Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | September 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.


Zipping over to different countries has impeded my film-viewing slightly, but I’ve still managed to reel in some corkers (why the fishing reference? That’ll come to light soon). Werner Herzog’s batshit ode to mankind’s reach exceeding his grasp is glorious filmmaking on an incredible scale; the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, charting the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s batshit ode to his own reach almost exceeding his grasp is also glorious. We have astonishingly good English-language debuts (Prisoners), we have Thor going round in circles lots of times and really fast (Rush), we have Cate Blanchett talking to herself (Blue Jasmine). So read on, enjoy, and watch movies. (And there was no reason for the earlier fishing reference. But isn’t it nice to entertain a mystery? You can thank JJ Abrams for my masterfully enigmatic storytelling.)

• 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

~ ~ ~

MV5BMTc1MjA5ODY2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTk2MTQ1MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR3,0,214,317_The Wind that Shakes the Barley [2006]
• Recommended
Ken Loach’s stunning Palme D’or winner portrays 1920’s Eire as a melting pot of urgent decision-making, political angst and unbridled, entitled anger. Rifles, tinny-sounding to our big gun-accustomed ears, rattle away at the same rate and level as the insurgent’s voices, each individual screaming to be heard in a din of cultural ignorance.

The Way Way Back [2013]waywayback1
Uplifting in quiet ways, and never sentimental, The Way Way Back pits us an eighties coming-of-age story in a modern setting, and with modern characters; Sam Rockwell gives the archetypal Rockwell performance, and proves he is continually magnetic up on the screen – meanwhile, other characters that sidestep stereotype help lift this snugly framed dramedy to the kind of output that American indie is best for.

yourenext1You’re Next [2013]
… or: Waiting for the Next Person to Die. There’s some potential in You’re Next‘s brutal scenes, but infrequent bad acting and a dumb plot wrecks it all, bit by bit. It peaks for a few seconds during an initial dinner table argument (which is actually more violent than the physical kind that occurs in this movie), briefly delivering to us the American La règle du jeu. But then the rest of the movie happens.


Pain & Gain [2013]painandgain1
• Avoid
Bay’s tone never strikes the right balance of dark humour he so eagerly strives for, or helps his slapdash movie become the character portrait he wants to paint. Though his onscreen voice can’t be doubted (you always know you’re watching a Bay picture), there’s only so much rapidly orbiting camera movements and sub-par pulpy stylistic screenfucking you can take before you throw up in your cup holder. It’s not difficult to say this is better than Transformers (so is a cold sore) but you should avoid Pain & Gain. It’s a morally bankrupt, odious picture, and despite a loveable turn from Dwayne Johnson, is detrimental to all ethic structures in any movie-watching culture.

werethemillers1We’re the Millers [2013]
Though it follows the broad comedy template, it actually has you smiling for the majority, and despite its script flaws,there are at least one or two moments that will have you belly laughing. The family dynamic is sparse and forced, but the charm of the actors is just enough to coast it along – especially the fresh talent of Wild Bill‘s Will Poulter.


What’s Eating Gilbert Grape [1993]whatseatinggilbertgrape1
Leonardo DiCaprio is stunning in this early role as handicapped Arnie Grape, while Johnny Depp gives a wonderfully unassuming performance as the eponymous small round fruit. It’s a smalltown USA story, a backwater yarn, but yields a compelling resonance thanks to its focus on what’s happening in the world around the characters, despite how the film seems to focus on them. Some themes may feel slightly fumbled – the subplot of the mother here is shoehorned in, but ultimately cathartic – yet overall, this is a reliable star vehicle that always keeps on just the ride side of schmaltz.

midnightcowboy1Midnight Cowboy [1969]
• Recommended
Meet Joe Buck: he’s a wannabe hustler with a troubled past, but his American-Dream optimism propels him to leave Texas and seek out his seedy work in New York. Played with panache by John Voigt, and supported by a magnificent Dustin Hoffman as his unlikely manager-cum-friend (‘cum’ is the operative word in Buck’s profession), along the way on their Big Apple odyssey he meets strange people, gets into strange situations, and constantly battles disillusionment even with the onset of squalor and poverty. It’s an inverted look at the underbelly of this nation, and the nerve it hit upon its release in 1969 must have been a tender one.


Trading Places [1983]tradingplaces1
While its ideology is intact, the conceit of Trading Places relies heavily on suspension of disbelief; unfortunately, its execution relies too heavily on that, and its tone strikes too unbalanced a mix between social comemntary drama and comedy caper for it to ever fully empathise its otherwise likeable leads.


About Time [2013]
Love him or hate him, Richard Curtis is a man who knows how to make you weep. About Time takes a very English look at everyday life, and celebrates it through the prism of time travel. In many ways, this film is science fiction at its thematically purest, and even if its storyline negates its own world’s logic, it does so in the noble pursuit of showing that the little things are what’s important.

The New World [2005]newworld1
Terence Malick’s epic about the continuing discovery (read: invasion) of the Americas is epochal filmmaking, even though it wasn’t particulary noted upon its release. Nonetheless, its rivers run deep as this poetic melodrama unfolds the Pocahontas story in a magic, yet entirely relatable, way.


R.I.P.D. [2013]
If this was a Paul Verhoeven gig back in the ’80s, R.I.P.D. may have had a chance. Instead, we get Men in Black meets X-Files (great combo) sided with detestably bad CGI and lacklustre world-building (bad combo). Jeff Bridges though.


Riddick [2013]riddick1
Apart from its fantastic creature design in its highly involving first act, there’s not much to recommend the third instalment in this unique science fiction franchise. Essentially Vin Diesel’s baby (he invested a lot of his own money into the project, such is his bond to his ‘shine’-eyed antihero), it’s for fans of Riddick and fans of gruey
 B-movies only. Oh, and  fans of misogyny too.


