Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | August 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 dates. Here are my thoughts.


August was a bizarre month, mainly for the fact that I can’t remember most of it; a two-week holiday from work helped my filmwatching greatly, but the hazy heat and blurred days mean I can’t even remember the movies properly. This latest instalment of the Film Journal, in which we have a grand total of two recommended stamps (yay) and two avoid stamps (boo), has helped me remember those lost days. I really need to have my memory checked out. Did Grown Ups 2 actually exist? Aw, damn.

• 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

~ ~ ~

depiscableme1Despicable Me 2 [2013]
Following 2010’s meagre children’s animation Despicable Me, a sequel was always inevitable following its financial success. Yes, there are a few more laughs, but the writing is also strained with attempts to enlarge the themes of parenthood running through this work to attempt to appeal to the adults watching. Just give us more of the minions, which is all anyone really cares about this franchise, and get on with it.

Man with a Movie Camera (Chelovek s kino-apparatom) [1929]manwithamoviecamera1
This formalist experiment endures in the film-watching consciousness – Sight and Sound includes it in its once-a-decade poll as one of the greatest movies ever made, and while it offers little in the way of emotional investment, it’s still a piece of art that blew wide open cinema as a medium to be reckoned with.

thewolverine1The Wolverine [2013]
Tthe Wolverine is the superhero movie as a slow-burning character study. It manoeuvres in a very formulaic manner, ultimately coming to rest in the X-Men franchise as a solid, if minor piece of entertainment – though just not spectacular.enough to be particularly memorable.


Red 2 [2013]red2_1
The world’s most blasé comic book movie gets an even more uninspiring sequel. At least Bruce Willis’ increasingly screen-penetrating aura of not giving an arse about anything actually suits his role this time.


The Heat [2013]
The convincingly comedic pairing of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy makes for something we haven’t seen for a long time; a genuinely funny buddy cop movie. Coming in at approximately three gags a minute – that’s a lot, but not passing 21 Jump Street levels of side-splitting – expect a sequel in a couple of years following its onscreen, and commercial, accomplishment in the jocular area.


Only God Forgives [2013]onlygodforgives1
The most convincing portrayal of a nightmare ever put up on a movie screen. Refn’s largely wordless, claustrophobic, frustrating and always achingly beautiful film is an acute migraine of artistic intent and narrative looseness. As an offshot, the director’s obsessively designed digital cinematography single-handedly spells the end of 35mm – though despite these lauds, it’s impossible to recommend the movie to anyone expecting a Drive 2.

codeunknown1Code Unknown (Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages) [2000]
Haneke constructs his own Babel / Magnolia ensemble movie. There isn’t much to impel the characters, or us as viewers, and the movie’s ‘code’ definitely remains unknown by the end – but this type of cryptic canoodling bears a compelling magic in Haneke’s hands, as he composes thrilling individual moments of love, hate and the stuff between.


The Orphanage (El orfanato) [2007]orphanage1
Joins The Sixth Sense as the most moving horror film around. The Orphanage‘s smart scares help tie down a very tragic story – tragic, not because of the supernatural, but because of very human actions that transpire; in that light, it’s horror at its thematically purest.


Ordet [1955]
• Recommended
Master auteur Carl Theodor Dreyer crafts this impeccable study of the lives of a family ripped asunder and brought together, in equal measures, by their faith. Take it as a contemporary Jesus tale, like his his The Passion of Joan of Arc before it, but  Dreyer’s apparent pro-religion aim never gets in the way of the characters, but instead enhances their tale.


From Up on Poppy Hill [2013]fromuponpoppyhill1
Studio Ghibli always paint their small stories with big themes, and their latest animation is no different; while suffering an overarching feeling of slightness that’s usually typified in most Ghibli films by an air of low stakes, once this cracks into gear it’s a lovely little tale of equal whimsy, though hangs heavy with adult themes that its innocent children should never have to carry.


Blackfish [2013]
A moving documentary of oohs, aahs, and orcas. While not as informative as you may want from a doc, as an environmental and social statement it works fine, and if it compels you to fight for its cause – which it does – then it’s fulfilling its purpose.


Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa [2013]alanpartridge1
Ah-haaaah ha ha ha ha ha.. Alpha Papa is a triumph in two senses. The first is that it successfully translates Alan Partridge’s hilarious TV act into a cinematic one with ease, thanks to its zippy screenplay and deft balancing of its characters. The second is that it makes you laugh very hard, many times, which is what this Norfolkian (Norwichee?) is best for. British comedy class.


The Conjuring [2013]
Though it does descend into the usual chaos in the final act that seems to wantonly typify horror movies these days, Waan’s creepy tale is still a well-made and carefully constructed picture with characters to actually care for – a rarity in the genre.


The Lone Ranger [2013]loneranger1
• Avoid
While the cinematography can be inspiring at times (most indoor scenes are incredibly well lit), history will ultimately forget this Pirates of the West folly thanks to a number of reasons. One of them is that it can’t decide what to do with its characters; another is that it is neither subversive or a homage; yet another is that it entirely fails to build its own mythology, thanks to Gore Verbinski’s predilection with shooting down his own moments that he probably thinks are iconic. Idiotic direction, stodgy-as-manure screenplay, and performances that focus on quirk as opposed to nuance bring this train wreck (of which there are three in this movie) crashing down. Disney, I’m glad you lost over $150 million with this mess. I’m glad.


Mirror (Zerkalo) [1975]
After probing the role of humanity on a cosmic scale with sci-fi classic Solaris, Tarkovsky did a U-turn with his next project, a small-scale, deeply personal autobiographical film by the name of Mirror (or The Mirror, if you’re feeling argumentative). He uses the cinematic artform to pierce the veil of not just his own life, but the history of his fatherland, interweaving realities with perspective. Cited by many as ‘impenetrable’, that just goes to convey there is a countless abundance of things about someone’s life that it must be truly unknowable to comprehend one as a whole concept – but flashing images at twenty-four frames a second seem to do a good job of at least dividing it up, allowing us to digest its ineffability with some scrimp degree of insight, and there are still many pleasures embedded deep in its celluloid. Evidently, even Andrei Tarkvosky didn’t truly know Andrei Tarkovsky.


Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters [2013]percyjackson2_1
Playing fast and loose with Greek mythology, this sequel reiterates the modest, breezy yet entirely watchable first instalment in the Percy Jackson franchise. Thirteen-year old boys will love it, but you will probably be entirely indifferent.


RoboCop [1987]
Paul Verhoeven’s ultraviolent ’80s classic is an explosion of dark humour and gore by the pound. It also carries on Verhoeven’s gleeful subversive streak, marking RoboCop as a film that’ll last (and has lasted) through the years as a VHS classic. I.e., we don’t need the remake.


Capote [2005]capote1
Capote is too much in love with its subject to escape a leaden retelling, as opposed to letting its cinematic bird fly free from the usual constraints of the biopic. It’s consistently upheld from being entirely boring thanks to Hoffman’s astonishingly good performance, in which he inhabits Truman Capote’s skin. However, in celebrating its occasions without creating any sense of its own, Capote is a failure.


Manhattan [1979]
• Unmissable
Filled with the kind of neurotic, pretentious types Woody Allen loves to put under his bespectacled eye, including himself, this is widely regarded as his finest film. And for a good reason; its monochromatic palette vividly contrasts the stark difficulty the characters have in getting to know one another, and falling in and out of – what they believe is – love. As always, Allen proves he is the master of this type of not-quite-romcom, not-quite-drama storytelling, and leaves us with only the most important stuff: ‘You have to have a little faith in people’.


Kick-Ass 2 [2013]kick-ass2_1
Towering action scenes. Instantly classic characters. Virtuouso direction that blended subversion, humour and genuine homage to the genre. These are things that made the original Kick-Ass so great, and they are all missing from its bizarre sequel. Tonally anonymous, its story is great in on paper but is almost antiseptic in execution, and some truly horrific product placement helps further negate the entire ethos of Kick-Ass. It’s a flat-out disappointment; If Matt Vaughn were dead, he’d be turning in his grave.


