Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | July 2014

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.



filmjournaljuly2014_1

Kinda Chilly in July.
The tail-end of a Nicolas Cage marathon began the month of July proper, while it was buffered by one of the best crime films of recent years – and also possibly the summer’s worst movie (hint: it’s got transforming robots in it). But that would take away from other travesties, like the black hole of comedy that is Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie, but the discovery of gems like Once saw that while July was a mixed bag for moviegoing, it was still worth wading through lesser works to find such beautiful, vital pieces of art. My aim for the next couple of months? Get back on the wagon of watching older movies; see where new films are coming from. The most exciting thing, of course, is not knowing where we’re going.

Read on, enjoy, discover.
– G.J.G.

• 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

~ ~ ~


matchstickmen1Matchstick Men [2003]
Now and then, Ridley Scott has a surprise up his sleeve. Matchstick Men is a supremely likeable, complex character piece that uses con artists as a backdrop, as opposed to being a plot receptacle for the movie. Nicolas Cage plays one of these con artists, suffering from O.C.D., and it’s one of his best performances – but a young Alison Lohman, his on-screen daughter, gives him a run for his money.

 —

Gone in Sixty Seconds [2000]goneinsixtyseconds1
Cage once again, in a lead role in an extremely popular action film. The problem is, Cage isn’t particularly decent here – not even allowed to go Cage-crazy even once – and as for the film itself? Sixty seconds isn’t quick enough.



walkingonsunshine1Walking on Sunshine
[2014]

Musicals are a great tradition of populist cinema, but as of late, they haven’t been getting the treatment they deserve. Even world cinema struggles with the concept, as 2011’s Beloved proved perfectly, while Mamma Mia helped to pigeonhole the sub-genre as a grey pound puller. Walking on Sunshine doesn’t help pull it out of the doldrums, but instead pushes it further down into TV-movie territory. If you like the tunes (and who doesn’t like a bit of eighties cheese?) then you could do much, much worse.

Seve [2014]seve1
This myopic documentary charts the life of golf superstar Seve from his first days of smacking a ball with a golf club made from a stick and tape, to his megastardom on the courses of the world. But none of it smacks true, and its dramatisations fall almost as flat as its pedestrian storytelling.




coldinjuly1Cold in July
[2014]

• Recommended
The opening shot of Cold in July is that of a wasteland, before pulling out to reveal it’s merely a painting hung on a family home’s wall. It establishes the tone perfectly for the rest of the movie, where a vast darkness lays just beneath the veneer of the everyday, the tame and the ordinary. And Michael C. Hall, in his first major movie lead, is perfectly cast as mild-mannered Richard, a frame salesman who inadvertently kills an intruder in his house. But when he realises that he has offed the son of the scarily dangerous Russel (Sam Shepard), who has just been released from prison, things start going wrong. Very wrong. And that’s not the only sudden turn in a storyline that resembles a Monaco racetrack; Jim Mickle navigates the grisly twists with characters that leap out from the screen – Don Johnson especially – and the kind of direction that makes the brutal beautiful, and delivers on the sweet promise of Stake Land and We Are What We Are. An absolute blast of engaging, riveting, thrilling, genre noir lashed with a brilliant eighties throwback electro soundtrack.

The Missing Picture (L’image manquante) [2014]missingpicture1
• Recommended
There’s a moment in The Missing Picture which has the power to make you weep with its tenderness, its poetry, and its horror. Flying children made from papier-mâché doesn’t sound like handkerchief-blowing material, but in director Rithy Panh’s glue-covered hands, this deeply personal account of the atrocity committed in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 is a revelation. Using models to reenact those events – for few photographs or video remain from that time – it’s the vision of a man who has, miraculously, articulated his grief into the most wondrous, heartbreaking art imaginable. Cinema may have given Pahn some release, but The Missing Picture, like last year’s The Act of Killing, serves as an eloquent, complex, yet hard-hitting reminder to never let things like this happen again.



transformersageofexctinction1Transformers: Age of Extinction
[2014]

• Avoid
A quote from Slashfilm’s interview with Ehren Kruger, the screenwriter of Transformers: Age of Extinction:

‘Whereas in some other films, or “ordinary” films, you might be very slavish to story and narrative first, and logical sense above all. When you’re talking about aliens, robotic machines which disguise themselves as vehicles and animals, you start to make your peace with the idea that logical sense doesn’t have to be the be-all, end-all. It needs to be amazing fun for the audience. They need to be swept up, and be promised that they’re going to see things that make it worth spending money on a ticket.’

