Monday, April 1, 2013

Movie Diary #9: March 2013

Welcome to April at Blahblahblahgay. I'm considering whether to put together a Best of the First Quarter post or whether to wait and do a First Third. Moving in to Autumn it feels like the right time but the year feels too young to start looking back already. Any thoughts?

March was pretty crazy, with 73 films seen bringing the YTD total up to 214. Of those 73 I was revisiting 20 films which was more than twice the combined total for the previous two months, and I am now at 28 movies rewatched YTD. Release dates are going a bit crazy at the moment, lots of films from 2012 are finding American cinema releases for later in 2013 and so my total New Release viewing is now at 14 according to imdb, despite having seen some of them last year.

This monthly roundup features mini reviews for 9 films that are really pretty shit, 15 that are really very good (4 rewatches) and a remarkable 12 masterpieces in my opinion. 10 of those 12 are rewatches but I am happy at having found 2 superb films in my ongoing exploration of the history of cinema, my first Roy Andersson and a blend of Kitchen Sink and Film Noir.

Of course The Lammy's were open for nominations this month, yours truly was nominated for an award which I decided not to campaign for. There are so many great blogs and bloggers in this wonderful community of ours that I feel like a bit of a fraud in comparison. For all who did vote for me, thank you. I'm sure I voted for you too, because you're all so well written.

It's Pretty Shit Really

Freaky Deaky (2013) Dir. Charles Matthau
Tedious. Caricatures. Awful costume design. Terrible acting. Dreadful adaptation.
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991) Dir. Peter Hewitt
The only person who had any fun with this movie was William Sadler who is superb as Death. Sense of fun aside how does this movie differ from its predecessor? I'm blaming the director. One went on to direct The Mighty Ducks and Mr Holland's Opus the other Garfield and Home Alone 5. Peter Hewitt has to take the majority of the blame for this one.
Popeye (1980) Dir. Robert Altman
Wow. Wow. I think I must have been about 30 seconds in when I said WTF for the first time. What was Disney/Altman/Everyone involved with this film thinking? What was with the songs? I went in expecting weird but I didn't expect Robin Williams to channel Elliot Gould in the titular role. Altman has a very particular style that is suited to certain types of film, a children's comic book adaptation is not it. This might actually be the worst Altman I've seen so far, but then again Gingerbread Man was pretty terrible too.
Java Heat (2013) Dir. Conor Allyn
Kellan Lutz and Mickey Rourke are so bad in this movie that they make the Indonesian actors working in their second or third language look like Oscar contenders. I don't know whose idea it was to let Lutz become an "actor" but I don't think they'd ever seen acting before and as for Rourke, he seems to be playing some kind of generic Euro-villain caricature spouting cliche and mumbling a lot.
The Brass Teapot (2013) Dir. Ramaa Mosley
A strange and bizarre movie. For once Juno Temple keeps her clothes on. You know a movie is taking a dive when that happens.
Two down on their luck twenty somethings steal an antique teapot and then get greedy when they realise that it gives them cash when they hurt themselves. Really? This is the kind of crap that would have starred Ashton Kutcher once upon a time, please avoid shit like this in future Michael Angarano, Demi Moore is waiting to pounce on you.
The Last Rites of Ransom Pride (2010) Dir. Tiller Russell
$8m doesn't buy you much more than some colour correction tools it seems. The Last Rites of Ransom Pride is an attempt at a pulpy revisionist western by a Canadian film making team and seems to just get everything completely wrong. As somebody has said elsewhere, I was sick of this movie by the time the opening credits had rolled.
Sushi Girl (2013) Dir. Kern Saxton
Like a really boring QT movie. A complete waste of the talent available to the production. The absolute highlight was an enjoyable performance from Mark Hamill. More Hamill as bad guy please Hollywood.
Across The Hall (2009) Dir. Alex Merkin
Incredibly disappointing attempt at a neo-noir. Occasionally visually impressive but largely quite dull in its direction, the premise has potential but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Two guys, a girl, a gun, a quirky bellboy and a hotel that has seen better days. Twists and turns are promised and boy does the script just keep on twisting. At one point one of the generic guys says to the other generic guy "you see a straight road and you walk it crooked" and I have to assume that one of the screenwriters was telling the other one something.
The Neon Bible (1995) Dir. Terence Davies
Terence Davies is on record as disliking this film. Personally I don't think he did anything wrong with it. The faults with this movie lie in the source material. So perhaps an adaptation that never fixed those faults could be considered an error from Davies but visually he did just fine. The Neon Bible is a product of greed, the immature novel as written by a 16 year old boy should never have been published and the movie should never have been made.

