Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | December 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.


 

Seeing out the year was, as usual, extremely busy; a new job, albeit temporary, swallowed up much of what should rightfully have been reserved for watching movies. But beside decrying the social norms of having a job – and a trenchant need for money – I still made it to the cinema, despite Christmas rains and New Year chills. I’m afraid to report there are no Unmissable stamps this month, but neither are there any Avoid ones either. December, you were distinctly beige when it comes to movies. Cheers.

Here’s to another year of great cinema.

badgrandpa1Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa [2013]
Okay, so the Jackass crew may be pushing it by releasing a film based soley on one of the show’s many characters – but it turns out the premise has legs (old, shaky ones). The geriatric miscreant who is very, very ‘Bad’ indeed finds himself in the unwanted position of having to take his grandson (equally very, very Bad) across the country to his father. Funny, if obvious occurrences ensue; old man gets his penis caught in a vending machine, you know the drill. But if you’re not tickled by Jackass’ unique cocktail of hurt and hilarity by now, what are you doing watching this in the first place?

For —

The Broken Circle Breakdown [2013]brokencirclebreakdown1
This may have been one of 2013’s most downer films, if it were not for the extraordinarily beautiful statements about life and love that litter the more heartbreaking moments in this story of two lovers who meet, fall in love, have a child together, and find happiness – only for it to be stripped from them savagely. Its themes may be too oblique for some, but its sensitive direction paves the way for what is ultimately an intensely moving portrait of grief.

fishtank1Fish Tank [2009]
Everything British cinema is good for can be found in Fish Tank, a gem from 2009, directed by Andrea Arnold and starring a pre-explosion Michael Fassbender and a remarkable, previously untapped Katie Jarvis. Its rough edges are curiously balanced by the delicate handling of its events, all smeared in the kind of bleakness only a British indie can have.

 

Parkland [2013]parkland1
Much negative criticism has been levelled at 
Parkland for its unwillingness to even slightly hint at conspiracy theories, and stick to the recorded history of what happened on November 22, 1963. Despite your personal beliefs, this is a decently constructed – and vanilla – look at one of the most important days in U.S. history.

bigbadwolves1

Big Bad Wolves [2013]
It’s always refreshing to see a genre movie made with more than a cloying adherence to the rule book; Big Bad Wolves is a perfect X-rated nastie, suited to midnight screenings with gore-flavoured popcorn. Though its technical proficiency isn’t quite there yet (the general camerawork feels uninspired, and the edits can destroy the pacing at times), the joy of seeing directors like Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado make films for themselves is a gleeful rarity.


Nebraska [2013]nebraska1
As far as monochrome road-movie family dramas go, Alexander Payne’s latest is up there with the best of ’em. Taking his trademark formula (less formulaic, but rather a stringent collection of themes, character traits and a superb sense of humour) and mixing it up with instantly classic performances from Will Forte and Bruce Dern, Payne has, miraculously, made a movie that can sit alongside 
Sideways and About Schmidt without fear of being overshadowed.

killyourdarlings1Kill Your Darlings [2013]
Scrappy, speechy and just a bit pretentious (though it can’t really help that now, can it?), Kill Your Darlings still features tremendous turns from Daniel Radcliffe – shrugging off those Harry Potter typecast shackles faster than anyone ever anticipated – and especially from Dane DeHaan, and sports a fresh spirit that befits such literary heavyweights as Ginsberg and Carr. And we need to see more of Michael C. Hall in the movies. Like, now.

Leviathan [2013]leviathan1
Fish heads. Yuck. Salty water. Yuck. Sting rays cut in half. Yuck. This quasi-documentary is part polemic, part phantasm, and all hands on (deck). You won’t find a more visceral study of a subject for a while, and though 
Leviathan can be difficult to sit through, or to understand logically, that would be entirely besides the point; let it wash over you like the waves forever lapping against the fishing vessel, and you may feel as if you’ve been working the nets yourself.

I c-

oldboy1

Oldboy [2013]
Reviled on release for no discernible reason, Spike Lee’s English-language remake of the notorious Korean classic Oldboy doesn’t inspire much in the way of praise. But neither should it be hastily dismissed; Josh Brolin is a compelling, complex lead, and the horrific reveal is as elegantly and theatrically executed as in the original. But there lies the problem; there is nothing marking this out on its own. Lee could be commended for adhering to such rigorous verisimilitude – but could also be heckled for making us sit through another director’s vision, and not his own. 

