Let the catch-up continue!!! This was also the month I started my podcast. So if you see any hyperlinked titles here, click through to find the full podcast review.
- Ali Wong: Baby Cobra (2016), Jay Kara – Great delivery. Some of the material is a touch tired, but her personality wins that over. Nicely brings her unique background to the material. I laughed a lot, which seems a pretty fair measure of these things.
- Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Andrey Tarkovsky – Not a fan of Tarkovsky but I love this. Elevated images of childhood and incredibly black and white cinematography. Harrowing use of imagery and editing. Use of shadow to dominate and oppress the frame. A really beautiful and artistic film. The titular childhood, or rather the loss of it, is quite profound. An exploitation of childhood rather than a loss really. Some of the meandering artiness does detract at times. Though it also deepens Ivan’s character.
- Merantau (2009), Gareth Evans – That notion of right of passage from childhood to adulthood. Also really gets at that feeling of being adrift and overwhelmed in a new city. Uwais has such a nicely unique fighting style. Choreography is top notch and even early on Evans had some chops when it came to shooting action. I like how Uwais gets his butt whooped on occasion. It’s a nice, simple action film plot. Though it gets a bit icky with the treatment of the main female character. The sequence in the shipyard is perhaps one of the all-time great fight sequences.
- Crumbs (2015), Miguel Llanso – I really liked this understated, unique piece of Ethiopian sci-fi. A sparse number of characters interacting in a similarly presented space. A simply rendered post-apocalypse with absurdist touches – a nazi turns up at one point. Incredible to see a disabled person in such a prominent (and romantic) role. It’s a great performance too. I really like this world, and the subtle sci-fi battle for survival that takes place in it. A cool quirkiness that doesn’t grate, perhaps due to the low budget craft – a giant hand space-ship, engagement with long dormant pop-culture (ninja turtles). Also very funny, both in quiet dry ways and in the way it repurposes current everyday/pop-culture items as objects of great significance. The latter is especially charming.
- Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015), Dibakar Banerjee – A lot of period style here, some heightened noir and genre vibes throughout. At times the presentation of Bakshy as a wannabe Sherlock ultra-intellectual doesn’t work. But those elements of the character become more watchable as the film progresses. It’s grand to see that kind of character operating against the backdrop of WWII era Calcutta. It’s a well-acted and bloody invocation of classic detective stories, hewing closely to the form’s conventions. An excellent score too. Bakshy’s self-doubt makes for a nice wrinkle to the super-smart detective vibe.
- I’m So Excited (2013), Pedro Almodovar – Just my second Almodovar film. A very funny vibe – beginning with the disinterested mannerisms of the flight attendants. The soundtrack is cleverly used to support the comedic, faux-serious vibe. I really dug this film. A whole raft of great performances and a great comedic tone too. Or tones I guess as it rolls up and down, weaving in some more serious dramatic notes too. And a director who is able to manage all of this remarkably well.
- Bad Education (2004), Pedro Almodovar – Almodovar is such a great visual stylist, he can bring a totally different look to each film. This film utilises a flashback upon flashback structure that continually reframes the narrative. But it’s never confusing and the relevance to the ongoing story is always clear. A film about a lot of things including the intersection of career & friendship, as well as the impact of childhood sexual abuse on a life. A very dark, meticulously crafted narrative that is a clear commentary on systematic abuse in the church and the depravity bred there. But it’s not the whole focus at all, the film also comments on notions of performance and living in a performative way.
- Chevalier (2015), Athina Rachel Tsangari – Captures a testosterone fuelled vibe from the start. Bitter and resentful competition to be the blokiest bloke on the boat, commenting on the daft masculinity that exists to even allow such a thing. An absurd ultra-competitiveness over every little matter, that you could totally see happening in real life. The premise is revealed in a very dry, almost wry way. This is also very funny in a way unlike any other film I can recall. Way the toxicity builds is really well judged. Sublimely controlled filmmaking and storytelling.
- The Birth of Love (1993), Philippe Garrel – The artistic black and white shooting is an early way in, important as the characters and storytelling are initially a battle. Pockets of intimacy against an urban backdrop. Personal moments against the sprawl and realist glimpses into the domestic sphere. Well performed and backed by a lovely, sparse piano score. Though this is also one of those age old tales where the female characters are far more interesting but barely onscreen. There should be something insufferable about how the two leads shirk responsibility and lead selfish lives. But it is interesting how that is viewed by the filmmaker and re-contextualised in the film.
- Summer of ’92 (2015), Kasper Barfoed – A snappily put together sports film, though the focus on the coach means it struggles to make strong characters of the players. The incorporation of actual match footage is a great choice. Though it stumbles when the actors are spliced in. But the central character of the coach is an interesting guy, the way he faces disrespect from the media is a different focus than the norm.
- The Beaches of Agnes (2008), Agnes Varda – no film has ever endeared me to its creator more than this one. Varda is such an engaging and inquisitive presence onscreen as she creatively explores the documentary process. Rumination of elements of her life through the presence of one type of landscape. Such a specific concept, but is made to feel otherwise. Constantly beautiful and visually playful. A beautiful life history. Both through reflections and more performative considerations. Also functions as a consideration of her filmography, done in such a way that its worth those not familiar with her work viewing it.
- Slumber Party Massacre (1982), Amy Holden Jones – Such a great entry into the slasher canon, made all the more important by the fact it’s written, produced and directed by women. Gory, and let’s face it, a big fuck-off drill is a great slasher weapon. An extremely 80s film. I dig that it’s very teen girl focused and that’s from a female perspective. There’s some excellent extended tension in individual scenes. And the film lightens the mood with some fun fake outs. Plus stylistically there’s some cool stuff here, cross-cutting and match shots. The film functions well as a reflection on abusive men and misogyny. A great slasher.
