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Monthly Report: October + November 2013

Another month or two, another bunch of movies seen. October was a bit middling with few real highlights, but November picked up in a big way. November 11 in particular was a great day, with two 5/5 movies seen, something I don’t think has ever happened before. Good times.

Fright Night (Craig Gillespie, 2011)
A solid horror movie, albeit one with few surprises along the way. What I really liked about it was how the characters and their reactions felt largely believable. They filled standard parts for a horror film, but they did in such a way that they didn’t come off as mere archetypes. That was cool, and a spark of just the kind of thing I’d expect from the director of Lars and the Real Girl.
3/5

Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, 2012)
I wouldn’t take any of the theories on Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining presented in this documentary as anything resembling facts, but it’s nonetheless quite fun to listen to people talk about something they’re passionate about and have devoted a lot of time to. It’s all fairly well executed and presented, but it does get a bit samey at times. Perhaps a shorter run time would have been a nice idea.
3/5

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God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2011)
As subtle as a bowling ball, and roughly as sharp, but at its best, it’s a really funny black comedy; at its worst, it’s Goldthwait soap-boxing in the guise of 10 minutes long montages of TV parodies. It’s a good movie, but hardly a step forward from his previous film World’s Greatest Dad.
3/5

Good Bye Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003)
A sweet story combined with an interesting look at East Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While the basic premise of a lie that needs to be upheld is far from rare, the setting and earnestness makes it work here. A fun and fairly touching watch.
4/5

Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012)
The acting is the strong point of the film, with Channing Tatum doing everything right in the lead and Matthew McConaughey putting in a supporting turn that’s charisma all the way through. The story is fine, but you’d expect a Soderbergh movie about male strippers to either have more to say, or at least put a fresher spin on things. There’s a lot of angles that could be explored here, and it feels like there’s plenty of missed opportunities. Not the director’s bravest effort.
3/5

A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
Very 80s-y. Freddy is more goofy than anything, and the ending is awful, but it does have its moments. Although not many.
2/5

The Eye (David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2008)
Jessica Alba sees something scary and freaks out. Repeat a thousand times. Roll credits. Weak horror movie with a story that moves at a snail’s pace.
2/5

Avalon (Axel Petersén, 2011)
Kind of dry, like many Swedish films tend to be. Johannes Brost puts in a strong lead performance, and really shines when his character is stricken by guilt. Those scenes are the highlight of the film. The rest, I could take or leave. The ending is pretty but weak.
2/5

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Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh, 2013)
Twisty, tense and entertaining thriller that keeps you on your toes throughout. The antidepressant element of the plot helped introduce some welcome ambiguity to the proceedings, and Rooney Mara puts in a performance at least as good as the one in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Just a damn solid film.
4/5

The Innkeepers (Ti West, 2011)
Perhaps not so much a slow-burner as a late-starter, The Innkeepers lulls you into first thinking it’ll be one certain kind of horror film, only to carefully flip your expectations upside down – or at least 90°. By the end of it, the tension and atmosphere had me clutching my pillow tightly. Great pacing, wonderful execution, and a very compelling set of lead characters. Best horror film I’ve seen in quite some time.
4/5

Win Win (Tom McCarthy, 2011)
There’s little particularly new or noteworthy about the story and characters in this film, but fine execution goes a long way and makes this a solid and enjoyable watch regardless. With a lesser cast, this could have turned out really weak.
3/5

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)
While there’s a lot to like about this film, the best reason to see it is to witness Elizabeth Olsen‘s terrific performance in the leading role. There’s a lot of tricky emotions at play for her character, and she nails it all. The rest of the movie can’t really hope to match it fully, but that says more about Olsen than anything else. It’s a fascinating character study, as much about paranoia as about cult life, and while the ending really caught me off guard, it did so in a way that made me reevaluate what the film was really trying to say. And that’s fine. As is the movie.
4/5

The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011)
Brendan Gleeson is in fine form here, playing a somewhat grumpy policeman. He and Don Cheadle have plenty of fun interactions with one another, rising above your usual “buddy cop” routines. The plot itself might be somewhat familiar, but that’s not what you should be here for; the Irishness of both the humor and the tone is what makes the film stand out.
4/5

