Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | June 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.


 

What bizarre weather June had. Despite its thunderous rumbling and ultraviolet scorching (in equal measure), I was safe from all of it, sheltered in a dark room watching shadows on the wall. Some shadows were better than others; some shadows simply sucked (After Earth), though not quite badly enough to receive an ‘Avoid‘ stamp, while other shadows transfixed me so much (Behind the Candelabra) they got my version of a banana sticker – the ‘Recommended‘ stamp.

• 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

~ ~ ~

purge1The Purge [2013]
It seems that Ethan Hawke is constantly drawn to scripts that have an overarching great premise, if it doesn’t have the dramatic meat to make it truly great itself: like Daybreakers before it, The Purge riffs on an interesting idea (in this case, America legalises all crime, including murder, for a 12-hour period to ‘cleanse’ itself) and while it makes for moderately gripping viewing, the direction is at times scatty with its handling of plot lines and indelicate with its social commentary angle.

Byzantium [2013]byzantium1
Neil Jordan has a reputation for taking interesting decisions. The hard nut director, known for his distinctly off-kilter dramas and thrillers, has a crack at the vampire genre, and the result is mostly successful – Gemma Arterton (looking more ravishing than ever) and Saoirse Ronan, a mother and daughter team of bloodsuckers, are pitched into a quiet seaside town where they encounter the consequences of their past – and the possibility of happiness in their future.

greatexpectations1 The Great Gatsby [2013]
Visually lurid, Baz Luhrmann’s take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel is colourful but without class. Party scenes filled with anachronistic music definitely get the blood going, but despite one fantastic scene toward the end (Leonardo DiCaprio and Joel Edgerton almost have a lapel-off), it chronically stumbles over Fitzgerald’s beautiful prose, much of which is intact in voiceover, attempting to carve a modern groove alongside something that is something Luhrmann has consistently proved through his career he cannot produce: timelessness.

Time of the Wolf (Le temps du loup) [2003]timeofthewolf1
Bleak even for Michael Haneke, this post-apocalyptic procedural documents the implosion of Western society, and the deeply personal fallout brought with it. While not quite up there with the big H’s best, poetic shots, brilliantly observed dialogue and the ability to handle important events in seconds which lesser directors would fumble with for hours, this is still a must-see viewing if the recent run of apocalypse cinema over the last few years has become stagnant for you.


behindthecandelabra1Behind the Candelabra [2013]
• Recommended
Playing the role he was born to play, Michael Douglas is famous entertainer Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s first foray into TV. This delicately shot and directed HBO movie revolves around Liberouglas (as he shall now be known) and his lover Scott, also impressively played by Matt Damon, documenting a gay couple with a tenderness that HBO hasn’t seen since Six Feet Under. Stellar character drama that couldn’t be improved.

The Iceman [2013]iceman1
Surprisingly gripping thanks to its premise – not the script – a serial killer hitman who moonlights as a loving father and husband is played with reliable conviction from Michael Shannon. While it lacks the deftness the subject matter screams for, it’s a solid, slow-building thriller that is conventional but never boring.

afterearth1After Earth [2013]
Not quite the disaster everyone was hoping for, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest paycheck is an improvement over the cinematic aberration that was The Last Airbender, but you know what? The sets are clearly cheaply made, the acting woeful from both father-and-son Will and Jaden Smith, particular story choices unacceptably ludicrous (the bit with the eagle is a favourite), and a general lack of tension thanks to the movie not even applying the smallest shred of logic to its set ups still make this a distinct failure. Shyamalan, what are you doing with your life?

 

Andrei Rublev (Strasti po Andreyu) [1966]andreirublev1
• Unmissable
Widely considered Andrei Tarkovsky’s finest work (that’s taken straight from the DVD’s back-cover blurb), this is filmmaking at its most ambitious in terms of narrative structure, placement of character, and mise-en-scene. Tarkovsky clearly understands cinema as a visual artform, something that many directors and audiences forget, and constructs his screen poems as such; some of Andrei Rublev you won’t understand, but
all of it will affect you. 

manofsteel2Man of Steel [2013]
This year’s most anticipated event movie lives up to (most of) the hype; the first half is stellar storytelling, Zak Snyder proving his worth as architect of tiny human stories bloodlining intergalactic battles – but then falls into a trap of trivial blockbuster action, à la Transformers, in the third act. Nonetheless, the heart of this particular take on the world’s greatest superhero is in every frame – and when both Robin Hoods are your dad, you can’t really complain.

 

Before Midnight [2013]beforemidnight1
• Recommended
What can you say? What possible combination of words could you utter that would successfully describe a franchise of films that rejuvenate not only your desire for love, for cinema, but for just being alive? Deconstructing romance with the most romantic onscreen relationship of all time, which should be a tough feat to attain but is like putty in director Linklater’s hands, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters have matured and grown with each other in this, the third instalment of the Before trilogy; watch to find out what’s happened to your favourite couple.

likesomeoneinlove1Like Someone in Love (Raiku Samuwan In Rabu) [2013]
Movies don’t have to be inherently dramatic to instil emotion in an audience; as long as there is conflict and love between characters, the rest will just happen. Like Someone in Love is a perfect example of how to strangle our pathetic hearts without the need for close-ups on a tear-strewn face, or absurd and emotionally manipulative plot twists. This type of cinema is easy-going in its pace and naturalism, but not quite easy-going in its events.

Populaire [2013]populaire1
What needed to be a light, brief and well-scripted caper is instead weighed down by its length (it climaxes two thirds in) and its lack of invention, despite its knack for period kitsch and wonderfully bright characters played to perfection by 
Romain Duris and Déborah François. 

superman1Superman [1978]
A perfect example of a film best served in memory rather than present viewing is Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman movie. Narratively aimless and filled with effects that must have looked appalling even thirty years ago, it still periodically attains successful mythmaking of the iconic character – and there will probably never be a better Kal El or Clark Kent than Christopher Reeve.

Superman II [1980]superman2
Marginally better than its predecessor, but that’s not saying much; Superman’s arc as a mortal is fantastic, but again the story never reaches the kind of scope it clearly strives for. Even Terence Stamp’s memorable villain just looks like a tired pastiche of late ’70s evil beardy types, but the main problem with these early Superman movies is that they just completely ignore their own internal logic on every level – something a superhero or science fiction film nowadays
depends on.

magdalenesisters1The Magdalene Sisters [2002]
• Recommended
In the mood for some light viewing? Well, don’t watch The Magdalene Sisters, a stoic and powerful indictment of the Irish Catholic system that institutionalised girls for natural sexual urges. Just put on Sex and the City instead, that’s got girls talking about sex too.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [1982]startrek2wrathofkhan1
You know practically everyone says this is the best Star Trek movie? They’re clearly out of their Vulcan minds; this is drab, tidy and unexciting filmmaking. Don’t agree with me? Then you KHAAAN just bugger off.

thisistheend1This is the End [2013]
Every year, you get a big studio comedy that’s genuinely funny all the way through. Last year it was 21 Jump Street, this year it’s This is the End – and for good reason. The humour comes out of the characters, not the story – which for the most part is static, but only to serve these hilarious versions of the actor’s actual selves.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no takkyûbin) [1989]kikisdeliveryservice1
Typically majestic storytelling from Studio Ghibli lifts this bare-bones story to rich thematic heights. Plucky young witch Kiki and her trusty feline companion Jiji go on a coming-of-age journey to a distant town, trying to find footing in a world that doesn’t seem to have room for her. There are some incredible lessons for children here, and even adults will learn something from Hayao Miyazaki under-seen gem.

 

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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