Film Journal

THE FILM JOURNAL | October 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.


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filmjournalOCTOBER2014

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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

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gonegirl1Gone Girl [2014] 

David Fincher moves into the family home, leaving a deeply unsettling trail after him. The director puts a blackly-comic spin on media presence, giving an even sharper edge to Gillian Flynn’s screenplay (adapting from her own novel). Although the film departs the screen with a quiet gasp, it will stay in your head until you get a chance to talk about it with your friends, family – anyone who’ll listen – and purge its oozy, delectable nastiness from your system.

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thethinblueline1The Thin Blue Line [1988]

Errol Morris changed the world with his groundbreaking 1988 documentary, The Thin Blue Line. His flair for dramatic reconstruction was something that rocked the documentary world, opening it up to newfound narrative possibilities; most crucial, of course, was that Morris’ film helped the appeal in releasing its subject from prison. The real legacy of The Thin Blue Line? That art truly can, sometimes, change the world.

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draculauntold1Dracula Untold [2014] 

Luke Evans is undoubtedly a lovely chap, but it’s a shame he didn’t have the same skill in foresight as he does in general niceness when boarding the train wreck that turned out to be Dracula Untold. Semi-decent performances are buried under grey-hued CGI (who ordered a smudgy cloud of bats?) while any narrative conclusion is hastily thrown to one side with a shiny new final scene tacked on, in order for Dracula Untold to fit in with the planned Universal Monsters cinematic universe.

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kite1Kite [2014]

Straight-to-DVD doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’. In Kite‘s case, it just means slightly rubbish: Samuel L. Jackson picks up most of the budget with his paycheck, while the movie’s visuals (based on the anime of the same name) do their best to stand out from the rest of the future-dystopian crowd.

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devilstower1Devil’s Tower [2014]

And sometimes, straight-to-DVD does indeed mean ‘bad’. While its tongue is firmly in its cheek, nothing can save Devil’s Tower from the doldrums as it hews endlessly at the slasher genre. Add to that a limp fourth-wall plot device, and Jason Mewes who looks like a goldfish that’s escaped its bowl and is now flopping pathetically on the floor, groaning ‘why the hell did I do this?’ over and over, and Devil’s Tower doesn’t even belong in Kim Newman’s DVD shelf.

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fury1Fury [2014]

So much promise, and yet so much failure. The cast and crew behind Fury may very well state that making this battle-hewn war epic was ‘the best job I ever had’, but such visible energy and commitment in each frame means jack when the foundations are so weak. David Ayer, who directs with every inch he’s got towards beautiful oblivion, shoots from a screenplay that skimps on structural integrity and emotional heft. It has elements of some of these important parts – just all in the wrong places, and at the wrong times. What is left is a slightly embarrassing mess.

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whiteribbon1The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte) [2009] 

Michael Haneke won the Palme d’Or for this, as well as a few years later for Amour. As we all know, the fabled gold leaf from the world’s most prestigious film festival rarely descries cinema that is genuinely fantastic on every level, not just the cryptic. But with The White Ribbon, Haneke transcends even the biggest of his critics with a monochrome ode to the nascent beginnings of fascism, all within the confines of a small town. It’s as emotionally striking and cerebral as anything we’ve come to expect from the director, and is a true testament to what we can achieve as a community if we all believe in the same, horrific thing.

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thejudge1The Judge [2014]

As The Judge‘s myriad subplots fizzle out, so too will your patience. Watching latter-day screen superhero Robert Downey Jr battle it out as father-and-son with Robert Duvall, an old-time veteran, is an immense pleasure in itself; it’s a shame that the film that houses their legislate-offs isn’t made of sturdier stuff. Still, Downey Jr does much to prove himself as a performer of nuance, and not just the sardonic face that launched a thousand Marvel ships.

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71_1’71 [2014]

This marvellous thriller boasts tension as tight as its politics are sharp. Flung into the depths of a tumultuous Belfast, Jack O’Connell further rides his wave of newcomer glory as a man who is left by his squad without a hope, and without a gun, in a place that’s ready to kill him. What ensues is a breakneck, detail-driven parable; a firm blast of sociopolitical grief in the guise of an action movie. It works sublimely on both levels, and thanks to O’Connel’s magnetism in the lead, it becomes a must-see.

