Monday, July 1, 2013

Movie Diary #12: June 2013

Half the year gone and I've seen 468 films. June was an odd month, after the craziness of May I took a break, only watching films occasionally, and I still managed to reach 71 over 30 days. 8 were rewatches bringing the YTD rewatches to 59.

The highlight would almost certainly be Spring Breakers which I saw twice in three days and whilst it's not something I would consider a masterpiece just yet it's certainly got something special going for it whilst at the same time being quite awful.

2013 continues to disappoint in general, 11 new movies seen in June taking the YTD count up to 44 but of those, 5 were contributions to this months 9 truly awful viewing experiences.

At the other end of the spectrum the ongoing Noir-a-Thon provided 4 of the 5 masterpieces for the month but sadly they were all rewatches. But there was a very healthy 12 films that come highly recommended. If you're looking for something great that you might not have heard of, these 12 are for you.

Dire

Hesher (2010) Dir. Spencer Susser
It's not funny, it's dumb. It's not dramatic or charming, it's dumb and incredibly obvious from the start. And dumb. If it wasn't for watching JGL have a good time as Hesher this would be completely unwatchable.
The Blood of Heroes (1990) Dir. David Webb Peoples
The idea of a David Webb Peoples scripted apocalyptic sports movie starring Rutger Hauer was too much to resist. I wish I had. It's boring and repetitive from the opening scene and the tedium doesn't lift until the credits roll. If you like violence in your scifi movie you might like this one.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013) Dir. Don Scardino
Every so often a movie comes along that is so bad you wish you could get arrested for downloading it. I deserve to be sent to jail for a very long time for inflicting this one on Leah but John Francis Daley deserves to be shot out of a fucking canon in to the Great Wall of China without a helmet for writing this shit. I used to feel bad that he was the only member of the Freaks and Geeks cast that didn't seem to make any impact as an actor but now after putting up with this tragic waste of Jim Carrey, Steve Buscemi, Alan Arkin and Steve Carrell for the past 100 minutes I wish him an anonymous painful, penniless death in a Hollywood skid row apartment that had its power and water switched off two years previously and a serious rat infestation.
Phantom (2013) Dir. Todd Robinson
I feel bad for every actor involved with this, especially if they worked for scale. It's not the worst movie of the year and as with Robinson's previous work it looks good but that is pretty much it.
I, Anna (2012) Dir. Barnaby Southcombe
There's no way this would have been made if the director wasn't Charlotte Rampling's son. It's a pretty poor noir that focuses on style without being particularly stylish. So much of the dialogue is dreadful in that trying too hard to be real kind of way that we've been inflicted with by sub-standard writers in a post-Tarantino world and isn't helped by actors who aren't good enough but then when Rampling and Byrne are struggling with it you can't really blame them.
Last Days (2005) Dir. Gus van Sant
Gus van Sant's Last Days occasionally threatens to be more than a bizarre series of scenes of Michael Pitt wandering around mumbling incoherently but constantly fails to deliver on its promise instead heading off in to a world of ill-considered moments of Lukas Haas forgetting the words to a Velvet Underground song. If there is meaning and understanding to be found in this film it was hidden pretty deep and I didn't find it.
Odd Thomas (2013) Dir. Stephen Sommers
A plot about the after life filmed in a completely lifeless way. Tries for a similar feel to John Dies at the End but fails miserably despite the much bigger budget. That is why Don Coscarelli is an under appreciated great and Stephen Sommers is a chump who makes boring movies.
Penthouse North (2013) Dir. Joseph Ruben
This is one star for Michael Keaton, the rest of the movie is a pile of shit that should never have been greenlit. Dreadful dialogue, awful direction, Keaton aside the acting is mediocre at best. There's an interesting enough heist concept here; two guys want to get back what was stolen from them in a doublecross, they hold a blind woman hostage in her penthouse apartment and attempt to torture the location from here, and yet that is the extent of the exploration of the scenario. What follows is at best generic, obvious and cliched and at worst painfully dumb.
Olympus Has Fallen (2013) Dir. Antoine Fuqua
So offensively bad in every way. I could criticise it for hours but what's the point? You're either an idiot like me who expects it to be bad and watches it anyway or you're an idiot who expects it to be good and can't wait to watch all 17 hours of this mess by Antoine Fuqua, either way we're all swimming through a sea of shit of our own making.

