Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | September 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.



filmjournalseptember2014_1

September: The official midriff of the year.
September was a great, great month for documentary lovers everywhere. Not only did we have the underseen The Internet’s Own Boy, but I also caught an early screening of Life Itself, the brilliant new Roger Ebert feature from veteran doc maker Steve James. On the narrative front, I caught up with some true classics (Harold and Maude, Good Morning, Vietnam, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), and experienced woeful, entirely forgettable new releases (Sex TapeSex TapeSex Tape). As the year begins to draw to a close, I’m casting my mind back to the rest of 2014; as my end-of-year list slowly coalesces, I give to you the latest Film Journal as a potential signifier of what it may include. Spoiler: Sex Tape won’t be on it.

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

~ ~ ~



MV5BMTQzNzg0NDI2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzgxNzY2MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_As Above, So Below [2014]
Turns out you won’t find much to be scared about down in the Parisian catacombs. A tactlessly-spun found-footage horror that has little in the way of tension, brains or style, As Above, So Below follows an exploration group who enter the city’s fabled catacombs in search of the Philosopher’s Stone; instead, they find their own demons deep in the dark. But while the only thing that keeps you awake is its breakneck speed, the movie’s cauldron pot of mixed mythologies diffuses any real sense of suspense. Perhaps better suited to a narrative feature (found-footage is the only thing in the low-budget horror genre that seems to get financed these days), but even then, this film is so clichéd, it may have ended up being even worse.

 —

Will and Testament [2014]MV5BNzc1NjkwNzg2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTcwOTAxMzE@._V1_SX214_AL_
Toward the end of this moving doc, we briefly see Tony Benn’s coffin being passed down a street; it’s a potent moment of reflection on the actual physical presence of the incredibly influential left-wing politician, but the film moves straight onto the next juicy political discourse. This is the doc’s strength and weakness; everything Benn worked toward during his eventful life goes beyond his own, but seeps into those of millions. That the film focuses almost exclusively on his political career without delving much into his private existence may be misunderstood as a failure on the documentary’s part of getting to the core of its subject; in fact, Benn lived for the betterment of the world, and as such, a purer doc couldn’t be made.
Read the review


 

MV5BMjgwOTgwNjQ5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzk1NTQ2MTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_The Internet’s Own Boy [2014]
• Recommended
Lighting a fire in your belly like no other documentary this year, The Internet’s Own Boy validates the form just as well as any doc before it, even a heavyweight cultural signifier like Hearts and Minds. In sometimes leaves its compelling central subject (Aaron Swartz) to one side, and bringing into focus the more worldwide issues at hand, the film illuminates what the Reddit founder was working toward all his brief life; a better, freer world for everyone living in it. He was twenty-six at the time of his suicide, frustrated by fears of government surveillance and driven by a passion that shames even the most ambitious of us. This film will live long in your memory (it even achives a Gates of Heaven moment with one of its interviewees), and forgoes formal lyricism in favour of getting straight, and undeniably, to the point.

Harold and Maude [1971]MV5BMTUxMjMwODMxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMDA3MDE5._V1_SX214_AL_
• Recommended
Absolutely off-kilter and one of the funniest films ever made (but funny in ways you wouldn’t expect), Harold and Maude‘s release must have marked the start of a decade that would see American cinema undergo a revolutionary change, an experimental yet focused period that would define the movies. Harold is a rich kid, prone to faking his suicide in front of his cloying mother. When he meets Maude, much (much) older than he is at a funeral, the two embark on a heart-stirring journey of romance, adventure, and just saying ‘screw it’ every once in a while. Absolutely essential not just for lovers of film, but for those partial to life.





MV5BMzY2MjM1ODMwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjU5NjkzMTE@._V1_SX214_AL_Mistaken for Strangers [2014]

The National are one the best bands around at the moment, if not the best band. Understated yet bursting with feeling, their music has slowly seen the indie favourites crawl comfortably into arenas the globe over – and the lead singer’s brother, Tom Berninger, is sucked into the middle of a world tour. His documentary shows us, with little bias, the real relationships working between four members of an incredibly successful band; but at its best, the sheen-less Mistaken for Strangers is a brief yet memorable ode to brotherhood.

The Hundred-Foot Journey [2014]MV5BMTQ3Mjg2MTE4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzcyNDMwMjE@._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_AL_
Every few months nowadays, a film like The Hundred-Foot Journey is released. On the back of the ‘Grey Pound’ – the influx of more senior cinema-goers in recent times – we’ll see not quite a prestige flick, nor a gritty little indie, but something inbetween and sorely lacking the benefits of either. This movie is exactly in that awkward middle zone between excitement and dourness – even Helen Mirren can’t save this food flick from deflating the moment the first frame hits the screen.




