Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Overdue FILM ROUND-UP 2015: Part I

Right, so…I’ve clearly been neglecting my film-bound duties on this blog for too long. My multi-tasking skills have let me down with exuberant aplomb and instead of keeping up my usual heady buffet of wit, insight and cine-literate agility, I have instead withdrawn into mute resignation. Granted, the wit, insight and cine-literate agility were never entirely familiar faculties of mine, it might be more true to say I’ve replaced the stumbling excess of uninformed verbiage with a clinical refusal to reveal such ostentations of incompetence in a proud strike of silence. Basically, writing a PhD has some what smothered my stamina for staring at a screen…and the last thing I want to do – after a day of staring at a screen – is to, after further recreational screen staring in the watching of a film, relay that screen time with further screen time…which will then give way to tomorrow’s inevitable screen. Hunched Gollum, fingers pecking, eyes sunken and laden with Panda-heavy bags…typing onwards into a squinting myopia: all neck aches and pathetic back problems…O pathetic back problems! how you plague my otherwise robust verticality…I stoop…oh how I stoop.

 Anyways, it had come to a point where the films I’d watched were accruing like the individual feathers I felt would one day mesh together into the dragging avian corpse of an albatross, swinging around my (already achy) neck…always there in its burdensome reminder of my lack of reviewing. And so, today is that day! The day I clear out the backlog of cluttering films now past…swipe the deck clean for future screen….for its tyranny is as reliable as I am unreliable. Though, that said, there is unashamedly lazy caveat to this triumphant return…being as I am, tired, apathetic and with mixed feelings about the whole ordeal of unnecessary writing, these reviews will rely on the virtue of brevity. When I say ‘virtue’, I mean convenience…and by ‘brevity’ I mean a fundamental lack of insightful, thorough or developed thinking…like really, very, completely minimal…like a couple of words…if I could skip out words and insert brief noises I would….maybe one day I will. And the rest was noise…

My ‘brevity’ will be further consolidated by the fact these were watched AAaaaaagges ago and thus prey to the shortcomings of my limping memory. How’s all that for a drumroll of bathos?

The Battle of Algiers – (dir. Gillo Pontecorvo) stunning, engrossing and entirely worthy of its ‘classic’ status. Approaches a documentary feel. 7/10

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Performance – (dir. Nicolas Roeg) I know lots of people hold this up as a game-changing beast, but for me it was a ragged and mixed bag that had aged badly. Mick Jagger gurns and struts his way through a commendably odd tale of fractured identity and ‘alternative’ scenester living: complete with mandatory ‘shroom scene’. 6/10

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What Richard Did –  (dir. Lenny Abrahamson) An impressively acted and realistically shot study of guilt. Distressingly ‘real’ in its portrayal of upper-middle class banalities. The restraint, control and clarity, in its sense of cinematographic ‘transparency’ is fairly uniquely stripped – neither documentary-like or particularly filmic – it approaches the drama with a quiet (and disquieting) intelligence. 7/10

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Riddles of the Sphinx – Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen’s experimental work adopts an episodic and theoretical approach to filmmaking – akin to an essay (but without the meditative Chris Marker connotations that has) it follows the structured impression of a visual argument. I went to a seminar recently where Laura Mulvey spoke about the film – and how Peter Wollen’s approach (which she attested as being the more creative to her critical) took inspiration from his reading of Raymond Roussel. For the academic/avant-garde among you…out there in the Mollusc’s vast readership… it is an essential film…soundtrack by one of the fellas from Soft Machine…so it has some gloriously squelching synth psychedelia in there. Consciously reflective of trends in critical thinking at the time it devises a non-narrative exploration of feminism, by way of psychoanalysis and deconstructive suggestion.

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The Cremator – (dir. Juraj Herz) Like discovering a morbidly dark brand of cough sweet that oozes its disconcerting syrup through every startling frame, The Cremator has a genuinely original power to unsettle entertain and haunt the memory long after viewing. From the same generation of filmmakers as Jan Svankmajer (whose influence can be seen in the animated title sequence, though of course Herz was himself also a puppeteer before filmmaking) it displays a similar facility with the frightening and grotesque broached through exquisite humour. Fantastic and nimble editing, an incredible central performance and queasily oneiric cinematography make this an undeniably 
unnerving gem. 9/10

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London – (dir.Patrick Keiller)  - Think psychogeography. Voiceover. Essay-like journeying of associative links. The overlooked architecture and spaces of everyday London. Also saw Robinson in Space – preferred London, but similar deal…haven’t got the time or memory to go into nuanced differences apart from the obvious ‘one’s in London…’

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Captain Phillips – (dir. Paul Greengrass) Starts off great, thrilling acting and shaky-cam realism…then towards the end kinda loses its way with heavy-handed musical cues and – despite it being based on real events – somehow loosing the sense of authenticity through odd blips in emotional continuity that seemed strained or somehow unlikely – consequently deflating the persuasive momentum of the first half. 6/10

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Grizzly Man – (dir. Werner Herzog) Classic Wernie. Must see. Hilarious, sublime, frightening and unforgettable. As always, as much about Herzog as it is about the bears. Plenty of grizzled soundbites from the reliably bleak auteur. 8/10

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The Conjuring – (dir. James Wan) Fairly lame. Competently filmed n all…but dull, un-scary and like many others in this tiresome creaky house/possessed person genre, was an exercise in the ol’ quiet, quiet LOUD school of shock. 4/10