Now, I may be completely bonkers here, but in my experience, I’m having ‘amazing fun’ most when I’m being ‘swept up’ by both ‘story’ and ‘narrative’. The two are held together by ‘logical sense’, because that’s the glue that keeps a movie together – whether it’s a small indie drama or a massive sci-fi blockbuster. The fact that Transformers: Age of Extinction is made by people who, it seems, don’t value the fact that lasting entertainment and enjoyment comes from craft, and love of that craft – which, with one viewing of these increasingly brainless movies can tell you, the makers have none of – makes you genuinely worry about the millions spent on such blockbusturds. We’ve come a long way since Jaws, it would seem.

Tammy [2014]tammy1
Tammy is bizarre purely for the fact that it exists at all. The product of husband-and-wife team Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone (both on writing duties, the latter directing), this road movie stays firmly in first gear as McCarthy as the eponymous, unlucky lead and Susan Sarandon as her boozy granny, Pearl, go on a road trip. It may sound a trite observation, but for the course of the movie, nothing really happens; Tammy holds up a fast food joint; Pearl gets loaded at a lesbian shindig; and all to not much consequence. No matter the quirks, McCarthy seems to have forgotten that her charm as a comic actor is in her resoluteness against her faults, not in the ‘fat woman fall down’ dogma.

 



mrsbrownsboysdmovie1Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie
[2014]

• Avoid
Robbie Collin of The Telegraph described this film as something approaching ‘anti-comedy’. He wasn’t far off. Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie is, without a doubt, the worst release of the summer, and possibly the last few summers (that’s including Keith Lemon: The Film), a howling void of comedy, talent, sanity, and humanity. In fact, this movie might very well be evil incarnate. Call the exorcist.
Read: How Ricky Gervais Predicted Mrs. Brown’s Boys

—1

The Anomaly [2014]theanomaly1
It’s a shame that Noel Clarke isn’t getting more recognition for leading the one-man charge to get British sci-fi off the ground again. In the age of Doctor Who, we should be seeing a glut of movies like Clarke’s Storage 24, and his new release, The Anomaly – in which Ryan (Clarke) keeps waking up at different parts of his life, except it’s not his own. The story unravels before him, and he’s in danger of doing the same himself. The Anomaly isn’t the greatest movie ever, constantly feeling restrained by budgetary limitations; but that’s missing the bigger point. We should be seeing more pictures like The Anomaly, in the same vein, but better ones.




wearewhatweare1We Are What We Are
[2013]

Like Unforgiven before it, this year has proven that remakes aren’t always a bad thing. With Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are, an American-set fable inspired by the Mexican version, spins the creepy yarn of a trio of daughters and a son under the iron will of their archaic-minded father. They have a dark, horrid secret – and they have to kill to keep it quiet.


The Last Days on Mars [2014]lastdaysonmars1
If you’re given the reigns to make a film, set on Mars of all places, about people rising from the dead, you’d imagine you’d be inspired to make some kind of metaphor-driven thriller, or perhaps a high-octane, effective chiller. What we get instead with The Last Days on Mars is the most prosaic zombie movie imaginable, that somehow doesn’t escape its clichés even though it’s on an entirely different planet.



europrareport1Europa Report
[2013]

Thankfully washing the taste of The Last Days on Mars away, this low-budget affair makes the greatest use of its confined settings, and uses hard science to back up the gripping realism, while heightening the mysteries of a largely unexplored universe. 