MV5BNDYzMzg5OTA0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjQzNzExMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Sex Tape [2014]

• Avoid
Formless, listless and laughless, Sex Tape is limp enough that a new condition can be diagnosed: Cinematic Erectile Dysfunction. Its gasp-inducing awfulness is lynchpinned by numerous toe-curling choices (one of them? They take their kids to a porn server room with them), while Rob Lowe is entirely wasted in a thankless, thoughtless role. And although Diaz intermittently shines as Anna, Jason Segel falls further into the black hole of a future he’s making for himself with this garbage. What happened to The Muppets, or even The Five-Year Engagement, Segel? What happened?

The Guest [2014]MV5BOTQyODc5MTAwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjMwMjA1MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_
Why I go to the movies at midnight for. A scintillating blast of fresh air, but in the guise of an eighties throwback, The Guest is the simmering sleeper hit you weren’t expecting, but were always waiting for. Dan Stevens excels as dapper sociopath David, as does Maika Monroe as Anna, his increasingly concerned host; from the moment the purposely out-of-focus title card flashes up, what ensues is an action film that will have you break into a wide grin more than a few times.

 




MV5BMTQwMDExNzk4MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODc3NjIyMDE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Good Morning, Vietnam [1987]

This feel-good comedy drama does well to highlight Robin Williams’ gifts as an entertainer on both the comic and dramatic side of things, but it takes time out from the overall narrative too much, resulting in a movie that feels half-baked. It’s not devoid of charm, of course; gags and jokes fly even if bullets don’t, and there are some very smart, serious points to be made about the Vietnam war.
Read That Smile: A personal reaction to Robin Williams’ death

—1

Ilo Ilo [2014]MV5BMTM3NzU5NjAwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzQzMDI1OQ@@._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_AL_
This look at family life injected with new blood by the arrival of a maid is quiet, contemplative, and measured – but ultimately feels inconsequential, as other movies have treaded the same ground in greater fashion.


MV5BMTYwMjg3MTk3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjM4NjgzNA@@._V1_SX214_AL_ (1)Bill Cunningham New York [2012]
Bill Cunningham makes for a compelling, enigmatic figure, but a meagre doc feature. The movie’s god’s-eye view of the fashion world – that god being the prolific threads photographer Mr. Cunningham – is exciting, and sits comfortably within the boundaries it sets for itself, but there’s something a little too low-stakes about this film to make it essential viewing for either fashion aficionados or film buffs.


Pride [2014]MV5BMTU2OTcyOTE3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTg5Mjc1MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_
Pride expresses its simple but beautiful message in a way most schmaltz-infused agit comedies would fail to achieve; never once patronising, forced or trite, Pride may be at times gnawingly simple, but it comes with a purity of purpose that isn’t beaten by other movies about the Miners’ Strike.


MV5BODY2MTA0MjYzMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTE3NzE4MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_A Most Wanted Man [2014]

Slow cooking to an intense heat, A Most Wanted Man – based on a John le Carré novel – is a procedural based on nothing but tension, tension, tension. Rachel McAdams gets us to reassess her not as a romcom starlet, but a genuine acting force, while Hoffman, even though we’re coming close to the end of seeing his work onscreen, inhabits his role as Gunter so fully, this actually makes it up there with the best of his work. And as far as le Carré adaptations go, this is better than Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The Sacrament [2014]MV5BMjE1ODg1MzM3Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDg3NDQyMTE@._V1_SX214_AL_
Ti West continues to prove himself a talented, largely original voice in horror, and while he isn’t always successful, his prescence is most sorely needed in today’s genre climate. the Sacrament is further testament of that; when a Vice doc team arrive at a closed-off cult community, things go wrong very, very quickly. Don’t read up on it beforehand in order to make the shock, when it comes, especially nasty.

d-




MV5BMjE0NzQ1OTEwOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTY0MzUxMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Life of Crime [2014]

You know when you bake some cookies, but they come out all doughy and not quite as cookie-ish as they should be? Yet, you pick at them anyway, not quite sure if they’re sating you as a fine piece of food or more a slight distraction from what you’re doing anyway? Life of Crime is the cinematic equivalent to that peculiar feeling.

Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Dast-neveshtehaa nemisoosand) [2014]MV5BMTQ2NzMwNDQ2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjU2NzA4MjE@._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_
Articulate, unsentimental, and brutally, terribly honest, Iran proves itself yet again as a winning melting pot of incendiary cinema. With any luck, when Iran’s troubles of surveillance and censorship end, its cinema will continue anyway – and when it does, hopefully these actors can be credited to get the respect they deserve for their bravery.




MV5BMjA3OTUwOTMxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODg4NTkwMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Life After Beth [2014]

Life After Beth never reconciles its comedy sensibilities with its dramatic ones, making for a toneless piece of work and a struggle to enjoy. It’s not lifeless, however, thanks to DeHane’s frantic performance and a handful of admittedly great situational laughs.
Read the review

In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten) [2014]MV5BMTc3ODYwMDgyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg3MDgwMTE@._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_AL_
This increasingly sly, devious Norweigan thriller ups the ante as it dials up the dark laughs. Black humour has rarely been this purely fun, while its broad canvas of equally great characters never detracts from the narrative of Nils (the movie’s respectable vigilante), or drags down its taut screenplay.


