Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | December 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.


 

For December, there was a little bit of festive viewing (Arthur Christmas), some stunning documentaries (The House I Live In, West of Memphis), and a handful of dramas focusing on familial upsets (Festen, Great Expectations). And with the end of a new year, here’s to a new twelve months for watching great movies.

• 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

~ ~ ~

madagascar3

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted [2012]
Inconsequential fun. Colourful, vibrant , and loaded with the same sly humour that made the series a hit in the first place.

The House I Live In [2012]houseilivein1
• Recommended
An extraordinarily prescient, knowledge-filled and disarmingly emotional soapbox on the so-called American War on Drugs. An unparalleled use of footage and effortlessly succinct editing help make this one of the best documentaries of 2012. You’ll want to help.

elena1Elena [2012]
Uneven in its attempted portrayal of the tumultuous nature of family, this may have you bored, enthralled or merely interested. Plus, the central character’s motivation half-way through to do something unforgivable is as opaque as its storytelling.

 

Life of Pi [2012]lifeofpi2
• Recommended
The most unique event movie of all time. Prepare to laugh, cry and shit your pants, all while the breath has been stolen from your lungs during moments that confound in their innate absurdity and inspired beauty – with all the qualities of Yann Martel’s source novel intact. A story about stories; a tale of a boy and his tiger; a piece of epic, risk-taking and joyous cinema on finding meaning from nothing. Stunning.
(Read the Quietus review here)


magnificentseven1The Magnificent Seven [1960]
Gun-Ho! Or something to that effect. A fantastically solid Western based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, it lacks a smidge of character from its incendiary source, but makes its own ground with a few tricks of its own. And you can never go wrong with Steve McQueen as a cowboy.

 

Seven Psychopaths [2012]sevenpsychopaths1
Meta is better. Dognapping, high-wire plot fiddling and an eternal self-awareness that extends beyond its own frame, it may be a trifle too smart-arsey for some, but it mostly delivers on its premise.
(Read the FilmOnTrial review here)


michaelclayton1Michael Clayton [2007]
Sharply scripted littered with moments of awe and intelligence. The situations are plausible, and shows off George Clooney’s understated acting style.

riseguardians1Rise of the Guardians [2012]
A slightly slapshot but pleasingly fast-moving tale. An honest intent is told over decent visuals, but a paper-thin stock villain lets it down. There’s good will to be given here, and some to be received.

greatexpectations1Great Expectations [2012]
Has none of the qualities of the novel, but features almost all its flaws. Stifled period drama, befuddled by Dickens’ source.

 

festen1Festen [1998]
Thomas Vinterberg’s addition to the Dogme movement is a darkly funny peep into a rich, messed-up family, the patriarch’s 60th birthday celebrations forming the confrontational circus at the heart of this bare-bones production. And it’s the blackest of secrets that makes them quite so dysfunctional…


hudsuckerproxy1The Hudsucker Proxy [1994]
A minor entry in the Coen’s line of exquisite cinema, this completely off-kilter, dreamlike exposé of ’50s American economy ladder-climbing takes your suspension of disbelief and throws it out the window of a 45-storey building – just like a banker.

Burn After Reading [2008]burnafterreading1
A mostly well-written crime caper, with the usual surprises and deviances from conventional plot choices that a Coens movie provides. Shame Brad Pitt wasn’t in it for longer, though.

hobbit1The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012]
An agreeable first entry into what will be a lesser trilogy than its predecessor, Bilbo’s quest to help a group of dwarves take back their homeland is a lighter affair yet visually no less resplendent that Frodo’s. In time, it’ll be viewed as the little brother.
(Read a FilmOnTrial article on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey here)

The Last Projectionist [2012]lastprojectionist1
A warm insight into the Electric Cinema in Birmingham and its rich history, one that reflects the ups and downs of the movie industry.

serenity1Serenity [2005]
A fine swansong for the beloved, cancelled-before-its-time series Firefly. Has all the wit and sharp dialogue, but less scope than you may expect from a sci-fi adventure.

 

Arthur Christmas [2011]arthurchristmas1
A wonderfully touching seasonal gem from Aardman. It’s simple plot works because of its deft characters and kinetic storytelling, not to mention its brilliant sense of humour.

narniawardrobe1The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe [2005]
An unspectacular telling of a ridiculous Christianity-baiting book, it’s still decent viewing, but remains arduously long, not even spending a little of its hefty run-time in building investable characters.

 

Funny Games [1997]funnygames1
Haneke’s blunt fourth-wall smashing hit, this provocative, nasty piece of work gets by on real human emotion in times in struggle shining through, and tension you could cut with a golf club.

gattaca1Gattaca [1997]
• Recommended
A finely scripted, intensely beautiful portrayal of what it is to be human. Gattaca explores the different avenues of the human condition in the context of a gene-splicing alternative future; the stars really are the destination, as Ethan Hawke’s exquisitely acted protagonist declares, ‘I never saved anything for the swim back’.


Gremlins [1984]gremlins1
Dependent more on its charm than its scrappy script, this otherwise lean ode to creature features is sufficiently subversive and fun enough to warrant its place as a cult (Christmas) favourite. And Gizmo is damn cute.

zandalee1Zandalee [1991]
• Avoid
This was found in a bargain bin in Denmark, circa 2007. There is a reason for that.

Super Troopers [2001]supertroopers1
Middling, meandering comedy with a handful of good showcases. Its kooky batch of highway cops are spriteful creations, but they’re let down by a lack of direction.

——

———

magicmike1Magic Mike [2012]
A sober yet engrossing look into the lives of male strippers. Honestly, it’s pretty great.

Dirty Dancing [1987]dirtydancing1
A perfect blend of teen romance, rebellion and most importantly of all – dancing. It actually manages to catch that period of life when adolescence is importance, and ludicrous dance moves are simultaneously absurd and uplifting.

smashed1Smashed [2012]
This charts the modest life of a recovering alcoholic. While on the slight side and non-showy, it remains an honest and realistic portrayal of an overlooked affliction.

West of Memphis [2012]westofmemphis1
• Recommended
An epic of documentary filmmaking. The turbulent West Memphis Three case is one that has caught the world’s attention thanks to the supports of people such as Johnny Depp, Peter Jackson and Eddie Vedder. Amy Berg does it again.

incrediblehulk1The Incredible Hulk [2008]
A lightweight and sometimes scrappy telling of Marvel’s big green meanie, it gets by with its nods and playfulness with its own legacy.

Breathless (À bout de souffle) [1960]breathless1
Pretentious, trite posturing from the French auteur Jean Luc Godard.

 R–

dotherightthing1Do The Right Thing [1989]
• Recommended
Spike Lee vibrantly brings to life a neighbourhood of racially disparate people, in what turns out to be a humourous but sometimes dark study of fantastic characters, and it avoids being cloying or one-sided for its entire duration.

Follow the editor @GaryGreenScreen

About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.

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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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