Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | July 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.


 

The sunniest weather England’s seen since 2006 didn’t stop me holing up and watching lots of films. And I’m glad I did, too; I discovered some exquisite examples of the artform (Stories We Tell), partook in a Nic Cageathon (including new one The Frozen Ground), and had my ideology threatened by the studio (The Internship). Read on, share, and watch some 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

 

 

~ ~ ~

worldwarzWorld War Z [2013]
Brad Pitt runs away from zombies; this is decent blockbuster filmmaking on a generally higher level than most other summer eyefuckers, with the last act an exercise in genuine tension – shame about the scattily directed portion that comes before.

Stories We Tell [2013]storieswetell1
• Recommended
Is it a documentary? Is it a drama? Stories We Tell is both and neither, in Sarah Polley’s examination of her own origin hot on the heels of her excellent Take This Waltz last year. Any moments that may smack of meta indulgence instead ring true of the way we tell stories, either from a screen to many or from an armchair to a select few. Heartwrenching, stimulating and inspiring.

whatrichardid1What Richard Did [2013]
This tiny Irish drama serves as the springboard for some unbelievable performances, most notably from lead Jack Reynor, a son who has committed an unforgiveable atrocity in his privileged, quiet life, and from Lars Mikkelsen, his father who can’t decide what to do with this untenable situation (who happens to be the real-life brother of Mads Mikkelsen). Astonishing little indies like this are the lifeblood of where we’re going as directors, writers and actors today – keep an eye on where they go from here.

The Internship [2013]internship1
The Internship is the definition of what I like to call a ‘boardroom movie’. Created solely for the advertisement of a particular corporation which won’t be named here (just Google it instead), Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s earnest performances aren’t enough to mask the commercial nature of this studio beast. Celebrated screenwriter Charlie Kaufman described during his BFI lecture a few years back that a lot of films are made with money as the ‘only goal – the only goal’. This is one of those films; it’s art diluted by a factor of one, and money presented as lights and sounds from a big screen, confusing and directing the masses to expel green paper from their wallets. I’m being this cynical purely to battle the own filmmakers’ cynicism of their own intent – and if their description as ‘filmmakers’ may be slightly dubious, they could be at least described as a great marketing team. This doesn’t receive the ‘Avoid’ stamp because everyone needs to see it; everyone needs to comprehend its artificiality and evilness for themselves. Brrr.


whenharrymetsally1When Harry Met Sally… [1989]
A rom-com that isn’t bad? Wait, it’s actually excellent? The characters feel real, their relationship convincing, the story natural and resolution fully earned? Ruddy ‘eck – must be the eighties.

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny [2006]tenaciousdpickofdestiny1
Tenacious D are funny. For some obscure, unannounced reason, this isn’t. Wafer-thin jokes and terribly written characters (even including the leads of Black and Gass) add up to not much at all. In its entirety, there is one moment that is hilarious (just add hallucinogenic drugs and water rapids, you’ll know the scene) – but as you’ll know, one laugh isn’t enough to bring this to a level acceptable even by the most hardcore TD fan.

cryingame1The Crying Game [1992]
• Recommended
Neil Jordan’s offbeat thriller about an IRA gunman seeking redemption is both a riveting character document and social commentary, thanks to a brave screenplay and some performances that redefined acting for the early nineties glut of thrillers.

 

The Wall (Die Wand) [2013]thewall1
While perhaps retaining too much of the source novel’s prose as voiceover, this is still a beguiling bit of non-genre sci-fi that bites with its bleakness, but brightly illuminates the most important thing in human life; companionship.

fieldinengland1A Field in England [2013]
Imagine The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, then take away the narrative and add mysticism, mutton and mushrooms; the result is Ben Wheatley’s latest and insanest work yet, his knack for capturing particularly odd strokes of the British nation as solid as ever – but through a prism of frosted, monochromatic crystal. Difficult to watch, and arguably infuriating at points, there’s a lot to take away here – only if you take whatever the Hell they’re taking, that is.

 

The Act of Killing [2013]actofkilling1
• Unmissable
Coming from nowhere, this documentary seeks to annihilate your sense of self and totally humble any preconceptions of cultural morality that may have ignorantly gestated in your comfortable, privileged head via years of experiencing the bigger world safely, and without consequence, through a screen. Inexorably, The Act of Killing smashes that screen, with its nakedly meta ideology breaking any concern. Read up on this, then watch.


blingring1The Bling Ring [2013]
Mirroring the vapidity of its own subjects by leaving out any ‘meat’ – such as back story – does give Sofia Coppola’s latest a distinct contemporary sting, but like the celeb burglars’ conscience, it’ll be quickly forgotten with a hit of coke and an ill tune.