Begin Again [2014]beginagain1
Begin Again, despite its test-audience title (it was originally called Can a Song Save Your Life?), is an original and largely sentimentality-free work of warmth and wit. Ruffalo and Knightley are perfectly cast as the respective down-on-his-luck record label boss and undiscovered musical starlet; together, the story chimes as it drops in and out of its surprisingly excellently structured narrative, giving its characters plenty of wondrous moments to play off. And even if it gets by on mainly its utter charm for some of the more twee-centric segments (‘let’s record the album outside and capture the craziness of New York, man!’ – not an actual quote), that charm is at the least well-formed thanks to a chemistry not just between its leads, but from its director, John Carney.

d-



artofthesteal1The Art of the Steal
[2014]

Unlike its title, there is no art to be found here; a great cast led by Kurt Russell (though to be brutally honest, Russell is half its greatness) is let down by the most bogstandard ‘one last heist’ plot imaginable, and with twists that feel more like stabs in the back than revelations. 

Once [2006]once1
• Recommended
Dublin is turned into Swoon City as ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’ (Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová respectively) get it on. Or rather, they never actually get it on; their romance, told through music rather than words, ascends banal physicality and touches on something we all yearn for. In this big city, two tiny souls get close to it; you won’t be able to get  the song ‘Falling Slowly’ out of your head – or your heart – as a result.



deadmanwalking1Dead Man Walking
[1995]

Tim Robbins stepped from in front of the camera on a prison drama, and moved behind it, following The Shawshank Redemption; he fully proves his worth as a director whose level hand illuminates the intense guilt, denial and possible redemption that lays in wait for an inmate on death row. One of both Sean Penn’s (violent, snarky, embittered) and Susan Sarandon’s (naive, proud, conflicted) best performances, there are no easy answers to the themes nakedly on display in this tense film.

Grand Piano [2014]grandpiano1
Laugh-a-minute has never been so hand-in-hand with shock-a-minute. Elijah Wood and John Cusack both propel this odd, insane thriller into cultdom – and rightly so.
Read the review


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes [2014]dawnoftheplanetoftheapes1
Thanks to Matt Reeves, the theory that the blockbuster is alive and very, very well is proven once again with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the barnstorming sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Reeve’s new best film. Tonally dark, ideologically astute and, most importantly, always exciting, Dawn delves deep into the pit of humanity through the lens of apes that are increasingly becoming more conscious. Beautiful, brutal, and vital.


Grand Central [2014]grandcentral1
When a central romance isn’t explored to the extent of its own parameters, a movie can fail. And because of that, Grand Central almost does; but thanks to delicate direction and writing from Rebecca Zlotowski, this intelligent work on love and longing for it, set in a radiation-heavy factory, rises above its rather deep flaws – but never achieves its lofty promise promised by its ambitious metaphors. Léa Seydoux continues to prove herself as a real asset in world cinema, and hopefully will cross over to the English-language soon (a cameo in The Grand Budapest Hotel helps to cement that theory), while Tahar Rahim’s face is becoming more known as that of resolve and naivety.

 

findingvivianmaier1Finding Vivian Maier [2014]
Sometimes, the subject of a documentary is compelling not because they’re a genius, but because they’re just so damn nasty. Luckily, Vivian Maier was a blend of both; after the discovery of a ton of thousands of beautiful, brilliant photographers, but with only a name to go on, the prolific photographer’s guarded life is brought into the light.

Maps to the Stars [2014]mapstothestars1
David Cronenberg proves he is better at being David Cronenberg than anyone else with his latest celeburbia fable, Maps to the Stars. This highly entertaining, darkly comic look at the lives of the movie biz elite can never be pinned down, thanks to its astonishingly off-kilter performances from Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska and John Cusack, while C-berg’s direction acts as a safety net of subtle invention, masking itself as histrionic pretense opposed to exposing its true nature – which is subtle, warbled, rich misery.
Read the review



supermensch1
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon [2014]
Even though it verges on hagiography at every turn, Mike Myers’ loving ode to his old pal and manager Shep Gordon – who happens to have been behind most of music history’s biggest acts – remains an articulate and revealing look at a man who seems untainted by an industry that almost demands to paint you black. Gordon isn’t a tragic figure, or hiding dark secrets, which would have been documentary fodder; instead, the enormity of his kindness is enough to make this compulsive viewing.

