Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | March 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. Here are my thoughts.


 

March, while it felt like a cinema-light month, was actually rather healthy; a total of twenty seven new films were watched. How I managed this, I do not know; either way, please enjoy the list.

• 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

~ ~ ~

sideffects1Side Effects [2013]
Steven Soderbergh’s cinematic swansong (though his Behind the Candelabra TV project is essentially feature-length) is a super-stylish thriller that tugs on all your preconceptions, starting as one thing and intelligently – and creepily – morphing into something else. If he goes out on this, it’ll be a high.

 

 

Maniac [2013]maniac1
Wrong-headed, irredeemably stupid schlock-slasher that focuses on a potentially interesting method (the action takes place from the killer’s POV), but ends up as another cheap gimmick in a film that feels similarly inexpensive in terms of acting, writing and directing. The plot points move to predictable beats, the acting is woeful – even from the usually reliable Elijah Wood – and the entire thing attempts to tie its violent nature into a hastily rationalised backstory.

lore1Lore [2013]
Handheld camerawork makes for a blustery character piece, set in the throes of WWII. Sexual awakening is Lore’s core inclination, which it explores satisfyingly – the loss of innocence, etc, dovetailed periodically by blunt metaphor. It covers this ground not in an unoriginal way, but instead comments on the characters thrown together during this time of political, social and moral unrest from a refreshingly personal angle.

 

 

American Graffiti [americangraffiti11973]
• Recommended
Thank American Graffiti for Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. Before Star Wars consumed the world and his own creative output, George Lucas’ very personal take on adolescent life in America followed the lives of a group of recent high school grads in their last summer of innocence. The deftness of direction and writing is unparalleled in the pantheon of teen films, and it will leave you hanging in a palpable, bittersweet ennui. Immensely likeable, reliable characters populate Lucas’ universe – just like school!


afewgoodmen1A Few Good Men [1992]
A well-scripted showcase for some finely-tuned, charismatic performances. Tom Cruise has possibly his best role ever (excepting his jeebies-inducing turn in Magnolia) as a naval lawyer attempting to get to the bottom of a seemingly dirty case.

 

 

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters [2013]hanselandgretel1
While it applies the same amount of detail to period realism as Thomas Andrews did to the Titanic’s resistance to icebergs, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’  consistent anachronisms eventually turn into an anchor for disposable enjoyment. It’ll win you over with its complete disregard for anything palatable on a serious filmmaking level, but has immense fun in doing so.

ozthegreatandpowerful1Oz the Great and Powerful [2013]
Ugh.

 

 

 

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone [2013]incredibleburtwonderstone1
Completely forgettable. Imagine a very poor man’s The Prestige; however, it’s not offensively bland, and has at least a couple of moments that will choke you up with belly laughs. Apart from those moments, it’s another diminished return for Will Ferrel-esque broad humour.

 

sleeplessinseattle1Sleepless in Seattle [1993]
A romance movie starring a particularly charming Tom Hanks and a supremely likeable Meg Ryan, Sleepless in Seattle is refreshingly brave in its refusal to allow its two leads to actually meet for the majority of the movie. That the story chugs along pleasantly and actually works is testament to this; modern movies of a similar genre could learn a lot. 

 

Mr. Nobody [2009]mrnobody1
As if compiled from many scribblings that were made at numerous 3:00am brain-storming sessions and personal existential epiphanies, Mr. Nobody has
a real eye for the miniature, and is adept at reconfiguring them into dream logic.
While it smacks of profundity, it makes more sense in its little observations than as an overall comment on the human condition. Or, you know, maybe not.

 

arbitrage1Arbitrage [2013]
A sleek modern parable about one particular Wall Street wolf, played with beady-eyed grace by an affable-as-ever Richard Gere, Arbitrage alternates between donning the pacey guise of a thriller and the more reflective nature of a character study to serve up a periodically sizzling – if overall too cool-headed – slice of engrossing drama. 

Red Dawn [2013]reddawn1
• Avoid
There are some movies which are truly incredible, if only for the fact that they got made in the first place. This is one of them.

lovedones1The Loved Ones [2009]
Tense-as-nails horror (which happens to also be very, very funny) straight from Australia. Situational comedy and thriller combine to make this one of the most enjoyable teen torture-porn horrors in recent memory (though there probably aren’t many other contenders in that category).

