Last Week’s Films (03/09 – 16/09)

The Endless (Justin Benson & Aaron Muirhead, 2017)

I saw this one in the cinema and it was introduced by a gentleman that works there who saw it at a festival as a film that “blew his mind”, and I have to say that after the film ended I was a bit let-down. There was some nice time-related loopy-ness, and the setting of the campground/living space of a “cult” was fairly interesting, but the characters were a bit unengaging, the story was a bit boring and convoluted, and the effects, while not bad, seemed distractingly iffy (which is not surprising given the low budget). Not something I’ll watch again, but it was okay. 5/10

The Guest (Adam Wingard, 2014)

A man shows up at a family’s home claiming to be the ex-army buddy of their now-deceased son. Through his interactions with the family we can see he’s not all he seems. There’s some fun action sequences in here, and the plot is suitably B-Movie nonsensical. Overall well-made and well-executed enjoyable nonsense. 6/10

Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)

Watched this one for class. While I found it interesting from an academic standpoint to see the development of montage as a cinematic technique displayed in this film, the film itself left me a bit cold. It’s good to see the display of these editing techniques and think about why it is that they work, and notable in being one of the first to showcase them, it’s not really something I would choose to sit down and watch for enjoyment. Pioneering and interesting, yes. Enjoyable as a “movie”? Not so much. 5.5/10

The Predator (Shane Black, 2018)

What a bloody mess. I’m not talking about the gore either, which just made me yearn for the days of squibs, but the plot, the tone, the characters. All a mess. I lost count of the amount of times I thought “Well that was stupid.”, and the only good part of the film was when it ended. I wasn’t exactly expecting this to be any good, but with Shane Black attached as director thought it might have a chance of being something acceptable. Instead it was just annoying. The characters were either irritating, bland, quippy, or some combination of all three. It would be the worst film I saw released in 2018 if I hadn’t seen Day of the Dead: Bloodline. 2.5/10

American Animals (Bart Layton, 2018)

A group of college students attempt to stage a heist to steal some valuable art that is kept in their campus library. What was most interesting about this film was that it was half documentary, half dramatization, since the story is based on true events, we see the people who were involved in the real-life heist on screen and talking us through what went down, before cutting back to the dramatised action. So we get to see conflicting recollections from the main perpetrators unfold on-screen, as well as see the unromantic reality of how these events impacted their lives after the fact. I liked these touches, and it helped to ground the film in reality. 6/10

Jacob’s Ladder (Adrian Lyne, 1990)

Tim Robbins plays Vietnam vet Jacob, struggling with the loss of his child and dealing with the after effects of his stint in Vietnam. He appears disassociated from life and at times even reality itself. The film was intriguing, and seems to ask of its audience philosophical and spiritual questions about death . There were some disturbing sequences and overall a feeling of malaise and sadness throughout the film, making it an effective and subtle horror film, but perhaps one you would need to be in the correct mind-set for before watching. 5.5/10

Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018)

Well, it looks spectacular, but it’s all in service of a fairly derivative and dull horror plot about a maniacal cult leader abducting someone’s girlfriend and ultimately murdering her. I suppose it helps drive Nicolas Cage’s character crazy, which is always fun to watch, but for me the film takes far too long to get into the action, and seems to be spend too much time navel-gazing. As I say, it looks spectacular, but it was the only thing the film had going for it, for me. 4/10

Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley, 2018)

This was a cute little story about a man who owns a record shop and his daughter who record a song together, it ends up getting play on Spotify and the man (played by Nick Offerman) dreams of the pair going on tour and properly starting a band whereas his daughter just wants to go to medical school. I really enjoyed the chemistry between the father and daughter, and the use of music throughout was very good too. 6/10

Last Week’s Films (20/08 – 02/09)

The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)

Barbara Stanwyck plays a con artist named set on conning Henry Fonda’s Charles out of his money, but the two end up truly falling for each other. A series of farcical mishaps and misunderstandings break them up, but the two’s love somehow endures. Stanwyck and Fonda are both great in this, with really believable chemistry, and the plot and situations set out are fairly amusing. The supporting characters help build on this playful atmosphere as well, and overall I found this film sweet and funny. 6/10

Escape From L.A. (John Carpenter, 1996)

Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken returns to yet another isolated and forgotten lawless U.S. city to perform a task for the government against his will, except this time it’s a lot less interesting, the characters a lot less colourful and memorable, and the film a lot less engaging. Some suitably mucky sets and a couple of enjoyable set pieces, but overall you just yearn for the days of 80s Russell-Carpenter collaborations. 4.5/10

Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002)

This film looks great, with the powerful and eye-watering use of colour in particular standing out, and there’s some pretty good kung fu work in here as well (which is to be expected, given it stars Jet Li and Donnie Yen) but the story didn’t engage me so much. It was fine, and lovely to look at, but I won’t be seeking it out again any time soon. 5/10

Last Week’s Films (30/07 – 19/08)

Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

I have to start by saying I’m not really a fan of Wes Anderson’s style, it’s a bit too twee for my liking I suppose. While the animation style and design, and Wes Anderson-y way that each shot is presented in this film is very impressively done, I also find it incredibly distracting to the detriment of the story and characters. I lost count of the amount of times I overtly noted in my mind how symmetrical a shot was, or that whatever we were to focus on was dead centre, or both. It really just took me out of the film. Some of the characters were fairly charming I guess, and if you usually enjoy Anderson’s style you’ll like this too, but it’s not for me. 5/10

Lust, Caution (Ang Lee, 2007)

Quite an interesting story of Chinese resistance to Japanese rule around the time of World War 2, and the relationship between the two main characters (the female resistance double agent and the male Chinese officer working with the Japanese she is working towards having killed) is fairly psychologically intriguing as well. Maybe a touch long, but still worthwhile. 6/10

Upgrade (Leigh Whannel, 2018)

A man is paralysed from the neck down in a violent mugging and is given the offer to be a secret guinea pig for a computer chip named STEM, which is to be implanted in his neck and take over the nerves which were now unable to get signals to the brain, regaining the ability to walk. With this newfound ability he investigates the murder of his wife in the same mugging that paralysed him, and as STEM becomes seemingly more powerful it seems there’s more to this technology than had been previously revealed. The action sequences are very entertaining and the “gimmick” of STEM is quite an interesting and well realised one. Maybe let down by the somewhat predictable progression of the story and ending but overall thoroughly enjoyable. 6.5/10

Last Week’s Films (23/07 – 29/07)

Get Shorty (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1995)

This gangster film is a sort of Pulp Fiction-lite, with John Travolta in the starring role as Chili Palmer, a loan shark who has ended up in Los Angeles and tries his hand at becoming a film producer. There’s a colourful supporting cast including Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito, and overall it’s pretty light for a gangster film, and amusing too. It’s no Pulp Fiction, but it’s still pretty good. 6/10

WarGames (John Badham, 1983)

When many controllers at US missile silos fail to follow procedure and seem unable to launch their missiles during a surprise drill, NORAD decides to replace the human controllers with a computer system. Later, hacker Matthew Broderick, looking to hack a games company’s server to play an as yet unreleased game, finds an unidentified server with a list of games including “Global Thermonuclear War”, and begins to play. The systems at NORAD all show this simulation taking place, and it’s taken by both the US and Soviet governments as the opposite side preparing to launch a nuclear strike. So Broderick must end the simulation with the computer system before the real world is destroyed through nuclear warfare, but the system will not end its simulation until the game is complete. It’s an interesting Cold War era thriller with a satisfying ending. It also seems like it would have been plausible at the time, given how on edge the US and USSR were during the Cold War. I imagine at the time it would have been fairly chilling, considering the climate of the Cold War. 6/10

The Birdcage (Mike Nichols, 1996)

Armand (Robin Williams) and Albert (Nathan Lane) are as a gay couple in Los Angeles. Armand owns “The Birdcage”, a drag nightclub, and Albert is its star attraction. Armand’s son Val comes home and reveals he has gotten engaged, and asks his father if he can pretend to be straight for the visit of his fiancé’s parents, conservative Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman) and his wife. Armand is hurt by this, but agrees to try, with Albert posing as Val’s uncle. Much of the comedy comes from the pair’s attempts to butch themselves up, particularly for the especially flamboyant Albert. I laughed quite frequently through this film, the flamboyant performance of Nathan Lane working well with the comparatively subdued one of Robin Williams, and Gene Hackman pitching his gruff, slightly clueless conservative Senator perfectly. Rather than being a film which laughs at homosexual culture, it gave its characters depth and had you empathise with them throughout, with the laughs coming from the absurdity of the situation rather than the fact these men are gay, or that there happen to be many men in drag. Overall, pretty warm and entertaining. 6/10

Last Week’s Films (25/06 – 22/07)

So…I didn’t watch anything new (to me, anyway) for quite a while, and rather than make empty posts for the weeks with no films, I just added some weeks together. Still only 1 new film in all that time, but still…

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)

This is a collection of three animated shorts, featuring a stickman named Bill. There is a narrator who explains Bill’s thoughts, dreams and the actions throughout the film. I could not get into the style at all. The animation is simple (Bill is a stickman, after all), and the “random”, offbeat kind of humour did not work for me at all. I can see why people might like it, it’s philosophical and at times a little surreal, but the questions it asks and the manner of the asking is not the kind of thing I can get behind.  With a running time of 62 minutes it’s a fairly short watch, and if you are interested in watching it I would say this: You will know within the first 5 minutes whether you’ll love this film or hate it. It’s a no thank you, from me. 4/10

Last Week’s Films (18/06 – 24/06)

The Taking of Pelham 123 (Tony Scott, 2009) 

