Four months at a whack here, but really, I haven’t been watching all that much, thanks to sleeping almost all of the time and lacking the attention span for more than 30-minute TV shows when I AM awake (see why here). Interestingly, all of my “loved” films this time around are 2012 films. That’s strange and weird to me, especially since I watched a few “unassailable” classics, but I’m being honest about how I felt about them at the time I watched them. Also, there’s a preponderance of new releases anyway since going to the theatre tends to keep me awake and engaged a bit more right now than watching films at home, so I’ve watched fewer films at home than usual.
What I Loved
I’d heard everything from “mind-blowing masterpiece” to “vapid, messy drivel” about this film coming out of TIFF, so I had no idea what to expect when I went into it. As you may have guessed, I’m far closer to the “mind-blowing masterpiece” side of the scale; in fact, as of right now, it’s sitting atop my Top 2012 Films list. I read the book a couple of months ago in preparation, and I’m sure that affected how I received the film – I didn’t actually love the book, largely because I felt like it was more of an exercise in pastiche, more interested in proving David Mitchell’s chops at imitating different styles of writing and less interested in actually making meaningful connections between the different stories. The movie still has the different styles, but less pronounced (because it’s difficult to get such things as “19th century journal” and “epistolary novel” to translate to film stylistically), and the stories are all intercut with each other, a brilliant way to strengthen and highlight the thematic tissue connecting the stories. Putting the music of the Cloud Atlas Sextet front and center lends the film a symphonic quality heightened by the editing to create something that as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is exactly what I was missing from the book. It’s rare to say, even for a non-book-purist like me, but in this case, the movie is easily better than the book – quite a statement especially for a book that many people have long considered unfilmable. Well done.
2012 USA. Directors: Andy & Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer. Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon.
Seen October 27 at AMC Burbank 16.
I came into The Master with some trepidation, since I’m just about the only person on earth who really disliked There Will Be Blood, and I wasn’t sure if PT Anderson could get back on my good side or not. Thankfully, he did, and while I would say I only “really liked” The Master when first leaving the theatre, thinking back on it and talking about it has raised it my estimation a LOT. I might still like Magnolia (see below) a bit better of PTA’s films, but it’s close, and so far The Master is probably the best movie of the year for me. The interplay between Phoenix and Hoffman is incredible – two actors at the top of their game, playing off their very different styles (and very different characters) against each other. Amy Adams holds her own as well, which I didn’t expect. And the jittery camerawork/focus underscores the story – really, the character study – perfectly. Images, lines, contrasts, outbursts, quiet moments – they’ve all come flooding back to me without warning over the weeks since I saw the movie, and that’s what I call a sign of a great film. Great enough I might be willing to give TWBB another chance. We’ll see.
2012 USA. Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams.
Seen September 15 at Arclight Hollywood.
With Argo, Ben Affleck cements his career as a director even further, proving that while many of us have lost faith with him as an actor, when he’s behind the camera, he can do little wrong. This time he’s in front of the camera as well, which worried me a little (I didn’t see The Town, which also had him as actor-director), but he comes through in both roles. Taking a side story from the Iran Hostage Crisis of six Americans who managed to escape the embassy and hide out in the Canadian ambassador’s house, Affleck plays an extraction expert whose crazy plan to get them out involves a fake movie for which they will be the fake scouting crew in Tehran. The film’s seemingly unwieldy combination of real-life political thriller (which is highly tense and dramatic) and Hollywood show biz story (which has a good deal of comedy) comes together perfectly, while Affleck and Co’s eye for period ’70s detail puts him right up there with Soderbergh. An old-fashioned thrill ride with a great cast.
2012 USA. Director: Ben Affleck. Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy.
Seen October 13 at AMC Burbank 16.