Really Very Good Actually

The Last Stand (2013) Dir. Jee-woon Kim
Oh wow, there's so much wrong with this movie, like maybe 70% of it is absolutely terrible. But what it gets right, it gets right in spades and saves it from the forgettable shit I feared it might be before I went to the cinema.
Side Effects (2013) Dir. Steven Soderbergh
Easily Soderbergh's best film for quite some time, Side Effects left me thoughtful, excited and analysing the great man's career in the wake of news that this is supposedly his last film.
The Puffy Chair (2005) Dir. Jay Duplass
Surprisingly good from The Duplass Brothers, better than any of their recent work that I've experienced. Very real road trip that forces some uncomfortable moments on its participants causing a reassessing of relationships. Very enjoyable, although I wanted to push Rhett in to the fire rather than away from it. I can't imagine how awful it would be to know somebody like that, he wants to inspire love and peace (stupid hippy) but in me he inspires violence.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) Dir. Robert Rodriguez
Pure entertainment from Tarantino and Rodriguez that's given a little credibility by the performance of George Clooney. I'm not sure I've seen a movie that's so obviously two different movies melded together as this but that doesn't dampen proceedings, it doubles the fun instead.
Wayne's World (1992) Dir. Penelope Spheeris
Entertaining, whimsical and yet relevant, with an underlying revisionist conceit that belied the films emotional attachments to the subject matter. It didn't suck.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) Dir. Stephen Herek
Sometimes you just want to have fun with a movie and the first Bill & Ted film is exactly that, pure entertaining silliness. A couple dozen watches and two decades haven't changed the fact that this is a great comic science fiction movie from Hollywood.

Donnie Darko (2001) Dir. Richard Kelly
There's this thing you may not know about Donnie Darko, it makes no sense. It's not like it needs to though. It's a fascinating multi-layered piece of cinema that holds up to multiple viewings over many years. I expected it to have aged badly but it's as good today as it was in 2002 when I first saw it. The music really stands out, and that tracking shot to introduce the high school is so perfect, tiny little moments you might miss if you're not paying attention, like Noah Wylie's face.
Slam Dance (1987) Dir. Wayne Wang
I feel silly putting this here next to much better films but this is beautiful to look at for fans of classic noir and has a strangely poetic feel to it if you ignore the actual plot. Here's the full review.
The Big Red One Reconstructed (1980/2004) Dir. Samuel Fuller
Samuel Fuller's semi-autobiographical film is brutally honest, it's not about heroes or heroics, it's about the realities of men trying to kill but not be killed and what that will do to you over a sustained period of time. Sure it's long and if you prefer set piece action and a specific plot (the saving of one lone private for nonsense reasons for example) then you might be disappointed. I however was not.
Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973) Dir. Kinji Fukasaku
Very cool reinvention of the Yakuza movie. As you might expect from the guy who brought Battle Royale to your screens this is pretty damned gory and stylish.
As Tears Go By (1988) Dir. Wong Kar-Wai
Wong Kar-Wai's debut is visually appealing genre fare, with strong performances from Lau and Cheung, the only real problem I can find with the film is the awful soundtrack; it's a constant noise taken straight out of cheesy 80s Hollywood right up to and including a cover of Take My Breath Away.
Peacock (2010) Dir. Michael Lander
Full review here. Michael Lander directs with restraint to create a slow moving psychological drama filled with beautiful cinematography thanks to the wonderful Philipe Rousselot and a pervasive creepiness through interesting use of the mise-en-scene and subtle musical cues.
Peeping Tom (1960) Dir. Michael Powell
I tend not to appreciate horror films but a sense of dread permeates every frame of this film and builds to a shocking crescendo, it is something that is hard to ignore and even harder not to appreciate for any fan of the cinematic art form. This was my first Powell, despite watching bits and pieces during film school I was never tempted to watch an entire feature, what a silly schoolboy error that was.
Streets of Fire (1984) Dir. Walter Hill
This movie is a blast, a real fun ride from start to finish. It's completely batshit crazy of course, witness Willem Dafoe as some kind of sexy vampire fisherman villain for case in point, but this kind of thing is to be expected from a rock & roll fable that borrows heavily from Hill's own The Warriors.
The Long Day Closes (1992) Dir. Terence Davies
Terence Davies. Wow. Beautiful.
An atmospheric collection of childhood memories in Liverpool in the mid-50s. I am assuming they are the directors own. Poor kid. Whilst I accept the dreamlike qualities of the construction I still expected some form of narrative device to tie everything together. My expectations were not met, which in some ways makes the film even more memorable, if not better, and I'm left wondering, really, what was this film really about?

