Film Review Round-Up 2014 Part I

Over on my Tumblr page, I’ve been posting mini-reviews, both Film 2014 (for new releases this year) and Catch Up Cinema (those not released this year) varieties, whereas saving the main blog for bigger articles, features and more in-depth reviews. But I figured that not might always be clear, and with the nature of Tumblr being comparatively ephemeral, I thought I might gather a round-up of reviews you may have missed. They are an odd bunch collated together, but an enlightening peek into my bizarre viewing habits I suppose. This is Part I and thus covers everything worth linking to up until this point, and perhaps a Part II will no doubt arrive in a few months time. Couple of proper reviews and full pieces coming soon though (as well as another Listening Post)!

FILM 2014

CALVARY

“There are individual moments when you feel it almost has meaning in its grasp, and some isolated scenes (and the magnificent scenery) trick you into thinking the film will fulfill its potential, and yet it never shakes the sense that it is merely a series of disconnected events and disjointed characters in search of something deeper. Not a total loss, just a disappointment.”

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET / 12 YEARS A SLAVE

“…it’s brimming with energy, making directors half his age seem old hat. Keeping it all together (well, losing it completely) is DiCaprio, his best performance since (the not too dissimilar) Catch Me If You Can, who shows hitherto untapped resources as a great physical comedian and willingness to debauch himself in all kinds of ways.”

12 Years A Slave is a very well made film – a terribly upsetting story told in a considered and respectful manner, unafraid to shy away from brutality or difficult issues. The way the film is composed, through its editing, cinematography, and sound, is close to faultless. And yet, and I wonder if I’m alone in this, the performances are a real mixed bag.”

AMERICAN HUSTLE

“I wanted to like American Hustle a lot more than I did, and there are excellent moments peppered throughout. But it’s this year’s Argo, a hollow period confection that seems to please crowds and awards bodies alike, though its charms seem lost on me.”

 

CATCH UP CINEMA

LOGAN’S RUN

“Despite its effective premise, time has not been kind to Logan’s Run. Of course, a certain amount of dating is to be expected, but there is little interesting in its design or notable about the execution for it to get by on kitsch factor alone.”

TEQUILA SUNRISE

“…there is one outrageously hilarious hot tub sex scene…with lots of steam, reflections, slo-mo, cross-cutting and saxophone (the credit for Saxophone Solos appears very high on the credit list), culminating in Pfeiffer spooning yoghurt into Gibson’s gaping maw.”

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

“…still an effective and engaging little thriller, with some neat camera tricks and surprisingly grim ideas.”

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

“…the first film is marginally better, mainly as a result of Francis Lawrence’s sure if unremarkable direction compared to original director Gary Ross’ more interesting choices. Both films continue to bungle the Hunger Games section itself though, with messy action sequences and a lack of energy or excitement, the build-up and aftermath far more interesting overall.”

WAKE IN FRIGHT

“Chilling, hysterical, upsetting, hilarious, shocking, tense, exciting – Wake in Fright is all these things, yet it also maintains an intelligent and deeply thoughtful core, a stark portrait of the nature of bravado, machismo and our strengths and weaknesses.”

ROBO-G

“Crowd-pleasing and easy-going it may be, but there’s more to Robo-G than meets the eye.”

1941

“…there are so many disparate threads, it’s hard to keep up with its myriad characters, who are either goofy caricatures or lightweight love interests. And, even in its truncated form, it feels a good half-hour too long. Yet, there’s something peculiarly charming about its madcap energy.”

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vs CHRONICLE

“…much too much has already been said about how a reboot came only a decade after Sam Raimi’s first take on the webslinger, but in comparison to Chronicle, it really is a long tedious bore.”

LA BELLE ET LA BETE

“I enjoyed its humour, the costumes, the performances, design (especially the Beast’s impressive make-up), but it all felt a little flat, the editing – particularly between story threads – especially lacking, rendering it a series of neat moments rather than a fully engaging whole. “

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2012: Films of the Year

Finally, after a week’s worth of distraction from the BAFTA and Oscar nominations announcements, I can reveal what everyone on the face of this planet has been waiting for – my Top 8 Films of 2012!

Eight? EIGHT YOU SAY? Well, yes. The thing is, I could have very easily filled two slots to make up the somewhat arbitrary holy ten from at least a dozen very good movies. But I thought rather than trying to name check absolutely every film I thought was pretty great this year and bulk it out, thereby rendering the rest of the selection even more meaningless (and you can check out a full rundown of my viewing habits here before you complain about your favourite missing – either I didn’t see it, or didn’t like it so much), I’d stick with the eight films that immediately sprung to mind, made the biggest impact on me, and have been hard to shake off since.

