- Mulan (1998), Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook – Disney’s animation is wonderfully updated to ancient China. The characters aren’t though, with Disney’s standard templates reigning here. Cracking songs and good use of interesting themes such as filial piety and familial responsibility engage. This is a great tale of female empowerment, and just empowerment in general. A nice new rendering of classic Disney themes.
- Your Highness (2011), David Gordon Green – This medieval set comedy is quite the 80s throwback. This is crass, but delightfully so. James Franco is fabulous as Prince Fabious, really looking and sounding the part. Danny McBride has written a great piss-take script that plays a little like a long skit in a sketch show with some cool comedic action scenes. Luckily, just when things begin to drag a little, Natalie Portman picks things up.
- Persuasion (2007), Adrian Shergold – This is an excellent modern adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. The soundtrack is great, and it is filmed in a dynamic and modern manner. Sally Hawkins really looks the part in the main role of Anne Elliot. Manages to trim unnecessary dross, yet maintain the period trimmings. And finishes things off with an emotionally brilliantly rendered conclusion.
- Hereafter (2010), Clint Eastwood – A film essentially about death which remains engaging and very human throughout. This quite original film examines death in all its forms – commercial, spiritual, physical & the emotional toll on those who remain. The storyline, split into three, works really well, and only falters toward the end when an admirable attempt to reconcile all three falls short. Awesome film.
- Horrible Bosses (2011), Seth Gordon – Not the funniest movie you will ever see, but the script gets funnier as it goes along. Having Jason Bateman, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Aniston, Donald Sutherland & Colin Farrell (the last 2 a father and son which I would have loved to see get more screen time) helps a lot. As does breakout star Charlie Day who is hilarious. The funniest bit was my girlfriend being frightened by a cat running on screen which caused her to leap out of her seat and send the entire cinema into hysterics.
- The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009), Daniel Alfredson – I hated the highly regarded first in this series and this started with more of the same. About half an hour in it threatens to take a more interesting murder mystery path with Rapace’s Lisbeth framed for murder. This generic switch engages and sucks youi in as Blomkvist (exquisitely played by Michael Nyqvist) turns Sherlock. Well scripted and sharply filmed with nice action elements and hints of spy thriller.
- Rhythmus 21 (1921), Hans Richter – Title translates as ‘Film is Rhythm’ which is a perfect summary. The black and white shapes move in a way that almost has you tapping your foot to their rhythm. Simple yet intriguing, a brilliant avant-garde piece from cinema’s early days. Check it:
- The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2009), Daniel Alfredson – Nyqvist as Blomkvist really is the moral centre of these films. The intriguing start widens the net of conspiracy. The villain who is meant to be arch-menacing just falls flat as the actor just is not up to it. Great support by Annika Hallin and Lena Endre, as well as the best performance by Rapace in the series helps massively. It does get a little silly, with some of the thriller elements coming off like Bourne-lite and the connection between Nykvist and Lisbeth weakening a lot. But there is still enough here to enjoy.
- The Hunter (2011), Daniel Nettheim – Tassie looks dashing, and Sam Neil, Francis O’Connor & especially Willem Dafoe bring the acting chops. This is slow and meandering, at times lacking a strong narrative sense as it follows a quest you suspect will never be resolved. But it cleverly dichotomises the logger vs greenie divide in the island state and is ultimately intriguing enough to check out.
- Contagion (2011), Steven Soderbergh – It is a rare treat for a mainstream film to be this ambitious and clever. Soderbergh has weaved a broad tapestry which masterfully contrasts the societal and personal impacts of an epidemic. A couple of subplots jar with the realist whole, but the rest is so rich you won’t care.
- Take Shelter (2011), Jeff Nichols – A portrait of a man’s descent into mental illness, with his nightmarish visions rendered in visually spectacular fashion. So good to see special effects used in this intelligent way. Michael Shannon gives a powerhouse performance despite his character being a little infuriating while Jessica Chastain wows as the suffering wife. One of the year’s best.
- Shutter (2004), Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom – Thai horror film that has been remade in the states, invariably shitter. Hell of a creepy flick which is wonderfully made. Just the right mix of BOO! moments, without being silly or over the top. A nicely layered story which bothers to construct the motivation of its characters. Masterfully engenders tension and fear out of everyday situations.
- Midnight in Paris (2011), Woody Allen – This is a wonderful piece of whimsy. Allen has written a script that is full of clever, witty dialogue. Owen Wilson is towering in the central role, giving his finest performance. Michael Sheen is the pick of a support cast that is excellent, and they all have a lot to work with. Rachel McAdams’ character is a blight on this film though. A women so unlikeable that it is unfathomable Wilson’s laidback charmer could fall for her. A literary time travel film like no other.
Not Worth Watching:
- The Portrait of a Lady (1996), Jane Campion – Henry James’ novel is a dense piece of high lit, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to adaptation. The film does away with much of the exposition, and coupled with confusing accents, makes this hard to grasp totally. What we are left with is all the events, but none of the motivation. Nicole Kidman is very fine, and a young Christian Bale is breathtaking. Unfortunately John Malkovich is in annoying scene-stealing mode. A fair attempt, but it drags too much and is far too oblique.
- Le Vampire (1945), Jean Painleve – My mind literally exploded upon seeing the start of this. A nature film like nothing you’ve ever seen before, which comments on the intersection between humanity and nature’s creatures. However then there was a scene which genuinely upset me. Shows a guinea pig being attacked by a vampire bat which is a test of my Vego Film manifesto. The sequence sickened me frankly, and I do not fathom how someone could do that for a cool shot; unflinchingly filming while a fellow creature had the life sucked out of it. Here’s a link to the film on Youtube so you can make up your own mind:
- Nang Nak (1999), Nonzee Nimibutr – Thai horror film concerning a woman who dies in childbirth whilst her husband is off at war. This really struggles to get going and short scenes really disjoint the narrative. Intira Jaroenpura is fantastic as Nak and the film is nicely shrouded in tradition, ritual and religion. The main issue though is that it is too oblique and boring – the one thing a horror film should not be.
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Francis Ford Coppola – Coppola has a huge ego and it shows here. His Dracula is a lovesick renouncer of God. But something about the entire aesthetic of this film is a little off. I’m not as down on Keanu’s acting as most, but he sucks overwhelmingly in this. It’s like Coppola only just discovered superimposition as he uses the technique interminably. There are many great adaptations of Stoker’s novel, but this unsubtle film ain’t one of them. Anthony Hopkins is the only decent thing in this self indulgent film that is one of the crappier movies ever made.
- The Fog of War (2003), Errol Morris – This doco offers a unique glimpse into the upper echelons of U.S. strategic thinking. The subject Robert McNamara is really self-important. Film does a good job of dehumanising war as it is in reality. Ultimately though this is too slow, and perhaps too U.S specific.
- Conviction (2010), Tony Goldwyn – The plot reads like midday movie schmaltz. A sister puts herself through law school to clear her bro’s name. An annoying and uninspired flashbacky structure only adds to the sense of the mundane. The story is an affecting one, and the performances by Hilary Swank and especially Minnie Driver and Sam Rockwell are really wonderful. But it is all just a bit tame, and has been done so much better before.
- Flower in the Pocket (2007), Liew Seng Tat – Pretty bloody boring quite frankly. Kids hanging out, getting into minor trouble. The broad humour is mildly amusing at times, and there are some comments on ethnical tensions in Malaysia but a lot of it is just a bunch of kids playing.
If you only have time to watch one Rhythmus 21
Avoid at all costs Le Vampire