Bullhead (Rundskop) [2013]bullhead1
Though not spectacular, this interesting drama is definitely worth a watch for Matthias Schoenaerts’ depiction of the manliest man that ever walked the Earth. The ugly truths concerning his character make for compelling viewing, in a movie that tiptoes black comedy and horrifying personal tragedy expertly.

frozen1

Frozen [2013]
Watch Tangled instead. There’s much to recommend in Frozen, especially a fresh spin on 21st-century love that is far overdue from Disney, and a talking snowman that provides plenty of surreal laughs, but what it has in outlook it lacks in depth.

Homefront [2013]homefront1
James Franco playing a redneck should be cause for celebration. It’s a shame that it’s wasted on this by-the-numbers action-thriller-schlock hybrid fronted by the none-shlockier Jason Statham. All hail the Stath, King of Shlock!

(And on a personal note to the filmmakers: Stop wasting my fucking time.)

,

hobbitdesolationofsmaug1

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug [2013]
Peter Jackson’s masterstroke in the second chapter of his Hobbit trilogy (and fifth film set in Middle-Earth) is to expand the world in terms of locations and characters, the fate of which we quickly come to care about. Extraordinary action sequences (barrels!), familiar faces (Legolas!) and one unforgettable encounter (dragon!) add up to make this finely-tuned slice of fantasy entertainment a worthy companion to the original trilogy.

The Gatekeepers [2013]gatekeepers1
Another bleak account from a country grappling with security, 
The Gatekeepers includes exclusive interviews with leaders of the notorious Shin Bet organisation, helping to colour the history of Israeli need-to-know bloodying a darker shade of red. Informative and unabashed in conveying the awful nature of some of the crimes and wrongdoings, it can smack of one-sidedness at times, but remains a potent study of yet another corner of the world caught in socio-political distress.

railwayman1

The Railway Man [2014]
Deep in the bowels of Lionsgate, a script landed on a boardroom table. Based on Eric Lomax’s account of being tortured as a P.o.W. at the hands of the Japanese during World War II, it had the instant-cry factor, plus the words ‘Oscar contender’ written all over it. Colin Firth as lead, perhaps? Sold. What the studio forgot to do was to allow a director to get behind the project, and truly invest themselves in the richness of the story; Jonathan Teplitzky has a decent stab at workmanlike craft here, but there’s simply no vision. No voice. And when there’s no voice, who would want to sit for two hours in the hope of hearing one?

 

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues [2013]anchorman2thelegendcontinues1
Any movie that opens with Ron Burgundy wrestling a Great White shark gets a thumbs up from me. But to get my honest opinion on the cult classic Anchorman‘s sequel, ask me again in nine years time; it took that long for the first to reach the sort of surreal hold it has on pop culture, and Factor 10 quotability. Talk to you in 2022.


fillthevoid1

Fill the Void (Lemale et ha’halal) [2013]
A chamber piece on the role of religion in everyday society, the customs present in Jewish life may surprise, even shock you; but in never judging what is right and what is wrong, Rama Burshtein’s deft observational skills forge a love story that is relatable with any degree of experience in matters of the heart, in any culture. 

 

American Hustle [2013]americanhustle1
• Recommended
Aside from the sensational hues of Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper’s outfits, American Hustle turns a kaleidoscope on ‘70s America where everything is bigger, brighter and a goddamn lot more funny than real life. Espousing big hair and a cavalier attitude to period verisimilitude, it’s neither social comment, cat-and-mouse thriller, caper comedy, or ensemble drama; it’s simply one of the most purely entertaining movies in recent memory.

dayofthedoctor1Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor [2013]
This wasn’t too bad, was it? Clearly lavishing in the budget bestowed upon the Doctor for his 50th anniversary, Stephen Moffat’s TV show takes cues from the past, present and future (including some well-judged cameos) to fulfill some sort of twisted prophecy laid out when the cult franchise first aired over fifty years ago. It’s an epic TV movie (shown in select cinema screens, hence its inclusion here) that extols the smarts and wit that’ve made Doctor Who a global phenomenon once again.

All Is Lost [2013]allislost1
‘Fuck’. Imagine that word screamed, cried even, raspy with dehydration at an endless pale sky and indifferent expanse of water. That’s the core of All Is Lost, in which Robert Redford fights for seafaring survival on his own, and almost wordlessly too. Despite its proclivity for edge-of-your-seat thrills, it’s a strangely calming viewing experience, as beautiful cinematography captures the true extent of the solo character’s odds against almost certain oblivion.

Follow the editor @GaryGreenScreen

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About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.

Discussion

One thought on “THE FILM JOURNAL | December 2013

  1. Brilliant once again. This will essentially become my ‘Film Journal’ for the January. Much like your November’s was my December.

    Posted by Hairy Mouth | January 10, 2014, 11:08 pm

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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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