A pretty even split for March. There were a few really hyped new releases that I did not fancy at all whilst most of the ones I dug were older films I was catching up with. Perhaps the dud month of new releases explains my lack of motivation to get out to the cinema over the last few weeks.
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), Joseph Sargent – A very 70s, very stylish thriller. Plenty of the style comes from the excellence of the soundtrack. The plot builds up wordlessly driven by that. The film also reflects the social make-up of the time. African American issues and the Vietnam War play a role in attitudes held and choices made. Not in a forced way though, these issues are just part of the fabric of the film. It is a little slow, but really well acted and scripted. Walter Matthau brings a cool laconic intensity to his role. An action film about process, focused on the inner city, with some truly dark violence. Occasionally feels like a procession of clichés, but perhaps that is because it has become so very influential.
- Pet Sematary (1989), Mary Lambert – A horror that comes out of universal terrors – death of a pet or child. The score is great, over the top, spooky and kitchsy. In fact the whole film is like that. You’ve seen the domestic bliss vs supernatural shenanigans structure countless times before. But this feels fresh, in turn fun, scary then really quite intense. The characters are good, with Jed feeling like a fresh take on the horror movie ol man. Plus that creepy kid is creepy.
- White Material (2009), Claire Denis – Denis is an intriguing stylist. Sound design is initially disorientating, strange levels and abrasive soundtrack. This is all combined with the visuals in a really interesting way. Film takes place in an unnamed African country, a former French colony, in the midst of civil war. It’s relatively freeform, to be consumed on a sensory rather than intricate narrative level. An examination of colonialism with glimpses of plot. Focuses on the fragility of white power both on an individual and broader level. Also the way in which priorities and what needs to be done to survive are often different. A civil war film where no group are the goodies. Which is kinda the point.
- Red State (2011), Kevin Smith – There is so much excellent here that it is a shame Smith can’t help but be both obvious and juvenile. Both his worst attributes that he just cannot seem to suppress for an entire movie. Basically a direct attack on Westboro Baptist Church, skewering a very particular fundamentalist brand of Christianity. Michael Parks’ preacher is shot in an almost drunken, intoxicating way which is clever. A strange little film that gets both very silly and a little intense. There’s a flippancy toward death that really does not sit well with the subject matter.
- Far From Men (2014), David Oelhoffen – Feels almost like a neo-western set in the incredible scenery of Algeria. With an incredible Nick Cave & Warren Ellis soundtrack. Viggo Mortensen plays a schoolteacher of utmost principle. A slow film, low in action. Has that festival film, languid vibe goin on, though eased by the gentle humour throughout. Interesting to see a man with very little interest in violence forced into situations where it is occasionally necessary. Also about engrained societal honour systems and the almost farcical notions of ‘fairness’ in war.
- Child’s Play (1988), Tom Holland – This is a middling piece of kitschy 80s schlock. But that doll is still so motherfuckin creepy. It is a stock standard horror setup (single parent, kid gets attached to a creepy possessed doll) with some awkwardly bad dialogue. But the kills are great, some of them smile inducing their own way. The kills, like the movie, are best when the silliness is wholly embraced. Some of the practical effects are great too. Is a little slow for this kind of affair and the whole thing is overall more good-bad rather than simply good. But if you are a fan of franchise style horror and haven’t seen this one like me, it is still worth your time. Mainly just because that doll is still so utterly terrifying. They pull off a great, iconic villain where it could so easily have been laughable.
- Broad City Season 1 (2014), Ilana Glazer & Abbi Jacobson – This has been so hugely hyped and early it struggled to live up to that for me. It’s a little awkward and the characters take time to settle. The two leads are great though, they have an excellent presence and interact well with each other. Gets excellent towards the back of the season. Writing becomes more assured and the style of comedy gets downpat. Cool social commentary and feminism weaved in. A great spirit to the show. Feels like people are having fun making it.
Not Worth Watching
- Cloverfield (2008), Matt Reeves – rough. Feels a little try-hard with the found footage stuff. And is the definition of nauseating in its use of shaky cam. Frustratingly constructed, a contrived vibe. Some of the dialogue reasonably realistic, but the broader storylines are badly written and there is no levity to the script as a whole. Kind of an annoying film, with forced Godzilla and 9/11 allusions and references. Though the glimpses of the monster are pretty cool. Not a good film at all.
- Friends with Kids (2011), Jennifer Westfeldt – The arc of this film is 100% clear from literally minute one, and nothing makes that predictable journey worthwhile. The leads are ok, especially Jennifer Westfeldt, whilst Chris O’Dowd is nicely laconic. But they are all heavily constrained by middling material. The attempts to balance overwhelming cliché with moderately edgy comedy do not come off. It’s like an annoying show stringing out a will they or won’t they relationship. Everything lays out exactly as telegraphed. All the characters being so hateable doesn’t help. Neither does a very montagey feel that seems like a failure of storytelling.
- Zootopia (2016), Byron Howard & Rich Moore – I’m very much in the minority here, but I found this to be a totally flat experience. Some of the social commentary stuff is good, if shallow. We are talking quips rather than thematic or storytelling depth. But the story hits no particular heights, while there is nothing at all particularly revolutionary on display or even interesting about the visuals or voicework. Plus the female lead disappointingly continually relies on her male companion to solve the case, whilst the late twist is so tired. And that song is fuckin woeful. A disappointing effort from Disney who have been red hot over recent films.
- Hot Pursuit (2015), Anne Fletcher – Probably one of the worst films I’ve seen in quite some time. For starters, it’s disappointingly sexist and transphobic. But outside of that, it’s also really not funny, exciting, competent or interesting on any level whatsoever. I am a huge fan of Reese Witherspoon. But not so sure she has a great comedic presence. Sophia Vergara has that. But the script is totally devoid of humour so she has little to work with. The story is just a procession of comedic plot points you’ve seen a million times before getting ticked off, straight-laced character getting high and all.
- Hail Caesar (2016), The Coen Bros – Starts strong and absurd. But quickly just becomes a succession of boring, barely connected skits. There’s some nice characterisation. But most of the actors are reduced to mere cameos. Josh Brolin’s studio problem solver is an interesting, though underdeveloped, centrepiece. Writing certainly not as funny as it could be. The commentary, both on social mores and the filmmaking biz, are quite silly. I continue to feel like I’m missing something with the Coen Brothers.
- Grimsby (2016), Louis Leterrier – Simply by having some really astute things to say on class, this film takes a more interesting approach to comedy than the contemporary norm. And this has gained the film love in some quarters. Personally I quite liked the patter between Baron Cohen and Mark Strong too. But this is still not a good film at all. Overly crass and not all that funny. It’s also a very flat experience. Also, unlike something like Spy (2015), it does not work as a spy flick outside of the silliness.
If you only have time to watch one White Material
Avoid at all costs Hot Pursuit