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
The opening scene had me immediately enthralled. 10 minutes in, I had found 10 or so things about this film I really loved. And then it just kept on going at that same high level. A horrific tale to be sure, but it’s impossible to tear one’s eyes from the screen. A top-notch performance by Tilda Swinton, and Ramsay’s directing is flawless. Had I seen this when I was first getting into movies some years ago, it would have blown my damn mind. Even watching it now, it still does.
5/5

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Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
I wasn’t all that enamored by Cuarón’s much-beloved previous film Children of Men, finding it visually impressive but sterile to a fault in terms of story and characters. I was thus a bit wary of Gravity, in spite of all the praise it has been receiving. Well, Gravity is good. It’s really good. Great, in fact. The visuals are certainly the highlight here too, but they’re combined with solid characters (Sandra Bullock has probably never been better), thematic food-for-thoughts, and more suspense and excitement than you can shake a stick at. Wonderful.
5/5

Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011)
Cool Norwegian thriller that ramps up and transforms as it moves along. Some of the more comedic parts feel a bit out of place, but that’s about the only major gripe I have with the film. Everything else is pulled off really well, which makes for a captivating ride.
4/5

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
Exhilarating action scenes, solid plot and characters, interesting theme of old vs new, expert pacing, and visually stunning. That last thing is almost done to a fault, as there were times when the flashy cinematography took me out of the moment. Overall, however, this is a very fine action film, one of my favorite Bond movies, and another winner from Sam Mendes.
4/5

Six Degrees of Separation (Fred Schepisi, 1993)
Six Degrees of Separation somewhat fails to get its point across, and the transition from stage to screen is not a particularly smooth one. Whether Will Smith is just ill-suited for this kind of theater material or whether it was just too early in his career for him to tackle it, I’m not sure. He’s not bad, but his part is one that ought to sparkle, and it doesn’t here. The cast is fine for the most part, though the acting is lacking in “oomph” until Stockard Channing‘s big emotional scene towards the end.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 18
Average score: 3.4 / 5
Best film of the months: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Worst film of the months: The Eye

 
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Posted by on 1 December, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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My backlog for 2012

It’s getting to that time of the year where people start constructing their Top 10 lists of the best films from the past twelve months. I will of course not be doing this. Hell, I still haven’t gotten around to doing my 2011 list yet. You might remember a list I made back in January where I named all the 2011 films I wanted to see before I finalized my Top 10. Well, I still have eight movies or so left on that one.

Still, that’s no reason to not look to the future, or present, or what have you. I’m fantastically behind in my 2012 watching as well, as you can imagine, due to a combination of delayed Swedish release dates, laziness, and an ongoing desire to catch up with not just the newest stuff, but also 100+ years of cinema. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be ahead of the pack, but I’ll continue doing what I can to keep up.

Without further ado, here are the films I want to see before I put out my Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2012 list. Maybe they won’t be great, and maybe there are others I’ll see that will be, but this is my current personal check list. It could change in the future, I should point out. In alphabetical order:

Amour – because I ought to watch more Michael Haneke anyway.

Argo – because there is no reason to abandon the Ben Affleck train yet, considering how great Gone Baby Gone and The Town were.

Bachelorette – because I like comedy.

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Beasts of the Southern Wild – because of the image above.

The Campaign – because Will Ferrell is funny, and so is Zach Galifianakis.

Celeste and Jesse Forever – because it’s always interesting to see funny people branch out.

Cloud Atlas – because ambition should be rewarded.

Cockneys vs Zombies – because even if only a few people are talking about it, they all seem to love it.

Compliance – because the premise intrigues.

Cosmopolis – because a friend emphatically told me that it would be right up my alley.

Django Unchained – because it’s Quentin Tarantino. Duh.

end-of-watch-posterEnd of Watch – because it somehow seems unfair to watch Rampart without seeing this one too.

Flight – because it’s Robert Zemeckis doing live action.

For a Good Time Call – because, much to my perplexity, someone told me I might possibly love it.

Frankenweenie – because in the middle of working on this blog post, I took a break to listen to the Oscar Talk podcast, and they had a lot of compelling praise for this one.

Hitchcock – because The Remains of the Day recently reminded me of what an amazing actor Anthony Hopkins is.