Masterpiece Cinema

You, The Living (2007) Dir. Roy Andersson
Roy Andersson is some kind of insane genius. This was my first experience of his style and it has totally blown me away. His carefully constructed mise-en-scene makes every single shot a work of art as he points his camera at the absurdity of the realities of modern life. So many times I found myself laughing hysterically at what ordinarily might be considered horribly sad events and I think that is the true genius behind this film. Andersson's humour and insight will certainly further reward repeat viewings, something I intend to do myself in the very near future.
The Ice Storm (1997) Dir. Ang Lee
Great set design and costume are the first things that strike you about this authentic feeling 70s suburbia. Ang Lee's direction seems to be paced perfectly and is aided in wonderful compositions by cinematographer Frederick Elmes. But it is so much more than pretty pictures and measured storytelling.
American Beauty (1999) Dir. Sam Mendes
Still one of the best movies of my lifetime, Sam Mendes and Alan Ball created something near perfect in American Beauty. Some people feel that it aged badly but after several years without seeing it this rewatch must bring me near to the 20+ mark now and I can't see it. Perhaps I am unable to remain objective when it comes to a film I have loved so much in the past and know so intimately but 13 years later it is as good as ever.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982/2007) Dir. Ridley Scott 
I can't say anything that hasn't been said already. Blade Runner is simply wonderful, a mesmerising science fiction noir that is beautiful from start to finish and filled with incredible performances in every role.
I then sat down to, enjoy almost as much, the 3.5 hour long Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner. For fans of the film this is essential watching and incredibly interesting throughout.

Reservoir Dogs (1992) Dir. Quentin Tarantino
A near perfect piece of pulpy crime cinema, great storytelling, high quality directorial vision and a superb ensemble performance.
Vacation! (2011) Dir. Zach Clark
With Zach Clark's new film playing at SXSW this week I thought it was about time I revisited this film that was such a revelation to me back in 2011. I don't regret a single word from my previous glowing review, this film is excellent, even better on repeat viewing. Possibly the peak of the mumblecore movement alongside Cold Weather.
Starship Troopers (1997) Dir. Paul Verhoeven
Pure brilliance. Massively under appreciated. Always satirical. A masterpiece of both war and science fiction genres.
The Matrix (1999) Dirs. The Wachowski Siblings
Brilliant. Important. Impressive. Dated. Copied.
In Bruges (2008) Dir. Martin McDonagh
You're a fucking inanimate object. - Shit Oscar nominated actor Ralph Fiennes says in In Bruges.
Just might be the funniest filum of the 21st century if not ever. Must be at least the sixth viewing of it now and still I get tears in my eyes and pain in my side from laughing so hard.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
After There Will Be Blood this has to be my favourite PTA movie. Adam Sandler is a wonderful surprise in what is a really very charming and simple film told with great care by a master director. I haven't seen this in nearly 10 years now but I still remember the first time quite clearly, it was the moment I fell in love with Emily Watson, seeing her through Adam Sandler's eyes. Who'd have thought that?
The Border (1982) Dir. Tony Richardson
The Border is exactly what you get when Tony Richardson directs a noir genre movie set on the US-Mexico border. Sheer perfection for somebody like me who loves Richardson's kitchen sink realism and the gritty noir films of America in the 1970s.
That's enough recommendations for one month. I think I'll be working on a full review of The Border some time soon. Good luck to all you Lambs as voting commences and as always leave me some comments, especially if you disagree with me.


