Worth Watching December 2013

December and January are traditionally when I rack up the biggest numbers for this feature as I madly catch up on films for consideration in my best and worst of the year lists. Exactly the case here too. A very busy viewing month, even with a couple of weeks where I did not watch a whole lot, particularly over the festive season.

As always, keen to hear your thoughts on any of these, whether you agreed or disagreed with me.

Worth Watching:

  • The Turning (2013), 18 different directors – This Aussie film had a really innovative cinema release. Based on a collection of Tim Winton stories, the three hour film had an intermission in the middle and you got a glossy program before going in. Props to those involved for doing something different. Producer Robert Connelly has done well to marshal all of this. Like all anthology films, the quality varies. But there are none that stand out as particularly bad. The connective tissue between the shorts is often oblique and a little forced. But this does actually succeed as an experience. And it is great to see so many big name Aussie actors doing their bit to help out.

The-Turning_poster

  • Carrie (2013), Kimberly Peirce – I actually really quite liked this. Especially effective is the last half hour, by far the most difficult part of this adaptation to nail. Peirce actually improves on the most problematic aspect of King’s Carrie, making her more empathetic in the final bloodbath she brings about. She does so with a couple of very deft touches – the screening of the period video and relationship with Tommy Ross. Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore are very good as is Ansel Elgort as Tommy.   
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Gavin Hood – Like the one above this film is pretty maligned, and at least in my opinion a touch unfairly so. This is pretty silly and mindless, but mindless enough to be enjoyable. Some of the CGI seems unnecessary, and annoyingly this approach is both distracting and repeated. Wolverine’s claws look like a cartoon. It is quite a slow burn narrative, as I guess most origin stories are. I can see people’s issues – it is more of  decent action film rather than a mythology laden comic book origin story. Plus having characters that are more or less immortal does hurt the tension. But for me, more than enjoyable enough.
  • The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004), Niels Mueller – Cool to see our Jack Thompson (who I met not so long ago and is a lovely guy) in something like this. He is very good too. Sean Penn as well is really good once he gets into his character. His character is a very sad dude and this is a really sad film. The title hints at sprawling political conspiracy. But in fact, this is simply a great portrait of a tortured man.
  • The Way Way Back (2013), Nat Faxon & Jim Rash – The main character Duncan is a perfectly written example of teen awkwardness and isolation. This is a coming of age tale where he finds himself, without the usual tweeness that goes along with that. Liam James is good as Duncan whilst Sam Rockwell is like a delightful, laidback water park buddha in a role he seems to relish. The cast is really great with even the minor names putting in some really good performances. Good to see Steve Carrel breaking his recent typecasting when he plays a bullying jerk in this. It is hard to do touching without a hint of sentimentality but this script manages it. Probably hasn’t been a more delightfully joyous film this year.

