20 February 2014

Films of 2013: Male Performances

Zero Dark Thirty was a bold film with many memorable aspects, but the one that stood out most for me at the end of the year was Jason Clarke (10) in a support role. He’s been building up quite a CV of great parts over the last few years and here he made an indelible impact as someone with perhaps a unique perspective on war torture. His part was brief, but he’s simply riveting. Paul Eenhoorn (9) gave an affable performance in low-key drama This Is Martin Bonner, and was quietly compelling as a man open to the needs of others before his own. He underplayed the role brilliantly and portrayed an example of a sheer unabashed decent guy on screen — something that's always worth investing in. Aaron Poole (8) did some fine solo work in the effectively creepy haunted house movie The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh. As the, by and large, sole cast member he carried the film. He had to intricately show every instance of fearful terror that the script dictated and he conveyed the isolation with casual skill. Leonardo DiCaprio (7) seems to have entered a more fun, entertaining phase of his career with a film like Django Unchained (something he's brilliantly expanding upon with The Wolf of Wall Street). After a raft of weighty roles, his turn as a despicable ranch owner was a thing to relish. His barely contained maniacal glee and clammy giddiness in the film added some newfound freshness to his acting.

A veteran of entertaining roles, Simon Pegg (6) brought the same energy and pin-sharp comic timing to The World’s End that he brought to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. But he also allowed the film a sincere and wrenching pathos too. I think it's the best he's been in this loose comic trilogy. John Gallagher Jr. (5) was as good in Short Term 12 as his more (rightfully) lauded co-star Brie Larson. His role as a care worker for troubled teens is beautifully defined and played with just the right level of pluck and grounded thoughtfulness. His character doesn’t significantly alter his path or transform in the way Larson’s does, but that’s part of the beauty of his performance — the character needed to be the hard-wearing yet amenable sidekick to balance what Larson and the other actors were doing. It’s an unassuming role to be cherished. Drug War was a trememndous film for a multitude of reasons, and Louis Koo (4) was chief among them. He played a tricky role, one buoyed with a range of complex decisions and actions that were required to be carried out in just the right manner, with immense ease. As is always the way with Koo. His work with Johnnie To is always essential. Like DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz (3) brought the fun to Django Unchained. His second Oscar under Tarantino’s direction was well earned, maybe even more so than his first. After ten minutes on screen his place on this list was guaranteed; his deft, joyful and endearingly eccentric performance made the film for me.

Perhaps due to the fact that Steve Coogan (2) has played Alan Partridge for many years, and obviously knows the role inside out, meant that it could be seen as an easy, unchallenging performance for him to give. Maybe so, but it doesn’t change the fact he’s nigh-on perfect in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. It’s a good thing it’s effortless as it makes the acting here richer, entirely confident and comically honed, spot on. He’s terrific with both the bigger, broader laughs and the smaller, more intricate moments. Partridge may not be clever, but Coogan certainly is. Jack Reynor (1) was exemplary in What Richard Did. He’s a relative newcomer, but on the evidence here he's fast developing the professional ability of a seasoned pro. His role — at least initially — is very straightforward. But as soon as we discover what Richard indeed did, and how, as the titular character, Reynor navigates his way through, around and deep down into the particularly desperate circumstances, his performance reaches great heights. Reynor conveys a great deal about Richard best through moments of contemplation and silence; we can see what he’s thinking, how his situation is eating him up and how the toll is affecting him without much need for dialogue. But he’s equally deft at the, at times confrontational, verbal expressiveness required too. It’s a fierce, layered and fantastic performance from an exciting new talent.

11-20: Moises Arias The Kings of Summer / Sun Honglei Drug War / John Hawkes The Sessions / Will Forte Nebraska / Aniello Arena Reality / Armie Hammer The Lone Ranger / Luis Tosar Sleep Tight / Bruce Dern Nebraska / Matthias Schoenaerts Bullhead / Richmond Arquette This Is Martin Bonner

5 February 2014

Films of 2013: 10 Worst

Without fret or fuss, here are the 10 worst films I saw last year.

01. The Big Wedding: the best horror movie I saw last year. It's fucking terrifying. Seriously, I felt sick, clammy, nauseous. I shook. I perspired — was a quaking mess. I had to beg strangers to drag me out of the cinema. But really: it's awful. In the film one character is bathing their feet in a lake, and another character jokingly says, "Careful, we have a shark problem here." Well, if only. De Niro, Sarandon, Keaton, Williams, Heigl, Seyfried, Grace and Barnes — they all play beige assholes. Nobody is any good. Nobody.

