Color me shocked that I almost tied last month’s movie tally this month. October felt very movie-heavy. November, by comparison, just kind of drifted by, but I apparently watched a lot of stuff regardless. Not that I’m complaining. I got some good watching done, knocking off a couple more from my 2011 Must-See list, as well as some classics that I should have watched a long time ago. Yeah, November was a good month indeed.
Neds (Peter Mullan, 2010)
Set in Glasgow in the 1970s, Neds follows a boy during his growing-up phase, from promising smart kid to trouble-making delinquent. The transition is presented in an engaging fashion and, for the most part, shows a believable trajectory. Some well-timed humor makes for a welcome addition in the early goings as well. The problem is that it all gets a repetitive, with the second half of the film treading water rather than breaking new ground. Some more time could have been spent fine-tuning it in the cutting room. It’s a slightly better film than Mullan’s previous effort The Magdalene Sisters, though.
Rampart (Oren Moverman, 2011)
Hard-hitting character study of one rotten L.A. cop, expertly portrayed by a rarely-better Woody Harrelson. He and Oren Moverman make for one hell of a team, judging by this and their previous collaboration The Messenger. Moverman does great work here, utilizing colors and camera angles in striking ways that really make the film come alive. And this is only his second film. I’m eagerly anticipating what he’ll come up with next.
Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011)
I’m a major fan of Jason Reitman. That Young Adult is probably his weakest film to date has more to do with the awesomeness of Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air, than with any supposed lack of quality in this latest effort. Because Young Adult is really good. It’s a brisk and fun look at an interesting woman – Charlize Theron‘s Mavis – who’s possibly be the best-written character Diablo Cody has provided cinema with. The film might not tell a story we haven’t heard before, and it could have done with a bit more narrative muscle, but, in the end, this is Jason Reitman. And Jason Reitman makes damn fine films.
Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988)
One of the problems with relying on special effects is that your film will age without much grace. Beetlejuice is full of visual tricks of all kinds, and while the ideas do contain imagination, the execution of them naturally aren’t impressive these days. This could be excused if the effects were actually used for a specific purpose, like to scare us or make us laugh, but here they don’t really have anything to do other than to fill us with awe, which they don’t do. Of course, effects aren’t the whole movie, so why do I talk so much about them? Because they’re constantly pushed to the forefront of the film, stealing attention away from what starts out as a semi-promising story. Sadly, this fails to hold up. My experience with the title character encapsulates the whole film: I spent the first half of the film waiting for him to show up, and the other half wishing he’d stay away. To end this on a positive note: the Danny Elfman-penned score is a good one!
Mansome (Morgan Spurlock, 2012)
A large part of what made both Super Size Me and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold work was Morgan Spurlock himself. When in front of the camera, he has a great way of infusing his documentaries with energy, and this helps to make even straight-forward subject matters seem rich and compelling. So when he decides to largely keep the focus off of himself for Mansome, the result is lacking. It doesn’t help that the subject matter of male grooming itself feels trivial compared to his previous work, or that the comedy bits with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett are forced and out-of-place.
Source Code (Duncan Jones, 2011)
Time travel/time loop movies are always fun. This one is no exception, with Jake Gyllenhaal clearly having some fun with his lead role. The drawn-out ending hurts the film, however, making it go out with a whimper rather than a bang.
An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981)
Credit where credit is due: the transformation scene was awesome. Alas, nothing else in the film even comes close to it. This was, frankly, kind of dull.
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (Woody Allen, 2001)
Probably the funniest Woody Allen film I’ve seen so far, though not necessarily the best one. The constant bickering between Allen and Helen Hunt is fun, and certainly the main attraction here. The plot itself is nothing too special.
Mister Foe (David Mackenzie, 2007)
Somewhat dark coming-of-age story that took its time to win me over. The protagonist (Jamie Bell) is one of those characters that doesn’t really have many positive qualities, instead being saddled with justifications for his negative traits. This creates a barrier between him and the viewer that doesn’t get fully conquered until the last third of the film. It’s solidly made, though, and the story travels to places many other tales don’t.
Rounders (John Dahl, 1998)
This was fine. Nothing exceptional or noteworthy – other than John Malkovich‘s fun hammy turn as a Russian baddie – but good enough entertainment for 2 hours.
Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011)
For the first half or so, this film felt very plain to me. Just a portrait of a guy in a small town in Texas. Even when he commits a serious crime, the story still feels like it’s just going through the motions. The interesting part happens after this, when he’s on trial. Here’s where the movie very effectively makes me question to what degree Bernie is actually “guilty”. It’s legality versus morality versus spirituality, all interwoven with interview segments of fellow townfolks and matter-of-factly courtroom scenes. It’s really good stuff, and the goodness lasts all up to the ending credits. However, here it’s stated that the film is based on a true story with real people, a fact that had slipped me by up until that point. When you base a narrative movie like this on real events, I feel like you need to have some degree of fairness in how you portray things. Looking up the case online afterwards, this one doesn’t seem to play it as fair as I would like it to. Your mileage may vary, of course. It’s an intriguing movie, in any case, and Jack Black has rarely been better. Check it out and form your own opinion.
Paprika (Satoshi Kon, 2006)
If you enjoy subject matters such as those in Inception and The Cell, Paprika should be right up your alley. I do, so it was. A trippy journey through dreams and subconsciousness, nicely paced and with imagination to spare. Does it make sense? Probably not, but then dreams rarely do. Lovely animation, too.
Ted (Seth MacFarlane, 2012)
Bobby Fischer Against the World (Liz Garbus, 2011)
Well done documentary about the fascinating story that is Bobby Fischer. Chess genius extraordinaire, but also a very troubled man. The film shows both his rise to the top, as well as his descent into paranoia and other issues. Captivating. Recommended for anyone.
The Devil’s Advocate (Taylor Hackford, 1997)
I will definitely call this film enjoyable on average, but it’s certainly an uneven ride. The first half or so is a bit pedestrian, and the pacing is awkward, with some plot threads dragging and others needing more time to mature. The climax, however, is a highly memorable scene, perfectly suited to the story and delivered wonderfully. And then the very ending sucks. Through it all, the thing that always keeps the film above water is Al Pacino. There is not a second of the film where he’s on screen that you’re likely to be bored.
The Amateurs (Michael Traeger, 2005)
Movies about regular people trying to make a porno are not exactly common, but they’re still sort of “a thing”. I can think of three or four other ones I’ve seen in the genre. The Amateurs is neither the best nor the worst of the bunch. It’s awkwardly cut and relies way too much on voice-over – this might all the intentional, but who knows. There is a surprising amount of heart present, however, particularly in the way it shows the bonds between these small-town friends. The talent of the cast (Jeff Bridges, Joe Pantoliano, William Fichtner, John Hawkes, etc.) is too big to be fully utilized in a film like this, but they all put in satisfactory efforts. Ultimately, this might be a film I want to like more than I actually like it. But I do like it.
The Matador (Richard Shepard, 2005)
I’ve had a sneaking suspicion for quite some time that Pierce Brosnan, while not bad, is an actor incapable of greatness. After seeing The Matador, I’m happy to say that I was wrong. He is teriffic here, playing an assassin swaying back and forth between jovial friendliness and weariness. Greg Kinnear plays the straight man – always a thankless task – but still infuses his own character with enough life to make it rise above its station. The two actors have good chemistry with each other, and the dialogue is great – I was almost surprised to find out that it was neither based on a stageplay nor on an Elmore Leonard novel. The Matador is a deeply fun take on the hitman character, and I can find few negatives to bring up. A great movie, and one worthy of more love.
District 13: Ultimatum (Patrick Allesandrin, 2009)
District 13 was a bit of a fresh breeze in the action genre. It utilized parkour in a way that no other film has managed to pull off since. It had its share of problems though, and they are magnified in this sequel. Too much time is spent on a tired plot – one that feels like a retread of the original’s – and there really aren’t any characters anywhere. The action scenes are still cool for sure, but there’s not enough of them. A disappointing follow-up.
The Future (Miranda July, 2011)
Hey, speaking of disappointing follow-ups… I was a big fan of Miranda July’s debut feature Me and You and Everyone We Know. This sophomore effort feels like it’s trying too hard to do nothing at all. Or maybe to do too much. There is no substance beneath the quirk here, and even though I have a high treshold for quirk, this one went way too far. I don’t know. Maybe this is just a round-about way for me to say that I didn’t understand the film. That said, it was certainly different, so I’ll still be there to see what July cooks up next time.