Holy Motors – because I have no idea what to expect from it.

Hyde Park on Hudson – because no matter how mediocre critical and public response has been, it’s still Bill Murray.

Killer Joe – because everyone seems to dig it.

Les Misérables – because big musicals need to bounce back from some critical duds the last few years, and being a fan of the genre, I will gladly support this endeavor.

Life of Pi – because the religious aspects seem to be something everyone likes, which is quite frankly insane. When have people ever agreed on anything religion-related before?

Magic Mike – because it’s Steven Soderbergh. And because Kevin Nash is in it.

The Master – because I was only missing Hard Eight to complete Paul Thomas Anderson‘s filmography, and I won’t let this one ruin my percentage.

Nicole-Kidman-in-The-PaperboyThe Paperboy – because there has to be something to all these award nominations Nicole Kidman keeps scoring, no?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – because I’ve been confusing it with On the Road for quite some time, and I’ve seen that one now.

Premium Rush – because someone made an off-hand comparison of it to Crank, which I fucking love.

Safety Not Guaranteed – because it’s time travel.

Savages – because it looks so vibrant and colorful.

Searching for Sugar Man – because it’s supposedly one of the best documentaries of the year, and I like good documentaries.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – because of the basic idea.

The Sessions – because the story sounds like something I’ve never seen before, and because it’s John Hawkes in a rare leading role.

Seven Psychopaths – because In Bruges was great, and the cast is promising indeed.

Silver Linings Playbook – because when awards bodies start paying attention to comedies, it’s usually a sign that I’ll love the movie in question.

Skyfall – because it’s Sam Mendes.

Take This Waltz – because 1) it’s Michelle Williams, and 2) see the note on Celeste and Jesse Forever.

This is 40 – because I’m not yet even remotely tired of Judd Apatow.

Wreck-It Ralph – because in addition to being a movie lover, I’m also a gamer.

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Is there anything else from 2012 that I really desperately absolutely ought to check out? What 2012 film do you still feel like you need to see?

 
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Posted by on 15 December, 2012 in Lists

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1999

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the 10 films on this list is the abundance of directing newcomers on it. 7 of the movies were made by people who made their feature film directorial debuts, and while not all of these film-makers would go on to lasting greatness, it still makes for an impressive class of 1999. The other three films are made by two well-established masters and one quickly rising star. There’s also, as usual, a lot of comedy on here. This shouldn’t surprise you with my lists any more.

So far in this series of blog posts, I have chosen to largely abstain from making honorable mentions. This has largely been due to a stubborn adherence to principles; if one sets out to make a list of 10 films, one should not name 20 films. I have now realized that this is counter-productive to the aim of these lists, which is to give people an idea of what movies I like.

With that in mind, here are some 1999 films I really like that didn’t quite make my list. Honorable mentions, if you will. In alphabetical order:

Arlington Road, Beyond the Mat, Bringing Out the Dead, Girl Interrupted, The Green Mile, In China They Eat Dogs, Magnolia, Office Space, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Toy Story 2

Now on to the list proper. As usual, I’m going by IMDB’s year of release.

10 – EYES WIDE SHUT (Stanley Kubrick)

“No dream is ever just a dream.”

Equal parts nightmare sightseeing tour through New York City and meditation on infidelity, Stanley Kubrick finished off his career in great fashion with Eyes Wide Shut. Impeccably designed and shot – as is to be expected from Kubrick – and with one of Tom Cruise‘s best performances in the lead, this film is also helped by having a strong story, one that might seem simple and straight-forward on paper but that reveals more layers with each watch.

9 – THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez)

“I’m afraid to close my eyes, I’m afraid to open them.”

While this movie didn’t invent the found footage genre of film (Cannibal Holocaust from 1980 seems to be the agreed-upon originator), The Blair Witch Project popularised it, paving the way for films like REC, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity and many others. When I first watched it at home alone one night as a teen, it had me rattled to the core. Even today, it remains a highly effective horror film by making us fear what we can’t see, rather than throwing a monster right in our faces. A picture might say more than a thousand words, but in horror, so does a sound that shouldn’t be there.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 5 March, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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The Book and the Movie – Revolutionary Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t meant to take so long for Richard Yates‘ highly acclaimed novel Revolutionary Road to find its way to the big screen. The book was released in 1961 and was planned to be adapted to film soon after, but problems with putting together a usable script and distribution rights kept the movie project in development hell for decades. It wasn’t until 2008 when the finished film was actually released. By then, Yates himself had been dead for 16 years. So it goes.