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whatwedidonourholiday1What We Did On Our Holiday [2014]

What appears as a quaint, harmless family picture is actually a deviously insightful – but still appropriately bright-hued – look into marital strife during a holiday to visit near-estranged family. Hiding their divorce from the others, Rosamund Pike and David Tennant play off each other with perfectly-pitched British scorn, while Billy Connolly is at his most touching in ages, becoming the centrepiece of a storyline that is both blackly hilarious, and deeply affecting. Great Fun For all the Family, the poster could say, and that would be true; what’s more realistic is the fact that What We Did On Our Holiday is more a Gosford Park-style play on what we keep from our loved ones.

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teenagemutantninjaturtles1Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles [2014] 

As our hero Turtles are falling from the top of a skyscraper, with no way of escaping their splat-shaped fate, one thing is immediately apparent: this is really, quite amazingly, boring. This reboot of kids favourite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is as cynical a cash-in as you’d expect from Michael Bay’s think-tank (who clearly directed this movie over the shoulder of Jonathan Liebesman, probably while breathing lustfully as he dreams of wrecked cars and explosions), and the worst thing is that it’s all just so dull.

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therewrite1The Rewrite [2014]

If The Rewrite slipped under your radar – and chances are that it did – right this wrong and go seek out this charming, if slight, rom-com. Hugh Grant stars as a grizzled screenwriter, guzzling the last few drops of credibility from his past successes; when the lights go out, he finally decides to bite the bullet and teach a college screenwriting class. With him is the ever ebullient Marisa Tomei, and together they tread a well-walked route, but you can’t judge The Rewrite for its shortcomings; while it does give into the more dreary aspects of the genre (will they? won’t they? oh, they did!), it serves up a few original ideas of its own.

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mazerunner1The Maze Runner [2014]

If you’re aware of the concept of diminishing returns, then The Maze Runner will come as no surprise to you. For the rest of us who expect big-budget movies to be every bit as good as the films that clearly influence it – and facilitate its getting-made in the first place – then The Hunger Games knock-off The Maze Runner, based on a series of YA novels by James Dashner, is a sore disappointment. Squandering a superb premise (a group of young adults get trapped inside a huge maze, and forge their own culture during their incarceration) for leaving everything open for the damned sequel, it’s tough not to feel somewhat cheated. If The Maze Runner wasn’t really all that great, with its Lost-style way of dodging answering big questions, then why tease us with the answers for The Scorch Trials? We’re onto you, Hollywood.

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annabelle1Annabelle [2014]

There is nothing to recommend about Annabelle, except its solid production design. Aside from the pretty sets and period details, this horror movie is one of the least frightening movies to come out for a long time – a surprise, given that the movie this is spun-off from, The Conjuring, is one of the decade’s most critically well-received so far. Obviously, lightning does not strike twice, especially when your characters are unsympathetic dunderheads who scream at poorly conceived scares.

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rightstuff1The Right Stuff [1983] 

Christopher Nolan cites two movies as the cornerstones for his sci-fi epic Interstellar. The first is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The second is the lesser-known, but absolutely brilliant The Right Stuff; the word is that Philip Kaufman had trouble getting this three-and-a-quarter hour opus about the American space race off the ground. Thankfully, his originally desired structure with Chuck Yeager was left intact, and what we get is a uniquely toned, buoyantly optimistic ode to pushing the frontiers of human ability ever forward.

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duel1Duel [1971]

Steven Spielberg’s first feature-length movie may have debuted on TV, but that hasn’t stopped it snowballing into a huge cult hit over the years (if in no small part to the director’s later successes); a bare-bones premise is given heft with Spielberg’s steady hand, his knack of mining tension from the simplest of situations giving Duel the feeling that he would go on to do bigger things. Which is only slightly an understatement.

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sugarlandexpress1The Sugarland Express [1974] 

Spielberg’s second feature – and his screen debut proper – was The Sugarland Express. Goldie Hawn plays a single mum on the run, as the law – and the world – watches. Perhaps the picture’s strongest element, besides its huge genre thrills and natty performances, is its streak of humour, slicing through the action at every possible moment.

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willowcreek1Willow Creek [2014]

Bobcat Goldthwait is a chameleon: When he’s not directing Robin Williams in an incredible late-career role in the tragically funny World’s Greatest Dad, or subverting talent shows and the media in God Bless America, he’s making a low-budget Big Foot horror in the dank woods of North America. The results are not always brilliant, but the tension here will make your skin crawl, and in one standout, painfully drawn-out sequence, you’ll jump at the smallest noise.

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bookoflife1The Book of Life [2014]

The Mexican Day of the Dead is given a colourful, kid-friendly makeover with The Book of Life. If you’re bored showing your children Despicable Me and Frozen over and over again, treat them to this; a thoughtful, wonderfully well-dressed excursion into another culture, and despite its flagrant Westernisation, a beating heart rings through.

