Worth Watching January 2013
Here we go with my monthly round-up of films not featured in depth elsewhere on the blog. This feature will change and become smaller over the coming months as I am starting to write long reviews of more and more films that I see. However, I am sure I will never have the time nor desire to write in detail about every film I see, so expect it to stick around in some form.
- The Raid: Redemption (2011), Gareth Evans – This is definitely one of the better action films of recent years. Deliciously violent and stylish. I wouldn’t say it is particularly innovative, but it just executes all of the elements in an action film really bloody well. The fight scenes are really slickly shot, with a dynamic camera showing absolutely everything. One of the coolest films of 2012.
- Wreck it Ralph (2012), Rich Moore – This was probably the best animated film of last year. A really fun computer game world has been invented, with the engaging characters to back it up. Sarah Silverman voices the main female character who is a wonderfully empowered female role model, the kind of which is all too rare. The relationship between her and Ralph forms the core of the film, which explores some really weighty themes whilst striking a balance between not being too dark and not too frivolous.
- Black Water (2007), Andrew Traucki & David Nerlich – This is a very tense, sharp Australian creature feature rocking a killer crocodile. It is nicely shot and well paced. A cleverly utilised soundtrack helps with the latter. You don’t get too bored in between the action high points. An interesting dynamic between the three characters stuck up a tree adds greatly to the narrative which is slight. Some of what happens is quite confronting whilst the last third features some nice twists, without being too over the top about it all.
- Life of Pi (2012), Ang Lee – An interesting film full of ideas. Which in some ways the much maligned framing device is key to teasing out. I liked the notion of religious pluralism that is examined early on. The supporting of the notion of human exceptionalism in my reading of the film I was not so fond of though. The big late reveal I did not like initially but it grew on me as time passed. It is a clever film that leaves multiple readings of the film acceptable to the viewer such as this one. And of course as everyone has said, the film does look amazing.
- Les Miserables (2012), Tom Hooper – I thought my mind would wander endlessly in a 2 hour 40 minute musical. But this film engaged and captivated me throughout. I think everyone is really good in this, even the much trashed upon Russel Crowe. I think the only real weak link was Eddy Redmayne who doesn’t have any gravitas or singing voice. The young floppy haired bloke is absolutely incredible though. Blessed with one of the best character narrative arcs in all of literature, this is pretty impressive stuff. The close-up heavy style does occasionally make it look too much like the characters are singing into the mirror at home. But that is a minor quibble against a pretty excellent flick.
- Django Unchained (2012), Quentin Tarantino – Hmmm. You have to see it because it is the new Tarantino flick and he really is one of our most original directors. But I think that his habit of taking the viewer out of the world of the film does not work too well here. It’s violent of course, but it feels like violence for violence’s sake rather than Tarantino’s usually stylish bloodletting. I just felt it got silly towards the end. Both Dicaprio’s and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters are pretty daft. But the performances of Waltz, Washington and especially Foxx are worth seeing the film for. As is much of the rather fine first half. The film is far, far too long though.
- Hitchcock – I loved so much of the first half of this film – Hitch’s search for a new project, settling on Psycho, the way the real life case was weaved in. But this last aspect, as well as the rest of the film fell off strongly. Alma and Hitch made films for over 50 years, one of the great love stories. But the second half of this is just aspersion after aspersion especially against Hitch. It is great to see Alma Reville finally get a small amount of the vast attention her career deserves. Hopkins and Mirren are really fantastic in this.
Not Worth Watching:
- 50/50 (2011), Jonathan Levine – This is one where I cannot really see the hype. I thought it was pretty poor. I didn’t find it at all funny, rather crass, sexist and unintelligent. Even worse for the subject matter, I thought there was very little heart in the film or examination of psyche. Whilst it is great to see Anjelica Huston onscreen again, the usually excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt is strangely flat here. There are a couple of nice, tender moments toward the end, but for me it was too little too late. A shallow experience, a tale of two jerks rather than two best mates helping each other through a terrible time.
- Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Rupert Sanders – This aims for pretty epic and succeeds in being pretty average. The increasingly engaging and charismatic Chris Hemsworth is just about the only bright spot actually and his Huntsman is the most interesting character. This is a meditation on beauty, what it means in society and what some will do to maintain it. But it is an utterly unaffecting film. The usually excellent Theron is not at her best here in a scenery chewing turn whilst Kristen Stewart does not convince at all as Snow White.
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), Peter Jackson – My least favourite film of 2012. Kind of says it all really. If 48 FPS is the future of cinema as Peter Jackson claims, I’m not going to watch too many films in the future. The visuals distance the audience so much so that there is no way into this world for the audience. The script is woeful, especially the attempted lighter moments. Horrid expository dialogue, woeful effects. Someone needs to learn to say no to Jackson, because despite all his positives as a director, his excesses need reining in.
