Over the Christmas period I went away to America (it was great, thanks!), hence the comparative lack of blog posts lately. I did at least manage to watch a bunch of films on my travels and thought it would be an idea to write about them, in chronological viewing order. Some were repeat viewings and some were seen in a drunken haze, while others still were caught amid the stupor of 9 hour flights. A full review of each of these 17 films would take more time than I currently have to waste, so a paragraph per entry shall suffice.
The Great Gatsby (2013) – It’s a shame that no director has yet managed to fashion this novel into some kind of watch-able shape. One of the main issues with the novel is that most of the characters are highly unsympathetic; on the page, Daisy is plenty irritating, but the on screen translation – Carey Mulligan, moping about on the floor of a mansion while surrounded by expensive linen – is quite simply pathetic. Peter Maguire is awful as Nick the narrator; he is truly one of the worst actors of our generation (coming from someone who loved Spider Man and Spider Man 2. 3, you say? There was no 3…) and it’s down to Leo DiCaprio to save the day with his infallible charm as the great man himself. Baz Luhrman is a hit and miss kind of director, but this one is way off the mark. Ostentatious and extremely overproduced (by Jay-Z no less), the world of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby has no place for such horrific CGI affectations and jazz infused hip hop.
Pain and Gain (2013) – A vile and unashamedly sexist piece from the mind of Michael ‘Autocuetron’ Bay. A 90’s newspaper article served as the inspiration for this juiced up comedy-thriller (comedy used in the loosest terms possible, by the way). In the story, three steroid pumped, coked up Miami thugs kidnapped a millionaire named Marc Schiller. The gang proceeded to torture Schiller until he signed over his assets, before leaving him for dead. In the film, Schiller is renamed and made out to be an egotistical grease ball of an entrepreneur who ‘deserves’ the torment he receives at the hands the inept criminals, portrayed with cack handed bravado by Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie. Pain and Gain is crude, unfunny and executed with remarkably poor taste. Particularly offensive is the flippant portrayal of the double murder which was committed by the true life gang towards the end of their slew of IQ-less crimes (instead of clueless? Not working for you? I don’t care, it’s staying). This film will diminish your life force.
Fruitvale Station (2013) – Third film in a row on the plane to America. Fruitvale Station is a deeply moving true story and proved a god send after enduring Pain and Gain (there was plenty of pain, zero gain). Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant, a struggling 22 year old father and ex-con who lives in San Francisco. In the early hours of New Year’s Day, 2009, Grant was fatally shot by a police officer during an unwarranted arrest at the infamous Fruitvale over ground station (That wasn’t a spoiler; the mobile phone clip that captured the shocking incident plays at the beginning of the film). Anyway, it’s the brave turns from Jordan as Oscar and Octavia Spencer as his mother that make the film so affecting.
The Purge (2013) – An awful premise. Suspension of disbelief tends to be necessary when watching a film, but The Purge demands of you to imagine that the US government could, in the next 10 years, pass a bill which permits lawlessness for one night of the year and thus eliminates 99% of national crime. If the film makers were going for biting social commentary, they failed in the direst manner. The Purge is the most predictable, schlocky, hackneyed effort at a home invasion film you could ever care to witness. There is a drinking game online somewhere that stipulates you have a chug each time a bad guy slowly turns their head to stare with menace at the camera; that drinking game would kill you.
The World’s End (2013) – Fourth time round, the final instalment of the Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy is definitely still the cone (the least best bit), though you have to commend its ambition. In case you’re wondering, Shaun of the Dead constitutes the soft serve of this metaphorical icy treat, while Hot Fuzz is without doubt the chocolate lump at the bottom (the best bit). The World’s End is well worth another watch if you’ve only seen it once – the layered script and insanely fun choreography are good for what ales you. (Ales! Because the film is about beer!)
Bernie (2011) – An intriguing black comedy with Jack Black as the man-about-town mortician who everyone suspects of murder… except he’s so nice, they don’t really care. Based on real accounts of events which transpired in the small residence of Carthage, Texas, Bernie’s morbidly amusing action is intercut with documentary style talking heads – some of whom are the real townsfolk- that either shower Bernie Tiede with praise or cast aspersions on his sexuality. A fun lawyer-type role for Matthew McConaughey and a fascinating corpse dressing scene are just two of the highlights.
Only God Forgives (2013) – Self-indulgent, morally appalling, lazy, sadistic… these are some of the kinder words used by critics to describe Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling’s second collaboration when it premièred at Cannes festival. If you enjoyed the Danish maverick’s better known films (Bronson and Drive being most prominent) then you’ll doubtless find this a more challenging watch; every shot is shrouded in a visually sumptuous miasma of blood and neon, but the content is largely unrewarding and for the most part consists of Ryan Gosling brooding in a chair. Vithaya Pansringarm’s cop chief is meant to be a big deal as the katana carrying angel of revenge. Kill Bill this ain’t, though, and the Bangkok based drama plays out in the most unrelentingly miserable, gruesome and dull of fashions.