Set in 1950s America, the story told is of the middle-class married couple Frank and April Wheeler (in the film played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet). They live in suburban Connecticut, with Frank working a dull office job while April looks after their two kids. As the drudgery of suburbia starts taking its toll on their marriage, they hatch a plan to move to Paris to give Frank time to find his purpose in life and become all that he can be. Complications arise however, and the marriage keeps crumbling.

The movie follows the novel quite faithfully in terms of plot. Some parts are left out, but it still mostly plays out the same way in both mediums. A lot of the dialogue is also lifted straight from the source with no rewriting, which works well since it gives a sense of accuracy to the language of the time period. Screenwriter Justin Haythe has put forth an effective script here, one that hits most of the notes of the book while still keeping things running smoothly.

The novel is told mostly from Frank’s point of view, with a few choice passages devoted to April, their neighbors the Campbells and their realtor Helen Givings. In the movie, April gets a bit more room to play and we see things a bit more from her perspective. This is a smart move as she’s a crucial character, and in a medium where one can’t delve as much into Frank’s thought process, something else is needed to add richness to the relationship between the two characters. They come off as more on equal terms here than in the novel, even if it still remains largely Frank’s story.

Indeed, the thing I miss most in the movie is partaking in Frank’s reasoning. He’s constantly rationalizing and planning ahead in the novel, especially during a prolonged period of arguement between him and April which he strategizes as though it was a military operation. Another thing the movie fails to go into is Frank’s feelings towards his father. Some scenes in the movie concerning this took on a somewhat different meaning for me when I rewatched it after having read the novel.

Director Sam Mendes does a lot of things right with his adaptation, however. Revolutonary Road isn’t the first time he’s made a film about people trapped in suburbia. His debut American Beauty dealt with the same subject matter, so it’s something he’s familiar with. He still finds new ways and angles to approach the themes, though. One striking sequence early on in the film shows Frank on his way to work, surrounded by people just like him, men in the same suits and the same hats, mulling about like ants in an ant farm. It’s a great way to visualize Frank’s feelings of being stuck in mundanity when he and April have always considered themselves to be special and destined for better things. Thomas Newman‘s score, including the recurring main theme, is also a big point in the film’s favor.

And then we have the actors who uniformly do a fine job. Winslet is the stand-out, always giving off the imprssion of believability despite the shifting moods her character goes through. DiCaprio is vivid as Frank, always on edge. When the role calls for him to really fly odd the handle, he doesn’t disappoint. The two actors have great chemistry together and not once am I reminded of them being star-crossed lovers in Titanic a decade earlier. They embody their parts here very neatly. In the supporting cast we find a solid pool of talent: Kathy Bates, Dylan Baker, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn, Michael Shannon and others. All good or great.

I found the film quite enthralling the first two times I saw it. It’s a striking portrayal of the hopeful 50s and the pressure that time could create, with enough new facets to the image of suburban life to keep it from becoming a retread of American Beauty for Mendes. Through the actors, the score, the set designs and much more, Revolutionary Road is a great film in its own right, and one that holds up surprisingly well even after having read the novel.

That being said, I do like the book better. We get much better insight into the characters, and this really helps to create even more nuances and depth to the themes of the novel. It’s one of those things where the film doesn’t feel lacking for not having it, but the book is very much enrichened by it. Yates doesn’t utilize the kind of extensive vocabulary that’s on display in the other books I’ve talked about on this blog (Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road and Rex Pickett‘s Sideways), but this is not a minus. The prose flows really well and it’s easy to get caught in the characters and their loves. It’s a proper page-turner even when you know how it’s going to end.

So in conclusion: great film, greater novel. Pick whichever medium suits you best, but if that’s a tie, go for the book. It’s a story well worth experiencing either way.

 
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Posted by on 17 September, 2011 in The Book and the Movie

 

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