Really Very Good Actually

In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2007) Dir. Alex Holdridge
A charming and funny look at life and love in your late 20's. The witty script and great chemistry between the two leads sets it apart from all the other Richard Linklater and Woody Allen wannabes.
Stoker (2013) Dir. Park Chan-Wook
I can't imagine there will be a more intelligent Hollywood movie in 2013, or perhaps I should say one that treats the audience as if they have intelligence. Content wise it is far beyond my previous experiences with Park Chan-Wook but whether I enjoyed it as much is another matter. Bring on the rewatch.
Never Let Go (1963) Dir. John Guillermin
A quite brilliant late British noir that seems to have been unfairly forgotten. Peter Sellars as the villain is exceptionally evil whilst Richard Todd as the down on his luck everyman with nothing to lose finds his fighting spirit at last in a final showdown that wouldn't be out of place in Killer's Kiss. The use of expressionist light and shadow is up there with the best that Hollywood's emigres had to offer and the story is pure pulp goodness.
Hell in the Pacific (1968) Dir. John Boorman
Not as flashy as John Boorman's Point Blank but almost as impressive in terms of pure cinema. Two men who don't speak the same language, natural enemies infact, are stranded on a Pacific island. It works as an examination of the stupidity of war and a study of the strengths of man, it should have been a success and certainly deserves more than to be forgotten by new generations of moviegoers.
Le Fils (2002) Dir. The Dardenne Brothers
Very very impressive, four films in to the Dardenne filmography and this is my favourite to date. Their usual adherence to realism in cinema is enhanced by a bold and interesting choice in cinematography, their camera mimicking the protagonist in its sneaking and hiding, watching him almost like an obsessed ghost, framing that ordinarily might be considered odd (and just might frustrate a lot of viewers) gives a strange claustrophobia to Olivier's existence and left me fascinated and enthralled throughout.
Another Earth (2011) Dir. Mike Cahill
Quite nearly perfect. Cahill and Marling don't seem to make a bad decision between them for 90+ minutes in this low-fi "sci-fi" drama. Except like the greats of science fiction (as seen as props in the film) this isn't really about space and stuff, it's about humanity. There are a few wobbly moments where the low budget and sophomore director become obvious but beyond that it's simply great storytelling.
Mud (2013) Dir. Jeff Nichols
It was always going to suffer in comparison to Take Shelter and Killer Joe but Jeff Nichols manages to take 2012's Man of the Year a step in a different direction with this wonderful coming of age/teens left to their own devices as old customs are slowly dying story. If he is to replace Soderbergh as my favourite American filmmaker then this one will surely be compared to King of the Hill in years to come.
Bal (2011) Dir. Semih Kaplanoglu
Ronan's Something to Watch list strikes gold again!

Another simple and beautiful film that tells it's story with very few words whilst at the same time being a statement about the power of storytelling. Features a remarkable central performance from a child actor and a director who makes the most of his locations to magnify the power of his message.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (2009) Dir. Werner Herzog
There's a reason that I didn't remember my current favourite actor, Michael Shannon, appearing in this movie; he has two of the tiniest scenes imaginable whilst still getting a credit. Can you imagine a Werner Herzog film starring Cage and Shannon? It's an incredibly tantalising concept, well at least when the inner Cage is channelled in to producing something close to this recent career high. I really dig this film so the lack of Shannon wasn't too disappointing, it was always worthy of a rewatch. Even if you ignore the iguanas this is one batshit crazy film whilst still remaining a high quality mainstream crime film and character study of a good man battling his inner demons. The title is a bit of a mouthful though.
Funny Ha Ha (2002) Dir. Andrew Bujalski
The central performance from Kate Dollenmayer certainly elevates it above a lot of the other films associated with the mumblecore movement and the aimless meandering of her character Marnie combined with the awkward blathering conversations featured does hit points that others just can't seem to reach due to higher budgets or attempts to improve on the formula or simply ideas that are not as well realised.
Spring Breakers (2013) Dir. Harmony Korine
By far Harmony Korine's most accessible work, not sure whether that makes it his best or not. A giant horrible mess of images from the worst of American college life evolves in to something much better but I don't know what. A disconcerting viewing experience if only because you don't now what to make of it.
Big Night (1996) Dir. Stanley Tucci
Charming is usually a dirty word in this household, charming should never be the first word you use to describe a film as 99 times out of 100 it also usually means it's trite and cynical. Stanley Tucci's directorial debut is neither of those thing but it is most definitely a charming ensemble piece that highlights the absolute waste of talent that is both Tony Shaloub and Stanley Tucci when working minor character parts in mainstream Hollywood cinema. I don't think it's a secret to anyone who has been paying attention for the past 20+ years that both of these actors are almost always the finest performers in whatever they appear in but the sheer size and brilliance of their abilities is magnified astronomically when allowed the freedom to truly inhabit a role and a film for 90+ minutes.

