Worth Watching March 2011
- Kung-Fu Panda (2008), John Stevenson, Mark Osbourne – Kicks off with a wonderful traditional animation intro. From there Jack Black, who has a voice made for animation, and the really crisp animation make this one of the better of recent animated films. The keen sense of style in the training and fight sequences being the highlight. However it does include probably the worst DVD extra in existence. This:
- The Informant (2009), Steven Soderbergh – Matt Damon is excellent (isn’t he always lately?) as a deluded, paranoid whistleblower. This is a strange film which treats some very serious content in a very light-hearted way. A contrast which may possibly explain its rather weak following. But it’s never less than intriguing, and the quirkiest voiceover I can remember hearing is worth watching this for alone.
- Adjustment Bureau (2011), George Nolfi – Philip K. Dick’s short story has been expanded into an at times clumsy, but overall intriguing sci-fi love tale with Wings of Desire (1987) overtones. Damon is surprise surprise, excellent while Emily Blunt showcases the unfamiliar talent of being able to seem like a real person.
- Twelfth Night (John Gorrie), (1980) – The BBC Shakespeare adaptations improve to 1-1. This film clarifies the play and delivers a low budget but very funny and very very well acted version of Shakespeare’s comedy. Captures a fantastic sense of fun.
- The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005), Robert Rodriguez – After reading his book recently, I have set myself the challenge of watching every Rodriguez film. This is one of the best family films I have watched in a long time and Rodriguez brings a bold, heavily stylised visual style to bear on the material adapted from his son’s dreams and drawings (awww). All the performances are good (even from that Twilight dude), especially George Lopez hamming it up.
- Accattone (1961), Pier Paolo Pasolini- Pasolini’s first film is incredible. Confronts social issues such as prostitution and violence against women in a disturbing, sinister atmosphere. A tale of the lengths that poverty drives people to, a message still relevant today.
- X-Men (2000), Brian Singer – This comic book flick’s evolutionary ideas give it a nice boost. As does Jackman’s charismatic turn and Paquin’s interesting one. Whilst a little silly on occasions, this builds nicely, and if anything could have done with more of the great fight scenes with the characters powers.
Not Worth Watching:
- The Hangover (2009), Todd Phillips – I’ve become pretty sceptical of contemporary comedy recently. This is a pretty run of the mill effort, except for a really good performance by Bradley Cooper, and the Mike Tyson cameo.
- War Inc. (2008), Joshua Seftel – Some quite good films, for one reason or another go straight to DVD in Australia. This is not one of them. Oh man this is bad. Nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is and about as subtle as a baseball bat to the spine. I can sum up why you should not watch this in one sentence: Hilary Duff, playing a Middle Eastern popstar, is the highlight.
- Paycheck (2003), John Woo – A brilliant Philip K. Dick short story is turned into a far from brilliant film. The sci-fi setting of unknown times is kitsch, and the whole experience is cringeworthy. It took my girlfriend all of 15 seconds to start pissing herself at how bad this is. I fell asleep for the last half an hour, but she assures me it does not get any better.
- Mrs Dalloway (1997), Marleen Gorris – The style of Woolf’s novel doesn’t exactly scream “cinematic adaptation”. The film is very obvious, which comes from trying to externalise what was internal in the book. Bad hammy acting and a fumbling of the novel’s flashback structure add to the pain.
- Knife in the Water (1962), Roman Polanski – Film’s don’t have to have likeable characters to be enjoyable. But having two that are as big pricks as these guys makes it difficult. Drab, washed out visuals are pretty at times. But nothing can save the waaaay to slow narrative of this attempted psychological thriller. Far too ponderous.
If you only have time to watch one Accattone
Avoid at all costs War Inc.
Beat the Devil
Watching some films is an experience that is very difficult to put into words. Beat the Devil (1953) is such a film. Strangely though I could also sum it up quite well in one – absurd.
Generally I am attracted to movies from the 1001 list due to their reputation or director or from personal recommendations. The piece on this film in the book itself was what attracted me to this film though, making the film sound like one of Hollywood’s truly original pieces. I also discovered it was directed by John Huston, one of the truly great old-school Hollywood directors who directed Key Largo (1948), an excellent Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall/Edward G. Robinson vehicle that is a glaring omission from the 1001 list.