Most of my thoughts are revised and edited versions of reviews originally posted here or in my Tumblr mini-reviews (tag Film 2012), but to make up for the lack of new writing, I’ve come up with strained and somewhat flippant Definitials for each title, plus some more of my smiley pics as per last year – and given what a generally bleak affair 2012’s bunch turned out to be, they could all do with a bit of cheering up too.

#8. Shame

Steve McQueen’s directorial follow-up to Hunger, again with Michael Fassbender in the lead, proves their ongoing collaboration is one of the most exciting cinematic relationships at the moment. There was something about Shame which really resonated with me. Apart from all the sex and that (though for all the flesh on show, it’s possibly one of the least sexy films ever made). Loneliness, isolation, an inability to express emotion or connect with others – not original areas to be explored, but nothing I’ve seen before captured these feelings so effectively. The performances, the direction and the overarching tone makes for a compelling watch. Highly impressive work all round.

#7. Chronicle

It is testament to the quality of Chronicle that in the glut of mega-budget superhero blockbusters adapted from pre-existing source material with a readily installed fanbase, not to mention appearing at the tail end of this post-Blair Witch found footage cycle, it still manages to impress and feel fresh and distinctive. Simply put, it is the best original superhero film since the underappreciated Unbreakable, and in many ways feels like a companion piece – just with a dash of Akira and Carrie thrown in for good measure.

> > > Full Review

#6. Sightseers

A frequently hilarious, blackly comic, oddball road movie, and director Ben Wheatley’s most satisfying film yet. Like an updated version of Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May gone terribly wrong, Sightseers may be a bumpy ride for some, with its unforgiving outlook and downbeat desperation amid the brutality and japery. Pass on it though, and you’ll be missing out on probably the best British film this year.

> > > Full Review

#5. The Cabin in the Woods

The joy of The Cabin in the Woods is that it’s meta but never ironic or overly cynical. The gags are broad enough in their frame of reference so as not to alienate the casual cinemagoer, but with enough nods to get fanboys and gorehounds all a flutter. It is clever but never tricksy. It breaks the rules, but never breaks its own rules. Even a title as generic as The Cabin in the Woods is as much a commentary on the film as the film’s own commentary on the film itself. I think. As effective and hilarious a skewering of horror convention as Galaxy Quest was to Star Trek, or Starship Troopers was to macho jingoistic bullshit, the Evil Dead remake is going to have a very hard time seeming in any way relevant in its sizeable genre-busting wake (EDIT: The Evil Dead remake actually looks awesome).

> > > Full Review

#4. Michael

Disquieting, discomforting, disturbing, dis film (hngggh, couldn’t resist!) depicts the life of a solitary man – and the boy he keeps locked in his basement. While thankfully and wisely low on explicit detail, it is nevertheless an intense, queasy experience rooted in the hideously mundane. Perfectly calculated, measured and executed, it doesn’t browbeat or sensationalise, nor attempts to explain or justify – rather it is in its squarely matter-of-fact presentation that it truly succeeds. Exceptional.

#3. The Hunt

Though representative of the mess and hysteria that surrounds accusations of paedophilia, no-one could have predicted just how timely The Hunt’s UK release ended up being. Though more localised to community rather than media reaction, it shows the desperate extent to which an unwitting lie can spiral out of control, how helpless one can be to stem the tide, and how someone’s life can be totally destroyed through hearsay. It’s not a particularly novel premise, but Thomas Vinterberg draws out the every ounce of tension for what it’s worth, and every emotion experienced by the man at the centre of the allegation (an amazing Mads Mikkelsen) is unflinchingly shared with the audience. That’s not to say this is a simple exercise in gut-wrenching misery – everything about the film (the pacing, the length of each shot, a look between characters, a pause between words) is expertly judged. The Hunt is like having your heart gripped and lungs squeezed for two hours. In the best way possible.

#2. The Master

While not as immediate as There Will Be Blood, there is something mesmerising about The Master while watching, but confoundingly ethereal in its wake, with an unshakeable mood that continues long after. Accused of lacking a sustainable narrative (it is undoubtedly a character piece), it is one reason why summing up thoughts and feelings about it is so difficult, as there are few tangible hooks on which to hang them on. Certainly, the cinematography is beautiful, the performances exceptional, the music magnificent. Yet, there are so many issues raised and not fulfilled, avenues and tangents presented but not explored, as the film remains steadfast on examining the relationship between its three leads, through which the other themes that are teased and hinted at throughout can be greater drawn. If There Will Be Blood was a big bloody steak to sink your teeth into, The Master is more like Freddie Quell’s cocktails, booze sloshing in your belly – both leaving you satisfied and full, but with different methods and end results.