- Wonder Woman (2017), Patty Jenkins – The period approach and the choice of director pay off handsomely. It is subversive and feminist to see a woman dominant in the sphere of war. Not just the WWI depicted in the film, but the fact it’s a war film with a dominant female fighter. How she moves on a totally different level, a blend of grace and destructiveness. The mythology elements add a nice wrinkle to the standard fish out of water elements. It perhaps doesn’t quite come together as a whole. But there is so much to love. The ensemble works well with an incredible Gadot at the core. Embodies the power of the character and someone with a unique viewpoint on masculinity, war and power given her upbringing. The relationship, both as war comrades and romantic interest, with Pine’s Trevor is really well handled. Booming sound design punctuates the action, though the soundtrack is disappointingly unnoticeable for the most part.
- Ophelia (2013), Annarita Zambrano – Two boys ride to where they think a woman is sunbathing nude. Young and playful. It’s not menacing, but the male gaze is present from very early on. Horrifically they find her dead body in the tide. They cover her and move her away from the ocean. Two really good, un-showy performances from the kids. Place her body in an ‘acceptable’ state, as if to make amends. Though on another level executing a level of control as they bicker over the body in a typical male way.
- Hot Rod (2007), Avika Schaffer – Hilarious, as this crew always are. Real nice sunny visuals and a top comedy cast – Samberg, Hader, McBride and Isla Fisher. McShane threatens to steal the show as a shitty father in law. Impossible not to be swept along in the charm of this. Even if it perhaps does not linger in the memory as much as some of their later work.
- Beauty Shop (2005), Billie Woodruff – There’s some truly wacky acting in this thing – Kevin Bacon and Alicia Silverstone are… really going for something or other. Shift in location from Chicago to Atlanta adds some texture. Once Latifah opens up her own shop it improves heaps. Ends up capturing that same vibe as the other films, but in a legitimately female focussed way. Familiar and fresh. Love this series of films.
- Munyurangabo (2007), Lee Isaac Chung – Presents a very specific patriarchal society, along with the set of expectations that brings around familial responsibility and notions of stature. Also gets to the ethnic divisions in Rwanda. As much as the film does a good job of conveying all of that, no doubt some of the subtleties are lost on me. The film nicely reveals over time the true nature of their journey and ethnic relations between the main characters. It’s very artistic, at times having a nice impressionist road movie bent to it, though the perspective is occasionally unclear. But those idiosyncratic elements provide the film’s best moment – a character looks at the camera and delivers a powerhouse poem straight at the camera.
- Monster Trucks (2017), Chris Wedge – Look there is very little here, but what there is strangely worked for me. Rob Lowe as an oil baron an obvious plus. As are underwater sorta octopus aliens with an affinity for monster trucks (these show up within 5 minutes). And I was pleasantly surprised by how strong the animation is and particularly how well it is incorporated into the action sequences.
- Hotel Coolgardie (2016), Pete Gleeson – Immediately establishes the sexist culture. Owner of the local pub essentially demands the new employees are attractive women. Referred to as fresh meat by the customers and borne out by their actions. A quite simply made, deeply disquieting film that lingers on awkward moments. Illustrates starkly the ‘ghettos’ of men that spring up in these locations. A depressing film about depressing people. Wisely focuses on a couple of locals, which allows the characters to be fleshes out and bring out the complexities. The film is not trying to say these men are evil. But that there is a toxic culture all around them, not specifically about drinking culture. Uncomfortable viewing.
Not Worth Watching:
- Agata’s Friends (2015), Laia Alabart, Alba Cros, Marta Verheyen & Laura Rius – Focusses in on the partying and camaraderie of uni life. At times it also captures the aimlessness of sorts of early uni life, the silly tiffs and the faux intellectual bluster of students. But needed a stronger sense of character. The plot and relationships between them are frustratingly vague which really hurts it overall.
- 1941 (1979), Steven Spielberg – I think this is Spielberg’s worst film, certainly his wildest misfire. There are hints of his ability to find tonal notes, particularly in the situating of the plot in WWII California paranoia. But it’s deeply, desperately unfunny. It’s true you can make a comedy out of anything. But this gives none of the weight to the war that a film should.
- Mongol (2007), Sergei Bodrov – A great looking film desperately let down by the storytelling side of things. The life of Genghis Khan should provide really rich source material, but that’s not realised unfortunately. A lot of the early going is just Temudjin getting his arse kicked repeatedly. It’s a bit of a mess. The film fits into a recent trend of romanticised Khan origin stories. The film’s central thesis seems to be that Genghis Khan was a family man who overcame great adversity. Suspect there’s more to it than that.
- Assassins Creed (2016), Justin Kurzel – What a stupid fuckin movie. Opens with a moronic rock song over period setting, which immediately captures the blend of crass and bland we are in for. A large part of the issue is that I just don’t think there’s much potential to this plot. And the basic driving force of the narrative is totally nonsensical. The themes around control of power are simply laughable in their portrayal. Plus this is just an utterly non-exhilarating ride really. A muddled mess.
- Deepwater Horizon (2016), Peter Berg – Competent, though uninspired and laboured storytelling. Well constructed, the sets etc. And Kurt Russell and Gian Rodriguez give good performances, as you would expect. BP get roasted from the start which is nice, but it is strange (and a little disingenuous) that they don’t try to tell the whole story/aftermath whatsoever. So oppressively blokey and bleak.
If you only have time to watch one The Beaches of Agnes
Avoid at all costs 1941