, delivers some true wet-the-bed moments. And it’s nice seeing Zach Galifianakis playing a role other than Zach Galifianakis.

Holy Motors [2012]
• Recommended
Insane to its very roots. Every frame is constructed with meaning – though you probably won’t get all of it first time round. Is it about the death of cinema? The way actors fundamentally change themselves for each role? According to loopy director Leo Carax, it’s about the different worlds we come up with on the internet, and the alienation that comes from that (Yeah, bullshit). Quite simply, you have to see this original, bizarre, incredibly meaningful piece of demented art for yourself.


Resident Evil: Retribution
 [2012]
• Avoid
Why on Earth did I go see this?

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About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.

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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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