This is the start of what might turn out to be a recurring feature on this blog. Many of my fellow movie bloggers do something similar. The concept is simple: I talk briefly about all the films I saw for the first time this month. Mini-reviews, if you will.
The Abyss (James Cameron, 1989)
The Special Edition, for the record. Yet another impressive outing for Cameron, with the underwater setting providing most of the film’s memorable moments. The claustrophobic atmosphere is palpable, putting us right down there with the crew of oil-drillers on the ocean floor as they try to determine what caused a submarine to crash. It’s a great action film overall, though the ending feels a tad drawn-out and anticlimactic.
The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)
Considering my extremely limited experience with old silent cinema, I’m probably not the intended demographic for this nostalgia-trip. I’m sure there’s a lot of allusions and homages in this one that I didn’t fully catch. Fortunately, this one can survive regardless based on its charm alone. The story isn’t anything special by itself – though intrensically linked with its style – but it’s a pleasant watch with what should in a fair world be two star-making performances from Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo.
Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
I was a bit wary of this film when I sat down to watch it. I had heard it could be a bit “difficult” and “strange”, and my previous experience with Bergman (Through a Glass Darkly) hadn’t quite knocked me over. Well, this one did, and with gusto. Wonderfully acted and thematically rich, but more than anything else, this may well be the most beautifully shot black & white film I’ve seen so far. I’m finally starting to see what Ebert is on about when he keeps praising B&W over color. Persona might well turn out to be the most significant movie-watching I do this entire year.
Catfish (Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, 2010)
Doubts have been raised about the truth-factor of this documentary, with some proclaiming it to be entirely fictional. Starting out as being about the online relationship between a photographer and a child prodigy artist, it eventually takes some unexpected turns and becomes almost a cautionary tale of how people present themselves when hidden behind a computer screen. It’s certainly not boring, but there’s also a sense that the film never goes beneath the surface as much as it could have. More hard-hitting questions needed to be asked. Still, for what it is, Catfish is reasonably entertaining.
2:37 (Murali K Thalluri, 2006)
Australian high school film with good intentions and heavy subject matter, but it unfortunately stumbles due to an overreliance on stylistic elements and too overt melodrama. My full review is available here.
Black Dynamite (Scott Sanders, 2009)
An affectionate spoof of the blaxploitation films of years gone by. Black Dynamite’s humor is a bit uneven, with some gags not fully resonating with me while others have me howling with laughter. One thing’s for certain: Michael Jai White is spot-on in the lead.
Stand By Me (Rob Reiner, 1986)
I have actually seen this one before – or at least parts of it – but it was so long ago that this felt more like a new experience than a rewatch. Funny, witty and true to life in the way the four friends interact with one another as they set out on an adventure to find a dead guy some way away. Rob Reiner was on a roll in the 80s. Nowadays, he makes toothless stuff like The Bucket List. Sad.
Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011)
I find this movie strange in some ways. The first half plays like family fare, with kids in the leads, chase sequences and broad humor. But halfway through the pace slows down, dialogue takes over and the focus shifts to Scorseses love for cinema. Awkward pacing aside, this isn’t an unpleasant mix, though I do struggle to see who the intended audience here is. Bonus points for great use of 3D, in any case.
Anonymous (Roland Emmerich, 2011)
This is my kind of period flick. Meticulously designed, well-acted and with a fun story filled with drama and intrigue. Sure, it plays loose with facts and historical accuracy, but when it leads to good stuff like this, I couldn’t care less. Anonymous was a pleasant surprise.
The Beaver (Jodie Foster, 2011)
The concept and trailer had filled me with a certain degree of hope for this one. Hope that some very mixed reviews couldn’t hurt. Unfortunately, The Beaver mostly fell flat to me. Its blend of subject matter (depression) and plot content (Mel Gibson talking through a puppet with British accent) is uneasy at best, and there’s no real depth to anything in the film. I enjoyed the subplot with Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence to an extent, but that’s about it. Not a strong directorial debut by Foster. If you’re really hankering for a film about a troubled man who thinks an inanimate object is a living being, watch Lars and the Real Girl instead.