way way back

  • A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Sergio Leone – A nameless Clint rides into a town where the men are so busy killing each other they no longer work. He masterfully plays the warring factions off against each other. Can see how influential this became, especially in the music, shooting and editing. This is Eastwood’s bread and butter, a cold as ice renegade. Brutal, technically a masterpiece and driven by an excellent script, it is understandable why this neo-Western has become so revered.
  • The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (2013), Peter Jackson – Now this is more like it! One hell of an adventure film, which despite being the middle film of a trilogy has a satisfying narrative arc. Probably darker that any of the LOTR films in my opinion. Good to see Jackson stretching himself and whilst it is imperfect, he got so much right here. Helps that I chose not to watch it in his infernal, beloved HFR. The dwarves still don’t function as individual characters and it is 20 minutes too long. But the last act of this is up there with the most exhilarating sequences of the year.
  • Elysium (2013), Neil Blomkamp – This film seemed to piss a lot of people off when it came out. Not sure how much of that is because it was not District 9 (2009). My blu-ray version looked phenomenal. One of the few films that make me feel like I need a bigger TV. There is no doubting the allegories are not at all subtle. But it really didn’t bother me very much. I actually think some of the unsubtly around immigration and workers rights & exploitation is actually quite spot on. I found it pretty affecting at times too. However not sure what accent Jodie Foster was going for here. Her whole performance is a weird one.
  • True Blood Season 1 (2008), Alan Ball – Can tell from the credits that this is going to be something different. Takes place in a cool Southern setting which is really emphasised. It is sort of trashy, but the best made trash ever. Touches on some pretty adult stuff in addition to aspects of the South such as race and history. The writing is very good at creating very flawed and ambiguous characters. There is a sense of the biblical to many of the happenings as well which kind of adds to the thick Southern feel of the whole thing.
  • Weeds Season 7 (2011), Jenji Kohan – There is no doubting this series has lost a lot of its snap. Part of that is down to the main character of Nancy. They have created something quite complex but unfortunately she is now perhaps a little too unsympathetic. Perhaps an even bigger issue is that the series has shelved so many of the supporting characters that brought the earlier seasons so much edge and humour. But despite all that I still can’t completely dismiss this season. It is still really watchable. You still care what happens to these characters and no-one ends a season as good as these guys.  
  • Alien 3 (1992), David Fincher – I really liked this film. So much so, it is possibly my favourite of the series. Design and visuals is the strength of all the films and that continues here as well. A space jail with an industrial foundry gives scope to ramp up the design elements. Has a really snappy narrative as well that had some unpredictable moments. Sigourney Weaver is utterly badass. The film does feature perhaps the most heinous underuse of Pete Postlethwaite in cinema history though.
  • About Time (2013), Richard Curtis – Like basically every time travel film ever made this does lose its way a touch. But bloody hell it does a lot of things right. It’s predominately charming, managing to avoid OTT schmaltz and also avoiding the need to manufacture conflict unnecessarily. Great performances, interesting supporting characters and a really fine closing quarter which introduces some tough themes very well. Not perfect, but worthwhile and pretty original.
  • Cool Runnings (1993), John Turteltaub – Such a massive childhood classic for me. Great script and brilliant performances go a long way to making this so awesome. Doug E. Doug is delightfully unhinged as Sanka. Not to mention John Candy who is just absurdly charismatic. Not only one of the best comedy scripts of all time, tis also a very good underdog sports story. And like all the best comedies there are some great heartfelt moments here too.

sanka cold

  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), Francis Lawrence – Possibly the best blockbuster, big ticket film of the year. Jennifer Lawrence is so good and her Katniss is one hell of a character. That arc and that of heaps of supporting characters really sets this film apart. Josh Hutcherson, who was so average in the first, holds his own here with a Lawrence in top form. His improvement matches that of the series, because this is much better than the first film. The shooting and design is so rich. It is really great to see that the filmmakers had the freedom to not just make everything super glossy.
  • The Naked City (1948), Jules Dassin – An incredible portrait of New York, from the very start with some great aerial shots of the city. Quite brutal, with two murders in the first five minutes. Very modern as well though, almost like ‘a day in the life’ of the city. Genre-wise it is a somewhat old fashioned straight up crime flick which manages to capture nicely the daily grind of being a cop.

Not Worth Watching:

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Alfonso Cuaron – Definitely not without its positives, this was just a bit of a letdown after how much I enjoyed the first two. You have to love the sense of the fantastical and these films have the budget to well and truly deliver on it. This one struggles to find its tone early on and is overcome at times by the silliness that just adds a little charm to the first couple. In comparison to what has come before, it is just a little flat, cumbersome and predictable. Plus the whole third act is really anti-climactic aside from one interesting character reveal.
  • The Purge (2013), James DeMonaco – Disappointingly does next to nothing with an intriguing premise. In the future, the populace is controlled by crime being legal for 12 hours per year. This ‘purge’ has become a holiday event in the States with all the trimmings. Most of the social commentary is around class. The haves afford protection whilst the 99% can’t. The whole film is far more bland and uneventful than it should be though. Doesn’t just turn an exceptional premise into a home invasion film, it turns it into a not very good home invasion film.

purge poster

  • In the House (2012), Francois Ozon – Very highbrow, obscure literature references and all. Sort of a thriller but forgot to include any thrills. Follows a disillusioned literature teacher trying to help a talented yet troubled pupil. Some of the actions of the characters are just totally unbelievable. Should be intriguing but mainly it is just a little silly and flat with none of the impact it should have. Everything that should work, misses.
  • Face to Face (2011), Michael Rymer – Adapted from a play and it feels like it too. The performances are all heightened like in the theatre. No-one talks like this is in real life. Tonally it is a mixture of realism and failed attempts at realism. It also gets a little absurd at times which works much better on stage. Some of the performances are decent, Luke Ford especially. But the film can’t overcome its play roots as much as it may try.
  • Kill Your Darlings (2013), John Krokidas – This film just really doesn’t work. It is constantly reaching, but falling short. Reaching to inhabit the period trappings. Reaching to inhabit the Beat spirit. Reaching for dialogue that doesn’t sound like the worst Beat poetry ever written. And reaching for a narrative to anchor the film on. Which is disappointing because there is a great story here. Jack Huston as Kerouac adds some precious life and there is a refreshing (which it shouldn’t be) frankness to the depictions of male homosexuality. But the rest is not there.

