Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | January 2013

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.


 

A new year, and a slew of new – and old – movies to immerse myself in. January was where revolutionary France started belting out songs, Anthony Hopkins donned a Humpty-Dumpty suit, and D became silent before J. Read on.

• 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

~ ~ ~

coldsouls1Cold Souls [2009]
A more prosaic Being John Malkovich, Paul Giamatti plays himself; to get rid of any existential dread impinging on his new play, he decides to get his soul clinically removed. The batshit premise is let down by a pretty standard script that doesn’t live up to its own inherent craziness, but Giamatti as usual provides us with an honest performance that grounds the entire project.

It’s Such a Beautiful Day [2012]itssuchabeautifulday1
• Recommended
Just a cartoon, eh? How about a cartoon that deals with – and successfully portrays – morality, love, fear, and the innate beauty of existence? Cartoons are great.


kidwithabike1The Kid With a Bike
[2012]
A compelling, if slightly drab, parable on consequence. Its biggest problem is mistaking pity for genuine sympathy, leaving the titular kid as a complete and utter little piece of work.

Young Adult [2012]youngadult1
A meagre input into Jason Reitman’s canon, Charlize Theron still shines as a damaged writer who is attached to her happier past. It refreshingly sidesteps stereotyping, and subverts it when it does appear.



pitchperfect1Pitch Perfect
[2012]
This fantastic slice of acerbic musical comedy is disarmingly hilarious, and thanks to some great characters, you’ll be eased into caring for them and their brilliantly arranged musical numbers, kudos to consistently inspired a capella re-workings of a plethora of booty-shaking, face-gurning tracks. And you’ll be giggling at some of the quotes for a long time to come.

Babette’s Feast (Babettes gæstebud) [1987]babettesfeast
• Recommended
Food for the soul. An enriching, languorous nocturne on the simple joys of life and the frightening onslaught of time, it’s never without a well-placed sense of humour, and the titular feast will raise as many smiles as it will near-tears. Not only does it make you hungry for life, it’ll make your stomach growl painfully too.



hardeight1Hard Eight
[1996]
Even on his debut feature, Paul Thomas Anderson proves he’s a master of the camera – but his scripting skills fall flatter than later works. Either way, it’s an effective alternative picture, being neither crime saga, thriller or exactly drama.


Frankenweenie
[2012]frankenweenie1

This smartly styled pastiche of the horror genre has a beating (electrified) heart.


margaret1Margaret
[2011]
With shades of Magnolia and shot on 2005, Margaret shows a city still bruised in the aftermath of 9/11, and the lives of its citizens. However, this is meandering, aimless, yet still punctuated with genuinely poetic directorial flourishes.


The Impossible
[2013]theimpossible1

Though transposed from a Spanish to English family, this natural disaster movie which is based on 2004’s pan-tragic tsunami inspires at least a fraction of the fear – and hope – those caught in this event must have gone through.



kisskissbangbang1Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
[2005]
Before Iron Man 3 reunites director Shane Black and actor Robert Downey Jr., Black’s first gig behind the camera after his screenwriting success with the Lethal Weapon series was this fun-filled romp through Hollywood’s skin. Downey Jr. is our unreliable narrator – but at least he admits it, in flexing the tropes and trappings of the movies.

They Live [1988]theylive1
A high-wire satire of the spoofiest kind, John Carpenter is at his subversive best (and most fun) with this alien-invasion media deconstruction. Think Network meets They Came From Outer Space.


bernie1Bernie
[2011]

• Recommended
An audacious, superbly acted and entirely engrossing look at a do-gooder who has a hidden dark side. Richard Linklater’s little-seen 2011 project is worth seeking out.

Goodbye First Love [2012]goodbyefirstlove1
There’s plenty here to resonate with your own memories of romantic love, though not quite as articulate – or innovative – to hold together as much more than a sparse study of nostalgia.


jackreacher1Jack Reacher
[2012]

Functional but lacking much elegance or intrigue. Interest is piqued by notions of Jack Reacher’s character, but sadly not by his actions.

From Dusk Till Dawn [1996]fromdusktilldawn1
Genre-twisting B-movie pyrotechnics. What starts as a Tarantino-esque crime pulp ends as something entirely different – but no less enjoyable.


excision1Excision
[2012]

Gleefully perverse horror-coming of age tale. This suburban subtext of trauma, sexual drives and religion features a virgin sociopath who negotiates a terrifying neon dreamscape – and high school – while chasing delusions of a career in medicine. Despite its superficial vulgarity, Excision‘s most interesting statement is that love can come from a voyeuristic place.

Django Unchained [2013]django1
An ungainly screenplay stunts Tarantino’s exhausting Western – his virtuoso knack for pastiche remains intact, but his negligence of pacing drags it down even when it does sometimes reach the same heights of his earlier work.


gangstersquadGangster Squad
[2013]
Loud, silly, and garish, though it’ll be forgotten by the following morning.


Ip Man [2008]ipman1
A hugely enjoyable martial arts picture which takes a tonally interesting turn, much like the one in Life is Beautiful. At times syrupy, but consistently reaches a few powerful points of literal kick-assery.


hitchcock1Hitchcock
[2013]
A character study that unsurprisingly walks over the eggshells that are the tropes of the troublesome subgenre. A handful of dream scenes imply the fizzy, messed up impetus that drove the Master, but they unfortunately don’t spill into the blander, narrative-driven world of biopics.

The Sessions [2013]thesessions1
A name change from The Surrogate should ring alarm bells – but thankfully this is an uplifting tale about one of the world’s downtrodden. Playing sensitively and wittily, the film succeeds because of its stark frankness about its subject matter.

——

———

 

muchadoaboutnothing1Much Ado About Nothing [2013]
Avengers helmer Joss Whedon gifts a sparkling entry into the Shakespeare-to-film canon. The play fits well into the vernacular of the Whedonverse – monochromic and deft, it feels like a more playful La règle du jeu at times.

Zero Dark Thirty [2013]zerodarkthirty1
• Recommended
This film is not here to entertain you. It is here to give a neutral, matter-of-fact portrayal of dark times. Kathryn Bigelow is probably America’s most important director right now, and 0D30 is her masterwork so far.


lincoln1Lincoln
[2013]

Spielberg dismisses his typical schamltz to depict not just the man behind the emancipation of slavery (Daniel Day-Lewis on incendiary form, surprise, surprise), but the topic itself. However, its dense period vernacular may leave you appreciating from a distance.

The Last Stand [2013]laststand1
Enjoyable-enough comeback for Schwarzenegger. Thinly-drawn characters drag the jubilant action down, but this zips fast enough along its weak frame for you not to notice too much.

 

lesmiserables1Les Misérables [2013]
Singing! Bombast! Russel Crowe! Borat! France! Silly hair! Catwoman! Wolverine! More singing! Long-ass running-time!

Follow the editor @GaryGreenScreen

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About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.

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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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