I watched this film on TV one night after flipping channels, and was curious given that I really enjoyed the 1974 original. This remake did not stand up well against it at all… John Travolta plays Ryder, the villain of the story who hijacks the eponymous New York Subway train Pelham 123, and forces Denzel Washington’s train dispatcher character Walter Garber to act as negotiator. Washington is not bad, but Travolta is a giant ham, and the chemistry between the two doesn’t work particularly well. Overall it was pretty dull, and you should just watch the original. 4/10

Last Week’s Films (11/06 – 17/06)

Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)

This film was very well received critically, but it left me a bit cold. While it was fairly creepy, I just didn’t find myself getting invested or sufficiently into it. Maybe I just prefer something more tangible and simple in a horror film, but oh well. It was fine, but not for me. 5/10

 

Last Week’s Films (04/06 – 10/06)

Body Double (Brian De Palma, 1984)

Another two Brian De Palma thrillers for this week, and they were both okay. In Body Double, a man spies on a beautiful woman through a telescope from the window in his apartment and sees her murdered. He then investigates, and it’s not quite as it seems. It’s entertaining enough, and a little bit cheesy, but it works. 5/10

Raising Cane (Brian De Palma, 1992)

John Lithgow plays Dr. Carter Nix and his “twin brother” Cain in this film where Dr. Nix, a child psychologist, seems to be mentally unstable and discovers his wife is having an affair. We follow his descent into madness seeing him exact his revenge and indulge his murderous impulses. Lithgow is suitably over-the-top, with a “surprise” along the way (although it’s pretty obvious). Again, it was entertaining enough, but not great. 5/10

The Ballad of Narayama ( Shohei Imamura, 1983)

Inspired by the 1958 film of the same name, 1983’s The Ballad of Narayama is set in a small secluded village in 19th century Japan, which has a tradition where once a member of the village reaches the age of 70 they must make a journey to a remote mountain nearby to die on its peak. Our main character is Orin, a 69 year old woman, and we see her final year in the village before making the journey. Although almost 70 she is still extremely healthy and capable, but resolves not to be taken by fear and to make her journey to the mountain with dignity and to cause no embarrassment to her family. The majority of the film deals with life in the village, and it seems like an extremely brutal and harsh place to live. Near the beginning of the film we witness the discovery of a dead baby who had been hidden in the snow, found after the thaw of Spring. The reaction to this is not as dramatic as you might expect, and seems to be taken much more as a part of life in the village rather than an earth-shattering revelation. Later in the film a family found to be stealing from others in the village is punished in a particularly harsh and brutal manner as well. It seems in the village it is all about survival, and to emphasise this point there are various short sequences of nature (animals fighting, mating, hunting each other for food) spread throughout the film, creating a parallel between the village and its natural surroundings, both ruled through the idea of survival of the fittest. The film is gorgeous too, the village and its surroundings beautifully presented. Perhaps not something you would recommend if someone just wants to be entertained, but The Ballad of Narayama is harsh, beautiful, artful and raw. 7.5/10

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (Asia Argento, 2004)

I would not recommend this at all. It’s basically a terrible mother mistreating her son and getting him into horrible situations for about an hour and a half. It’s not even done in an especially engaging or affecting way, it attempts to be provocative but for me just came off as trashy. 3/10

Last Week’s Films (28/05 – 03/06)

Well, it seems I have a lot of catching up to do…

Sisters (Brian De Palma, 1972)

A woman witnesses a man being murdered through her window in the apartment building across the street. The police are skeptical as she happens to be a journalist who writes unflattering pieces on police practices, so when they don’t find anything she gets a private detective to help her investigate. It was alright, a little strange in places, but well-enough made. 5/10

Batman Ninja (Junpei Mizusaki, 2018)

A Batman animated film where he ends up in feudal Japan fighting the usual rogue’s gallery. The idea of it was a little interesting, as was the animation at first, but the story was really dull and some of the voice acting (particularly the Joker) was awful. 3/10

Batman: Gotham By Gaslight (Sam Liu, 2018)

Another animated Batman film. This time it’s set in a Victorian age Gotham with Batman trying to catch Jack the Ripper. Like in other Batman animated films the animation is not great, it just looks like an extended episode of a TV show. The voice acting was a little better in this one than Batman Ninja but overall I couldn’t get into this one much either. 4.5/10

Last Week’s Films (21/05 – 27/05)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard, 2018)

This is yet another Star Wars film that has fallen a bit flat for me, much like Rogue One and The Last Jedi (although those two are probably more enjoyable than this one). You can tell that they changed directors halfway through production, the film doesn’t seem particularly well focused and is a little bit messy at times, and overall the film is a little bland and uninteresting. None of the performances were particularly interesting either, Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo has none of the effortless cool and aloofness of Harrison Ford’s equivalent, and although I like Donald Glover in general his Lando didn’t seem like anything more than an imitation of Billy Dee Williams rather than anything unique. The worst thing though was the cinematography (particularly the lighting). Everything was painfully dark, and it was hard to make out faces or details in most of the scenes that weren’t set outside in daylight. It’s fine, but fairly bland like most of these big franchise films. 5/10