Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | August 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.



filmjournalaugust2014_1

A month of madness.
August saw the back-end of blockbusters and other box office potentials duke it out over an overstuffed, overcooked month. Of course, there were a few gems to be found amid the madness; Two Days, One Night was an absolute marvel, while 20,000 Days on Earth helped redefine the music documentary. As every summer, of course, there were a handful of clunkers, but no more than most years. Entering the autumn months, as always, is more promising – but who doesn’t like good, brainless spectacle every now and then?

Read on, discover, enjoy.
– 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

~ ~ ~



suzanne_1Suzanne
[2014]
Suzanne is a patchwork of a single life, following a girl – Suzanne – who finds that love will take her to strange places. Despite the movie’s title, Suzanne is only a small part of her own film; in this way, Suzanne informs us just how much a single person can mean to us, even when they’re not around. Evocative, if light.

 —

Hide Your Smiling Faces [2014]hideyoursmilingfaces_1
There’s something admirably high-reaching in the ambitions of Hide Your Smiling Faces, the debut feature from Daniel Patrick Carbone. The relationships between a group of young boys is changed forever when they discover one of their own, mysteriously dead, by the riverside of their otherwise lush, relaxed Southern home. The film never gets over its initial low-fi slump, and meanders to a rote finish, never once stopping to make its proceedings anything other than dull, if not entirely lifeless.


 

stilltheenemywithin_1Still the Enemy Within [2014]
This documentary may be one of the year’s best: Mixing stunning archival footage with bleary-eyed talking head interviews with those who were at the centre of it all, Still the Enemy Within looks back at the Miner’s strike of ’84 and plants it at the forefront of our present. The results are shocking and gloomy, yet brimming with hope amid a struggle that affected an entire country.
Read the review

Duck Soup [1933]ducksoup_1
The Marx Brothers were – are – a major proponent of American comedy. Without them, the laugh landscape would be a very different place, and Duck Soup is regularly hailed as their most informative, essential work. But despite the glorious characters created by the four Marxes, there’s little here to tittle contemporary audiences; but even when viewed  without historical context, this is still a hundred times funnier than your average Adam Sandler picture, and packed with heart despite its inherent silliness.




inbetweeners2_1The Inbetweeners 2
[2014]

How could the makers of the smash hit TV series, and one of the highest-grossing British comedies in recent memory, possibly make a sequel? The answer, which is the same for every burgeoning comedy follow-up, is just to make it funny. And boy, is The Inbetweeners 2 hella funny; whenever the plot judders or slows down a gear, there is always a comedy set piece stretched to epic proportions by the imagination of creators Damon Beesley and Iain Morris (first-time directors here), and lifted by the shining cast to make this one of the best British comedies for a while.
Read the review

The Notorious Mr. Bout [2014]notoriousmrbout_1
This understated documentary delicately portrays Viktor Bout, the cartel leader of a huge drug organisation, and what made him a man as well as a monster. Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorovkin’s doc’s smartest move is to use his relationship with his wife, Alla Bout, as a brilliant throughline; the narrative aways centres around this emotional lynchpin, a heated romance straight out of a hardboiled crime thriller. The same can’t really be said of the film, but if you want a documentary that looks at its subject in a different perspective, you could do far worse than The Notorious Mr. Bout.


 

lilting_1Lilting [2014]
Isn’t Ben Whishaw simply fantastic? He gives a bold, matter-of-fact yet vulnerable performance in Lilting as Richard, whose boyfriend has recently passed away, leaving him newly alone in the world. He feels he must be around the bereaved mother Junn, played by Pei-pei Cheng, in order to get some sort of closure, with the ulterior motive to somehow reveal her son’s secret sexual orientation to her. But as great as Whishaw is, this is Cheng’s show; her role as someone who has just moved from China to England, and finds the newness and glumness of her new surroundings both terrifying and different, is a standout.

Before I Go to Sleep [2014]beforeigotosleep_1
Nicole Kidman hasn’t had a good year so far, starring in a whopping two unintentional comedies and now Before I Go to Sleep. Histrionic to the point of being laughable, Before I Go to Sleep is a perfect example of a terrific story on paper turned sour when adapted for the screen. Despite the movie’s artless red herrings, acting that always feels rough-hewn (even from Firth and Strong), it’s never once boring – but that isn’t saying much when it comes to this dunderheaded, overly silly air-quotes thriller.