A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988)
I should have seen this one much earlier than I did. Brilliantly funny comedy full of teriffic performances, particularly from John Cleese and Kevin Kline. I laughed a lot. Sometimes, that’s enough to earn high marks.
Suspect Zero (E. Elias Merhige, 2004)
Muddled crime thriller about a serial killer who kills serial killers and the FBI agents who try to catch him. The story offers no surprises except those of the groan-worthy kind, and there’s little suspense or atmosphere to be had anywhere. An utter waste of good actors like Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley.
Jack Goes Boating (Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2010)
It’s refreshing to see a comedy that deals with adults having adult problems, even if they are socially stunted at times. Hoffman debuts as director here and also plays the lead, and he’s helped along by teriffic co-stars in Amy Ryan, John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Funny and wise. Deserves more attention than it has gotten so far.
Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)
Visually beautiful, thematically gloomy. I found myself intrigued by the first half of the film, where a wedding carefully reveals the layers and facades surrounding the main characters. The second half shows the same people facing the possibility that the world might be coming to a catastrophic end, and this is where Melancholia lost me due to its slow pace. Then again, I was tired and hungover when I watched it, so circumstances weren’t ideal. I’ll have to revisit this one at some point, but for now, it’ my least favorite von Trier that I’ve seen.
Live and Let Die (Guy Hamilton, 1973)
I’ve never been overly familiar with James Bond, but at Travis McClain‘s behest, I added a couple to my rental queue a while ago. In February, I saw Octopussy which I found to suffer from an uneven tone but which at least had some good action scenes. Live and Let Die is the opposite; the mix of humor and seriousness feels assured – if not particularly effective – but the action is weak, including a never-ending chase sequence with boats. I’m starting to think that the Roger Moore Bond films may not be my cup of tea. Plus points for some fun (if underutilized) villains.
Hanna (Joe Wright, 2011)
Saoirse Ronan is one of the more interesting young actresses today, and here she shows she can lead an action film without a hitch. It helps that Joe Wright has a clear vision for the film, mixing in fairy tale elements and a great soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers to create something compellingly unique. The action is good, the story holds intrigue, and Cate Blanchett proves once again that she can play a fun villain.
Recount (Jay Roach, 2008)
Further reason not to dismiss a movie just because it was made for TV, Recount is an interesting and entertaining dramatization of the 2000 election debacle in Florida, showing the battle for votes from both sides – though chiefly the Democrats as that makes for the better underdog story. What I really liked about this one was the way it conveyed the feeling of a drawn-out struggle. There are plenty of false finishes here, which is of course very fitting; every time you think one side has the argument won, a new possibility opens up. You can feel the wear and tear of the participants as they start having to face the possibility that it’s a fight they can not win. Impressive ensemble cast, with Kevin Spacey and Laura Dern as the stand-outs.
Submarine (Richard Ayoate, 2010)
I’m always impressed with films that capture not just the events of teenage years but also the essence of them. This one certainly does, and it’s all filtered through the intelligent head of its main character Oliver (Craig Roberts). It plays kind of like a British 500 Days of Summer but aims a bit wider than focusing solely on a relationship. Clever and quite hilarious.
Waterworld (Kevin Reynolds, 1995)
I was quite impressed by the set designs and overall art direction here, as it’s an imaginative post-apocalypse that’s being painted up here. Unfortunately, alonngside a good action scene or two near the beginning, that’s all this one has going for it. The story taking place in this world is as cookie-cutter as they come, and the characterizations feel jarring. Kevin Costner as the lead behaves like an asshole as though he were antihero, yet he’s accompanied by heroic music filled with bravado. And then you have Dennis Hopper as the antagonist, and he goes too far into a comedic direction to ever feel like a threat. You can tell this was a problematic production.
Joint Security Area (Park Chan-wook, 2000)
A slow start eventually paves way to an intriguing tale about a shooting incident at the border between North and South Korea. The ending lays the emotions on a bit too thickly for my liking, but this is overall a pretty fun watch.