Grown Ups 2 [2013]
• Avoid
Is it possible to be racist, misogynistic, plotless and humourless in one film? Yes it is, and this sequel proves it twice. At points in its increasingly depraved, meaningless, offensively trite goings on, it feels like you are not watching a movie screen, but instead staring into the abyss. Adam Sandler, with excrement like this, you are definitely not helping to fight accusations that you are, in fact, the Antichrist.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire [2005]harrypottergobletoffire1
Long, muddled, unfocused, but nevertheless an oddly leisurely trip with Harry Potter through his world of magic (and its themes of growing up, or whatever it is that the franchise thinks it’s about). These movies aren’t bad, per say – they’re just kind of, well, there.


2 Guns [2013]
Snappy dialogue and a good rapport between leads Wahlberg and Washington (that would’ve been a great alternative title, no?), 2 Guns surprisngly never subscribes to the action formula as we know it today. It prides conflict over explosions, intense mexican stand-offs charged with heated motives over mindless car chases. It’s smarter than your average Fast and Furious or Olympus has Fallen, though it’s ’80s buddy cop throwbacks can only go so far.


John Dies at the End [2013]johndiesattheend1
Presented in a mighty shit-hued palette of browns and greens,
it’s never clear if the film spearheads ambiguity or ludicity through its muddy vision. It does indeed boast some delightful old-school gore, but it’s designed for stoners, and made by people who think they love film but haven’t watched that many movies. What is John Dies at the End about? I’m not sure, and I’ve seen the damn thing.


Elysium [2013]
Visionary sci-fi sci-fi from an achingly talented director. Its script doesn’t quite match up to its visual grace or scope, and ends up being a bit of an action free-for-all in its final act, but Neill Blomkamp’s storytelling is always a joy to witness, and despite Jodie Foster’s unplaceable accent that is constantly searching for its owner’s mouth, it’s what could be called a ‘romp’ with a bit of added thought.

She’s Gotta Have It [1986]shesgottahaveit1
• Recommended
Just who is Nola Darling? Spike Lee’s debut proper is a confessional work of wit and sensuality, delving into some hard truths about relationships along the way. Think of this as the African-American answer to Manhattan, and you’re getting warmer – though you’ll have to view for yourself to enjoy Lee’s precursor to Do the Right Thing in all its laugh-out-loud, conversation-starting glory.


Jiro Dreams of Sushi [2013]
Jiro Dreams of Sushi isn’t about sushi, but rather the other noun in its title. It’s about people who dedicate their lives to something greater than themselves, taking place in Jiro’s three-Michelin Star restaurant where raw fish is fine art as well as food. Meanwhile, a classical soundtrack underpins the notion that a master is at work – and what a master.


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 smattering 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.


What Maisie Knew [2013]
Viewing the world through a child’s eyes would be full of vivid colour, and What Maisie Knew emulates this wonderfully; everything shines as if it were drawn with crayon. Sadly, the strife that adults leave in their wake is still apparent in a child’s life, no matter what kind of lens that is, and though Maisie is a resilient little creature, the ravages of separation and the hell that kids go through during it is at the forefront. Thankfully, this is an incredibly well-written, empathetic piece, with Alexander Skarsgård giving the standout performance; tall, hunched shoulders exhibiting a calm inner core but laced with the kind of passion and love that Maisie needs in her life.


Lovelace [2013]lovelace1
Boogie Nightmare. Though critically derided, Lovelace‘s period piece evokes a proper sense of nastiness about its subject, and its dual narrative structure is interesting enough to suggest the extent to what this one-time pornstar suffered.

leavinglasvegas1Leaving Las Vegas [1995]
Playing like a walking bassline on a alcohol-soaked instrument, this bleak but fizzy parable of excess doesn’t offer much in the way of narrative, and doesn’t need to; propelled by its two leads and their borderline-fetishistic needs, a wanton love is developed and rips the two apart in the dark heart of America’s seediest city. This is Nic Cage at his most chaotic, unpredictable, and brilliant – one of the few times a Best Actor Oscar is well-deserved above the rest.

Follow the editor @GaryGreenScreen

About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.


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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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