Monthly recap: What have I been watching?
Prometheus (2012) (in 3D)
Don’t worry, no spoilers! The hype worked and I was ready on opening day. I waited to post my monthly reviews, so I could include my thoughts on the highly anticipated Alien prequel. So what is my verdict? How does it measure up to the four other official Alien movies?
I was lucky enough to catch an early screening. My eyes were glued to the screen the whole time, I was transported to another world, the suspenseful story managed to hold my undivided attention, and the twists are unexpected. It was kind of a mix of several Alien movies including a few fresh elements. There are a number of unanswered questions, the character's have different motivations. Gave me the urge to rewatch the earlier films, been a while since I saw them. I don't watch a lot of blockbusters, can't say if Prometheus is as good as The Avengers (2012) or Men in Black III. Was definitely better than The Hunger Games. I enjoyed it equally as much as Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011).
Prometheus was very entertaining and occasionally had some food for thought. The lack of back story of the characters kind of works in the movies favour I think, we gradually get to know them. If there had been no previous Alien films, my rating would have been slightly higher, the film is hurt a little by the fact it's familiar teritory for the majority of movie lovers. In various scenes, there is a feeling of been there before. That said, I think Ridley Scott succeeds in re-energizing the Alien franchise. You should see it in the cinema, it looks great on the big screen, I wouldn't expect anything else from Ridley. But I don't think visually its as jaw-droppingly stunning as say Blade Runner, or Gladiator, although there are some cool gadgets! Interesting blend of CGI effects AND set pieces, I still don't know if I like that combination.
Future classic? The true test is rewatchability, and I don't think Prometheus has got enough powerful or emotional scenes that really stand out, except maybe one or two I can recall. I think it was to my advantage I had not watched Alien movies for maybe 5-6 years. For the moment, I would rank it as my 3rd favorite Alien film, behind Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986). Is Prometheus recommended as a good night out? Yes! Is it the best new blockbuster I have seen in 2012? Yes!
Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)
Recommended by director Alexander Payne on Rotten Tomatoes during promotion for The Descendants. Sadly the 1937 film about an elderly couple didn't win me over, it was ok, but nothing special in my opinion. Even with a 100% rating on RT, not recommended. I preferred Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) I saw earlier this year, also directed by Leo McCarey.
Career Girls (1997)
Only 83 minutes, a drama directed and written by Mike Leigh. About two university friends who reunite and how their relationship has changed, or maybe not changed. At first we wonder why they are even friends, they show it in very different ways. I think Leigh is trying to say something about friendship, can we turn a blind eye to insults and put up with a flat mate's faults, how friendship is accepting the good and the bad. We get to think about our own lives, what friends have meant to us, and do we still have contact with them. Selective memory is another theme, who do you remember from your past, and why?
Riveting performances by the two leads, who play both younger and older versions of themselves very convincingly. Also, the dialogue is very well-written, albeit fast-paced, so I'm looking at a second viewing in future, good thing I bought the dvd.
A problem I had were the coincidences, which I found a little contrived, and made the ending slightly unrealistic. Realism is what Mike Leigh is good at, and when you get unrealistic situations, then it does hurt the film. This was only a minor problem with the ending, overall I was satisfied and enjoyed watching.
Code Unknown (Code inconnu) (2000)
French drama directed by Michael Haneke. The poster implies it’s an action movie, which it is not. Somewhat confusing, cryptic, and uneven, yet momentarily engaging story of a group of people, who's lives intertwine. A couple of scenes were especially tense and gripping, a verbal exchange on a train, plus a young man being disrespectful of a homeless person on the street, but maybe those scenes could have been short films instead.
Whether Juliette Binoche's character is an actress, or not, is interesting (and reminded me a bit of Certified Copy from 2010). The time issue in Code Unknown of what is past or present is unclear. Culture clashes, and lack of dialogue between father-son are themes. Lots of ideas, but too many dull moments without dramatic tension. The slow pace, tonal shifts, and narrative structure will divide audiences. If you want to dissect a film for film studies this is a treat, for entertainment purposes I think it fails to hold my attention.
