August turned out to be another fairly busy month on the film front. Patchy though, there were a lot of films I did not dig this month. 2015 releases were the focus, running the gamut from perhaps the best big budget film of the year so far, to more stuffy dramatic dross in a year that has seen its fair share. Be sure to share some thoughts in the comments section below. Also, this is a very late worth watching entry. Training for my first half marathon and getting ready for the impending arrival of my first child, has taken up plenty of my time (both delightful pursuits).
- Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (2015), David Wain & Michael Showalter – What an idiotic delight. Love how some of them are clearly older, but they stick with the pretence that this is a prequel. There is something so endearing about seeing Josh Charles rocking three popped collars, and the show as a whole actually. They did so well to get this cast back together, many are huge names now. New additions such as Michael Cera and Chris Pine revel in the silliness as well. Bradley Cooper is having a great time yucking it up. Utterly, deliriously joyful.
- The Big Lebowski (1998), The Coen Brothers – I don’t quite see the hype on this one, but I’m also not the hugest Coen Brothers fan in general. The astutely written script is very wordy, but also very funny with some eccentric storytelling. The performances, especially from Goodman, Bridges and Buscemi are really excellent. There is a quite formal construction to the narrative underneath the silliness. For all the clever wordiness, it was actually the more slapsticky moments that stood out a little for me.
- Girlhood (2014), Celine Sciamma – So refreshing to see a film set far outside the world of what we usually see onscreen. The film is at its best in its refusal to embrace the orthodoxy of what we expect from characters. The central character of Marieme is one of the most complex I have seen in a while. Film does not always flow as well as it could have, and it does feel like there were too many endings. In fact the main story seems to finish like 40 minutes from the end and the rest feels a little tacked on. But it’s great as a portrait of sisterhood and just a little lesser when it moves on from that.
- Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015), Christopher McQuarrie – I’ve never really warmed to this series at all. But this is my kinda spy film. It’s serious, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is nothing too revolutionary, but it borrows happily from the best of the genre. Really just a succession of very good set pieces strung together, some of which (the underwater one, Cruise hangin off a plane) will live long in the memory. And then it ends on a boldly ‘small’ feeling note that feels so original in an era of huge samey climaxes. Simon Pegg’s presence works better here than in past films, whilst Rebecca Ferguson is the clear star.
- The Gift (2015), Joel Edgerton – Almost an unbearably tense film. At times plays like a horror flick, mostly a good thing, though I could have done without the jump scares. It’s a little wordy and slow to get going. Bateman is excellent, especially in the second half. This is probably his strongest dramatic performance. Edgerton has done very good work here. In his debut, the directing is serviceable, but the writing is excellent and responsible for a large part of the tension. Perhaps his best performance too. His character Gordo the Weirdo is difficult to pin down thanks to his performance and it makes the film. Love the old school thriller vibe to the sountrack, which heightens the genre elements.
- Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), Ingmar Bergman – Damn pretty. The framing and shot composition. Interesting tone, both absurd or heightened, but also grounded on a very strong emotional basis. A story of how theatre folk look down on circus folk. It’s an interesting Bergman entry rather than an all together essential one. Dreams, flashbacks and fantasies are all weaved in with the main narrative. At times a tough watch. Bergman not afraid to denigrate these characters in pretty blunt ways.
- The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014), Tom Harper – Does a good job, through sound and set design, of situating the story in WWII. Which is a great setting for a horror flick. Doesn’t just feel like window dressing either, but influences the narrative. There’s a reason big scary houses, lamps and staircases are horror staples and they all frighten here. Cool to see a female lead and Phoebe Fox is fine in the role, but her character lacks the magnetism of Daniel Radcliffe who really elevated the first. It certainly lacks some of the filmmaking polish and storytelling clarity of the first too. But the film gets by on its iconography.
- Last Cab to Darwin (2015), Jeremy Sims – Really excellent. Not sure why this has not gotten more love. The ‘road to death ‘ plot is conventional, but the relationships eschew convention and any shred of tweeness. Euthanasia angle is handled well for the most part. But it’s the relationships and commentary on Aussie identity that are where the film totally excels. Michael Caton has never been better, whilst Mark Coles Smith and Ningali Lawford are also really great. I don’t usually go in for guitar driven scores, but Ed Kuepper does an incredible job here.
