Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | November 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.


 

Arriving back from the Middle East, I immediately sought to indulge in as many films as humanly possibly. I didn’t do too badly, and I came across some fantastic blasts from the past (Grosse Pointe Blank, Notting Hill) and some modern classics in the making (Captain PhillipsPhilomena), and all the while realising that 2013 has been the best year the movies has seen for a long, long time; the Telegraph’s fantastic critic Robbie Collin noticed it too. So coming toward the end of a vintage cinematic year, please read on and revel in what I’ve managed to see in November.

P.s. please, please watch Short Term 12. Stream it, rent it, buy it – any way you can. We need to support this kind of incredible independent filmmaking.

• 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

~ ~ ~

grossepointeblank1Grosse Pointe Blank [1997]
With a screenplay that trumps convention for realism (despite its ludicrous premise), and John Cusack at his most – get ready for it – Cusackesque, this late-nineties comedy thriller about a hitman caught in the bitter throes of ennui returning to his hometown toes the line successfully between romcom and actioner. In choosing his questionable carreer, Martin Blank left his more innocent high school days far behind him – and the girl of his dreams, too. This is smart, funny, and the kind of mid-budget movie that we’re seeing less and less of sixteen years later.

For —

A Fish Called Wanda [1988]fishcalledwanda1
The movie that remains the only comedy that contains an Oscar-winning performance (an on-fire Kevin Kline),
A Fish Called Wanda is an unlikely creature; its flawless merging of British and State-side humour and genius pitching of Python alumni against American stalwarts, it’s a tightly scripted comedy caper classic that, despite its dated aesthetic now, continues to remind viewers of its freshness when it comes to all things funny.

upsidedown1Upside Down [N/A]
Upside Down still doesn’t have a UK release date set, and that’s probably for the best. Wasting two extremely charming and believable performances from Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst (and her dimples) with a hideously executed aesthetic design, its lurid hues and unforgivably drab CGI robs it of the joy that should otherwise be easily gleamed from such a batshit plot.

 

Thor: The Dark World [2013]thorthedarkworld1
Continuing their unmitigated success in (and monopoly on) the cinema, this delightfully silly sequel is cut less from the Shakespearean cloth of its Kenneth Branagh-directed predecessor, and instead prescribes to all-out fancy in terms of intergalactic action, and much more of the same impetus and mean streak of humour that drove the first Avengers Phase 3 film, Iron Man 3.

captainphillips1

Captain Phillips [2013]
• Recommended
When you see Paul Greengrass’ latest, in which Tom Hanks stars as the titular seafarer who undergoes the horror of a pirate invasion on his and his crew’s cargo ship, there’s a solid chance you may exit with no fingernails left. Orchestrating layer upon layer of increasing drama with delicately nuanced performances, turning tension into a full-blown artform unto itself, It’s remarkable Greengrass keeps such a level head when it comes to the morally rocky waters Phillips’ boat navigates. It’s superbly crafted, and sports a transparency that’s absolutely vital to modern times, whether you’re sailing round the horn of Africa or sitting at home. And the final few minutes, in which we witness Phillips’ emotional reaction to the events that befall him, are Tom Hanks’ finest.


Last Vegas [2014]lastvegas1
Douglas. De Niro. Freeman. Kline. As far as names go, these may as well be ten-foot slabs falling from the sky upon their utterance, landing before us mortal cinema-goers like a new batch of commandments from Movie Moses. Shame about the film, then;  aside from a few good gags, it’s derivative to the point of laughter, and emblematic of cynical filmmaking in a post-Hangover world.

nottinghill1Notting Hill [1999]
Richard Curtis knows how to write a character, even though they’re essentially derived from the same template in each of his films. They always work, however, mainly thanks to the casting; here, Hugh Grant has never been Grantier, and Julia Roberts shows off her vulnerable side before she got, well, boring. Much solid English humour and Curtis’ typically aloof subsidiary characters (none better here than Rhys Ifans) abound in this pre-millennial romantic classic.

The Counsellor [2013]counsellor1
What went wrong? Or, more to the point, how? This star-studded turd had the right above all others to succeed on every level; Ridley Scott directing, Cormac McCarthy writing, with Pitt, Bardem, Cruz, Fassbender fronting it all. The problem lies in McCarthy’s verbose screenplay, which moves via many similar plot machinations as his masterful novels, a few of which having been turned into cinematic magic themselves (No Country For Old MenThe Road). But here, it’s dense with moral divergence in place of genuine exploration, or even simple discourse, and populated with horrific set pieces that do nothing to heighten the absolute disaster that is the end product. It doesn’t get an ‘Avoid‘ stamp, because you need to see this to understand its complacency for yourself.