 


longgoodfriday_1The Long Good Friday [1980]
• Recommended
This crime classic features the late Bob Hoskins on incendiary, defining, iconic, superlative-upon-superlative form. Hoskin’s Harold is a the man behind a major criminal organisation in London, the long-reigning king of the capital’s underbelly; but after the mysterious death of one of his employees, he discovers he may enemies after all. The Long Good Friday is the definitive British crime film, layered with numerous, highly effective sub plots and set pieces that’ll sear their impression into your mind forever. And yes, that final shot really is an astonishing piece of acting, Hoskins, proving in his most beloved role, that he had as many layers as the world’s biggest onion. That’s a compliment.

—1

Wakolda [2014]wakolda_1
For a film that deals in the case of one of Nazi Germany’s leading doctors, Josef Mengele  – who infamously experimented on Jews during WWII – who escapes to Patagonia in 1960, Wakolda is an bemusingly static affair. The themes are lofty, the personal stakes high, but there is actually little here to recommend it on; it functions perfunctorily as a thriller, even less so as a family drama, and ultimately, it fails as a horror. Still, the screenplay is free from any major bumps or scratches, and we reach its foregone conclusion just before we nod off.



allthismayhem_1All This Mayhem [2014]
This surprisingly stirring doc feature is at times heartbreaking, and at others, maddening. Tas and Ben Pappas were the teen superheroes of skateboarding, and their mercurial launch to fame from a sleepy town in Australia saw them overtake even Tony Hawk on the world stage. But that was before addiction tore them apart, and set them both down a route they would not return from. Like all great documentaries, All This Mayhem isn’t about its subject matter; it’s about reconnection, the burden of success, and sometimes, just having a little faith.


The Expendables 3 [2014]theexpendables3_1
The first Expendables movie was a dire string of poorly designed action set pieces, festooned with quips from its massive cast of genre heroes that were designed to be one-liner machines, and nothing more. Expect, no one quoted them. But then came along The Expendables 2, and whether it was alchemy, a blue moon or the manipulation of physics, the movie was a blast of pure joy; action you could follow, a bizarrely engaging storyline, and cameos that actually meant something all added up to something approaching a modern action classic. And then with The Expendables 3, the ball had been dropped again; despite a brilliantly anarchic performance from Mel Gibson as the villain (although it is dubious whether the Aussie actor should still be allowed in showbiz in the first place), the group’s third outing is soulless, joyless, and all kinds of terrible – but terrible in a laughable way, at the very least.


 

tocatchathief_1To Catch a Thief [1955]
Alfred Hitchcock operates on minor form with 1955’s To Catch a Thief. Starring Cary Grant as the smoozy John Robie, a jewel thief on the run, this is first and foremost a vehicle for the director to hone his skills in thriller mode – he was just three years away from Vertigo, after all. Hitchcock also had a real eye for set pieces, and images that will stay with you, such as the film’s rooftop climax; he also had an eye for leading ladies, as the ineffably beautiful Grace Kelly so proves.

The Congress [2014]thecongress_1
Ari Folman first made waves with 2008’s Waltz With Bashir, an animation that took the artform to boundary-pushing new heights of beauty and terror. With his latest movie, The Congress, a combination of those incredible visuals and live action are put to intriguing use. The problem, unfortunately, is that it rarely works. But Folman’s unique style isn’t to blame; his screenplay is awfully conflicted, veering in one dramatic direction before delving into another. If only Folman had committed to one of The Congress‘s thought-provoking storylines – one of them a profound look into how Robin Wright’s digital copy can dominate her own acting career – or found a way of merging them into a narratively workable whole, then this could have been one of the films of the year.

d-


intothestorm_1Into the Storm [2014]
Loud noises and dim plots collide in Into the Storm, another brainless exercise in disaster porn for a quick cash-in. That’s not to say that the film, which follows the lives of stormchasers and ordinary townsfolk when a mega-storm hits, is without a kind of gleeful, guily-pleasure merit; there’s not one person alive who doesn’t like a good firenado, or a beyond-absurd climax where a car practically flies above the clouds.
Read the review

The Rover [2014]therover_1
Misconstrued, misinterpreted, or simply misunderstood? Whichever 
mis- you go for, it’s clear that The Rover went by largely unnoticed when it was released this year, despite being David Michôd’s latest directorial offering. The Animal Kingdom director has crafted the most intense, challenging – formally and ideologically – epic Australia has seen for some time. Guy Pearce nails it as Eric, a man at the frontier of an economically collapsed Oz of the near future, who goes on a quest across the desolation of his country to reclaim his stolen motor vehicle. Accompanying him is the bucktoothed Rey, played by Robert Pattinson, showing he’s in the acting game for a reason by giving even Pearce a run for his money.  The picture gives a new definition to ‘bleak’, provides a new perspective on moral absolutism, and includes, via Pearce, one of the year’s most brutally truthful, shocking monologues. The Rover will destroy you; it’s up to you to decide just how.