MV5BMTQxODA5MDkyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDMyNjkzMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_The Boxtrolls [2014]
Visual splendour fails to match storytelling in this middling children’s movie. If you take your kids, also bring a cup to catch the drool from your snoozing face.


Magic in the Moonlight [2014]MV5BMTQ3NDY5NjIwN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjQ2ODkxMjE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_
Woody Allen continues to prove his good year / bad year pattern with Magic in the Moonlight. After last year’s brilliant Blue Jasmine, this moribund picture – starring Colin Firth as a fraud investigator who seeks to oust Emma Stone’s miracles – feels static, replete with scenes that are circular, while Firth’s character changes his entire perspective on the flip of a coin. Very nearly, almost but-not-quite awful.

 


MV5BMjI1MTM5NTY2Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODE4OTk4MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_Wish I Was Here [2014]

Kooky items, much mugging from its actors and indulgent shoegazey editing all act as connective tissue to a substance that director Zach Braff sorely imagines, but is simply not there. The central father-sons relationship does ring true, thankfully, but isn’t enough to save this smug Braff joint to serve any purpose other than to enlarge his already anatomically large head.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch [2001]MV5BODM0NTcwNDkyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDQ4OTY5._V1_SY317_CR10,0,214,317_AL_
• Recommended
Dazzling and daring, Hedwig is a rock musical that sidesteps every trope along the way in a boisterous fanfare. John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig must be one of 2001’s most awesome performances, who shows us that hedonism is only a lens for the rawness of a tortured soul. Even if you don’t like musicals, you’ll love Hedwg and the Angry Inch.




MV5BMjAxNTA3NjI0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODcyMjQ3MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_The Riot Club [2014]
Stagey to a large fault, The Riot Club is understandably based on the play by Lone Scherfig, who also directs here. But despite its canoodlings about society, it never whips up enough anger of its own to make us care.

The Giver [2014]MV5BMTY1MTIxMjg2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjUyNzgwMjE@._V1_SX214_AL_
Although not quite as bad as most would have you believe, The Giver is still a sub-par entry into the YA movie genre. A blend of Divergent (painfully so in its opening scenes) and Mad Max (toward the end, trust me), the movie never feels special despite the onscreen euphoria of its characters, who have just discovered concepts like colour, beauty, and love.


I Origins [2014]MV5BMTQ0MTAwMDI1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjUwMTA2MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_
From the director of unique sci-fi indie Another Earth comes I Origins, which deals in such heavy themes as reincarnation and the nature of love. While it all feels ever so drab, the movie does a solid job of selling its preposterous conceit to us on scientific grounds; that someone’s soul not only exists, but it also transfers to another body at the moment of death – and keeps the eyes. Mike Cahill does a good job of not letting his movie drift off inside its own arsehole, grounding the proceedings in flawed characters that feel closer to us than your typical high-brown on-screen scientist, and putting the central search for a long-lost love front and centre.

Life Itself [2014]MV5BMTQ2OTQzMjcxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzc2Njk3MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_
• Recommended
Immaculately balanced and tender, Life Itself is a sort of ending of a loop for director Steve James. His documentary Hoop Dreams was championed by film critic Roger Ebert in 1994; and now, James is returning the favour, following Ebert’s death last year. It’s difficult to think of another critic as influential – and outspoken – as Ebert, and this moving documentary does a grand job of conveying the nuance of this difficult, yet loving man.
Read the review | Read the interview


 


MV5BMTk3OTc4NDMzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjQ2NzY3MDE@._V1_SX214_AL_About Last Night [2014]

Black comedies haven’t seen much in the way of quality the past few years. But thankfully, About Last Night does much to mend that; assured direction, nuanced yet effervescent performances from all involved help make this breezy ode to old-school romance one of the finer rom-coms (with an emphasis on rom) in recent memory.

A Walk Among the Tombstones [2014]MV5BMTQ3NzY2MTg1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODY2Njk4MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_
For everything A Walk Among the Tombstones does right, it does something wrong; cue the year’s most curiously average thriller, including one of Liam Neeson’s most curiously average performances. Don’t expect to get too excited by the trope-by-trope screenplay, but this is still far better fare than most of the same thrillers made in the same mould for the same budget.



MV5BNzczMzEzNDAzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzU0Mjg0MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_Honeymoon [2014]

A spine-tingling horror that’s deeply alien, yet also irrevocably human. Honeymoon mines the fractures in a deteriorating relationship to deliver its chills, while leaving the ultimate question hanging: Is there something supernatural going on here? Or is their love simply not built to last? This clever flick knows that humans are the best source of emotion; why would horror be any different?

The Equalizer [2014]MV5BMTQ2MzE2NTk0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM3NTk1MjE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_
Can you hear that sound, plod, plod, plodding away in the distance? That’s the sound of The Equalizer‘s plot trundling mercilessly along, completely unwilling to impart any action (dramatic or otherwise), and forcefully ignorant of audiences’ bladders. On it goes, plod, plod, plodding along; whoever thought a shot of Denzel Washington walking away from an explosion, in slow-mo, would be so boring?

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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