If you only have time to watch one The Raid: Redemption
Avoid at all costs The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
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2012 in Review
Another year has come and gone, bringing with it hundreds upon hundreds of films. What follows are my choices for my five least favourite, and five favourite films that were released in 2012. Bear in mind that release dates here in Australia are often quite delayed in comparison to the U.S. So many films on a lot of people’s year end best of lists were not released here in time for consideration.
Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to read anything I have written over the past year. It has been a pleasure sharing my love of film with you, and I look forward to doing it for the rest of 2013. My lists below focus on what were my most enjoyable film experiences of the year and least enjoyable. It is not about what is necessarily the ‘best’ or ‘worst’.
Share your thoughts in the comments below. Send me some love if you agree about a particular film and of course feel free to let me know, politely of course, why you disagree with my choices. I have to say that this year was overall, a slightly weak year. But there were still plenty of awesome films to whittle down to a top five.
(dis)Honourable Mentions: The Five Year Engagement, Get the Gringo, One for the Money, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Love, Moon, 50/50.
5. Iron Sky
It’s pretty hard to botch a B-movie concept as brilliant as Nazis on the dark side of the moon. I mean that is gold standard material, could you have imagined what Roger Corman would have turned in with that kind of start. But Iron Sky achieves what I don’t think anyone thought was possible. It makes Nazis on the moon seem boring. What we end up with is Scary Movie in space. Only this is slightly worse written and has less wit, which is quite the achievement. Self knowing pastiche was what we were after and it would have no doubt led to hilarity. But this is just bad as comedy, bad as sci-fi, with bad acting, bad visuals, and a bad storyline. Tis just bad, bad, bad.
The further I get away in time from Prometheus, the angrier I get with the approach it took. Instead of using the mega budget and stunning design & special effects that it brings to entertain the audience, Scott is trying to ram a message down our throats (not that anyone knew what the fuck that message was) and ask ourselves life’s big questions. Messages and thought provoking are all well and good, but with this kind of film, entertainment comes first. It’s so disappointing, because the film has more truly original ideas than any film needs, but they do not transfer to the script which clunks badly. The film just did not work on any level for me. It succeeds neither as a sci-fi film or a horror film, despite having elements of both. For every good performance there is at least one or two decidedly average ones. Thankfully I am doubting we will never see the sequel that the ending of this film was so obviously setting up.
3. The Dictator
Sacha Baron Cohen continues to impress me in his more serious roles, I’m looking at you Hugo and Les Miserables, but I find his own creations far more difficult to stomach. Especially because he is such a talented guy, far too talented to be creating dross such as this. Criminally unfunny, attempting to be offensive but rarely eliciting enough care factor to do so, this was the worst comedy in what was a pretty decent year for the genre. Like all the worst comedy, there is a mean streak to The Dictator. Dedicating a film to Kim Jong Ill, a heinous murderer and oppressor is in no way funny. And whilst I am sure Baron Cohen would like to have you think otherwise, there is no subversion in this film. No witty examination of dictators and their delusions. There is only unfunny poo jokes. Looking back through my notebook, this film was situated right next to Iron Sky. Those were some dark film watching days.
2. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
This was a pretty minor film, but it just rubbed me up totally the wrong way. The central love story is one of the worst crafted I can recall and let’s face it, crafting love stories is not exactly the strong suit of filmmakers these days. At no point does the spark between the two leads seem the least bit real, in fact very little of the film seems grounded in reality. It is a profoundly stupid film and whilst it seems to want to be a little indie or quirky, it has the most ham fisted and obvious characterisation you could possibly imagine. I can barely muster enough emotions to say I hated this film. But I definitely deeply disliked it. Just so tepid, more average than basically any film I can recall. I tell you what, it was a bad year for Emily Blunt. Her The Five Year Engagement was incredibly close to making this bottom 5.
The Third Ever Scott Pilgrim vs the World Award for Least Favourite Film of the Year: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I pondered whether or not to give this film the coveted number one spot. I didn’t want to be perceived as trying to be all cool and just hating on a big budget, flagship release. But the inescapable fact for me was that The Hobbit was easily the least enjoyable experience I had in a cinema in 2012. It is blatant hyperbole to term any film a catastrophe. This film however, is as close to a catastrophe as one can be though. I saw the film in 48 FPS 3D (HFR), because that is how Peter Jackson wished me to see it. But the HFR makes it look like a cheap BBC show from the 1980s and robs the film of any visual spectacle. It distances the audience to such an extent that there is no way into this world. Not helped by the fact that Martin Freeman, an actor I absolutely love, brings no soul to the character of Bilbo. The script is woeful, it babies you with its horrid expository dialogue and the attempted lighter moments fall utterly flat. And if I see one more image of a dwarf staring off into the sunset that is meant to convey the profundity of the situation at hand, I’m going to be forced to slap someone. At least Prometheus managed to look excellent, whereas this looks like garbage. The wide shots of Elrond (that is the Elf city yeah?) look animated. I’m not talking good CGI animated, this is some 2D Disney shit. Three and a bit hours is far too long to be in a cinema with a story that has failed to connect to or exhilarate you in any way shape or form.
