1 March 2014

Films Seen 2014: February

Films I saw in February 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.

Manhunt (Patrik Syversen/2008) 4
Why do these slashers always start with an injured woman (blonde, doomed) running in a forest (dark, scary), filmed in ShakyCam™?

The Fan (Tony Scott/1996) 4
Blighted with baffling character decisions and plot implausibilities. The use of Nine Inch Nails equating DeNiro's mental instability is lazy and Seven-lite. Shoddy.

Ghost Ship (Steve Beck/2002) 5
It was kind of amusing, but rarely scary, and never actually thrilling. Not too many actual ghosts either, sadly. What was it with films around that time obsessed with diced and bisected people? (This, Cube series, Equilibrium, Resident Evil.)

Lake Placid 3 (G.E. Furst/2010) 4
It actually benefits from the fact that no one in it can act, or even attempts to. Especially as that's really the only benefit. My favourite bit was when a woman tries to get rid of a crocodile by throwing packs of mince at it.

Piercing Brightness (Shezad Dawood/2013) 1
Yikes. What the hell? (Not good 'what the hell?' either.) I was surprised — nay, stunned — that I made it to the end. True drivel. It forces ideas onto its imagery, when really it should've had solid ideas to start with, then conjured imagery from them. It does it all wrong. I think the term 'art wank' was coined solely for Piercing Brightness. It's inept, dull, pointless in its abstraction.

The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man (Alfred Hitchcock/1956) 6
Possibly the most methodical Hitchcock. Eerie in its own unsettling way. Looks closely at one man to broadly stare at society.

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater/2013) 5
Sensitive direction, perceptive moments, gentle pace. I liked it as much as the previous two, which is, um, enough. It's a good-not-great film. It spent a big chunk of its 109 minutes on a couple arguing, which is only really interesting up to a point. It got frustrating. Loved the lunch scene. It's immediate, full of insight, effortless and the the best directed sequence in the film. Also (and I'll say it quietly) *shh* I don't really like Julie Delpy's character in these films *shh*

Rashômon (Akira Kurosawa/1950) 8
Kurosawa positions his camera exactly right to a) extract the best out of the story, and b) to conjure up crisp, powerful imagery. Also: Toshirô Mifune, always.

Her (Spike Jonze/2013) 5
Who knew that in the not-too-distant future all men would sport awkward shirts, unsightly high-waisted trousers and creepy-pervy moustaches? It's good if you like watching a lot of sad/cute chats between people who always seem on the verge of tears. I guess. Ace music and photography.

Static (Tod levin/2012) 5
Nice novel idea that plays on 'home invasion' conventions, but some sloppy decisions and overall execution stunt it somewhat.

The Station / Blood Glacier (Marvin Kren/2013) 6
It's basically The Thing/Alien on the cheap, but it's plenty of fun mainly due to the hysterical, wired cast.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (Terence Fisher/1973) 7
Great fun and aptly icky. Has a truly perverse streak that makes it stand out. Cushing, Briant are very good.

Twixt (Francis Ford Coppola/2011) 5
Yikes, what happened there, especially at the end? There are some greatly inspired moments and some moments of real ineptitude. But it's very rarely dull. Though it's rarely coherent, either. Someone calls Val Kilmer's character a "bargain basement Stephen King," and the film's just that itself. Though, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But it's not a thing to be cheered too loudly either. I think Coppola has given up caring how he makes films. Is he now happy with a mess? Someone should give Kilmer a big ol' comedy lead soon; when he's daft in Twixt he's at his very best.

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée/2013) 5
Functional plot and uninspired direction make it average fare. McConaughey's fine, Leto's good, but I'm unnconvinced its high reputation is deserved. There's little about it that suggests it's no more than an average, award-baiting tale. It's well-intended, but made to measure.

The Invisible Woman

The Invisible Woman (Ralph Fiennes/2013) 8
Exquisitely framed and photographed, but not overly prettified. Its emotional heft is grounded with care. Performances are all on top form. DoP Rob Hardy's work is some of the best I've seen this year. Light and shadow are wonderfully captured with painterly compositions. Felicity Jones is A-grade, spectacular. She nails each scene with raw, moving tenderness. It's the best performance of the year so far. With so far just two films, Coriolanus and now this, Fiennes is proving to be a skilled and versatile director.

Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes/2011) 7
Fiennes has a knack with "shaky" camera work, but he shoots for clarity too. The language and setting works. The photography creates mystery. Smartly made stuff.

RoboCop (José Padilha/2013) 4
RoboCopOut. Beige, vacant, personality-free. It has slickness, a retooled suit and aims for "street", but is just a lot of empty posing. Original had subversion, satire, smarts. Redo forfeits all that for, well, banal (and badly-edited) action and a dull pace. It has no bite. As ever, Michael Keaton was a joy to watch. He lorded it up, had real manic flair and strode through the film with a grin and wry wink.

No Man's Land: Rise of the Reeker (Dave Payne/2008) 4
A lot of random crap happens in this and very little of it allows for any kind of logic, order or, um, quality.

The Limey (Steven Soderbergh/1999) 5
Lovely photography and score, but I just wish it would've got on with being a decent, no-fuss crime flick. The editing stunted it. Can see that Soderbergh went for throwback vibe (Bullitt, Point Blank, Get Carter etc) but it felt like a slick, tick-list of tropes. Not sure that Stamp's cockney routine worked. It felt forced, unconvincing. The performance doesn't really go anywhere. It's just a pose.

August: Osage County (John Wells/2013) 7
It certainly has a lot of acting. A real lot. It's literally wall-to-wall. This really surprised me. Films with obvious histrionics often leave me cold, but this worked for me. The acting all-round was grounded. Streep's a pro. Of course she's good. She nails the tiny moments beautifully. But she's also the only one who goes large (and it felt like no one else would even dare go as large as Streep; maybe she dominated too forcefully; the quiet performances deserved more space, perhaps?). But this was the first time in years I've liked a Julia Roberts performance. She's a limited actress, in my view, and needed something open and refreshing like this. Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson and Chris Cooper all do superb work too. But the whole cast are fascinating and entertaining to watch. Also, the music (by Gustavo Santaolalla) complemented the script's emotion and never let it become indulgent. A lovely score.

Lone Survivor (Peter Berg/2013) 6
Good: Ben Foster, sound design, unrelenting nerve in trying to approximate battle experience, makeup, some semblance of balance, phot. Bad: portentous music/voiceover, it lays on its 'US War Dudes Rock' agenda a bit too thickly, strained Wahlberg close-ups, pace. It goes for the military fist-bumps a bit hard and with zero restraint (especially in the end credits — sheesh!). But there's some room for fine moments. The combat scenes compel.

World on a Wire

World on a Wire (Rainer Werner Fassbinder/1973) 7
An experience like being slipped a brain-expanding pill in a flotation tank. It has an odd one-level sonorous vibe, but is visually smart. Klaus Löwitsch shifts and darts through it like a noir hero. His performance — body language, expressions, delivery — is magnetic.

Scars of Dracula (Roy Ward Baker/1970) 6
As ever, Christopher Lee's stare and body language are delectably fearsome. Great characterful support. Castle scenes often the best ones.

The American Friend (Wim Wenders/1977) 7
Leisurely thrills, lovely sense of place — Wenders is great at putting characters in a specific context and casually observing them. Muller's photography is stunning. Dennis Hopper's schtick starts to grate after a spell; his purpose loses focus. But it's Bruno Ganz's story. He's totally mesmerising.