  1. 73 films?! That's two a day! I have no idea how you're doing that.

    I love your assessment of American Beauty, I love it too and it's good to see Starship Troopers heralded as a masterpiece!

    From this list, you've made want to see - Punch-Drunk Love (gotta get on that immediately) and The Ice Storm but I'm also intrigued by The Last Stand.

    1. Some days I don't even watch one film, it's quite something to watch the count get higher as the month ticks on and I kind of hope it slows down soon otherwise I'm going to run out of films I want to see.

      On a serious note I am putting off my own projects because I just can't get enough cinema at the moment, I really need to refocus on creating rather than consuming.

      Starship Troopers is a film I always doubt I am going to love as much on my next viewing but it never fails to impress me. I had it tagged as a very good film but this time I knew I had to be honest and classify it for what it is. Nothing has ever come close to matching it in this genre and it is something that Verhoeven should be lauded for.

      I hope you love PDL and TIS as much as me but remember when you watch The Last Stand (I can't believe you didn't already with your Unlimited card) that I did quantify my praise with "70% terrible."

  2. Wow, that's an amazing number of movies in one month. I watched a big 13 in the past month, though we had a lot of things happening beyond the blog. I'm glad you enjoyed Streets of Fire, which is so much fun. I'm pretty much with you on Punch-Drunk Love. My favorite PTA film is Magnolia, but it's a close second. Excellent collection of movies!

    1. Indeed, congratulations on the new addition to the family Dan! You're blogging a lot of TV too so 13 isn't too bad at all.

      I've been thinking of giving Magnolia another guy, maybe I missed something, I just didn't get the same out of it that everyone else seems to have.

    2. Thanks! I'm trying to be selective and watch interesting stuff since I know that the numbers will be lower. I saw Magnolia twice in the theaters and have watched it a bunch of times and continue to love it.

  3. My god, I LOVED Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey when I was a kid. Yeah, a dogshit film, but I adored it when I was young.

    Nice job on all the movie watching, you totally crushed it in March. Glad you dug Side Effects, and From Dusk Till Dawn.

    1. It was the first of the franchise that I ever saw, the same weekend as Best of the Best 2. What a strange 10 year old I must have been. I used to love the whole thing with the robots and Station so yeah I know exactly what you mean.

  4. Hey, man, I know you didn't campaign, but I threw a vote your way. Good luck!

    Haha. Popeye is, unfortunately, one of the worst films I've ever seen. Sorry you had to sit through it.

    I watched From Dusk Till Dawn as well, and I really enjoyed it. Glad you liked Side Effects, and I LOVE that you consider Blade Runner, Reservoir Dogs, and In Bruges masterpieces. Incidentally, I have a copy of Dangerous Days, so I'll have to check it out.

    1. Thanks Josh, mighty kind of you. It is movies like Popeye that make us better film viewers in the end I think. Without the truly awful we can't really appreciate the greats. I should have known better than to expect good things from an 80s Altman anyway.

      I've always been torn on the idea of labelling recent cinema masterpieces, it's a term that gets thrown about far too casually in my opinion, but putting this post together on a monthly basis is helping to solidify what the term means to me. And yeah In Bruges truly is one of the greats of its type, comedies are always difficult to categorise in this way but I think In Bruges is not a product of its time as much as other popular comedies and can definitely be considered a masterpiece. You can ell I really thought about this huh?

      I hope by the end of Dangerous Days you're ready to watch Blade Runner again without hesitating!