02. This Is 40: This Is 40... Minutes Too Long. I was as close as I’ve ever been to walking out of the cinema. And I never walk out of films. I didn’t, but I came close. It was Paul Rudd's fault, he kept me rooted. That’s how much I like him. This smug, insular, overlong, turgid exercise in vanity was near unbearable.


03. Wrong: a desperate insta-cult item. It looks and sounds slick — in purely visual-aural terms it works — but it's too in love with its own blank weirdness to pass muster in any other department. It gets tedious and exasperating fast. It has hints of Monty Python, Jonze/Kaufman, After Hours, Tim & Eric, David Lynch. But nothing here is as good or as original as any of them. It's all loaned-out oddness.

04. About Time: Richard Curtis has made his film again. It’s pure fantasy that's chiefly recognisable to a specific aspirational social set, so much so that it reminded me of a Waitrose ad. The script is fudged by a lack of wit; in its place are flustered asides. A late scene struck a sweet chord, but it wasn't nearly enough by then. Bill Nighy, Rachel MacAdams, Tom Hollander and Lindsay Duncan do what they do. We’ve seen it all before. I was more intrigued by Lydia Wilson's supporting character/plot strand, sadly sidelined. It’s innocuous, well-meaning candy, and its appeal will grab some folk, but the wall-to-wall Curtis-isms did absolute zip for me. It’s one for the middle-class ‘wank-bank'.

05. Movie 43: Why are all these actors doing this? Why did the script even reach these actors? In fact, why did I even watch this? Being a Julianne Moore completist meant sitting through it. But her segment wasn't even in it. It was a deleted extra. She lucked out; I didn't. Kate Winslet emerged unscathed. Griffin Dunne's segment was the most watchable. Everything else? It'd be nice to just forget about it and say no more about the horrid business.

06. The ABCs of Death: Did I watch The ABCs of Death, or The ABCs of Painfully Unfunny, Boring and Non-Scary Scatology? Where's the fear, the fright, the dread? Of the 26: 9 are ok-ish (A, C, N, O, R, S, T, U, X); eleven are bad (B, D, E, G, H, J, P, V, W, Y, Z); 5 are awful (F, I, K, L, M); and 1 isn't too bad (Q). Either it was directors saving the best stuff for their features or a general dearth of decent ideas, but this is dispiriting, tiresome horror.

28 Hotel Rooms

07. 28 Hotel Rooms: full review

08. Bachelorette: A bunch of awful, charmless people doing a lot of awful, charmless things. Excruciatingly unrewarding. A comedy charisma vacuum. It strained, crawled and dragged itself onward — like my will to stay and continue watching. Jokes were deflating everywhere. Performances were mugging the thin script of any remnant of appeal. It was matrimonial carnage. It gets wrong what Bridesmaids and Girls got right. It's just as inept and mean-spirited as its male-centric template, The Hangover.

09. Trance: full review

10. Pain & Gain: The Three Stooges pimped up by David LaChapelle… but without much fun. It’s clunky, ugly, shiny, vacant. Bay's empty vanity case. Although it was utter tosh, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie put valid effort into it, whilst Mark Wahlberg does the same old routine (Tony Shalhoub did most of the hard graft.) It comes on like it has Things To Say (failed, wild American dream!), but there's nowt to it. It's just Bay doing a sweaty Coen bros act.

3 February 2014

Films Seen 2014: January

Films I saw in January 2014. The format is: film title (English lang. and/or original language where required — occasionally a film's alternative title, too); director(s) and year; whether it's a rewatch; numerical grade out of 10 (all grading is subject to change, of course, and intended as merely a personal indicator/reminder). Titles in bold indicate that the film is, by and large, a 2014 UK first release or is eligible for year-end inclusion. Films are listed as seen chronologically, viewed from bottom to top.

I, Frankenstein (Stuart Beattie/2013) 4
It's hilarious. Not that it was meant to be. It should've been an intentional comedy, as the gag potential was overflowing. It just took itself far too seriously. It could've been a witty treat as in, say, Buffy or Angel, but it went for strained importance. No idea why a miscast Aaron Eckhart affected Bale's Batman voice. Bill Nighy gave one of his three performances.