This has been my most-anticipated film ever since I first heard about it more than a year ago, thanks to my abiding love for Rian Johnson films (I loved Brick more than The Brothers Bloom, but they’re both really good), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and time travel. I successfully avoided almost all the marketing for it, so I went in pretty cold, and I’m glad I did. The story is more about Gordon-Levitt’s character development (thanks to the incursion of his future self in the form of Bruce Willis) than time travel itself – in fact, Johnson actually wisely refrains from getting into the nitty-gritty of the time travel, which keeps the focus squarely on the characters, and I liked that. There are a few plot holes if you analyze the time travel too deeply, but I don’t think they ultimately matter in terms of the character-focused story, and the combination of character drama and action flick with just a touch of sci-fi works really well.
2012 USA. Director: Rian Johnson. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo.
Seen September 29 at AMC Burbank.
Bike messenger Joseph Gordon-Levitt rides his bike around NYC at breakneck speeds, trying to deliver a life-or-death package, avoid the dirty cop trying to catch him, the real bicycle cop he pissed off, and fight a rival bike messenger for the affections of his girlfriend. And it’s pretty much non-stop adrenaline from start to finish. That’s about all you need to know. This is an old-fashioned B-level genre movie, and it hits every note right. Sure, it’s got nothing deep going on, but it doesn’t try to be any more than it is and for 85 minutes of pure fun, this kind of thing is hard to beat for me. And Michael Shannon is awesome in this kind of no-holds-barred role (he’s always awesome, but he’s all kinds of fun when he really lets loose).
2012 USA. Director: David Koepp. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Sean Kennedy.
Seen August 8 at AMC Burbank.
West Side Story (1961; rewatched August 9) – First watch on my new Blu-ray. Still love it. Cried. Lamented that no one seems to know how to shoot dance like this anymore. Moved back into my Top Ten on Flickchart.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968; rewatched July 19) – We’ve been waiting for this to hit the big screen for Jonathan to see it for the first time, and this was the opportunity. He was suitably blown away, and I was overwhelmed yet again. Incredible film.
The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967; rewatched August 13) – Feeling poorly means I need comfort films, and this is one of my go-to ones; the music and the colors and the romance simply make me giddy.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948; rewatched October 1) – This has long been my favorite Abbott & Costello film (tempered by the fact that I’ve only seen five or six of them), and for good reason – it mixes perfectly-timed comedy with some genuine chills, thanks to the fact that the monsters all play it straight. Great stuff, and holds up just as well as I’d hoped.
Goldfinger (1964; rewatched July 13) – Jon’s been slowly working his way into the older Bond films, and I snagged the opportunity to show him my favorite one, and yeah – there’s a reason this one’s iconic. It’s the prototype, and it’s still amazingly fresh.
Magnolia (1999; rewatched September 19) – Rewatched for the Matineecast to go along with The Master; still my favorite PTA film, though The Master was pretty great. The way the parts of the ensemble all comes together is emotionally devastating, in the best way possible.
The Big Lebowski (1998; rewatched August 20) – Another comfort film; the laid-back vibe and hilarious dialogue (everything out of John Goodman’s mouth is quotable) fit the bill perfectly that night.
What I Really Liked
The next couple are maybe surprisingly in the “really liked” section instead of the “loved” section, but I’m actually pretty sure they’ll both move up with multiple watches. I’ve been intending to watch Solaris for a LONG time, and finally got around to it, albeit in two or three sittings. (What, it’s long and like I said, I’ve been really tired lately.) Anyway, I really liked the slow pace, and a lot of the ideas it puts forward – I only hesitate to put it under “loved” because I found it hard to take in all at once. Which is not a bad thing – it’s got a LOT going on despite its rather austere surface, and I look forward to returning to it throughout my life and getting more out of it. One of those times my initial fascination and admiration will almost certainly turn to love.
1972 USSR. Director: Andrei Tarkovsky. Starring: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet, Anatoliy Solonitsyn.
Seen July 26 on HuluPlus.