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – (dir. Peter Jackson)At least this monumental tribute to ‘oustaying your welcome’ finished on an endless battle which, in its own breathless way was fairly entertaining while it lasted. And it lasted. Billy Connolly was a warrior dwarf and there were giant unexplained worms that reared up from their subterranean burrows to just as swiftly disappear. Why? Why were there huge battle-swiping worms? I wanted more worm-based spectacle – and maybe a worm-based back story. There should be a three part ‘GIANT INEXPLICABLE MOUNTAIN WORM’ spin off franchise. Yes, that is what I took from this film. 5/10

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2001: A Space Odyssey – (dir. Stanley Kubrick) Masterful. Massive. Monumental. Mind-meltingly must-seeable. These are a few of the words I have chosen in substitute of an actual review. That, and the battery waning warp of  “Daisy, Daisy…Give me your answer do…I’m half Crazy over the love of you…” 9.5/10

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Das Boot – (dir.  Wolfgang Peterson) A thrillingly sustained sense of claustrophobia, imminent danger and palpable male anxieties and friendship…a sweaty voyage that remains impressively gripping and ultimately devastating. 8.5/10

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The Grand Budapest Hotel – (dir. Wes Anderson)Ralph Fiennes channels comedic genius, and Wes delivers a terrific script (a sigh of relief after what I felt, in Moonrise Kingdom, was a nauseating lapse of judgement). The ornately choreographed and colour coordinated framing is, naturally, still (unnaturally) very much present – but here attached to a galloping sense of fun, wit and sharply crafted intelligent filmmaking. 7.5/10

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Andrei Rublev – (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky) Unsurprisingly: long and slow. There will be mud, monks and a solemn testing of faith. As ever with Tarkovsky – moments of haunting poetry (snow in a roofless church, the opening sequence of a precarious balloon flight, the casting of a giant metal bell) however I think I would recommend Stalker and Mirror above this. Want to re-visit when I’m lest dazed…I watched this in a ridiculous ambitious (and incongruous) double bill after Das Boot…so fear it may have suffered…following the periscope adrenalin, trudging across Russia amidst stony-faced monks lost its appeal fairly early on. 6.5/10

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Cutie and the Boxer –  (dir. Zachary Heinzerling) This is a wonderfully made documentary about two artists. Poignant, humble and slight – for any one interested in, or who can relate to, the trials and exhilaration involved in a relationship where both partners commit to art, this is fascinating viewing. 7/10

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Samsara –(dir. Ron Fricke) Using the spiritual term relating to cyclical patterns of life, death and rebirth this voiceover-free documentary (a term that is here fairly ill-fitting) glides through a visually astounding montage of everything from Buddhist monks, majestic canyons and performance art, to cybernetic technology, poultry factories and ritualised dance. Worth watching for the ambitious scope and startling image quality, however – it does become increasingly akin to sitting through a pious series of screensavers, sponsored by the National Geographic. Think Tree of Life without the narrative (what little there was). So, clearly not for everyone…but cheaper than investing in the travel and time to see all of these ridiculously far-flung landscapes. I feel it ought to come with optional voiceovers: one would provide David Attenbourough’s calming anthropomorphic asides ‘here the arid landscape steals itself for another long winter and the younger buffalo gather for warmth…etc’ or a pseudo-Malickian narrative of whispered meta-wank: “brother, what is it that you see….heaven found a face in Summer…..Together we struggle for the fading of light…I remember…nature…God…Mother, is that you….Etc” . 6/10

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Tokyo Story(dir. Yasujiro Ozu) An achingly sad portrait of an ageing couple trying to understand and adjust to their receding relevance for the younger generations of their family. Refined, controlled and gently devastating. Imagine a wistful ruffle of blossom falling, silence, understatement, and then…below, unseen and unspoken: the colossal tragedy of time. 8/10

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Birdman –  (dir. Alejandro Inarritu) Glitzy Oscar swagger struts avian toe-tap theatrics to jazz drumming and fluid cinematography (courtesy of Gravity’s Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographic wizard de jour). A terrific cast with hardly any false steps (the lesbian kiss moment felt a tad discordant), all round providing a very entertaining and witty slab of fun. 7.5/10

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It’s such a Beautiful Day –  (dir. Don Hertzfeldt)A quirky animation discovered on Netflix that marries American indie slacker tropes, existential neurosis and innovative animation with surprisingly affecting brilliance. Occasionally teeters near the precipice of mawkish woe, but mainly a very original and darkly humorous gem. 7/10

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The Final Member – (dir. Zach Math & Jonah Bekhor)A Netflix oddity. Man keeps a penis museum (sure – why not?). Man makes documentary about penis museum (again…sure) and then, to add a bit of drama, the quest for the first human penis donation begins. In steps another man, who does his best to fulfil stereotypes of deep-south-deliverance-esque creepiness, who offers to amputate his beloved all-American cock (bearing a stars and stripes tattoo and named ‘Elmo’) to share his asset with the world (or at least the limited clientele of the penis museum). 3/10

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Syndromes and a Century – (dir.  Apichatpong Weerasethaku) has the odd moment of unhinged genius (the camera hypnotically veering into an air vent) but generally a fairly disappointing exercise in flat repetition and mild intrigue. Not the film I was hoping (and led to believe) it might be. Might revisit…probably wont. 5/10

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The Imitation Game  - (dir. Morten Tyldum) Solid stuff. Coming out at the same time as Theory of Everything I had the feeling that, despite being radically different in their content, both would be unadventurous but worthwhile adaptations of important events. This was (the only false note being the casting of Keira Knightly who, although acting brilliantly considering the limits of her role, seemed too glamorous – bringing a unintentionally reflexive sense of her star persona into the otherwise believable drama…not her fault, but a fault of casting). Cap’n Cumberbatch is on fine form. 7/10

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Capote – (dir. Bennett Miller)Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance is stunning. A complicated and emotive role approached with profound skill and sophistication. 7.5/10

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