See, didn’t I say it was hard to sum up? Basically, I really liked it.

#1. Amour

Though still filmed with Michael Haneke’s customary removed fixed camera style, Amour, as the title might suggest, is not cynical or in any way dispassionate towards its central elderly couple, one of whom suffers a stroke. It is almost unbearably sad, not just because of how active they were before tragedy strikes (their life together is gradually and beautifully revealed through the unfolding events and deft hints), but also how matter-of-fact it’s played in that death awaits us all. There is no montage, no sudden grim diagnosis from a sullen-looking doctor – each time we see them comes as a shock, their condition worsened, the inevitable ever present. But there is also a positivity and hope about Amour, that if such a thing were to happen, there would be someone willing to do anything for you and care for you so resolutely.

Already winner of the Palme D’Or at 2012’s Cannes Film Festival, with two incredible performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges) and BAFTA and Oscar-nominated Emanuelle Riva (Anne), Amour deserves every conceivable relevant award that has been and hopefully will be sent its way.

FILM REVIEW: Chronicle

It is testament to the quality of Chronicle that in the glut of mega-budget superhero blockbusters adapted from pre-existing source material with a readily installed fanbase, not to mention appearing at the tail end of this post-Blair Witch found footage cycle, it still manages to impress and feel fresh and distinctive. The set-up hardly inspires (three teenagers – clever hunk, popular jock, social outcast – get superpowers, and it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt), but Chronicle succeeds through its performances, tone and personality.

For starters, it’s not really a conventional superhero film. Sure, boxes are ticked, geek wish fulfilment enacted upon, but while there’re special powers, there’s no fighting of crime or righting of wrongs. Equally, there are no plots to take over the world or grand schemes to wreak acts of mass destruction. Rather, as the trio take control of their (largely telekinesis-based) powers and they grow stronger, their trials and tribulations evolve organically. And it’s in a large part to the strong central performances (notably, the superb Dane DeHaan as lead character and principal documenter Andrew, who doesn’t so much go through a story arc as an emotional megacoaster) that it’s easy to be swept up in their highs and lows.

To start, they do what any teenage boys would do – Jackass-style pranks attempting to injure themselves and freak out the general public. And as they become closer and they explore the limits of their abilities, it makes it all the more tragic when personal clashes bubble to the surface.  Most  movies of this ilk only flirt with the darkness that underpins the “great power, great personality” motto or any variation thereof, whereas Chronicle readily embraces it, and just as many a would-be superhero come from a broken home of sorts, few are quite as frankly and unflinchingly portrayed as here. So there is an inevitability in Chronicle’s course, but not necessarily in its methods. Crashes, bangs and wallops abound, but the quieter moments, the foreboding, the smaller unexpected flourishes, are what stay with you.

Where debut director Josh Trank comes unstuck though is with the central framing device, which does virtually nothing with its found-footage gimmick, except perhaps give the film a title. Bar the occasional interesting visual trick (Andrew’s moments of reflection suspending the camera mid-air, for instance), it rarely enhances, and, at certain points, directly interferes with, the action on screen. While the initial reasoning is understandable (Andrew both documenting his abuse and using the viewfinder as a way to separate himself from his harsh reality), the film ties itself in knots with excuses for maintaining the ruse – something the likes of District 9 managed to avoid by dropping the conceit whenever it inconvenienced the story. There is both too much clunky explanation as to why particular sequences are being filmed, but yet not enough indication as to for whom what we are watching is directed, and why indeed it has all been edited together. Instead, we have one female character doubling up in the thankless role of both object of affection and unconvincing fellow videographer. And it all struggles to hold together come the big finale and its multi-lens requirements, and no supposed commentary on the “constantly filmed via CCTV and cameraphones” society in which we live can change my mind on that front.

Yet Chronicle still works wonders, rising above its deficiencies, in terms of both technique and budget. Simply put, it is the best original superhero film since the underappreciated Unbreakable, and in many ways feels like a companion piece – just with a dash of Akira thrown in for good measure. With The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises et al around the corner, Chronicle is an unexpected but welcome surprise for those seeking an alternative to rubber masks and spandex.

8/10