If you only have time to watch one Cool Runnings

Avoid at all costs The Purge

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17 responses

  1. Seen some decent stuff over the past month or so mate. I actually fancied checking out In The House as Empire Magazine gave it 5/5, but it does sound a bit pretentious which always puts me off.

    1. I was really looking forward to that one too. Looked like it had smart thriller written all over it. But they forgot to put in any of the thriller parts.

  2. Ah Cool Runnings hahaha haven’t seen it in years. I agree, Origins has a bad rap for nothing really.

    The Purge SUCKED, sheesh I was upset at having seen it.

    Great list Tim!

    1. Haha, The Purge did suck. Did massive business on a tiny budget though so there is already a sequel on the way.

      Glad to hear someone else liked the first Wolverine film as well.

      1. I don’t know if they’ll even get it right the second time around.

        So few of us!

  3. Disappointing that Kill Your Darlings wasn’t worth watching. The trailer for that one really grabbed my attention, but I still haven’t seen it yet. And maybe now the influence of your review will shove it farther down on my list of priorities.
    The first season of True Blood is spectacular. I read all of the books that the show is based on, and the first season really stays true to that first book, which I loved. But from here on out dude, it takes a serious nosedive. If you stick with it, I’d be very curious to read your thoughts on the continuing seasons.

    1. Who know, you might find Kill Your Darlings more satisfying than me. I was really intrigued to see it. But it was all a bit underwhelming.

      I have heard that True Blood gets worse. Thought there might have been at least one more good season in there though. I have this horrible habit where if a show hooks me in with one good season, I just can’t stop watching. 24, Weeds and Alias are all shows that really fell away to some degree. And I kept watching them all, the whole way through.

  4. Nice list, I am becoming depressed from all the films I am watching some comedy would not go astray

    1. It can get a bit like that aye. The Way Way Back was definitely one that I found a breezy and uplifting watch.

      1. yeah on top of that I watched Les quatre cents coups, I think I might watch Louis C,K’s series back to front 🙂

  5. Cool post!

    The Turning sounds very cool!

    No Hobbit for me, thanks. Absolutely hated the first one.

    Glad you liked Elysium. I did too. Thought it was unfairly maligned.

    Spot-on description of About Time. Saw that one this weekend and LOVED it!

    Glad you liked Catching Fire. Had a lot of fun with it and Lawrence was superb as always. Totally agree about Hutcherson.

    Sad about HP Azkaban. I love that one; it’s probably my second favorite of the series.

    1. The Turning was a really interesting idea. I was a big fan. I hated the first Hobbit probably as much as you. Was number one on my worst films of 2012 list. But I loved this one. Did you like any of the LOTR films?

      Yeah I was bummed out I didn’t like Askaban. After just recently getting into the series, then seeing the name of the director I was really psyched. What is your favourite in that series?

      1. Right! I remember now. Well, I’m glad you enjoyed this second installment. I sort of enjoy the LOTR films (like the first, hate the second, like the third) but I think they’re terribly overrated.

        My favorite in the series is Order of the Phoenix, closely followed by Azkaban.

  6. True Blood Season 1 remains the one that I got hooked on pretty much the moment I stuck that first DVD in and pretty much watched it non-stop. I’m interested what you say about Season 2..haha~
    So happy that you liked Alien 3. A lot of times, I feel so alone in enjoying that one. I think it has a nice style to it and its pretty fun to watch. 🙂

    1. Did you watch past series 2 of True Blood Kim, or give up after that? And yep, I had a heap of fun with Alien 3. Thought it was great, up there with the first two for me (admittedly I like the first two a little less than a lot of people).

      1. No no..I’m up to date with True Blood. Season 2 was the hardest to get through and then I loved the following ones. The last one was a tad weird, kind of. But still alright. I look forward to the next season. 🙂

      2. Ok cool. I have heard a few people say that they didn’t like any of it after the first season.

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