In the film the story really does not mean much. The piece from the book puts it best when it says “the story has something to do with uranium rights in Africa, but it’s not really that important.” In reality this is a film essentially about people talking about exploiting African uranium deposits, but never reaching Africa. The only way such a film could possibly work is with a great script. Huston collaborated with non other than Truman Capote to deliver just that. The dialogue, which fills so much of the film’s running time is delightfully surreal. I think I could sit down and read the script the whole way through and be intrigued, it’s definitely one of my favourite pieces of screenwriting. It manages to skewer adventure yarn conventions without coming off as cheap parody, or even having these aspects dominate. Just a nice little aside. As well as being quite surreal (it features a character that was either heavily based on Muammar Gadaffi or heavily influenced him), the script is also very witty. If I was forced to pigeonhole the film into a specific genre, than comedy would be it. The repeated scheming and double crosses can seem a little convoluted until you give into it, and realise that it really doesn’t matter, just sit back and enjoy the seemingly bottomless barrel of witty back and forths. This vein of humour is enhanced by a soundtrack which would not sound out of place accompanying a Looney Tunes cartoon, heightening the films more slapstick moments perfectly.
With Bogart really putting his weight behind the film, it was able to assemble a pretty stellar cast. This is one of my favourite Bogart roles. I occasionally find him a bit sour, but in this he shows off his comedic chops, whilst still bringing a bit of gravitas to a role which could have easily been flippant. I was very excited to see one of my favourite actors Peter Lorre pop up in this as well. This is an older Lorre, a far cry from the baby-faced villain in M (1931) It was nice to see Lorre in a lighter role, he has a terrific sense of comedic timing, and his English is also a lot better in this film than in films closer to his initial emigration. He injects his slightly comedic physicality into his role as one of the scheming associates brilliantly. The best performance in the film however comes from Robert Morley who plays another of the associates. The back and forth between Morley, Lorre and Bogart is sublime, and you can tell that the three were having a whole heap of fun mucking about with each other. If that is not enough for you, the film has maybe the strangest closing shot of a film I have seen. A close up of a letter, Bogart letting fly with an over the top laugh, and then saying “the end”.
Featuring boats and adultery, this film reminded me a bit of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rich and Strange (1932) This is a better, more assured film than that early Hitchcock piece though. Sorry if I haven’t been able to give you a real taste for the film, but it’s a bit difficult to encompass what is going on here. The film is strange, beguiling, brilliantly acted, hilarious … and did I mention absurd?
You can check out the absurdity here:
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Worth Watching February 2011
- The Green Hornet (2011), Michel Gondry – A really fantastic, and funny action film that benefits from Gondry’s unique visual style. Firecracker opening sequence featuring a hilarious James Franco cameo sets the tone for the whole film. Even the 3-D looks good, doesn’t have that whole diorama-rama day feel going on which has plagued recent releases.
- Madagascar (2005), Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath – The animation already looks positively dated compared to recent Pixar releases, but this is one of the funniest of the computer animations. Pleasantly relying on humorous caricatures of the animal kingdom, rather than tired pop-culture references.
- Rich & Strange (1932), Alfred Hitchcock – Hitch shows a lighter touch in this globetrotting comedy which features the strange use of intertitles for a sound film. A genuinely funny film that is extremely frank in its depictions of adultery for the 30s.
- Bedhead (1991), Robert Rodriguez – Rodriguez’s formative short, with its funky hand-drawn credits, rocks a very cool visual aesthetic with the director experimenting with zooms, and editing (done on two VCRs). Throw in a great voiceover and music and it’s a winner, which you can check out here:
- Gone Baby Gone (2007), Ben Affleck – Affleck adapts a novel by my equal favourite living novelist and knocks it out of the park. This is an intense, deeply affecting film, that will stay with you long after it is finished. An incredible ensemble piece – Casey Affleck is brilliant, Michelle Monaghan is brilliant, Amy Ryan is brilliant and Ed Harris is fucking brilliant. If there’s a more promising and exciting young director than Affleck working today, I don’t know about them.
Not Worth Watching:
- Danny Bhoy Live – I didn’t see any movies I wouldn’t recommend this month. But I went and saw the Scottish comedian Danny Bhoy. A strong start gave way to lowest common denominator stuff – gay jokes, jokes about ethnicity and most disturbingly rape jokes abounded.
If you only have time to watch one Gone Baby Gone
Avoid at all costs Danny Bhoy live