 

 

The Station Agent [2003]stationagent1
• Recommended
Independent cinema at its finest? An astonishingly good Peter Dinklage leads the similarly gifted cast in a proto-dramedy revolving around a group of ethnically disparate  souls, all bonding in their search for some peace in their respective worlds.

identitythief1Identity Thief [2013]
Not as bad as you would expect, Identity Thief functions through sloppy set pieces on the amiable strength of Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy’s leads. It’s a pleasantly bad caper flick that admirably eschews most of the genre’s penchant for gross-out gags in favour of grin-inducing situational comedy.

 

 

Stolen [2013]stolen1
A surprisingly reasonable actioner, Nic Cage dollies around New Orleans (Bad Criminal: Port of Call…) as an angry ex-con in search of his daughter. Despite unspectacular opening and closing segments, its thorax maintains a pace that’ll actually have you forgetting this is not a good film. And as an aside note, there are no Nic Cage-outs to be found here, so not really worth the price of a ticket.

fisherking1The Fisher King [1991]
• Recommended
A stunning mixture of fantasy riddled with the harsh reality of NY life forms the compelling basis for Terry Gilliam’s most humane film. One of Jeff Bridges’ greatest performances (possibly Robin Williams’, too), this is tremendously affecting in its myriad portrayal of the extremes of human guilt. Wonderful.

 

 

Shell [2013]shell1
This promising debut from Scott Graham is a mainly one-note affair, but not to its detriment; the monotony of its atmosphere only elevates the claustrophobia faced by lonely petrol station attendant Shell in the ironically wide and sparse Scottish Highlands. Punctuated by dramatic incident and stellar performances, this is a fine homespun tale of masculine need and isolation.

trance1Trance [2013]
In Danny Boyle’s own words, this is the dark cousin of his 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. Dipping into his aesthetically vibrant toolbox, replete with sinuous storytelling (which sometimes threatens to buckle under its own brazenness), Boyle throws together an amalgam of genre which may have you feeling like you have just had a stroke – but in a good way, trust.

Read the FilmOnTrial review here.

The Paperboy [2013]paperboy1
Major plot developments are either undernourished or ignored completely, in this (unintentionally?) camp police story. Aided by an obvious test-screening tool – a turgid voiceover – it still maintains a level of discretely memorable scenes, and a gleeful against-type performance from John Cusack.

millions1Millions [2004]
An early Danny Boyle gem. Full of the director’s sweeping, adrenalin-fused statements and sprinkled with just the right amount of sentimantality to work as a family-centric drama – including lots of funny bits – it’s good enough to sit comfortably next to Slumdog Millionaire.

 


Beyond the Hills [2013]beyondthehills1
A powerful procedural on religious and secular boundaries. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days director Cristian Mungiu pulls off another striking indictment of social structures, always casting his verbose eye to layers of humanity that are under skin-level. There are no easy answers to the troubling issues raised by the dichotomy of belief and non-belief, and the films’ final image ostensibly nails this point home.

——

———

goodvibrations1Good Vibrations [2013]
Handles all its ‘important’ moments with an intelligence and grace not many other music biopics can muster, and provides characters we actually care for, and – a rare, rare thing – laugh with, as opposed to laugh at.

 

In The House [2013]inthehouse1
When is meta too meta? A film directly confronting storytelling within the telling of its own story, at times it becomes too smugly on-the-nose – but a sense of tremendous design has clearly been put into the writing of In The House, and its inner ironies are so self-reflexive the film even pastes a veneer of esoteric ambiguity over what at least appears to be a rushed, senseless ending.

gijoeretaliation1G.I. Joe: Retaliation [2013]
• Avoid
While the first GI Joe was – naturally – terrible, it still possessed a coherence in its plot points and an overall memorability to a couple of its action set pieces. Retaliation instead opts for complete nonchalance in delivering anything resembling plot or character arcs, and insists upon explosion after explosion without hardly an iota of the usually obligatory exposition.

 

 

Mama [2013]mama1
What’s the number one rule of horror cinema, children? That’s right: don’t show the monster. Who else can tell me what Mama does wrong? Show the monster half way through, thereby ruining any suspense the movie struggles for during its remainder?Very good answer. Gold banana stickers all round!

 


sidebyside1Side By Side
[2012]

An important documentary for cineastes everywhere, the interviewees range from the quietly knowledgeable and outrightly famous – yet all talented and possessing a valid view on the conflict of digital versus film. Side By Side asks the important question; is this conflict imagined?

 

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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