The Passion of Joan of Arc
As soon as I ranked this on Flickchart and shared my ranking, a blogger friend replied and scolded me that “there aren’t 300+ films better than The Passion of Joan of Arc.” He could well be right, but like Solaris, one viewing probably isn’t enough to really get all the facets of this film, as simple as it is on the surface. Falconetti is rightly praised to the moon for her performance here, because almost the entire film is a close-up of her face, and the nuances of emotion and reaction she gets across with subtle facial chances are incredible. The film is taken directly from the transcripts of Joan of Arc’s trial, and that’s all we get – no flashbacks to the battles she fought, or the visions she saw, or anything. All we have to go on is her testimony. I’d like to return to the film after reading more about Joan, as I haven’t myself made up my mind whether she’s saintly or delusional. The filming style is fairly austere as well, relying on Falconetti to get across its emotional content, which can get a little stale in the few moments she’s not on screen – to be honest, the Criterion Hulu print I watched didn’t have a music track with it. I’d love to see it in a theatre sometime with accompaniment.
1929 France. Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer. Starring: Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, André Berley.
Seen August 2 on HuluPlus.
I’ve been excited about this one for a while, just based on the name “Martin McDonagh.” I wasn’t as big a fan of In Bruges as some people I know, but I did find it refreshingly unusual and I expect on a rewatch, I would love it more. Now, The Guard, written and directed by McDonagh’s brother and often collaborator John Michael McDonagh, I loved. Throw in a cast like this and a meta story about a struggling screenwriter, and I was totally psyched for some psychopaths. And by and large I wasn’t disappointed. Sam Rockwell is awesome here, playing off the chain while Colin Farrell switches to straight man, and Walken and Harrelson especially are really enjoyable in their roles as well. The script is really fun and smart, kind of pulling an Adaptation. as the film we’re watching blurs into the film Farrell is trying to write, and Rockwell tries to take over both with his own story ideas. The one thing that kind of knocked it down a couple of pegs is that I really wish Kurylenko and Cornish had actually been given something to do (spoiler alert: The marketing portrays them as two of the titular psychopaths – they are not, they are underused girlfriends); the film plays this off a bit with a clever few lines about how poorly written the female characters in Farrell’s screenplay are, but I would’ve preferred McDonagh to actually fix the problem with HIS screenplay instead. Still, it’s a really enjoyable and witty way to spend a couple of hours.
2012 UK. Director: Martin McDonagh. Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Olga Kurylenko, Abbie Cornish.
Seen October 20 at AMC Burbank 16.
People on Sunday
A rather anomalous little silent film from right at the turn of the silent-to-sound eras, but of even more importantly, made just at the dusk of the Weimar Republic, a mere three years before the National Socialist party would take over Germany. Four men who would make their careers in Hollywood after escaping the Nazi regime worked on the film – Robert and Curt Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Billy Wilder, a collection of names that would turn heads regardless of the film itself. And the film itself is a fascination as well, a snapshot of a single weekend in Berlin among five young men and women, none of them professional actors (except one girl who works as an extra in the movies), and all of whom, according to the film, returned to their regular jobs after making this film. Indeed, it has a documentary-like quality, a passive camera following a foursome around (one girl remains in her apartment and sleeps the weekend away) as they holiday on the beach, though it does have a somewhat-scripted scenario. As a window into a world that very soon would no longer exist, and an experiment in moving away from the tenets of German Expressionism, the film is definitely worth watching – and beyond that, it’s a pretty enjoyable way to spend ninety minutes.
1929 Germany. Directors: Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer. Starring: Erwin Splettstößer, Brigitte Borchert, Wolfgang von Waltershausen, Christl Ehlers, Annie Schreyer.
Seen September 3 on Criterion Blu-ray.
