Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | October 2013

I look back at the films I watched in 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.


October, you heathen. Here I am, slugging my guts out working in an office in a foreign country – albeit, a great office for a great publication – and my film watching has consequently suffered. But that’s just because things are different over here in the UAE; the reception of cinema is an entirely different beast, and the release dates of movies can be swapped around willy-nilly, and people’s interaction in the auditorium is a marked contrast to the way a Western picture house’s audience is. It all makes for a discombobulating experience. However, I still managed to squeeze in a few photoplays around my hectic schedule (if you know me personally, that should come as no surprise), and discovered possibly my favourite movie of the year. Read on to find out (the suspense is killing me).

• 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

~ ~ ~

planestrainsautomobilesPlanes, Trains & Automobiles [1987]
While John Hughes’ buddy-road movie is admittedly lightweight, its extremely broad and earnest disposition is exactly why the movie endures as a comic classic. The real-life cartoon feel that it vessels is of the type that the likes of Grown Ups 2 so keenly attempt to emulate, but consistently fails. Why? Because they’ll never match the brilliant wit underneath all the tomfoolery.

For —

The Bad News Bears [1976]badnewsbears1
For many, The Bad News Bears isn’t just a sports movie. It’s a snapshot of a particular time, place and most importantly, a mood; even Richard Linklater, articulate painter of atmospheric Americana, couldn’t recapture the same qualities in his 2005 remake. After all, even though The Bad News Bears is a timeless depiction of a surly mentor getting a bunch of rough-and-ready kids to work together toward a common goal, it’s really about the zeitgeist of mid-70’s USA. To truly understand it, you’d have to travel back in time and play ball on those sunny, endless fields for yourself.

runnerrunner1Runner Runner [2013]
In potentially the most dithering thriller to come out this year, Justin Timberlake is affable as ever as a student who’s been financially F.U.B.A.R. by an online gambling company. Ben Affleck is clearly having buckets of fun playing the villain, but the plot insists on being derivative to the point of laughter, and once the obvious ‘prestige’ moment finally, inevitably happens, it makes almost zero impact because it forgot one, super-special thing; be involving.


The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza) [2013]greatbeauty1
If you cut around an hour out of 
The Great Beauty, we would have one of the finest films of the year in our hands. What we have, instead, is a merely great one; moments of stark truth, juxtaposed by director Paolo Sorrentino’s flair for the vaudeville, makes for a whirlwind tour of a colourfully lit, achingly artistic Rome as our protagonist Jep Gambardella navigates the endless parties and tiresomely indulgent discussions about art that attract Italy’s elite. Even though Jep appears bespoke for his suits and not the other way round, and his eyes are constantly framed by designer sunglasses, his Fellini-esque search for something real among the blinding glitz is entirely relatable thanks to a charismatic inhabitation by Toni Servillo. And despite its love for narrative divergence, the last fifteen minutes are sublime.


In A World… [2013]
As long as movies like In A World… are being made, there is hope yet for original, witty, genuine indie filmmaking in the 21st century. A wannabe voiceover artist struggles to break away from the shadow of her male counterparts, not so much trying to change the world but make her own voice be heard (ha) in the trailer business. Is it a study in feminism? No, it’s not that hard-headed; it portrays sexes as things that collide, combine, unravel and envelop one another, and do so hilariously in the instance of this wonderful indie treat. Lake Bell is a director, writer and actor to watch.

Man on the Moon [2000]manonthemoon1
When you think of Jim Carrey’s best dramatic performances, you’ll probably think of either Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or The Truman Show straight away. But have you seen Man on the Moon? At the turn of the century, Milos Forman released this beautifully constructed and paced ode to one of Earth’s most lateral-thinking entertainers, Andy Kaufman, and while it treads a bit too closely to biopic trends now and then, it succeeds by merely gripping tightly onto a strong thematic groundwork, and carrying through with it to its (triumphant) end.

kingofthehill1King of the Hill [1993]
• Recommended
Possibly Steven Soderbergh’s most under-looked film, this is a heart-wrenching period piece concerning the plight of a young boy, mercilessly flung into the blind spot of adults everywhere while the Great Depression howls around his neighbourhood’s dusty streets. It’s tragic, whimsical, and rooted firmly in a non-sentimental world free from syrupy cinematic clichés we’re used to in underdog stories, but one that’s full of magic in the form of kindness all the same.

Sunshine on Leith [2013]sunshineonleith1
I couldn’t help feeling that there was absolutely no point to Sunshine on Leith‘s existence upon exiting a screening, as cynical as that sounds. Dexter Fletcher should be admired for taking on a musical for only his second feature, a complete sidestep from the gritty London-set drama-comedy of his excellent debut Wild Bill, but in terms of craft this feels like a slight regression. Nonetheless, the perky Proclaimers tunes will win you over by the end – but that’s still ninety minutes of having the feeling that you’ve just wandered into a room and forgot what you went in there for.