- Friday Night Lights Season 5 (2010), Peter Berg – It’s not a good or a bad thing. But this season feels like more of the same. And a little like a show winding down. Expands the circle of characters well. Gives some decent plotlines to secondary characters too – Mindy has some great moments for example. Fells like a mad scramble to wrap up all the story threads. Once again they sorta fumble the state final too. Montage doesn’t deliver and again it looks really glossy. The very ending is a winner though, and satisfies as a close to what came before.
Not Worth Watching
- Begin Again (2013), John Carney – The man behind Once (2006) delivers a film far inferior to There is a decided lack of spark here, despite the cast. Feels very twee, Ruffalo’s early epiphany where he hears music in his head and a laborious shared iPod jaunt around London the some of the worst examples. Occasional flash of life from the script but it is very occasional. The relationships are all basically a cliché. Adam Levine surprisingly impresses on the acting front and his singing stands out. There are some rich ideas, but they are drowned in interminable the setups to get to each good idea. Then they skip over a lot of the best parts in a fucking montage. Dross.
- Project Almanac (2015), Dean Israelite – So hard for a found footage film not to feel contrived. This fails. Boring start, film doesn’t seem to bother trying to hook you. The jargon heavy script is uber dumb, confusing dudes just screaming ‘SCIENCE WORD, SCIENCE WORD’ for intelligence and world-building. The plot is illogical, weighed down by a lack of stakes and so much expository dialogue. Slapdash storytelling feels like an afterthought whilst they don’t bother at all with creating characters for you to care about. I kept waiting for the tension to ramp up but… nope.
- The Man From U.N.C.L.E (2015), Guy Ritchie – Much less fun than it should be, thanks mainly to a really flat feeling plot. Uninteresting characters, despite decent performances especially from Cavill and Vikander. The fact that more character development takes place in the closing credits than the rest of the film gives you a hint as to the issues. The dilution of Guy Ritchie’s style is continuing too, with nothing really telling you the film is one of his. No personal touch. As an accompaniment to action, the score is a high point though, heightening the proceedings in a very classical way. Feels like a lot of potential not realised basically.
- Home (2015), Tim Johnson – I think Dreamworks animation films are often underrated. Not this one though. The made up kiddie language of the alien Boos is annoying beyond imagination. After 90 odd minutes, it renders the film essentially unwatchab;e. The humour is tired – we have seen far better variations on an alien trying to eat CDs or brush teeth in the toilet. Though let the record show I did get a laugh out of how the world is imperilled by someone accidentally hitting ‘reply-all’. Aside from that, this is really dumb stuff. I want to punch this movie in the face.
- The Imitation Game (2014), Morten Tyldum – Tis the year of stuffy, mind-numbing British based biopics. This never quite reaches the ‘heights’ of The Theory of Everything (2014) but is a dirge nonetheless. Starts clunkily with an arrest, an allegation that “Alan Turing has something to hide” and then flashbacks. Cumberbatch is good, and others are decent. But they cannot overcome bland writing, including a succession of attempted twist style reveals that land with a thud whilst the story is told simplistically and in a totally uninteresting way. The explanation of anything complex is so dumbed down, they shouldn’t have bothered. It’s twee crap really, which is unfortunate given how exceptional the true story it is based on is. Everything impactful comes from the real-life history, not the filmmaking which totally fails to convey Turing’s genius.
- Dope (2015), Rick Famuyiwa – Most of this just felt like hipster artifice to me, that obscured some kinda cool stuff. The film only shows heart for a few fleeting moments and they are the best parts. The rest is just silly nothingness with a ‘too cool for school’ artifice about it. There are a couple of great moments – a white dude lamenting he can’t use the N bomb and the main character’s socially conscious Harvard essay. Those moments are actually about something. Film is also guilty of massively wasting Zoe Kraits. She totally shines but goes missing for a good hour or so. A stupid decision.
- Fantastic Four (2015), Josh Trank – Incredible to believe this is as bad as the hype. But from the awfully acted kiddie beginning to a conclusion that feels like an ep of the Power Rangers, this is one of the worst comic book films ever. And there have been some shockers. Not sure where the talk of the first half being decent came from. It’s equally as bad as the second. Though the whole conclusion feels awfully rushed. Storytelling map feels really off balanced. Some mildly ok performances from really talented actors Teller, Mara and Michael B. Jordan. But they are massively hamstrung by the writing, especially the latter who lands the worst of the lines. Y’know, perhaps this is a property ill-suited to film.
If you only have time to watch one Last Cab to Darwin
Avoid at all costs Home