Returning to stop motion and to black and white is definitely a good thing for Tim Burton. This is his most heartfelt and genuinely entertaining film in years. Perhaps it’s going back to material that’s been dear to him for decades (the original short was one of his earliest films), but the expansion and switch to animation is pretty great. I loved that he lingered on Sparky’s death near the beginning, giving Victor and the other characters time to grieve and allowing the impact of the situation to really be felt by the audience. I enjoyed the visual references to older horror films, as obvious as they were, and I really liked seeing the various monsters come to life in the climactic sequence. It’s clearly a loving homage to golden era horror films, but with a sweetness and quietude that spoke to me even more than the other horror-homage-stop-motion cartoon of the year did (see ParaNorman, below). I kind of wish the ending hadn’t copped out quite as much, but after all, it is a family film, so I wasn’t surprised. Several of the children in my audience were’t quite prepared for Sparky’s death in the beginning, so I can’t honestly say I wished for a different ending for their sakes.
2012 USA. Director: Tim Burton. Starring: Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder.
Seen October 6 at AMC Promenade.
Creature from the Black Lagoon
I’ve seen most of the first entries in the various Universal Monster franchises, but had somehow missed this one – probably due to it actually being in the ’50s instead of the ’30s, giving it a different flavor and style than the others. The creature is an evolutionary anomaly, a leftover from a long-ago ice age. A group of scientists finds evidence of the creature’s long-gone mate and goes exploring to find concrete proof of its existence, never expecting to find a live one still living in the depths of the Black Lagoon – until it attacks them and makes off with the one woman on the crew. The film is somewhere between horror and science fiction, as most creature features were in the ’50s, and there’s actually a lot of time spent on the science side of things – which frankly tends to get a little boring. I’m sorry, scuba diving action scenes are rarely that interesting on film (see: Thunderball), but I will give the film a lot of credit for pulling off some gorgeous underwater photography. I’m glad I saw it and I did enjoy it, but it ain’t no Frankenstein.
1954 USA. Director: Jack Arnold. Starring: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning.
Seen October 25 on Netflix Instant.
Resident Evil: Retribution
First off, I am an unabashed fan of the Resident Evil series and of Milla Jovovich. And this movie is actually kind of clever in the way it cycles back through the settings and to some degree, the plots of the previous four films as Alice finds herself captured by the Umbrella Corp and forced to fight her way out through a facility filled with simulations of different zombie/monster scenarios that Umbrella has created or faced in the past. Sure, it’s fan-service, but I’m a fan, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.
2012 USA. Director: Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Bingbing Li, Boris Kodjoe, Johann Urb, Aryana Engineer.
Seen September 22 at AMC Burbank.
The Dark Knight Rises
I’m not as big a fan of the Nolan Batman series as everyone else on the planet. I like them, but they’re not OMG-THE-GREATEST. I did quite enjoy The Dark Knight Rises, possibly even more than I enjoy The Dark Knight (see below). I liked the viewpoint of a city without Batman, the characterization of Bane, the determination of JoGo, and especially Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Catwoman. The latter, especially, gave the film a sense of humor that the other two films sorely lack. The action is filmed better than ever (something I was hoping for, given Nolan’s better control of action in Inception than in his previous films), though there were still a few needlessly confusing bits. Overall, though, I’m not sure I’d get that much out of rewatching it, especially at its length, and talking about it after has made me like it less rather than more, which has knocked it down a few pegs on this list already. In any case, it’s a fitting ending to Nolan’s trilogy, and now I’m curious to see what kind of Batman we’ll get with the inevitable reboot.
2012 USA. Director: Christopher Nolan. Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman.
Seen July 21 at Arclight Hollywood.
Beggars of Life
The last Silent Treatment show I was able to make it to before I stopped volunteering (just don’t have time/energy while pregnant), and it was a pretty solid one to go out on. It may also be the first Louise Brooks film I’ve seen – still got to get to Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl at some point. In this one, Richard Arlen is a drifter who sneaks into a house to find something to eat, only to find a dead guy instead. Turns out he was Brooks’ guardian, but not a very good one, and she whacked him when he tried to rape her. Since she’s got no evidence of that and it looks like she just murdered him in cold blood, the two go on the lam together, hopping trains and trying to survive. Falling in with Wallace Beery’s gang causes some problems, and the whole thing does come to a rather convenient and melodramatic end, but it’s a quite enjoyable ride along the way, with some genuinely menacing moments.