I c-

fasttimesatridgemonthigh1

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]
While many cite this stone-cold teen classic primarily as a showcase for Sean Penn’s early ‘cowabunga’ phase, it’s also notable for eliciting the same kind of nostalgia the best of the genre all succeed in doing. Warning: you may have a particular fondness for the colour red afterward.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire [2013]hungergamescatchingfire1
Franchise sequels have never worked; comprised soley of studio hunger and screaming fan desire, they’re always born from an unhealthy place and result in bitter disappointment for fans and the more casual movie goer. Catching Fire is the triumphant exception, where the terrific Jennifer Lawrence and her smart heroine Katniss trump totalitarian evils from the confines of a battle arena. An absolute, unexpected blast that actually builds on the first instalment.

philomena1

Philomena [2013]
• Recommended
With possibly the most sensitive and subtle direction you’ll have seen all year, Stephen Frears illuminates an already moving true story to rich, thematic heights with two exceptional showcases from a grumbly Steve Coogan and an effervescent Judi Dench. Philomena works most, however, because it’s grounded in a bittersweet reality; you won’t find any histrionic Oscar clips here, and it’s all the better for it. —

The Family [2013]family1
Luc Besson, what have you done? What did you do with your rich, idiosyncratic personality that bled through every frame of your previous work? When did you become so cynical? And why is De Niro still here?

domhemingway1

Dom Hemingway [2013]
This is Jude Law’s offering to the acting gods. Channeling the dirge of Trainspotting with the ragged chic of Mick Jagger, this is his best role, the kind where you can’t take your eyes off the screen for fear of missing the smallest twitch of oozing character. Shame about the rest of the film, which flops along too much on the strength of Law’s cockney bastard relic of a bygone time of English eccentricity and boisterousness.

Don Jon [2013]donjon1
Proving to be as remarkably confident a director as he is a bonafide film star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut behind the camera sees him as a pick-up artist with his priorities in all the wrong places (along with his genitalia). Some sterling writing and a willingness to tackle subjects most people wouldn’t dare dream about raises this far above expectation.

shortterm12_1

Short Term 12 [2013]
• Recommended
Not many saw this coming when it arrived on British shores. Boasting mainly unknown talent, it ripped the preconceptions of what an American indie is all about and threw them into the air, delivering an uncopromising, brutal and beautiful look at a group of American youngsters on the overlooked fringes of society. We all need to support the magic that made Short Term 12, and all films like it, possible. And give Brie Larson an award or something.

 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty [2013]secretlifeofwaltermitty1
It would be fantastic to see Ben Stiller direct more prolifically in the future; the few he has turned out in the last decade have all been hits to varying degrees (Zoolander the best example, Tropic Thunder the worst), and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty sees him push in even more varying directions. This lonely man’s tale to redemption and making something of himself is flecked with whimsy and wit, and its fantasy sequences  are made successful thanks to a delicately judged blend of CGI and practical effects. It’s intermittently inspiring, hilarious and almost moving, and will go down either as a complete box office success, or is a cult hit in the making. Win-win either way.


enoughsaid1

Enough Said [2013]
Much has been said about Enough Said; how it’s a very ‘adult’ movie, how James Gandolfini shines in one of his final roles. But after the hyperbole, what we have left on our hands is a drama blessed with a naturalistic touch, wonderfully judged relationships between characters, all turning this into one of the year’s best drama. ‘Adult’? Try ‘universal’.

 

In Fear [2013]infear1
British horror isn’t dead, and it lives on in a crazed Wheatley-inspired hinderland. The forests of Ireland serve as the labyrinth in which our annoyingly loved-up protagonists are caught up in the affairs of what seems to be a cult. Veying for building suspense and a prevailing mood of dread over schlocky jump scares (easily succumbed to, considering the project’s ultra-low budget), it’s an effective and always chilling reason why we need to keep pumpng funds into our country’s film industry.

selfishgiant1

The Selfish Giant [2013]
British indie of the year? There isn’t much to add to the praise that The Selfish Giant is currently buried under, except to say that the touching friendship displayed between incredible newcomers Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas, and what consequences the actions of adults will eventually have on them, will probably be the biggest emotional gut punch you’ll see from 2013.

cutieandtheboxer1Cutie and the Boxer [2013]
This overall quaint, but entirely transparent doc concerning the struggles that NY artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara face during their marriage is a quiet treatise on the balance between creativity and caring for the ones closest to you. It’s possible to think that no one particularly cares about these artists, now in old age and a world away from their heyday – but perhaps that’s the point? It’s a reflective look at two people who are forgotten to the world at large, exisiting in a seemingly never-ending cycle of rejuvenation and decline. 

computerchess1Computer Chess [2013]
What do you get when you cross Last Year at Marienbad, War Games and Brick? The result would probably still be a million miles away from the lurid rebus that is Computer Chess, but you might need at least some frame of reference before entering the geeks-shall-inherit-the-earth mazes of the movie’s hotel corridors and AI circuits. It increasingly blurs the line between documentary, comedy, and jittery mumbleporn bollocks, yet it never loses sight of making sure that being weird is, in the case of this movie, most definitely a quality and not a fault.

