Viewing (and writing) for June was dominated by the weekend dash to the Sydney Film Festival. Despite that, and a busy day job/personal schedule (hence this being so late into July), I still managed to cram a reasonable amount into the month, especially on the TV front. It was a pretty good one quality-wise too, with only a couple of minor duds. Share your thoughts below on these ones.
- The Mule (2014), Tony Mahony & Angus Sampson – Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson write and star in this pretty surprising film. Surprising in the sense that my expectations were low for a film basically about a guy who can’t take a dump. It was sold that way, but the reality is that this is a really cleverly written and well acted crime film. An 80s period piece in which the drama is convincing and, with a few gross exceptions, the humour wry. Worth it just for Whannell, Sampson, Hugo Weaving and Noni Hazelhurst’s performances.
- Whiplash (2014). Damien Chazelle – This is all about the sound. Music shot like a thriller, jazz heavy soundtrack used in a major way, sound design that pops and rehearsals edited to feel like big sporting matches. It is prettily shot and constructed, even if the central conflict is perhaps not enchanting enough to carry the entire film. The film loses its kinetic freneticism for much of the third act too. J.K. Simmons is as good as advertised though and the thematic interest in the notion of artistic perfection, and the contrasting ways to get there is really well drawn.
- Esio Trot (2014), Dearbhla Walsh – This is a breezy, sharp adaptation of one of Roald Dahl’s lesser known, but most charming works that nicely emphasises his more absurd tendencies. The narration could be a lazy approach, but James Corden brings a fair bit of charisma to it. There is nothing too substantial here, but it’s hard to go wrong with a light, sweetly romantic tale starring Dustin Hoffman and Judy Dench.
- Killer’s Kiss (1955), Stanley Kubrick – Super early Kubrick is pretty creative noir focusing on a down and out boxer. Feels very hardboiled, both in look, dialogue and voiceover. It’s structurally funky with a good score too. The shooting is fun as well, first person shots and creative close-ups peppered throughout. A small feeling story that builds both its sense of dread and societal commentary (on rape culture no less) really well.
- Jurassic World (2015), Colin Trevorrow – The original film was a formative movie experience for me. This is a massively flawed effort, but it invokes the original enough to get a pass. Basically just anytime there are massive dinosaurs running rampant to a really good score, I’m on board. Anything else is pretty much rubbish. Pratt’s character is written to suck out basically all of his natural charisma, the story is overly complex with a woeful militarisation subplot, the character building throughout is super weak and the gender politics are bad. But did I mention dinosaurs? They look great and chomp numerous things. When they’re onscreen, this is pure joy. The rest is a poor man’s Spielberg homage.
- Dinosaur 13 (2014), Todd Douglas Miller – Another to feed my inner dinosaur nerd. Starts nicely with the beauty of the surrounds and the scarcity of T-Rex skeletons. Flips to an incredibly emotional tale of the government essentially stealing one of the greatest paleontological finds in history. Some of the interviews are really striking in their emotion. Initially the film reaches for a grand government conspiracy. But it actually finds it in the end. Really well edited, with a score that is surprisingly effective for a doco.
- Friday Night Lights Season 1 (2006), Peter Berg – The concept of high school sports, with the vibe of the whole town so wrapped up in how the team performs, is so foreign to someone from Australia. But this is a supremely well written soapy. At times the game is barely a focus, but the matches are shot really well. You can almost feel the physicality as the camera places you at ground level. The characters are rewardingly written and there’s a great portrait of a marriage at the centre. Kyle Chandler, Connie Britten, Zach Gilford and Taylor Kitsch provide the best of the performances. It’s all very silly and melodramatic, wearing its overt sentimentality on its sleeve. But damn it’s good at it.
- Orphan Black Season 3 (2015), Graeme Manson & John Fawcett – This season feels like it dials everything up –tension and narrative complexity in particular. The dense plotting is hard to follow. Or perhaps it’s because it’s been so long since I watched a show in the traditional manner of an episode a week. But it doesn’t detract from this being really watchable sci-fi, due in large part to Tatiana Maslany giving five or so of the best performances currently on TV. Very little downtime, they really ramp shit up here. I’m talking fingers in wounds, digging up baby corpses and exposed brains. Some really cool and violent action beats too.
Not Worth Watching:
- Friday Night Lights Season 2 (2007), Peter Berg – Starts off with one of the worst episodes of TV I’ve ever sat through. Basically trashes everything you loved in the first season and then goes with a huge plot point that does not jive with the show’s vibe. Overblown drama not fitting the tenor of the show. There’s some decent stuff throughout – Landry & Tyra’s relationship and Kitsch’s good performance as Tim Riggins, a character with a great arc. But the bad outweighs the good. Show just randomly forgets characters entirely, with no resolution. Which is apt in a way because that’s how this season ends, with the writer’s strike just stopping it abruptly. Daft.
- Camp X-Ray (2014), Peter Sattler – Starts promisingly. Silent impactful shot of a burning twin tower, quickly plunging us straight into Gitmo. But from there, the film cannot overcome the cloying premise– Kirsten Stewart’s rookie guard befriending an inmate. The script is clunky and the illogicalities in process & procedure distractingly huge. Stewart’s performance is excellent, she feels more genuine that on occasions. The film also does a good job of establishing the daily grind of working life at Guantanamo. But these good elements are undercut by the poor story.
If you only have time to watch one Friday Night Lights Season 1
Avoid at all costs Friday Night Lights Season 2