1928 USA. Director: William A. Wellman. Starring: Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen, Wallace Beery.
Seen August 1 at Cinefamily.
I pretty much make it a point to see every stop-motion film that comes out, and I’m rarely disappointed – I wasn’t this time either! Broad comedy mixes with some genuine scares and a better-than-I-expected message in this film squarely aimed at slightly older kids and their parents. I really appreciated that the film wasn’t afraid to be intense and scary at times, though it always knew when to undercut the scares with some comedy to keep it from becoming too much. Once I found out the Puritan background of the story (a group of Puritans burned a witch who now threatens to destroy Norman’s town if he can’t stop it) I was afraid it would turn into typical Puritan-bashing, but it’s actually more nuanced than that, coming out against revenge and strongly in favor of the power of forgiveness. The only complaint I really have is that the film tends to get a bit screamy, especially toward the end, with everyone pitching their voice acting at eleven with little emotional shading, which gets a little exhausting over time. But overall, very clever and a good addition to the annals of Halloween-themed stop-motion.
2012 USA. Directors: Chris Butler, Sam Fell. Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann.
Seen August 25 at the Vista.
I know I’ve seen part or most of this Keaton film before, but I don’t think I’d seen it all the way through until now, so here it is. Keaton has a girl he’s too shy to ask to marry him and a business that’s about to go under, but an inheritance from a recently deceased relative might be the solution to both – or the ruination, since the will stipulates that he must be married by his 27th birthday, which happens to be the following day. His girl gives him the cold shoulder when he lets it slip that he has to get married to get the money, so his partners send him after every girl in town (and every girl in town after him), leading to much hilarity and a chase of potential brides that rivals the thousands-of-extras scene in Cops. It runs some of the gags out a little longer than they’re welcome, which is not the case in most Keaton films, so though it has its fair share of great moments, it ranks a little lower than most of his other films for me.
1925 USA. Director: Buster Keaton. Starring: Buster Keaton, Ruth Dwyer.
Seen August 14 on Netflix Instant.
Roman Polanski’s first English-language film is a claustrophobic and deeply strange thriller of a pair of criminals stranded at an isolated English castle inhabited by a pair of very odd ducks indeed. Our introduction to lady-of-the-house Françoise Dorléac is her consorting with another man; our main intro to her husband Donald Pleasance is her forcing him to dress up in one of her dressing gowns and wear makeup. Though not a lot happens in the film to be honest, there’s a pervading sense of disquiet and unease which I found to some degree offputting, but also fascinating. I feel like one viewing is not enough to unpack the film, which is deceptively simple, but seems rich with insinuation. Will definitely have to revisit at some point.
1966 UK. Director: Roman Polanski. Starring: Françoise Dorléac, Donald Pleasance, Lionel Stander.
Seen July 4 on Netflix Instant.
Little Shop of Horrors
As one of the few musicals Jonathan actually likes and I actually haven’t seen, I knew this had to be high on my list this Halloween. We didn’t do that great a job watching horror movies this year thanks to lots of real-life stuff getting in the way, but we did manage to get to this one, and I really enjoyed it. The music is REALLY Broadway, much more so than I expected, but a lot of fun, with Rick Moranis playing the consummate dweeb perfectly. The stop-motion and model work on Audrey II was fabulous – exactly what I was hoping for. I fear the day they decide to remake this with CGI. Ah, well. “Progress” and all that, right? Anyway, a few of the songs were a bit too on the shrill side thanks to the particular brand of Broadway we’re dealing with here, but others got stuck in my head almost immediately, and I definitely had a fun time watching this. And that’s not even getting into the demented dentist subplot, which was awesome, and probably more terrifying/traumatizing than the man-eating plant main plot.
