- True Grit (1969), Henry Hathaway – Portis’ novel is an American classic, but definitely not a pulp Western, the kind of tale John Wayne usually trades in. The film combines the atmosphere of Portis’ novel with that of a typical Wayne flick. The older, grizzled Wayne certainly embodies the role of Rooster Cogburn. Some stilted, overacting (Glen Campbell is pretty woeful) is balanced out by some good turns, most notably a very young Robert Duvall. Like the book, this is personal story set in the West, rather than a sweeping examination of the frontier, and it works quite enjoyably.
- Star Trek (2009), J.J Abrams – My first experience of Star Trek was a good one. Abrams is a good enough director to keep the epic visuals and time-travel story which both threaten to overwhelm, under control. This space melodrama also shows that Chris Pine has a growing affinity for quality, big budget action pieces such as this.
- 127 Hours (2010), Danny Boyle – Making a film about one guy stuck under a rock, where pretty much everyone knows what happens presents some obvious problems. Boyle innovatively uses editing and sound to overcome these. The frenetic editing should be distracting and take away from the human story but it only enhances it. The soundtrack is exceptional throughout, especially during the notorious amputation scene (the nerve ‘jangling’ will stay with me). Film also builds tension expertly, in the lead up to the film’s two main set pieces. A bold and brilliant film.
- Inside Job (2010), Charles Ferguson – The tale of the economic crisis, told in language it is possible to understand. This film will make you really fucking angry. It illustrates the sheer greed of the financial sector and how nothing has changed. 30 million people became unemployed so that these executives could get $100 million bonuses. This, and many other instances in this film make you realise that the system is fundamentally broken, mainly because of it’s increasing disconnect from the society it ‘serves.’ This is an enjoyable and incendiary film, well made and driven by an excellent interviewer.
- Tangled (2010), Nathan Greno & Byron Howard – An update of Rapunzel seems risky fare in this day and age. But this turns out to be everything Disney do well (great sense of fun, brilliant animal characters) with some nice updates (lush CG visuals and cool, self-aware attitude). You can see John Lasseter’s influence here, and hopefully he can lead a feature film revival over at the House of Mouse.
- The Blue Mansion (2009), Glen Goei – Wonderful generic mishmash which combines comedy, family drama, thriller and ghost story into something always entertaining. A man awakes one day to find he is dead and gets to see his family implode following the aftermath of his passing. Also finishes on a powerful twist that shocks, but doesn’t feel at all cheap. Here’s a not very good trailer (the actual film is a lot more intelligent than this makes out):
- Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), Jennifer Yuh Nelson – If it isn’t Pixar, computer animation has gotten a bit of a bad wrap in recent years. Some justified, some not. This is an example of a well-made, fun and interesting film from another source (Dreamworks). The film is powered by an original story that riffs on Chinese mythology and a funny script brought to life by one of the better voice casts assembled.
- Potong Saga (2009), Ho Yuhang – Part of 15malaysia, a short film project. This is a hilarious short about circumcision and Islamic banking featuring Namewee, a Malaysian hip-hop artist who seems a natural. Witty, a little over the top and a lot of laughs to be had in its engagement with Malaysian social issues, and just slapstick silliness. Watch it here:
Not Worth Watching:
- How to Train Your Dragon (2010), Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois – Starts with a witty opening about the perils of growing up viking. But this attitude gives way to a fairly bland bag of clichés. The guy gets the girl, dragons and humans learn to live together and the son gains his father’s respect. All a bit yawn-inducing.
- The Next Three Days (2010), Paul Haggis – This starts slowly, very slowly. It threatens to explode into an excellent fast paced thriller once the central prison-break premise is eventually revealed. Unfortunately though, the film’s most interesting character (played by Liam Neeson) disappears as quickly as he arrives and the slow pace ensures this never really rises above tepid midday movie standard.
- The Fighter (2010), David O. Russell – This was massively well received, especially in the States, but it’s a very strange film tonally. The main example is Christian Bale who looks the part as a crack addict, but his character is played strangely for laughs. Add in the troupe of sisters also comedically drawn, some bland direction and the overall aesthetic just doesn’t work. The emotively told redemption of Bale’s character & title fight, as well as top performances from Amy Adams & Marky Mark throughout, can’t save this one.
- Man of Aran (1934), Robert J. Flaherty – Flaherty is generally considered the father of feature length documentary. This film is moderately interesting, til you know the background to it, at which point it becomes meaningless. It is constructed with doco images, but is no reflection of reality – subjects were auditioned, they weren’t actually a family, and the islanders had abandoned the style of fishing the film is at pains to illustrate over 50 years before, so most of the dramatic highpoints were staged. Manipulative.
If you only have time to watch one 127 Hours
Avoid at all costs Man of Aran