lastimpresario_1The Last Impresario [2014]
A sprightly documentary from Gracie Otto, The Last Impresario tries to peek into the life of ‘the most famous person you have never heard of’ – Michael White – but falls short at celebrity party montages, and frustrating hagiography that only serves to gestate the mystique that surrounds the prolific and influential theatre / film producer. We cover Cannes, New York, London, but little of White’s private life.
Read the review

Hector and the Search for Happiness [2014]hectorandthesearchforhappiness_1
Eat, Pray, Bullshit. Indulgent to such a degree, that rioting in the cinema should be an apt (if not the only) reaction to this ponderous ode to ‘finding oneself’, Hector and the Search for Happiness may be one of the most abusively flagrant lies the movies has recently seen. Simon Pegg, who is a good actor most of the time, stars as Hector, a psychiatrist who’s not feeling at all himself – despite having a high-earning job, a lavish, comfortable lifestyle, and Rosamund Pike for a wife. He feels he needs to travel the world to discover the meaning of true happiness; what he finds is that, yep, his life wasn’t all that bad after all. Pegg, you should know better.


welcometonewyork_1Welcome to New York [2014]
Abel Ferara’s curiously structured Welcome to New York knows it’s making a statement; in fact, its strongest point is that the movie fully embraces its own self-awareness, and flourishes it as an effective en garde to the movie biz. Gérard Depardieu’s rock n’ roll performance here as the odious, malignant mound of human flesh, Devereaux (not an unknowing allusion to the actor himself) is astonishing; as if a tumour were made man, Devereaux bumbles around, perverting the world around him sexually, fiscally, and morally. A must-watch for the moment.


20,000 Days on Earth [2014]20000daysonearth_
The tremendous 20,000 Days on Earth is at once a strikingly observational look at the life and influence of one man, and an original take on the music doc which brings a whole new level to ‘behind-the-scenes’. Nick Cave is one of Earth’s most enigmatic, singular musicians (he also scores and writes movies), and is a compelling figure at the centre of this engrossing slice of fiction-skewed biography.
Read the review
Read the interview

 


whatif_1What If
[2014]

Zoe Kazan (the girl from Ruby Sparks) and Daniel Radcliffe (the boy from those wizard films) get together – almost – in What If, a surprisingly deft, heartwarming rom-com that embraces the tropes of the genre and fills them with sincerity, if not complete originality. The two leads are perfect for one another, and we watch them wrestle with the Friend Zone while true love bubbles just under the surface.

Lucy [2014]lucy_1
Lucy is complete, unabashed nonsense, and director Luc Besson (LeonThe Fifth Element) runs with that fact to the finish line. Scarlett Johansson’s eponymous character inadvertently gets the power to transcend all human thought, resulting in an action movie with no real threat – but Besson mines tension from set pieces regardless, and Lucy benefits greatly from its brief 89 minute run-time. Nonsense, but gleeful, jerk-smiling nonsense.




theborderlands_1The Borderlands
[2014]
The majority reaction to a new found-footage horror movie is a chorus of sighs, but The Borderlands is a unique low-budget affair that instills true chills in its creepy goings-on. When a small team are assembled to investigate the claim of a supernatural force bugging a tiny, rural church, the tingle-factor spikes off the chart thanks to surprisingly excellent acting from its performers, a motley gang of believers and non-believers. In its closing fifteen minutes, as they delve deeper into the bowels of the church, fear will be the only appropriate emotion to feel.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For [2014]sincityadametokillfor_1
There is nothing in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For that we haven’t seen in 2007’s Sin City, the original comic book-as-movie that inspired so many imitators with its hyper-stylised world of gore and noir. The stories here are told effectively enough, but it suffers from an audience who desperately wanted a continuation of the fascinating Sin City narrative, only to find that when it finally got it, it didn’t really need it.

breakingaway_1Breaking Away [1979]
Yes, it looks like a sports movie. But besides a tense – and rather funny – cycle race at its climax, 1979’s Breaking Away gives as much insight into being a young adult in American suburbia as any other movie does. The group of friends in Breaking Away all have their own small desires and big dreams, but are atrophied by a lack of motivation that’s characteristic of being in your twenties. Much like Bad News Bears, this is sports movie as confessional; you must admit your weaknesses before overcoming them.

In Bloom (Grzeli nateli dgeebi) [2014]inbloom_1
Straight-faced almost to a fault, In Bloom is Georgia’s answer to a coming-of-age tale. At many points during this admittedly exquisitely-made film, it becomes apparent that it would have simply been easier for directors  Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß to set their movie inside a courtroom, and not the bedrooms of young girls; but despite its hard-headed political messages, In Bloom never sacrifices its otherwise beautifully drawn characters to its motives.