1986 USA. Director: Frank Oz. Starring: Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Levi Stubbs, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, Bill Murray.
Seen October 16 on Netflix Instant.
Timecrimes (2009; rewatched October 4) – Only sort of a horror film, but whatever, we’re playing fast and loose with the rules this October, and I wanted Jonathan to see it. Definitely a good watch the second time around, too, with one of the most logically bulletproof time travel narratives I’ve ever seen.
Batman Begins (2005; rewatched July 18) – Rewatched the first two Nolan Batman films before going to Dark Knight Rises; I remembered liking this one a whole lot, but hadn’t seen it since release and had forgotten a lot. I think I still might like it the best of the trilogy.
The Rescuers (1979; rewatched September 18) – Jon’s favorite Disney film, so it was a must-buy as soon as it came out on Blu-ray; it had been ages since I saw it, so a quick rewatch was in order, and it’s pretty delightful, even if it is from that in-between period of Disney animation. Maybe it’s time to reclaim that period.
What I Liked
Trust Steven Soderbergh to make a movie about male strippers that I’d not only want to see, but really quite enjoy. I mean, I wouldn’t have bothered to see it if it weren’t for Soderbergh, but I trust him with pretty much anything these days, and that’s because he just about always comes through. It’s a fun movie to watch in the first place, and yeah, not discounting the allure of attractive men on-screen, but Soderbergh isn’t content with that, making the movie almost an economic recession companion piece to the much smaller-scale Girlfriend Experience and focusing on Mike’s entrepreneurial attempts. Meanwhile, Soderbergh continues to excel at using interesting yet unshowy camerawork, giving a lot of visual interest to a film that could’ve been merely routine or simply prurient and successfully keeping it from either of those things, while Channing Tatum proves that he actually is more than a pretty face for the third time this year.
2012 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey.
Seen July 14 at the AMC Burbank Town Center.
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm
This was an extra-special screening, because it was part of the Cinerama Festival that Arclight put on in their Cinerama Dome last month. It would’ve been nice to make it to more of the films (I think they screened just about everything ever filmed in Cinerama), but this was definitely a fun one to get to, one of the few fully narrative films filmed in the format. A frame story tells of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, brothers working on the family history of a powerful Duke, but Jacob is constantly distracted by his love of folk tales. Interspersed are three Grimm stories filled with music and comedy (and awesome George Pal stop-motion). I expected to enjoy the depictions of the stories but slog through the frame story, but even though it’s a tad overlong, it was actually fairly compelling. I have no idea how true to life it is, though. The Cinerama itself was pretty fascinating. They had seven or eight projectionists working to keep the three projectors in sync – they were screening the only surviving Cinerama print of the film, and it was in pretty delicate condition in certain places, and getting out of sync (which happened a couple of times) required a time-consuming reset. But it was worth it, especially since Russ Tamblyn was there and he kept filling in the wait times with anecdotes about filming the movie; apparently filming in Cinerama was an absolute nightmare, which isn’t difficult to believe at all. It’s amazing they managed to make any films that way at all.
1962 USA. Director: Henry Levin, George Pal. Starring: Laurence Harvey, Karl Boehm, Claire Bloom, Walter Slezak, Barbara Eden, Oskar Homolka, Russ Tamblyn, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Backus, Terry-Thomas, Buddy Hackett.
Seen September 29 at Arclight Hollywood Cinerama Dome.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
I know, I know, based on all the reviews, I’m supposed to love this film unconditionally. And it is really good, taking advantage of its ragged setting and unprofessional actors to solid effect, and young Quvenzhané Wallis is a tiny dynamo, taking down everything in her path including the titular mythical beasts and the hurricane they, to some degree, represent. But it never quite captured me the way it captured so many other people, and I’m not sure I can entirely express why. Part of the reason isn’t even fair to the film itself, but does explain some of my detachment from it, and that’s my own personal lack of connection to place. I can’t being to imagine why these people care so much about that place and staying in it. I would’ve been running for the safety and cleanliness of the impromptu refugee tents immediately. And though the film did a good job of conveying the importance of that place and their ramshackle society to this particular group of people, it didn’t manage to move me into quite the empathetic place I needed to be in to embrace the film.