Dead of Night (Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer/1945) 7
The polite Britishness of it, the (then) novel concept, the intense creepiness at the edges... until the creepy fully emerges. It's great that a film from 1945 still has the power to be truly scary — i.e. when, near the end, Hugo Fitch stands up and walks. Brrr. Some films' ability to scare can diminish over time, and with imitation, but some fully retain a lasting power. Dead of Night works wonders.

Kill Your Darlings (John Krokidas/2012)
Aptly wired, skittish. Story grips, though loosely. But emotive music and performances stand out: Radcliffe and DeHaan are both very good.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Kenneth Branagh/2013) 4
Junior Bond. It's tidy, serviceable, formless. I was whelmed with averageness. I've forgotten most of it already.

Big Ass Spider! (Mike Mendez/2013) 5
Exactly what you think it is... then a bit more fun. More Infestation than Eight-Legged Freaks. Thankfully. What's with the limited Lin Shaye, though?

Breaking News

Breaking News (Johnnie To/2004) 7
One-Take Shoot-Out On Hong Kong Street Orchestrated By Johnnie To Stuns Film Viewer. Rest Of Day's Action Equally Stunning.

I'll Always Know What You Did last Summer (Sylvain White/2006) 4
Cheap and belated. "He" knows what they did last summer, but I very much doubt he gives a shit.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen/2013) 8
It's a great film to have around, to be in the immediate vicinity of, to call on for a slice of quality sound and vision. Perhaps one of their best? 

Center Jenny (Ryan Trecartin/2013) 8
Creates a horror show from trash elements and invented moments. Imagine the imagery of the nine imaginary hookers from Inland Empire + the Jersey Shore gang + every John Waters heroine all hastily edited in a blender and oured into a film frame. Trecartin makes Gregg Araki look like a nun. It's all elegant degeneration, weaponised ear-muffs and nano-magic.

Blind Chance (Krzysztof Kieślowski/1981) 6
KK questions fate in elusive yet assured fashion, but maybe it was done better via the Three Colours trilogy. A Mesmerising performance from Bogusław Linda.

The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese/2013) 7
Drool. Ludes. Ass candle. OTT speeches. Leo up to 11. Reiner phone accent. Benihana. Sick world satire. Badfellas.
(It's the second film I've seen this year so far, after 12 Years a Slave, in which all the performances are remarkable. It's great filmmaking. 100% solid. But I didn't feel much, despite an overall appreciation. It left me numb. But maybe that's enough, a good, good thing.)

The Missing Picture (Rithy Panh/2013) 7
A creative reply to past horror. The model/stock approach gives it an emotive, powerful heft. Film used as sly combat.

How to Make a Monster

How to Make a Monster (Herbert L. Strock/1958) 5
Plenty of fun for its slim duration, but a bit rushed, a quickie. It has a great premise, though. Worth seeing. It's decent, not great, but ideal for a redo as there's so much potential. If I had the money and the rights, I would love to remake it.

I'm So Excited! (Pedro Almodóvar/2013) 3
I'm surprised I made it to the end. Visually drab, tonally awry. Barely a laugh in it. Pedro's flat-farced self-imitation.

Fast Five (Justin Lin/2011) 5
Even the occasional subtitle zips fast across the screen. Vin Diesel's voice is so deep and low through my speakers that when he spoke it measured 9.5 on the Richter scale. Although I haven't seen Fasts 1-4 or 6 (with or without the Furious and/or other words), this worked as a stand-alone film. Just about. There's almost as much carnage as Man of Steel. Basically, Vin D and The Rock compared penises for 2 hours. Then they sped up their penises. Then they swapped their penises. Then discarded their penises as scrap.

The Apparition (Todd Lincoln/2012) 6
Follows the laws of cheap horror fare to a T. But some inspired ideas/images dotted throughout add a dash more to it. Enjoyable.

Last Vegas (Jon Turteltaub/2013) 5
Had a fun watching it; some hearty chuckles to be found. Freeman and Steenburgen were both good. There's something charming,and inclusive here — take that, The Hangovers!

Child's Pose (Calin peter Netzer/2013) 6
Very much felt Arthouse by Numbers. Familiar approach, beats, feel. Been here before. Good enough, with ace work from Luminita Gheorghiu.

Nobody's Daughter Haewon (Hong Sang-soo/2013) 4
Seeing the characters veer from charming to interminably dreary was a huge shame. Same goes for the film itself. Sadly, a big old Meh.