I c-


Filth [2013]
Defying the viewer at every turn, Filth sadly probably won’t get many followers initially. It’s just too sick. Too obtuse. And for all its beige-stained dreariness and gruey pitch-black humour, it’s utterly and wholly cinematic. It gorgeous cinematography juxtaposes the movie’s often horrifying images, while James McAvoy’s performance is a powerhouse of depravity and gurgling, insane, sexually twisted and morally deviant brilliance. Filth is just the reverse.

American Mary [2012]americanmary1
While I’m certainly a bit late with watching some movies (at least I get there eventually, okay?), low-budget doozies like American Mary are worth the wait. Much like the superb Australian teen ‘torture porn’ flick The Loved Ones, it takes great pleasure in subjecting its characters – goodies and baddies – to the most base punishment. It’s frequently glorious in short (blood-red) spurts, but its screenplay lets it down in the third act; despite this, it’s a must-catch for lovers of… well, whatever these type of movies are.


How I Live Now [2013]
Whenever Kevin Macdonald is attached to a project, amazing things are expected; MarleyThe Last King of ScotlandTouching the Void – all superb pieces of intelligent entertainment. It’s a disappointment, then, that his latest fails to hit such heights, and for mainly one reason; Saoirse Ronan’s Daisy, an ultra-moody American teenager who travels across the Atlantic to English shores during the threat of WWIII, is entirely unconvincing as a main character to fully get behind, thanks to some uncharacteristically inconsistent acting from Ronan (a first for her career so far), and a screenplay that entirely undermines any sense of an arc Daisy should go through. 


Solaris [2003]solaris1
Addressing the galaxy-sized elephant in the room, no – this is not as good as Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 Solaris. And yet, it’s still unfair to compare it, as Steven Soderbergh’s version goes back to the source novel and convincingly makes a fresh, more personal story from its pages. Even though Stanislaw Lem, author of Solaris, dismissed the George Clooney vehicle as ‘Love in outer space’, it’s still hypnotic viewing, and a great example of what science fiction is really about; how ordinary people react in extraordinary circumstances.


Confessions of a Dangerous Mind [2003]
Staying on the Clooney wagon (which doesn’t go over that many bumps), his debut feature as director is an assured, almost meta-styled piece of work. Chuck Barris, played with typical relish by Sam Rockwell, is your regular game show host – until he’s recruited by the CIA to kill enemies of the state. During this major career change, Barris undergoes what one could call severe stress, as he meanders through the consequences of his actions – including coming up with soul-destroying ideas for game shows along the way.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 [2013]cloudywithachanceofmeatballs2_1
Remember the sheer glee of watching Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs? The skewed humour, the slick animation, the disarmingly up-front emotion? Leave any notions of those returning at the door, for most of the 2009 animation milestone’s traits are gone in favour of an extremely stunted script. The villain is dreadfully annoying, the animation – while still slick – is bizarrely repetitive in its sugar-infused kinesis, and a handful of characters that were so brilliant in the first film are relegated to nothing more than periodic comic relief. Having said that, the food animal puns never wear out. Shrimpanzee!


The Butler [2013]
Excellent performances all round (an extra-special tip of the hat to David Oyelowo, who’s continuing his steady climb to acting greatness), but The Butler is a river of sentimental syrup. Its level of artistry doesn’t match its historic sweep, which it aches for so badly – but despite this, it is emotionally involving, though be that solely from the actors as opposed to a story that’s too overstuffed with moments that try to show the entire century-deep reach of slavery, when really it just needed to concentrate more on the (rather excellent) dinner table stuff. That’s the story we want to see more of.


Escape Plan [2013]escapeplan1
• Avoid
For a film that puts logic on a pedestal, Escape Plan is spectacularly – no, stupendously dumb. While Arnie is clearly having fun as Sly’s slightly crazed fellow inmate, the final twenty minutes of schlocky, stupid ‘action’ hammer in the nails on the coffin of a movie, or the idea of a movie, that was already dead long before the script dropped on Stallone’s doormat. Oh, and 50 Cent’s in it.


Gravity [2013]
• Unmissable
After watching Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, I immediately went into the gents’ toilets and locked myself in a cubicle to gather myself. I didn’t come out for ten minutes. 

Diana [2013]diana1
Wrong-headed tripe from a great director who should know better, and an astonishing actress who probably couldn’t say no to what was probably a whopping big paycheck, after turning down the damn part three times before finally accepting. This is not the worst film of the year, but it’s definitely not ‘good’ on any level you’d care to mention – including even Naomi Watts’ performance.


Ender’s Game [2013]
Most of Ender’s Game has thick lashings of CGI hitting the screen, while some kind of convoluted story attempts to gain traction underneath. And for all the movie’s investment in dreams as a lynchpin of the story, the most cinema-ready of concepts, it seems to almost decide against using this in any convincing way. Perhaps this should have been left on the page, for there’s nothing really new to learn from Ender’s experience here thanks to characters with ill-defined motivation, and Harrison Ford’s loud grumbling blocking out all other noise for the entirety of the movie.

Follow the editor @GaryGreenScreen


About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.


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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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