Blue is the Warmest Colour (La vie d’Adèle) [2013]blueisthewarmestcolour1
• Recommended
The Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival very rarely means a case for unmissable cinema. Take the winner two years ago, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – who holds that in as high a regard now the dust of its win has settled? At least as of late, the French jury are getting their act together; last year’s winner, Michael Haneke’s Amour, was a glance at love in the lives of old people. This year’s winner looks at love when it first begins to bloom, and is at its thorniest; in youth. Two astonishing performances from Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux trace a fractured relationship through different stages of young womanhood and, at a fleeting three hours, is a might to behold. Will we hold it in high regard in two years’ time? I think so.

——

leweek-end1Le Week-end [2013]
Like Blue is the Warmest Colour, this movie (set in France, but not spoken in French) also works because of the chemistry of its two fabulous leads. Watching the slow demise of a relationship has never been so entertaining; Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan’s toxic bickering makes it feel like they really have put up with each other for decades, and a stellar and surprising appearance from Jeff Goldblum is worth the price of admission alone (or for the DVD; good luck finding it anywhere now).

Like Father, Like Son (Soshite chichi ni naru) [2013]likefatherlikeson1
The Japanese seem able to grapple with familial troubles better than most other film-heavy countries, and Like Father, Like Son is no exception. When a hard-working family are informed that their son isn’t actually their own, and was swapped at birth, very big questions of nature versus nurture arise. Thankfully, in director Hirokazu Koreeda’s hands, they’re handled with extreme (and at times, heartbreaking) frankness, while also keeping a respectful, if slightly cold, distance. It’s cinema that gets you thinking, but more importantly works the cogs in the more important organ. No, not that one.

carrie2Carrie [1976]
Brian De Palma’s colourful back catalogue is studded with the gem that is Carrie, which isn’t your average supernatural teen horror. A coming-of-age tale like no other, there’s a lot of sexual frustration, crossed motivations, and blood. A bucketful of it, in fact, during the movie’s penultimate segment; the moments in which cinema’s most famous prom turns sour still hit hard today, delivering the strongest anti-bullying lesson seen on screen.

Carrie [2013]carrie1
Kimberly Peirce’s vaguely hued back catalogue is effectively ended with Carrie, which is your average teen horror with some added supernatural stuff. A coming-of-age tale like many others (minus the aforementioned stuff), there’s a lot of sexual frustration, crossed motivations (apparently between the studio and the set), and blood. A fuckton of it, in fact, during the movie’s inevitable segment; the moments in which cinema’s most famous prom goes all Michael Bay still dulls the mind today, delivering the strongest anti-remake lesson seen on screen.

savingmrbanks1Saving Mr. Banks [2013]
Saving Mr. Banks, as you would have it, is a bit of a landmark in today’s cinematic landscape. For one, the lead is a middle-aged woman; how many big-name studio films around now can boast that? Another is the confidence in its own storytelling; striping the main narrative with a lot of (maybe too much) flashback, it reaches a nadir in which all our characters’ fears and desires come fully to the fore. Emma Thompson, you deserve a solid slap on the back for your performance. Tom Hanks, your moustache deserves an award all of its own. 

Prince Avalanche [2013]princeavalanche1
Coming off the broad comedy merry-go-round of Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter, David Gordon Green directs fantastic about-turns for Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, a duo of line painters set to restore the roads in the American wilderness in 1988 following a massive forest fire. The period, even the fire, barely serves as backdrop, as we become embroiled in the refreshing simplicity of two guys shouting at each other in the woods. It’s a wonderful step back in the right director for Green; next year’s Joe should be one to watch out for.

journeytoitaly1Journey to Italy (Viaggo in Italia) [1954]
Journey to Italy, Roberto Rossellini’s English-language feature about a British married couple in the throes of domestic indifference, on a holiday to the climes of Naples, is praised as being one of – if not, the – best movies about romance ever made. While its qualities lurk beneath the surface (just like the volcano their villa lies in sight of), it’s difficult not to be effected in some way by George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman’s classic performances here.

Fast & Furious 6 [2013]fastandfurious6_1
I had finished watching Fast & Furious 6 the day before the tragic announcement of Paul Walker’s death. Did the movie take on a new, more sombre hue in my mind? Did I now see subtle touches that, without the lens of grief, were previously unknown to me? Nope; it’s still just cars smashing into each other, whiplash lines of dialogue laced with wit, and Vin Diesel being launched hundreds of feet through the air over a bridge. And it’s brilliant.

pervertsguidetoideology1The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology [2013]
Slavoj Žižek is a curious fellow. Through his shaggy-bearded perspective on politics, society, psychology – and ultimately, cinema – we learn new ways of seeing our world, and its seemingly endless layers of complexity. Essentially a two-hour lecture, it’s still no less a blistering account of the ways ideologies inform and in some cases, control us. Being inside Žižek’s head for that long should be considered a privilege. 

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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