Honourable Mentions: Skyfall, Shame, A Separation, The Raid, Not Suitable for Children, Ted, Mirror Mirror, Les Miserables, Young Adult, Martha Marcy May Marlene, J. Edgar, 21 Jump Street, Hugo, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Dark Knight Rises, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I am Bruce Lee, The Cabin in the Woods, Bully.
5. The Angel’s Share
Ken Loach is able to masterfully balance two very distinct tones in this film. The first half is the dark, pretty depressing social realism that the director is famous for. The second half flips this and turns into a delightful, though not without moments of tension, whiskey heist film. In many ways the film is an ode to whiskey and the way it transforms the life of the main character Robbie, played by non-actor Paul Brannigan. He is an actor now, because he is phenomenal in this. I think that using non-professional actors is a conceit that so often fails, but Brannigan ensures that it works. The relationship between he and John Henshaw’s Harry, who runs Robbie’s community service, is genuine and not forced when it so easily could be. The film is uproariously funny, but at the same time still manages to remain true to the tone of the film’s opening half, as one of society’s downtrodden attempts to walk the precarious path out of his situation. Not by the usual route though.
Probably the most original film of the year. I generally think mockumentaries are a pretty tired structural device. But here that structure is reinvigorated by weaving interviews with real townsfolk into the storyline. Jack Black should take a bow, because his is one of the performances of the year – if those responsible for giving out awards actually paid any attention, he would be nominated for everything going. A tale of a small town assistant undertaker who befriends an elderly widow. Feeling imprisoned by her, he eventually kills her. Black manages to bring so much depth to a character that could have been caricature in what is undoubtedly a career best turn. The great thing about this film is that it leaves you thinking. About crime and justice. About domestic violence. This dark sorta comedy is one of the year’s best with the year’s best closing credits sequence the icing on the cake.
For me, the most underrated film of the year. Hillcoat and Cave deliver once again. I really do not comprehend the average reviews this got. A fantastic ensemble cast – Tom Hardy (really was his year), Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Guy Pearce are all extraordinary. Even Shia Lebouf ain’t too bad in this one. Props especially to Pearce. On the trailers his character looked like a leering caricature but here he grounds the character and he is a menacing presence. A prohibition era bootleggin tale, this really creates a sense of time and place. Incredible costuming and a bluegrass infused soundtrack, I believe courtesy of Mr Cave himself, definitely help in that regard. And it is just such an intriguing time in American history too. The stakes in the film just keep rising and rising, leaving you really unsure of when the explosion will come and how it will turn out. Just like The Proposition, Lawless is very bloody, uncompromisingly so. Nick Cave is such a talented guy. I think he has turned in the script of the year here with exceptional dialogue and notes of humour that come our unexpectedly. I highly recommend you check this one out.
For the second time in 3 years, Ben Affleck has directed my number two film of the year. I thought for quite a while that this was going to be my number 1. This supremely well made film is a borderline classic. Just like The Angel’s Share, this film manages to balance tone so well. Here it is even starker. A tense start, a borderline Hollywood comedy subplot through the centre starring Alan Arkin and John Goodman, then a white knuckle ending. There is barely a foot put wrong in this whole film. It is craftily shot, with the slightly low res appearance to make it look more like a period piece and the animated intro are both highlights. Ensemble cast is really good. The aforementioned Arkin and Goodman bring so much to their small roles, while the entire group of people stuck in Iran are all good as well. One of those stories that is so crazy it had to be true (well at least close to true).
1. The Sessions
On paper, this story could have so easily been trite cliché. A polio sufferer, played by John Hawkes, who spends most of his time in an iron lung, sets out to explore his sexuality. Enter a sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt who assists him in the exploration. William H. Macy is his priest who he shares the journey with. These three are all exceptional in their roles and bring such charm and realism to the story they are portraying. Not only is this a touching personal tale of one man’s sexual journey it is also about sexuality for everyone. It is amazing how the film and its script manages to weave both poetry and faith into the story too. This is probably the only film that made me both laugh and cry that was released in 2012. Instead of the clichéd meh it could have been, this is told with such boldness, intelligence and dare I say it brilliance, that I could not look past it for my favourite film of the year. I can’t wait to see it again.
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Trailer for your Weekend: The Hobbit
I, like many people, am a very big fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. So it was with much antipation that I checked out the first trailer for his forthcoming adaptation of The Hobbit.
Have to say though, I was pretty underwhelmed by this. The weird songs, the sheer lack of action or even adventure. Seems like Jackson and co thought a glimpse of Gandalf and Gollum would suffice. Anyone more excited than me by this?