The General (Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman, 1926)
This would be my first Buster Keaton film ever. As a ha-ha comedy, it hasn’t aged all that well. I snickered once or twice, but it’s not that funny overall. It’s quite impressive filmmaking, however, with plenty of stunts and set pieces that made me go “whoa” or “how did they do that?”. The overall impression is thus a positive one. Somewhat. I’m more eager to see more Charlie Chaplin than Buster Keaton, though.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
Funny, sharp, and clever comedy about war-related absurdities. Peter Sellers pulling triple duty offers quite a few laughs, but I liked George C. Scott‘s animated general the best. Still, it’s the material itself more than any particular performers that make this one a real winner.
The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson, 2008)
Why don’t people talk about this film more? Very entertaining con movie that kept me on my toes from start to finish, having me guessing how many layers there were to the plots through clever uses of red herrings and trickery in fair ways. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the humor is right up my alley too. All the main players are good here – although Rinko Kikuchi is a bit wasted – but Rachel Weisz steals the show in a way I didn’t expect from her.
Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
It’s nice to finally be able to knock this one off of my List of Shame. Jaws mostly lived up to the hype. I dug the way it gradually ramps up the tension, and the entire second half of shark-hunting is teriffically thrilling stuff.
The Ten (David Wain, 2007)
The cast is filled with a bizarelly big amount of familiar names and faces. Bizarelly, because this is a pretty weak-natured anthology comedy, with little ambition and crude material. It’s not the kind of film you’d expect to attract much star power. Granted, a bit of it is retroactive recognition as some of the actors weren’t quite as big back then, but… Anyway, the problem here is that the various segments are only vaguely amusing on paper, and rarely manage to grow beyond their origins. “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny to have Winona Ryder‘s character fall in love with a ventriloquist’s dummy?” Yeah, this could make for a funny story, but they don’t do anything with it. Still, there are moments of mild amusement sprinkled throughout, so it’s not a total dud.
Mad Dog and Glory (John McNaughton, 1993)
Many people might rank Robert De Niro as the best actor in the world. I might rank Bill Murray as my favorite actor in the world. Both play against type here, with De Niro as a meek cop and Murray as a tough mafia boss. Of course, since this is De Niro and Murray, they both do great. The story is a good one, focusing on the cop’s wish to be more courageous and desirable, and I was fascinated for most of the film. The problem is the weak ending, which requires more insight into Murray’s character than what is provided. As it is, the scene just has me wondering why it plays out the way it does, requiring guessing and theorizing in an unsatisfactory way. Alas. Good movie overall, though.
Angel-A (Luc Besson, 2005)
Some Things That I Like. #1: Paris in black & white. #2: Happening upon an actor I recognize from Amélie – here it’s Jamel Debouzze who played Lucien, the kind and bullied stall assistant. #3: When a director who I mostly know from other genres shows that he’s capable of branching out. #4: Visual symbolism that, while not subtle, still has me going “I wish I had thought of that!” – in particular, there’s a really cool scene in Angel-A where the shadows from a fence paints fishnet stockings on a woman’s legs, right after she has seduced a mob boss to help out the protagonist. So there’s quite a bit of stuff I like in this movie. The premise, of a man planning to leap from a bridge only to get interrupted by an angel (Rie Rasmussen) who seeks to make him appreciate life more, has of course been done before, but it works here thanks to some nice humor and the grander ideas it suggests. It’s not free from flaws, however. There are pacing issues, the two leads could have had better chemistry with one another, and for such a word-heavy movie, the dialogue rarely pops. Despite this, Angel-A is an interesting film, and one I’m glad I checked out even if I wasn’t blown away by it.
Looper (Rian Johnson, 2012)
Huh. So here’s a time travel movie that A: seemingly makes sense according to its own rules, B: does so without being too complicated to follow, and C: still presents a very satisfying and unpredictable story. Imagine that. The plot does indeed drive the movie, and it has enough meat to it to make me want to see it again at some point. The film also looks great, which is always a plus. I can find little to complain about here. Good stuff.