Hot diggity damn, what a movie month October turned out to be! With 28 new movies seen, it’s handily the most densely packed month since I started this series of blog posts. Netflix launching in Sweden certainly helped a bit, but it’s also a simple case of film once again rising above other pastimes of mine, as it tends to do sooner or later. Summer was a down-period; now I’m back into the swing of things again.
But it’s not just quantity that makes October a great month for film. The vast majority of what I watched these last 31 days has been good. Only three films failed to make my passing grade of 3/5, which is pretty impressive. It got to the point where I started second-guessing myself: “Can I really give another movie a positive mark? Shouldn’t I give out a low score to show some kind of… I don’t know.” In the end, I feel like I’ve been fair to every movie I’ve seen. Except the Bergman one, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
The Magdalene Sisters (Peter Mullan, 2002)
Structurally, this is familiar prison/asylum/escape stuff. It’s competently made for sure, and certainly not boring. That said, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table plot-wise. It is notable, however, for bringing cruelties performed by certain members of the Catholic church to the public consciousness. Young women were sent off to asylums to become, in effect, slave laborers indefinitely. Why? Because they sinned. They flirted with boys, or had children out of wedlock, or were raped. While being based on a true story is never a free pass for a movie to be considered important or anything, it does lend this one a certain weight it might not otherwise have had.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Rodman Flender, 2011)
A bit repetitive at times, and not a very revelatory look at Conan O’Brien, but it – and its subject – has enough energy and drive to make for a fun watch. I haven’t seen any of O’Brien’s work other than the occassional clip here and there online, and I’m not sure I learned much about him here other than what the title reveals.
Faster (George Tillman Jr., 2010)
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went into this one expecting a straight-forward frantic action flick. That’s not what Faster is. It’s a revenge thriller with only sporadic scenes of gunplay and driving antics. For what it is, it works quite well. I was particularly fond of the attempts at characterization of the main players, with all three getting some unexpected depth added to them. The ending kind of flies in the face of what led up to it though, which is a bit of a shame. Still, this is a decent movie, and I’m actually vaguely curious now to see what else the director has made.
Women in Trouble (Sebastian Gutierrez, 2009)
Dramedies featuring a number of interwoven stories all about women is somewhat rare, I reckon. Most of the stories here appear to be about sex in some way, but are they really? Maybe they are. Lord knows I’m not the most perceptive movie-watcher out there, but I couldn’t find much of a common thematic thread running through this one. They’re women. They’re in trouble. A lot of it has to do with bedroom antics – although I don’t think a single bedroom is shown in the entire film. The film is pretty good. The performances are fine, and the dialogue has some unexpected snap to it.
The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2011)
I’m keeping this one short and sweet so as not to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. This is a delightfully clever horror film, and one of those jolts in the arm that the genre needs every now and then. The real enjoyment comes from thinking about it afterwards.
Hour of the Wolf (Ingmar Bergman, 1968)
Bergman goes horror! I watched this one with only 4 hours of sleep the night before, so my attention faltered at times. Unfair, I know. I’ll revisit it at some point. For now, I’ll still say that I liked it, especially thanks to Sven Nykvist‘s drop dead gorgeous cinematography.
The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar, 2011)
I find it hard to describe this movie. It’s clinical, yet intensely melodramatic. Macabre is another fitting adjective, although those looking for blood and gore are adviced to search elsewhere. The pacing is a bit stiff, with a lengthy flashback at the center of the movie that feels like it could have been better suited to be spread out. Still, this is a highly watchable psychological thriller, and if the story has been told before, it has probably never been told in quite this way. Chilling.
The Expendables 2 (Simon West, 2012)
It’s not as good as the first one, but then few movie sequels are. I got what I expected. I reckon everyone did.
The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)
I’m reluctant to use words like “clichéed” when talking about a film that feels as personal as this one does, and yet the first half or so does feel like I’ve seen it before in other films. It’s executed very well, but it’s not something that fills me with awe. As the film moves into its second half, however, it starts to become its own entity to a greater extent. It’s a story of survival, but it’s an honest one that admits that sometimes, the thing that keeps you alive is just luck. It’s a fresh angle to the story, and coupled with Polanski’s expert directing and Adrien Brody’s powerful lead performance, it makes for quite the film experience.
Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
A film I find very fascinating in its execution, but not one I love in any real way. There are passages here of utter boredom, interspersed with stunningly captivating scenes. For instance the 17 minute long unbroken shot of dialogue between Sands and the priest is jawdropping stuff, not in what’s presented as such but in the way it can grip you regardless. Can’t wait to see Shame now.
Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (Lincoln Ruchti, 2007)
An interesting and fun look at the era in the 80s when competitive arcade gaming started becoming a thing, as well as the guys who were involved in it. This documentary works very well as a companion piece to the more well-known The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Whereas The King of Kong tells an entertaining narrative, Chasing Ghosts helps to flesh out the people and the world they obsess over. It may not be something that has universal appeal or even relevance, but it certainly made me smile a lot, and I learned a few things as well.
The Believer (Henry Bean, 2001)
Ryan Gosling‘s skills as an actor were evident even back in 2001. Here he plays Daniel, a neo-nazi who is secretly of Jewish upbringing. Daniel is intelligent and knows how to talk, but he feels shame for his past, and it makes for an intriguing internal conflict. I would have liked more insight into what made Daniel hate Judaism so much, but apart from that, this is fascinating story that’s well told.
Thirst (Chan-wook Park, 2009)
This vampire flick has it all: drama, romance, comedy, blood, sex, and everything inbetween. What starts out with a good-hearted priest getting infected with tainted blood soon developes into a fascinating love story, and/or power struggle. With its multi-faceted story, strong performances by Kang-ho Song and Ok-bin Kim, and neat visuals, Thirst ranks up there with Let the Right One In as the cream of the crop of modern vampire films.
Second Skin (Juan Carlos-Pineiro Escoriaza, 2008)
This is a documentary about people who play MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and such. I used to play myself some years ago, and I’m not sure whether I’d like Second Skin more or less if I hadn’t. One one hand, I didn’t learn anything new here. On the other hand, there were seome sections where I found myself nodding knowingly with a smile on my face. It’s a good documentary, however. It shows both the good and the bad of online gaming, the pacing is good, and they’ve found interesting enough characters to focus on.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Eric Radomski & Bruce Timm, 1993)
Well, it’s Batman. That’s always a good start. There’s a lot of flashbacks and romance in this one, which is all fine and dandy. Unfortunately, it steals time away from the crime fighting, action and villain stuff, which is what I tend to like best about the whole Batman thing. I don’t particularly love anything about this film, but it’s decent enough entertainment for 75 minutes.
The Prophecy II (Greg Spence, 1998)
First movie I watched on Netflix. Me and my friends didn’t realize it was a sequel until the opening credits, but we decided to roll with it despite none of us having seen – or heard of – the first one. Maybe the original is a great movie. Maybe knowing the backstory of it makes this sequel a great movie too. As it stands, however? This was quite bad, and very dull, with a nonsense Terminator-esque plot about angels and demons or something. Not even Christopher Walken could save this one.
The Devil’s Rejects (Rob Zombie, 2005)
Now this I like! Fresh and stylish horror, not the kind that tries to scare you as such, but rather wants to take you on one hell of a ride. Bordering on torture porn at times, but it’s pseudo-comedic tone and unexpected choices for plot direction ensures that there’s always more depth to the film than what one might expect. Throw in a cast of colorful characters, some inspired soundtrack selections and one damn fine ending, and you have a winner on your hands here. Well done, Mr. Zombie.
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock, 2011)
The idea and approach of this doc is right up my alley: make a movie about product placement and advertising, funded entirely by product placement. It’s meta, and Spurlock has the right abundance of enthusiasm and energy to make it an entertaining project. However, being funny doesn’t really suffice. This is a documentary that presents itself as being about advertising, but it doesn’t really tell me anything new about this subject. It’s an exercise in skimming the surface, never dipping more than a toe into the depths below. A bit of a missed opportunity, and I can’t help but wonder if the process of the film didn’t get in the way of the goal to some extent.
Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project (Barry Avrich, 2011)
A documentary about movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the effect he had on independent movies. ClInteresting stuff, but not entirely without its problems. Despite the title and the opening narration – about how Weinstein refused to participate in the film and how he strongly adviced others not to either – this really isn’t a very hard-hitting look at the controversial Harvey. The execution is also a bit dry, with “talking heads” syndrome all over the place. Still, if you’re interested in the subject, it’s well worth checking out.
Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
High school romantic comedies will have to work damn hard to truly impress. It’s all too easy for them to fall into routine, clichées, and formula. While Clueless might not entirely avoid these pitfalls, it does something almost as good: it makes you suspend disbelief and buy into it regardless. If the climas has me with a big smile on my face, that’s often proof of success. There’s plenty of other admirable things about Clueless, though. Like how the characters buck stereotypes to the point where they become these unusual entities that could never exist in the real world, yet seem absolutely plausible in their own universe. Like the clever dialogue. Like the genuinely funny humor. Like Alicia Silverstone‘s spot-on lead performance. Oh yeah, this one’s getting the full monty.
Devil’s Playground (Lucy Walker, 2002)
Another documentary among many this month. Devil’s Playground is about “rummspringa”, the Amish concept of teens venturing out into the “real” world in order to figure out wether they want to stay Amish or not. While it starts off documenting a couple of different kids, it gradually starts homing in on one particular person. I’d have preferred it to stay broader, since it’s an interesting enough subject to warrant multiple angles. It’s still a solid doc, but it could have been better.
The Remains of the Day (James Ivory, 1993)
This film completely floored me emotionally. The scenes shared by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are so powerful I almost bit holes into my knuckles. It’s rare for me to find a movie that causes such response in me, and what makes it all the more remarkable is that I already knew what was going to happen. I read the Kazuo Ishiguro novel the film was based on just an odd month or so ago. Despite this, I was at the edge of my seat watching this. The story is a strong one indeed, and James Ivory makes smart choices in how to bring it to the big screen. Still, the shining star here is Hopkins in the lead as the emotionally repressed butler Stevens, surely among the very finest performances of the 90s. Wonderful stuff. The Remains of the Day is a must-see.
The Day (Douglas Aarniokoski, 2011)
Uninspired post-apocalypse mud, filled with unlikeable and boring characters, jumpy-cut action, and more gray and brown than you can shake a stick at. Shannyn Sossamon is in it, though. That’s always worth noting.
Clean, Shaven (Lodge Kerrigan, 1993)
It’s moderately interesting as a portrayal of schizophrenia, and there are scenes of great discomfort for sure (God damn finger nail scene!). Even so, this is one of those films that’s a chore to sit through despite it being only 79 minutes long. Not my cup of tea.
Fearless (Peter Weir, 1993)
Roger Ebert says in his review that the film’s real subject is the fragility of everyday life. I can buy into that, and it’s a better way to put it than I ever could. A fascinating story about a man who survives a plane crash, yet changes his life, or has his life changed, in a great many ways. Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez put in great performances, but it’s Weir’s direction that really takes the film to the next level. Of special note are the opening and ending scenes, which are both masterfully executed.
Inside Man (Spike Lee, 2006)
This probably isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this, but I love the way Spike Lee makes his movies both look and sound. His heart is obviously on racial issues, so that’s what most of his films are about, but his audiovisual talents could just as well be applied to broader genre stuff. Case in point: this film. A rock-solid hostage thriller that keeps you guessing throughout, that ramps up the tension in logical fashion, and then provides closure that isn’t quite what you might expect from a movie like this. Unless you remember that this is Spike Lee, of course, since he doesn’t seem to care much about doing things the way they’re meant to be done. This isn’t his best movie – that’s 25th Hour – nor is it his most important one – Do the Right Thing says hello – but it’s a more than respectable entry in his filmography.
The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
It’s basically male wish fulfillment, and neither Ben nor Elaine are all that fascinating characters. In spite of these faults, this is still a funny, well-acted and enjoyable movie, with enough directorial flourishes and pleasant songs to keep things interesting even when the story falters. I’m not sure if it’ll hang on to its rating as I gain more temporal distance to the film, though.
Get Low (Aaron Schneider, 2009)
When you have Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek in prominent roles, you know the movie won’t have any half-assing on the acting side of things. Duvall in particular is the heart and soul of the film, delivering a raw and heartfelt performance as a hermit waiting to die yet wanting to settle things in life first. The rest of the film might pale in comparison, but it’s still a solid piece of work overall. A simple story that nonetheless rings completely true, and with atmosphere that feels altogether genuine.