2012 USA. Director: Behn Zeitlin. Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly.
Seen July 7 at Arclight Sherman Oaks.
This was a Jonathan pick that I likely wouldn’t have sought out on my own, but I did get a kick out of it in that cheesy ’90s horror kind of way. Sort of a riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a high school faculty being taken over by aliens and a group of students trying to stay unaffected. It was a lot of fun seeing people like Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett being so young (and Hartnett playing a smart guy kinda threw me), and generally the film does a good job doing what it’s trying to do – get some decent thrills mixed in with some high school comedy/relationship drama.
1998 USA. Director: Robert Rodriguez. Starring: Josh Hartnett, Robert Patrick, Clea Duvall, Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Laura Harris, Shawn Hatosy, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Piper Laurie, Bebe Neuwirth.
Seen October 6 on Netflix Instant.
The Amazing Spider-Man
I haven’t quite figured out how to approach this film without at least implicitly comparing it the the Raimi Spider-Man, even though I don’t think that’s quite fair to this film, which has a lot going for it. Basically, this version bumps the scale down a bit to focus on Peter Parker and his transition from bullied high school nerd to superhero, and every time the film actually does that, it’s pretty great. Andrew Garfield is a perfect Peter Parker, witty and good-looking, but a bit nerdy and socially awkward, and Emma Stone is his match in every area. Every little relationship moment works perfectly, and all the parts about Peter adjusting to being Spider-Man work quite well, too, whether comedic or introspective. But the superhero part of the story is much weaker, with a villain whose motivations make little sense (and who is far too similar to the villains we’ve seen in Raimi’s trilogy), and with so many of the same story beats hit in the exact same way as Raimi’s film that the tag line “the untold story” is pretty laughable. This story has been told already. Now, granted, there are elements of the Spider-Man story that are set from the comics and you have to stick to that, but this is far closer in every plot and emotional beat than I’d hoped; if you’re going to do the story again, do SOMETHING to make it different. I still enjoyed the film thanks to the really solid acting and writing in the character moments, but I really hope the next film gets a different story than we’ve seen before on screen and knocks it out of the park.
2012 USA. Director: Marc Webb. Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field.
Seen July 6 at the Rave.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Figured I’d try to knock of some older/silent horror while Jonathan was busy doing other stuff, and this seemed like a good bet, especially since I’ve been curious about John Barrymore silent career (I’d only seen his ’30s movies, when he was more a heavy and less a dashing leading man) and I like comparing different versions of the same story (and I’ve already seen the 1932 and 1941 versions of Jekyll and Hyde). For the most part it’s pretty good, with the intriguing idea that instead of wanting separate his good and bad selves to get rid of the bad, here Jekyll almost wants to use the bad as a scapegoat – let the bad side go do whatever so the good side doesn’t have to feel guilty for it. Kind of twist on Picture of Dorian Gray. Anyway, that doesn’t work out like he’d hoped, and Barrymore’s make-up for Hyde is truly hideous and effective. That said, it takes its time more than it needs to, and gets kind of dull in parts, which is not uncommon in early ’20s silents, so I’m not necessarily faulting it, just pointing out where I didn’t enjoy it quite as much.
1920 USA. Director: John S. Robertson. Starring: John Barrymore, Brandon Hurst, Martha Mansfield, Charles Lane.
Seen October 3 on Netflix Instant.
The Dark Knight (2008; rewatched July 20) – It’s sacrilege, I know, but I actually like TDK the least of the Nolan Batman films. There are things I like ABOUT it (especially the way the themes come together in that killer final scene), but it doesn’t gel cohesively for me, I hate the way Nolan shoots action in it, and there’s just so much of it. AND WHY SO SERIOUS. For serious.