Masterpiece

Twelve Monkeys (1995) Dir. Terry Gilliam
I've lost count of the number of times I've seen Twelve Monkeys now and it just keeps impressing me. Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt and Terry Gilliam have all got careers filled with great films but this one has to be considered in the top two if not the best of the bunch for each of them. Of course David Webb Peoples also wrote Unforgiven and Blade Runner so you can't say the same about him. Impressive.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007) Dir. Wes Anderson
A beautiful masterpiece of quirky familial drama and spiritual road movie. It is the most visually impressive of all of his films and in Brody, Wilson & Schwartzman the finest individual and ensemble performances too. I never get tired of watching it.
L.A. Confidential (1997) Dir. Curtis Hanson
Not only is L.A. Confidential a great adaptation but it is a great movie in its own right that fully deserved every single one of those nine Oscar nominations. That it lost to Titanic of all films is a complete and utter travesty.
Dark City (1998) Dir. Alex Proyas
Much less flashy than the similar themed Matrix this movie has aged like a fine wine compared to the other slightly more vinegary Wachowski brew. The screenplay from Dobbs and Goyer is the philosophical and thematic successor to the seminal Blade Runner whereas the direction of Proyas and cinematography of Wolski owe a lot more to Escher and German Expressionism, with a little help from some hard working talented set and costume designers.
The Blair Witch Project (1999) Dir. Myrick & Sanchez
Considering it avoids all temptation to have men in suits leaping out at you, gore spattering the lens or a score designed to make you jump Blair Witch really gets your heart racing by spending an hour making you empathise with all three characters despite the fact that they are truly awful people with the irritating habit of pretty much shouting everything. Seeing it as part of documentary theory class caused me to reassess my entire way of thought on the film, it's not just scary it's a wonderful exploration of what it means to be in front of or behind a camera, perhaps not on the same artistic level as Dziga Vertov but for the post-MTV handicam generation it's almost a masterpiece.

I'm up for discussions on these or any other film if you are. Get in touch via twitter, comment below or do something crazy like email me via the about page.

9 comments:

  1. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone wasn't that bad, Toby! Formulaic, yes, but not bad. I don't know if that's my love for Steve Buscemi in anything that overrides that the film wasn't that great, but terrible, nah - at least I didn't see it that way, anyway!

    Yes, yes, yes! Spring Breakers is my favourite film of this year, and one of my favourite discovers, film or otherwise, over the last few years. (I loved it that much.)

    Been wanting to watch Bad Lieutenant for ages, really need to get round to that...Good write up of these films (as always), though!

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    1. Cherokee! No no no take it back! It's not as bad as The Room but Burt Wonderstone does bad things with good components so it deserves the criticism. Spring Breakers for a third time soon I'm sure.

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  2. Great stuff. Love the props for Bad Lieutenant and Spring Breakers. I love the hell out of those two movies.

    And LA Confidential... masterpiece indeed.

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  3. I confess I had a really odd reaction to Burt Wonderstone. I didn't find it funny. At all. But in some sort of strange way I still kind of liked it. I think. I don't know. I'm still trying to work this out. Either way, I love your take on it.

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    1. Thanks! I must have really hated it to wish such awful things on him huh?

      I know what you mean, even whilst I was hating it I still kind of felt like it was worth my time getting through it.

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  4. Thrilled that you liked Never Let Go, Le Fils, and Spring Breakers. Your masterpiece picks are, as always, inspired choices. Love those films.

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  5. I like Gus Van Zant and usually enjoy his style, but Last Days drove me nuts. I liked Hesher a bit more than you, but I also wasn't blown away by it.

    I also enjoyed Funnny Ha Ha and think it has more heart than a lot of the "mumblecore" films that seem more like experiments. And you're right to put both Dark City and LA Confidential in as masterpieces. Correct on both counts!

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    1. Hey Dan. Sorry, must have missed your comment before now. I'm not sure whether I would consider myself a fan of van Sant's work in general but I respect what he does when I don't enjoy it, there just didn't seem to be any redemption in Last Days.

      Mumblecore/slackervetes is definitely hit and miss, even for me who is working on their own "Sons of Linklater" style project. I do believe that "just because you can make a film doesn't necessarily mean you should" is a statement that indie filmmakers are as guilty of ignoring as Michael Bay.

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