The Kings of Summer (Jordan Vogt-Roberts/2013) 7
An absolute delight. Charming and funny in almost every way.

Drug War (Johnnie To/2012) 8
Beautifully streamlined, expertly cut, directed with expert flair. Every scene was essential, fun, a visual treat. To on top form.

The Railway Man (Jonathan Teplitzsky/2013) 5
Dull, painfully worthy. Firth and Kidman give go-through-the-motions bland performances. Often prettily framed, but overall very inert. The opposite of Saving Mr. Banks is true here: the flashbacks are better then the present-day scenes. Irvine and co. were very good. Something about the way the plot inveigles viewers into a certain reaction, then to oddly change its stance, was a bit off. It's hard to say more without spoiling narrative developments, but a lot of its plot turns seemed shaky, awkward and baffling. Also: exactly how much was true?

Lust for a Vampire

Lust for a Vampire (Jimmy Sangster/1971) 4
Not the best Hammer. A bit too on the Mills & Boon side. Could've done with being Jean Rollin-ised. Nifty castle though.

Reality (Matteo Garrone/2012) 6
Celebrity critique is balanced well with its involving chars. Arena is great in the lead. Choice camera moves sharply catch key moments.

The Sessions (Ben lewin/2012) 7
Thoughtfully focused on good folks doing good things. Director Lewin has a fuss-free visual approach. Hawkes and Hunt are both riveting and restrained. Anne Hathaway won an Oscar for her close-up sing-crying in Les Miserables last year... it really should've gone to Hunt for this. She wasn't just leagues better than Hathaway though, she topped Jackie Weaver, Amy Adams and Sally Field too.

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen/2013) 7
A study in suffering. Framed like a boss with impeccable acting from all (though Ejiofor rightly shines high). A fine work.

Man on Fire (Tony Scott/2004) 3
Yikes, it's awful. Crass, portentous, full of overwrought and unearned sentiment. Everything is FUCK YEAH! WREAK ALL REVENGE!! It  has the same showy, jittered aesthetic that made Domino a cack experience. Denzel's dull performance keeps it flat and the script's plain naff. An all-round tedious, dispiriting film. Though, the photography (by Paul Cameron, who knows how to make action scenes work) was first rate.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Alfred L. Werker/1939) 6
Some high grade Nigel Bruce here. Rathbone's stellar too. Nice early Lupino role. Music adds an eerie quality. The shadowy, fog-shrouded London streets/sets are key in how evocative it is; so much atmosphere aroused simply.

Open Five (Kentucker Audley/2010) 2
The precious/tenuous/casual just-idly-hanging-out Mumblecore relationship drama is tired. This has very close to nothing to say.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (Christopher Landon/2013) 5
It was more of (exactly) the same, but, er, had 100% more 'Marked Ones' involved. Whoever the hell they were. That's not to say there weren't some fun bits. Though it wasn't especially scary like Paranormal Activity 3, which is still the best of the bunch by a long shot.

Hannah Arendt (Margarethe von Trotta/2012) 7
How refreshing to see a film about thinking, and that isn't dry or pretentious or laboured. It's fronted by a cracking, committed performance from Barbara Sukowa.

The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski/2013) 8 rewatch
Like it every bit as much as I did at the cinema. Ballsy fun. Action staged and directed with marvelous control and flair.

I-Be Area

I-Be Area (Ryan Trecartin/2007) 8
Trecartin explores shifting identity like it's a pop culture nightmare. Its limitless absurdity is cracked, compulsive, wry.

Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul/2012) 8
A place of guests and ghosts. A film of loose ideas. An experimental sketch. A small thing of beauty. Above all: amazing images.

American Hustle (David O. Russell/2013) 5
Plot's a tricksy trifle, but the performances drive it in entertaining fashion. Direction isn't perhaps not David O. Russell's best, but it's all sprightly fun. The gals were best in show. Adams: great, one of her best performances. J-Law: all wrecked mania and cheek; a brilliant risky treat. Nice to see Bale in a (kinda) comedic role. He was good, as ever, but all I could hear was I Am Acting when he was onscreen.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer/1949) 8
Splendid stuff. Darkly witty, stunningly photographed, directed and acted with flair and precision. Dennis Price was horribly, perfectly demented; a great performance. Alec Guinness' eight-role act was a marvelous triumph.