Ain’t Them Bodies Saints [2013]
For all the talk of a Malickian-level debut of spiritual, poetic power, David Lowery’s first feature leaves a lot to be desired. It looks pretty with its ghostlike gestures and hushed, mumbled declarations of love experienced and love lost, but there’s never any real meat on its rather beautiful bones.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse [1991]heartsofdarkness1
As Coppola’s bulgy, topless figure waltzes about on the sets of the movie he deems, with equal parts vitriol and pride, is ‘not about Vietnam… my movie is Vietnam’, this is a stirring documentary on the pitfalls, headaches and near-death experiences suffered – and overcome – in possibly cinema’s most gruelling shoot. Directed by Coppola’s wife, it’s a rare insider’s look at one of the greatest examples of the cinematic artform, and the twisted legacy it left in its wake.


Rush [2013]
• Recommended
Ron Howard has crafted a beautifully realised, adrenalin burst of a drama that wisely revolves around Chris Hemsworth and Daniel 
Brühl’s powerhouse performances. But Rush‘s real merit lies in forging high-risk stakes not just on the track but off it, too, with Nicki Lauda and James Hunt’s bitter rivalry conveying the nature of opposites, and what it means to be truly competitive – albei in an endlessly entertaining, popcorn-munching way.


The Naked Gun [1988]nakedgun1
While its many gags fall flat nearly as many times as they soar high, The Naked Gun is symbolic of a time when comedy wasn’t
as pop culture-obsessed as it is now, and when sincere, original loopiness was enough to make your movie not just hilarious but also timeless.


Our Idiot Brother [2011]
It glides by without much consequence, but it’s light, airy disposition serves well for its neurotic yet likeable inhabitants. Paul Rudd’s character’s own social ineptitude serves as a moral basis for the movie, which is interesting; it has harder edges on paper, but on our screens? It’s just ruddy pleasant.


Prisoners [2013]prisoners1
Jake Gyllenhaal’s other oppressive two-and-a-half police procedural is a relentlessly dark, constantly thrilling flick that implores us to keep questioning things. Such a noble – and direct – impetus doesn’t mean that Denis Villeneuve, fresh from 2010’s astounding Incendies, loses focus on the plight of his characters. This has to be one of the best foreign-to-English debuts in recent memory (and in that respect, it floors Chan-wook Park’s Stoker).


V/H/S/2 [2013]
Superior in quality to its predecessor, V/H/S/2 combines and serves up a platter of decently crafted horror clichés, with the expected meta angle we’ve come to expect from similar exports of the genre. The storytelling here is surprisingly coherent and original; fans of snuff films, rejoice!


The East [2013]east1
Brit Marling’s position is an enviable one; not only is she the writer of her own original projects (such as 2011’s The Sound of my Voice and Another Earth), she’s also the star of them too. You might think such a rare combination of movie-star prettiness and playwright-like talent is a step away from almighty hubris, but Marling’s streak continues with The East, a lucidly contemplative and tightly-scripted anti-terrorism / anti-capitalism portent that plays like an intense character study despite its thriller elements.


Fast & Furious 6 [2013]
This shouldn’t be fun. Every cineaste in the world says this shouldn’t be fun. They can go to Hell. The moment that [SPOILER ALERT] Vin Diesel catches Michelle Rodriguez mid-air over a long drop in the middle of a  bridge before landing in each other’s arms on the bonnet of a car in a shameless actiongasm of CGI-tastic ridiculousness, you realise the people who made this movie are having a much better time than you right now. 


Heathers [1989]heathers1
Insensitivity becomes an artform in this alternative to your average high school drama. Dripping enormous glops of black humour at every turn, and with Winona Ryder’s beautiful and innocent Veronica stalked by the malodorous presence that is Christian Slater’s J.D., it’s a slightly forgotten gem, one that provided the template for the darker shades in the scripts of similarly off-kilter teen movies that followed, such as the moral levity and articulate vapidity that made Clueless such an enduring hit.


Blue Jasmine [2013]
• Recommended
You won’t hear anyone declaring Woody Allen should pack it in at his age. Everything about Blue Jasmine oozes vintage Allen, his decade-spanning charisma coming across in his wry narrative cross cutting, and his ability to absorb a city’s atmosphere in minutiae-centred mise en scene, but as always it’s the dialogue that’s the most inspiring, witty and truth-spouting instrument on display here. Oh, and Cate Blanchett’s winning that little gold man next year.

White House Down [2013]whitehousedown1
What happens when two films almost identical in plot and setting are released within mere months of each other? You see them both, of course. Thankfully, this one does everything Olympus Has Fallen did – that’s obvious – but better, mainly thanks to some bracing humour from Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx’s natural chemistry.


Spaceballs [1987]
Rick Moranis is by far the best thing about this paro-folly, but even his goofy-eyed lovability isn’t enough to save Spaceballs from feeling like it’s nothing more than Mel Brooks’ crap caught on a plate and smeared on a few thousand feet of celluloid (or, by comparison, David Zucker’s fart captured in a jar and fed into a movie camera).

Fitzcarraldo [1982]fitzcarraldo1
• Recommended
Werner Herzog comes across as a bit of a crazy guy, but his talent is in portraying crazy guys, and the lengths of drool-inducing lunacy they’ll go to in order to accomplish their goal. Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, released ten years before, might be a better example, but no one should forget this similarly-themed odyssey into the attainment of one’s dreams, and the struggles, consequences and indifferent shrugging of the universe around it. And if there’s one reason you need to see Fitzcarraldo, it’s because they pull a steamer over a mountain.

Follow the editor @GaryGreenScreen

About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.


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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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