 


twodaysonenight_1Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit)
[2014]

• Recommended
Acclaimed directing duo the Dardenne brothers pull it off again with Two Days, One Night. Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a Belgian worker who is laid off – but if she can convince over half her colleagues to reject their bonus, she’ll be able to keep her job. Two Days, One Night is a complex sociopolitical commentary all wound up in the MacGuffin-fuelled model of a thriller, with a searing performance from Cotillard at its centre. Expect this one to place highly in FilmOnTrial’s 100 Best Films of 2014.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari) [1920]cabinetofdrcaligari_1
This 1920 masterpiece is the reason many of the films you watch today look how they look. Or at least, films that rely on the singular power of an image, or on the infinite  emotional canvas that is the human face; whether it was the first horror film or not is up for debate, but The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari remains a potent reminder – despite the inevitable quaintness of some of its more dated qualities – that cinema can be at its most effective as a lens that bends in the light of desire.
Read the review

 

letsbecops_1Let’s Be Cops [2014]
• Avoid
Let’s Be Cops‘ casually misogynistic air does much to help itself be thrown to the dogs in a critical capacity, while in other places the film is merely a lightly boiled, no-crusts buddy picture whose comic misfires are almost as wafer-thin as the premise-heavy, yet ultimately weightless, plot. Stars Jake Johnson Damon Wayans Jr. also fail to ignite much excitement or believability in their plight.

The Keeper of Lost Causes (Kvinden i buret) [2014]keeperoflostcauses_1
This Danish thriller is an intense, engrossing watch, but soon after you leave the cinema, it’ll already be half-forgotten. Despite its bizarre lack of adhesion to your mind (most likely because we’ve seen everything it’s got to offer before), this is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in a breezier mode; if this does indeed turn into a series of movies, they would be welcome, if not particularly well-remembered.


ifistay_1If I Stay
[2014]
If I Stay is just like the person who turns up at your party, doesn’t seem to actually know anyone, and then doesn’t leave until you kick them out the following morning when they suggest everybody gets pancakes together. In far overstaying its welcome (which it wears out in its first half hour), If I Stay has little to no impact, while Chloë Grace Moretz fails yet again to do anything convincing with a lead role.

Million Dollar Arm [2014]milliondollararm_1
Family films from Disney are supposed to be breezy yet joyous affairs, benefitting from their brief run times and leaving a lasting impression as a result. But at an ungainly 124 minutes, Million Dollar Arm doesn’t seem to know what to do with its otherwise agreeable star with a million-dollar smile, Jon Hamm, or its pennies-worth screenplay. Sports movies are supposed to be about overcoming great struggle; just getting through one viewing of Million Dollar Arm is enough of one.

thehustler_1The Hustler [1961]
• Recommended
Skewed, sinister yet soulful, The Hustler helped kick Paul Newman’s career straight into the stratosphere. An expert pool player, Eddie Felson (Newman), tries his luck in the pool hall and in romance, but enters a world where gambling and conning becomes an unwanted shorthand for Felson’s life.

The Color of Money [1986]colorofmoney_1
The thought of Martin Scorsese directing a sequel to the classic The Hustler, with Paul Newman returning as Eddie Felson and hot new actor Tom Cruise joining as Vincent, must have been incredibly exciting for film fans in 1986. The results, while beautifully composed by Scorsese’s hand, are scattershot; the initial promise of a road trip-style picture is soon gulfed by problems of an extraordinarily dated soundtrack, and camera flourishes that a first-year film degree student wouldn’t be seen dead trying out. It’s not all bad, of course; Newman is a revelation as an older, yet still energetic Eddie, and Cruise strikes just the right balance between immense talent and unearned arrogance.

adventuresofbaronmunchausen_1The Adventures of Baron Munchausen [1988]
• Recommended
No one other than Terry Gilliam seems able to capture the spirit of an adventure quite the way he does. Baron Munchausen is a ludicrous, remarkable achievement in a bare-bones story that’s filled with magnetic, colourful characters, which captures the sense of excitement at the journey ahead while also serving as a postmodern peep under the bonnet of just what makes storytelling so important.

The Boys from Brazil [1978]boysfrombrazil_1
While its conceit is absurd (which won’t be spoiled for you here), The Boys from Brazil grows and grows before you’ve realised that it’s successfully burrowed under your skin. To say the acting is the highlight would be a no-brainer; Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck and James Mason all pull the movie out of the realms of implausibility, and into prestige-pitch glory.

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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