American Hustle (2013) – Fake hair, glitter and a melange of outrageous four piece suits ; this is 1970’s America. David O. Russell is on one hell of a streak; The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and now highly stylised crime caper American Hustle, and all in less than three years too. American Hustle’s lucrative ensemble cast, refreshingly daring cinematography and smash hit soundtrack make it an experience worth paying for. Stand out performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale, who gained 40 pounds for the role (‘American Psycho’? More like ‘American’! ZING!) are irresistible bait for the Awards fishies, likewise for the aforementioned costumes and direction. Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner roaring along to ‘Delilah’ is worth the ticket alone.
Prince Avalanche (2013) – David Gordon Green let go the silly slapstick sensibilities of Pineapple Express and Your Highness (more like Yawn Sigh-ness!) and instead brought Terence Malick-ian levels of pretension in last year’s Indy Comedy, Prince Avalanche. Taking place in the summer of 1988, Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch are employed to paint lines on a highway in the wake a forest fire that claimed thousands of homes. Rather like the play Waiting for Godot, the pair are stuck in a geographical and mental limbo, incessantly bitching as they begrudgingly carry out their tasks. Gordon Green makes excessive use of shots featuring caterpillars slowly crawling across burnt out tree trunks to demonstrate the enormity and fragility of nature, while the struggle of the protagonists to paint a few lines reinforces how important human collaboration is to our survival. Boring. On two occasions the monotony is broken by a ‘deus ex machina’ trucker who swings by to give them moonshine and beer, but overall it’s not an especially funny or endearing film.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) – A second cinema viewing of the new Jackson film confirmed a few things; firstly, this film is much more enjoyable when seen in a non-3d, non-48 fps format. Secondly, there are three shots during the (otherwise excellent) barrel sequence in which Peter Jackson unfoundedly cuts away from the HD glory of his ‘Mysterium RED EPIC’ camera to a POV angle from a bloody Go-Pro. Finally, and this has been said before on the blog at least twice, The Hobbit should have been ONE film. Orc Deaths Tally: 9 headshots, 5 decapitations, at least 15 drowned (lost count on that one), 10 crushings.
Anchorman 2 (2013) – It had to happen. Inevitably less funny than the lavishly moustachioed newsman’s first film, Anchorman 2 is enjoyable none the less. If you don’t like Ferrell then you can go to hell (for that rhyme to work you have to say Ferrell like: Fah-rell).
A quarter of John Carter (2012) – That’s right, a quarter of John Carter. And it wasn’t even the first quarter. Ever tried to watch a film that you badly want to see but its 3am and you’re just too tired and/or drunk to care? Well that’s exactly what happened. John Carter’s reception was divided at best; much maligned by film reviewers worldwide but hyped to the rafters by those brave few who loved it not just as an under(rated)dog but as a transcendent tale of time travel and space adventure, on an awesome and beautiful scale. White Russians and beer got the better of your humble reviewer on this occasion, but perhaps one day there will be a Movie Quibble post on John Carter and the truth will out.
Ten Little Indians (1965) – Not –so- classic movie adaptation of a classic Agatha Christie ‘whodunit’ novel. Ten people are lured to a mansion atop a mountain, only to discover that the cable car has been severed, the phones don’t work, and a murderous wolf lurks among them. The acting, the camera work and especially the stunts are as clunky as can be, while the focal point – each time a guest is killed, an Indian figure disappears from the dining table – does not translate from page to screen at all well. During a hilarious murder scene, one man attempts to rappel to safety; when the camera zooms out the tall, heavy set Mexican becomes a small, athletic Caucasian. Movie Magic, darling.
Riddick (2013) – A heavily underrated sci-fi actioner and by far Riddick’s best outing to date. Commotion was raised over the film’s supposed misogyny, with the ‘balls deep’ line causing an especially fervent outcry. In truth, Katee Sackhoff’s female mercenary is the most bad ass character in the film and the actress has since spoken out against such criticisms.
Mama (2013) – Guillermo Del Toro’s latest film, Mama, is a fantastical horror in the storybook style of Pan’s Labyrinth. Jessica Chastain’s character Annabel is charged with looking after two wild orphans who have spent five years in the care of an ‘imaginary’ woodland guardian whom they call ‘Mama’. Mama is weak in the scare department, largely due to a lack of practical effects (and partly to do with seeing it on an 8 inch screen on a turbulent plane) but Jessica Chastain’ s stoic performance is just enough to keep you engaged.
Sideways (2004) – WINE PUN ALERT! Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church portray a couple of middle aged Californian gentlemen with an awful lot on their respective p(a)lates but who choose instead to leave town and have a roam around the Napa valley so as to fortify their relationship. A week of egrigious evenings unfold, and after a few days of hell raisin the friends realise with increasing clarety that their tastes are radically different.
The Dirty Dozen (1967) – A classic World War II film. Having gone weeks without bathing, twelve men finally wash themselves. Some other stuff happens too.
This post took quite a long time, and a better person would have kept on revising for their imminent exams…however, there is a motivational quote from someone called Sarah Bibi right here on the wall of the Manchester University Learning Commons which reads:
‘Respect and believe in yourself, For you already are the greatest in your very own way.’
So fuck it!
Thanks very much for reading.