 

The Untouchables [1987]theuntouchables1
Brian DePalma’s gangster epic feels just like one of the classics that came before it, but filled with lots of great directorial flourishes; just check out the masterful train station shoot-out sequence.

nowyouseeme1Now You See Me [2013]
Plot, plot, plot, plot, MAGIC, plot, plot, plot, pinch of character development, plot, plot, plot, swinging camera movements, MAGIC MAGIC MAGIC, plot, plot, plot, RUDDY MAGIC, twist involving complete betrayal of audience trust, magic magic MAHHHJEEEK.

 

Pacific Rim [2013]pacificrim1
• Recommended
Fun has never come in a bigger size; Del Toro takes influences from Godzilla (and thankfully, not Transformers) to make his creature feature a thing of spectacle, human drama and full-blooded homage. Leave your cynical reservations at the door, and experience the most fun you’ll have at the cinema all year.

tootsie1Tootsie [1982]
• Recommended
Superbly scripted and acted, this offbeat drama deconstructs gender roles with zero schmaltz, and with a deftness of wit and a lightness of touch that makes it endlessly compelling. And Dustin Hoffman? Acting god (or goddess, in this case).

 

My Dinner with Andre [1981]mydinnerwithandre1
• Unmissable
Life, the Universe and Everything; just a handful of the topics covered by Wallace Shawn’s and Andre Gregory’s ontological dinner table conversation. The last few lines of dialogue from the eponymous Andre are bittersweet, thought-provoking, and encompassing of humankind’s narrow perception of time, memory and love. I’m pretty sure these two souls barely touched their food.

pianoteacher1The Piano Teacher (La pianiste) [2001]
Michael Haneke teases the rift between complexity and simplicity, artistry and impulse, desire and disappointment with his typically bleak look at a sexually repressed piano teacher on the verge of an erotic awakening.

 

Monsters University [2013]monstersuniversity1
A Monsters sequel with all the requisite heart you’d expect, with a pinch less of the effervescently inventive writing of the first film – yet it houses a closing message that’s brave, realistic and fitting of contemporary times.

limey1The Limey [1999]
Flashback and flashforward lose all meaning in Steven Soderbergh’s jigsaw revenge flick, where the LA heat melds time and memory in a sun-bleached haze. As fractured in form as its jazz-flecked soundtrack, Soderbergh proves to be a master of the medium in a commercial release, while Terence Stamp doles out cockney insults in a memorably nasty role.

The Deep (Djúpið) [2013]deep1
While suffering from an absence of properly constructed pace, The Deep still hits emotional marks and is gripping in its more dramatic moments, the premise itself dragging you along at the very least.

westealsecrets1We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks [2013]
• Recommended
Intelligent people talking about important things; this document of Julian Assange’s and Bradley Manning’s story is not only intensely topical, but articulate on how we operate in a surveillance society.

Troll 2 [1990]troll2
Lauded as one of, if not the, worst film of all time, Troll 2 has enjoyed a cult following in recent years thanks to its incredible ineptitude in all areas of cinematic expression. Words cannot describe just how awful it is, so you will have to watch it…

bestworstmovie1Best Worst Movie [2009]
… and once you have, you’ll need to check up on this thoroughly excellent documentary on Troll 2‘s success as a cherished piece of celluloid excrement. As intentionally funny as its subject movie is unintentionally funny, the insights of the people behind this movie, and what drives them, is a wonderful document of delusions, good intents, and hearts being in the right place – despite the shlock that ends up on camera.

The World’s End [2013]worldsend1
• Recommended
Rounding off the Cornetto trilogy in style, Edgar Wright has crafted another gag-a-minute slab of British humour, genre thrills and spills (mainly the spills), worthy of standing in the same company as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

pusher2_1Pusher 2: With Blood on My Hands [2004]
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher films are the definition of ‘gritty’; they’re also prime examples of characters who’ll do awful things to get what they want. Denmark has never been portrayed so realistically – in all the grime its darker circles can offer, there isn’t much light, but plenty of red to be found.