What I Thought Was Okay
The Bourne Legacy
I actually liked this more while watching it, and it dropped down to “okay” in the days and weeks after that. I did enjoy watching it – it’s handsome film with attractive people in it (I’ll watch either Renner or Weisz in just about anything), and a lot of the fight and chase scenes were choreographed rather well. There were a number of scenes and small touches I liked quite a bit, like the opening section with Renner in the tundra, and shots like the drone crashing behind him while he disinterestedly puts his gun away. Overall, though, the film is kind of a narrative mess. As much as I enjoy Edward Norton on screen, all the departmental espionage stuff is much too disconnected from Renner’s on-the-ground escape attempt, and though the movie moves quickly, there’s very little really happens in terms of major plot or character development. It’s basically just an entire chase movie that seems to want to be something more (as opposed to, say, Premium Rush, which just did its chase thing and that was it). It sets up Renner as a Bourne-like renegade, but he’s not really, he just wants out, which makes all the machinations of the agency in the first half of the film feel unrelated and tedious. A tighter script with better emotional and psychological connectivity between the two sections of the story would’ve helped this one a lot, because on the technical and surface-level side, the film is pretty solid.
2012 USA. Director: Tony Gilroy. Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton.
Seen July 11 at AMC Burbank.
Right upfront, I haven’t seen the original Verhoeven film, so I have nothing to compare this one to, in terms of it being a remake. I went in expecting some cool visuals and that’s about it, and as such, I was pretty okay with what I got. It’s overly slick and digital, but I enjoyed it for what it was, a dumb sci-fi sfx-fest with an amnesiac freedom fighter twist. It’s pretty rote and empty, but I liked the look of it, and I was entertained for the whole running time. Fair enough, I say.
2012 USA. Director: Len Wiseman. Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston.
Seen August 4 at AMC Burbank 16.
End of the Night
I watched this and Tensuki (see below) for the Shinsedai Film Festival, a Japanese film festival in Toronto that Row Three participated in fairly strongly this year, getting screeners for all of us to make sure we had reviews up of every film before it screened. It’s a pretty cool local festival, and I’m sorry I ended up putting the two films I watched for it at the bottom of my list – maybe it’s my general lack of ease with a lot of non-genre Japanese cinema, but I had trouble getting into them and sticking with them. End of the Night was actually pretty decent and I liked it fairly well by the end, but it was kind of tough going to get there – a sort of noir that brings in the current economic downturn (even hitmen have trouble finding work), but a lot of that societal commentary was lost on me. I did enjoy some of the cyclical elements of the narrative structure, but by and large, I just found the central character to be too remote to connect with – and I’m someone who loves the distancing effects of the French New Wave, so you know this guy was REALLY remote. Here’s the full review I posted on Row Three, which is a relatively positive but not, I don’t think, dishonest spin on how I felt about it (written about a week after I watched it, so I had time to warm to it a bit).
2011 Japan. Director: Daisuke Miyazaki. Starring: Nami Komiyama, Kuniaki Nakamura and Masayuki Shionoya.
Seen July 4 on Shinsedai Cinema Festival screener.
What I Didn’t Like
To be very honest, I had kind of a tough time making it through this film (also for the Shinsedai Film Festival, see above in End of the Night capsule), even though it had a lot of interesting surrealist type elements that intrigued me but didn’t ever quite connect in a way that felt meaningful to me. I mostly just came away going, “that was weird…and that’s all I got.” I like weird, but weird with no grounding, murky motivation, and little narrative connectivity can be a slog, and like I said, kinda tough to get through. Here’s my full review for Row Three, which tends towards the expository simply because I didn’t have anything much else to say.
2012 Japan. Director: Masafumi Yamada. Starring: Ryuzaburo Hattori, Taku Manabe and Akaji Maro.
Seen July 8 on Shinsedai Cinema Festival screener.