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nightcrawler1Nightcrawler [2014] 

It has been said that Nightcrawler is an incredible performance in a silly movie. That is simply not true: Nightcrawler is one of the most subversive, sickening, engrossing movies of the past five years. Think The King of Comedy but thrown into the unsettling underworld of News reportage, and you get Lou Bloom – an evil character perfectly tailored to our time, a bottomless pit of unreadable self-preservation and emotional disconnect. Nightcrawler is an incredible performance in an even more incredible movie.

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mrturner1Mr. Turner [2014]

Magisterial and matter-of-fact, Mr. Turner isn’t your typical tired biopic. Mike Leigh has produced another valuable addition to his esteemed brand of kitchen-sink cinema, but with a scale of both aesthetic and emotional natures that expands his world view to bigger, possibly worthier things. Perhaps his grandest in scope but no less intimate than, say, Another Year, this portrait of the last quarter of the grand painter’s life does suffer from a bout of the patchwork narrative blues; but that would be missing the point. Turner was an oaf and a genius at the same time, and no one could have portrayed that better than Timothy Spall, the swirling, angry point at the centre of a maelstrom.

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theovernighters1The Overnighters [2014]

Touching every nerve imaginable, Jesse Moss’ stunning documentary is the product of intense and devoted observation, and a tender respect to portray the many facets of a situation – in this case, a pastor who lets the sad hordes of the unemployed sleep in his church, at the chagrin of the community. This man is torn between what he feels is right and what he feels others want him to do – but amid this painful tug of war, the documentary still takes time to look at the quieter moments. While at times feeling manipulative, the camera is in the thick of the action at every beat – and feels vital for it.

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thirdperson1Third Person [2014]

Ensemble dramas can work wonders. And sometimes, they can be slogs. Third Person is of the latter variety, a pompous, indulgent sweep of half-baked storylines pegged with performances that were only in the oven for a minute or two (minus an ever-excellent Adrien Brody). Third Person is never ambitious enough to be memorable, nor terrible enough to bother talking about afterward.

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loverosie1Love, Rosie [2014]

If you gutted Love, Rosie of all its poor music choices (imagine: bouncy chart hits), then what would remain would be a functional romance with decidedly average performances from its leads (Claflin, Collins, you can do better). However, the very fact that this story has been done to death won’t have you reaching for the Play button when it eventually reaches it doom in the murky, unwatched depths of Netflix.

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womaninblackangelofdeath1The Woman in Black: Angel of Death [2015] 

The first The Woman in Black was a nice surprise: Stirring tension, mingled with the first post-Potter role for Daniel Radcliffe, made it a fresh viewing experience, if not a particularly chilling addition to Hammer’s catalogue. The unimaginative subtitle of the inevitable sequel – Angel of Death – should be warning enough for this dire, uninspired and groaningly unscary flick. The instant Radcliffe wasn’t announced for the follow-up, this had bargain-bin DVD stamped all over it.

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thebabadook1The Babadook [2014] 

Now that’s more like it. The Babadook is a masterful haunted house tale, with unsettling and original moments dotted through its creepy, brilliantly designed framework. A truly original horror archetype has been born (expect trenchcoats, top hats and long sleek fingers to appear at Halloween from now on), while a stunning central performance from Essie Davis gives the movie its heart. And that‘s this fantastic film’s greatest lesson for everyone interested in the genre: That true horror, the kind that stays with you as you try to go to sleep, isn’t a monster that creeps into your room at night. It comes from within.

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Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad DayAlexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day [2014]

It’s always refreshing when a family movie is half-decent, especially when they’re great little numbers like Alexander. Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner further prove their comedy chops while the young cast steal much of the show. Sincere and simple, this movie is the kind we need to see more of at the cinema on Saturday mornings.

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citizenfour1Citizenfour [2014]

While The Babdook may have done all kinds of good for horror, the scariest horror movie of the year is actually Citizenfour. This documentary on the heroic actions of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who exploded the lid on the NSA, is as close to those dramatic events as possible. Director Laura Poitras’ startling bravery is evident in every frame of this incredibly important, indispensable film. If you want to know what’s happening in the world when it comes to security, privacy and basic human rights, put this movie to the top of your to-watch list.

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whatwedointheshadows1What We Do in the Shadows [2014]

Channeling This is Spinal Tap! into the horror-comedy genre, What We Do in the Shadows is an incredibly funny work of genius from the creators of Flight of the Conchords. You’ll quickly learn to love these vampire roomies as they party, date, and grate on each other – with a little blood-sucking here and there.

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Follow the editor @GaryGreenScreen


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About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.

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