I Am Divine [2014]iamdivine1
This tender, wonderful documentary charts the numerous excesses of Harris Glenn Milstead – mainly known by his stage name Divine – that led up to his too-soon death. A career that kicked off with the DIY early films of John Waters and blossomed into a world-devouring performer of his own design, this warmhearted but clear-eyed insight into the life of a one-in-a-million artist is, put simply, fabulous.


nortetheendofhistory1Norte, the End of History (Norte, hangganan ng kasaysayan) 
[2014]
At four hours in length, viewing Lav Diaz’s colossal retooling of Tolstoy’s Crime and Punishment is as daunting a task as it must have been for the director himself. Now that the UK has finally seen its release, we can all bask in its langorious pacing, which never includes a shot unless it has as much thematic weight as the last. And Norte, the End of History is as heavy as they come; murder, rape, reconcliation all form into the rough shape of a movie that speaks of justice, but understands with blood-chilling clarity that justice is merely a word.

Hercules [2014]hercules1
Set for disaster from the outset (Brett Ratner directing? Check), Hercules does a heroic thing; it completely cheats the premise of its trailer, and delivers something a whole lot more compelling, and most surprisingly of all, funny, than we could ever have expected. The fact-versus-fiction conceit at the picture’s heart is what drives this sleeper action hit constantly forward, imbuing its prerequisite monsters-and-magic set pieces with an underlying electricity. Oh, and that Dwayne Johnson smile is a gift to cinema.


 

earthtoecho1Earth to Echo [2014]
What if E.T. were a robot? What if Chronicle were a kid’s film? Mix those two ideas together and you get an exciting model for a small-time summer flick, perfect for adults and offspring alike. Instead, we get Earth to Echo, a braindead slab of cinematic lumber that, even in its most kinetic moments, is unfathomably boring.

The Purge: Anarchy [2014]purgeanarchy1
The Purge, although it didn’t entirely deliver on its exciting premise, still provoked thought; so much so, that Anarchy was made, which replaces the first instalment’s small group of characters for a varied ensemble, and opens up its world both geographically and ideologically. Even if the world-building here is the most exciting thing about it, there’s still plenty of memorable moments of shocking deceit, twists and bloodsoaked political allegory that should fuel the fire under the threequel.


apromise1A Promise
[2014]

• Avoid
Rebecca Hall is wonderful. She really is. She’s far better than her latest movie, A Promise, a beyond-terrible period piece which strangles any genuine emotion with soap opera-level melodrama. But even she can’t escape the suck-hole of awfulness that is A Promise, which consumes every aspect of production – the screenplay, the cinematography, the acting – and then unforgivingly obliterates it, leaving only deformed husks in their place.

Plot for Peace [2014]plotforpeace1
The small deeds of men are what will change the world, in the end. This portentious notion is explored in Plot for Peace, which illuminates the quest of one man – Monsieur Jacques – to free Nelson Mandela from jail, in liberating, exciting fashion. Political dogma and personal stakes are mingled impressively, as we learn that we don’t always know the names of history’s heroes.

guardiansofthegalaxy1Guardians of the Galaxy [2014]
• Recommended
Take any moment from Guardians of the Galaxy, and take it apart; from it, you’ll be able to see what makes the movie tick. Sincere emotion; comedic rug-pulling; highly imaginative visual splendour. It’s that Guardians keeps this unbelievably enjoyable tone up for over two hours means that as a slice of pop culture-chewing serial-adventure, a squished mould of Star WarsFirefly and many others, is a complete triumph for Marvel. If space was the studio’s final frontier, then it’s terribly exciting to see what they roll the dice with next.

Follow the Editor on Twitter: @GaryGreenScreen

 

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About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.

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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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