Pusher 3: I’m the Angel of Death [2005]pusher3_1
Each film in the Pusher saga feels like an episode in an ongoing series; as if the lives of these likeable scumbags continue on once the film’s stopped rolling. Shooting people dead, cutting them up, stealing, murdering, cheating, betraying – take your pick, for these Danish miscreants are prone to even worse moral aberrations under Refn’s violent mastery.

mallrats1Mallrats [1995]
This rocky Kevin Smith comedy is sandwiched between the timeless Clerks and the excellent Chasing Amy in his Jersey Trilogy, and as a result it possesses more of the pop culture reference and comic book-style quirks that fans love – and detractors hate.

springsteenandi1Springsteen & I [2013]
The Boss gets his own clip show, and this cinema-ready experiment sees his fans send in video blogs of themselves describing what Brucey means to them. It’s heartwarming, with a bit of weird, and isn’t exactly a documentary by any conventional standard – but it is charming, and features some incredible old footage of Springsteen doing his thang.

nightofthehunter1The Night of the Hunter [1955]
• Recommended
Robert Mitchum gives a towering performance as a bible-toting predator, seeking the hidden fortune of a poor, damaged family. The plot unfurls and morphs in quick succession, flinging itself into darker and more interesting territory; this gives it the edge over similar dark thrillers of the period, its hybrid of fairy tale and noir an evolution of Hitchcock’s 1943 Shadow of a Doubt.

Wadjda [2013]wadjda1
On one level, Wadjda is an inconsequential family drama. On another, it’s a groundbreaking cinematic statement; it’s Saudi Arabia’s first film from a female. Haifaa Al-Mansour’s tale is barebones, but always whimsical and swift, and what this film means to its culture – by the matter of its very existence – is enough to warrant it as one of the year’s most important.

easymoney1Easy Money (Snabba cash) [2013]
With characters you haven’t quite seen yet in thrillers, this Danish cat-and-mouse picture is topical enough to root it firmly, and just violent enough to leave you thrilled, and by the end, exhausted (in a good way).

Season of the Witch [2011]seasonofthewitch1
• Avoid
What a detestable piece of rubbish. Literally, rubbish – someone throw this away, now please.

vampireskiss1Vampire’s Kiss [1988]
On paper, Vampire’s Kiss is an interesting psychosexual thriller that may have a bit too much inherent silliness to be taken seriously, but still an intellectually stimulating movie about a yuppie whose life is falling down around him due to mental illness. What is it instead? One of the most misjudged, poorly written and directed pieces of garbage the late eighties ever had to suffer. But with that, it falls into the same territory as The Room or Troll 2: it is, in fact, a great bad movie. And what is the single ingredient that elevates it to this level? Nicolas Cage’s performance. Film journalism wasn’t created with the capacity to begin to describe Cage’s acting antics and exploits in this movie, so a quick search of ‘Vampire’s Kiss greatest hits’ should suffice.

The Rock [1996]rock1
One of Michael Bay’s ‘finer’ efforts, the explosions take a bit of a backseat as Cage and Connery entertain in this stunt-tacular popcorn flick. Unfortunately, it’s still a Michael Bay film.

frozenground1The Frozen Ground [2013]
Solid thriller featuring economic performances from Cage and Cusack, and a breakout role for Vanessa Hudgens. Surprisingly gripping, well-made, if failing to quite get the heart rate going.

Judgement at Nuremberg [1961]judgementatnuremberg1
• Unmissable
Drama does not get better than this. The war crimes of WWII are put under the microscope in 1948, following the dissolution of the Third Reich; endless ethical perspectives shower the situation, and no real answer evidently possible. The climactic courtroom scenes are given space to breathe by quieter, character-building moments, and while its black-and-white morality may test the patience of some, its the depiction of these characters, defendants and prosecutors, being put through the biggest wringer human history ever had that makes this indispensable cinema for the ages.

breathein1Breathe In [2013]
Dripping in the same woozy style of Like Crazy, director Drake Doremus’ latest offering houses a central forbidden love that isn’t entirely convincing, despite Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones’ best intentions. Music doesn’t have to be this heavy a metaphor, guys.

Frances Ha [2013]francesha1
When we escape the initial group of insufferably cool NY trend-fringers, Greta Grewig finally gets to shine as a 27 year-old teenager in this effervescent indie. Director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg) has a knack for writing characters that aren’t particularly nice, but drawing out affection from us regardless; Frances Ha is no exception, and during her struggle of finding herself in the grown-up world, we relate to her and care for her despite her imperfections – just like a real friend.

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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