Karate Kid (1984)
Entertaining and memorable for sure. I was expecting the wisdom and lessons of the teacher to be more profound, then again it's only a kid's movie. The love interest Elisabeth Shue looked too old to be Daniel's boyfriend?
A Very Long Engagement (2004)
Visually gorgeous, but I found it to be an overlong and tedious watch, with an unfocused story. Relationship between Tatou's character, and her lover is not explored very well at first, so I didn't care enough about them. All the side plots and name dropping we do see on screen are quite confusing and hard to follow. Also, too similar to Jean-Pierre Jeunet's previous film Amelie (2001), again about Audrey Tautou searching. You can tell Jeunet is a talented and ambitious director, and his vision keeps the film sporadically interesting, but I'm thinking the editing was too fast for a complex story with so many names to remember. I would as the filmmaker not have been sidetracked by all the minor details of the book, and focused more on the relationship. I would have preferred A (not so) Very Long Engagement. That title is also a very bad choice. Aside from the cinematography, not recommended.
Probably the creepiest of the three Argento films I saw in May. I was mainly in awe of the set design and how the music played such a big part in creating the horror. Are the dubbed versions inferior? Anyhow, even though I didn’t watch the original Italian speaking film, I would still recommended it. I thought the middle section of the film lost it's way a little, and my concentration was broken, which didn't happen with the two other Argento films I watched. The ending was definitely the best part. Supports my theory that set designs are more beautiful than CGI. Filmmakers take note...
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1969)
Debut film by director Dario Argento, he has a unique cinematic voice, I have waited too long to discover his universe. My favorite of the Argento films I saw. You’ll never guess the twist. Suspenseful right to the end. I didn’t fully understand the main characters attitude towards the painter, I thought it was kind of rude how he brushed him off, maybe it was supposed to be funny and a way of moving on from that particular scene, his insult perhaps to show us he’s not Mr. perfect.
Love the catchy soundtrack main theme by Goblin, and amazing sound effects as usual. About a maniac who is inspired by a bestselling book to commit murders, life imitating art. Definitely raises questions if artists have a moral responsibility when they represent violence, and probably Argento is self-aware, and likely pointing a finger at himself for violence on film.
The scenes with a crazy dog were truly horrifying and tap into a universal fear of being chased by a vicious animal, particularly because it was depicted so realistically.
The disorientating tracking shot outside of a building was stunning, and echoed of movies past. This quote sums up the style of horror we witness: "I didn't see him, except the axe"
Vanishing Point (1971)
Suspenseful road movie of a loner driver on a quest across America. Really cool, and may have been an influence for Drive (2011)
In my opinion, actor Brian Cox simply is too normal, and isn't as scary as Anthony Hopkins' Lector, and the investigator (William Petersen) I didn't think had enough screen presence, and his scenes were dull. If you know the trilogy with A Hopkins, Manhunter does present a different approach, an approach I didn't find very creepy aside from a couple of moments, for example a man on fire. On a positive note, the use of 80s music was a nice touch, the score and soundtrack. I'm sure there will be fans of both versions. For me, the 1986 film works as a detective thriller, but not as a horror film. That said, maybe my expectations were off, as at end of documentary, they say: "not trying to play (the horror) up, because that's life". The main problem I have with Manhunter is that the casting I think was better for the remake Red Dragon (2002)
Validation (2007) (Short)
Memorable and cute 15 minute black/white short about compliments and spreading joy. Put a smile on my face!
Songs from the second floor (2000)
Swedish black comedy. The director's films have their own comedy which is not for everyone. Very funny, if it appeals to your sense of humour. He takes melancholy characters and makes their circumstances absurd. You can tell Roy Andersson has experience directing commercials, many of the scenes are mini-movies. The financial crisis makes the film even more relevant today, even though it was put together well before the stock markets tumbled. Has a Kafka-esque, doomed atmosphere, which you can laugh or cry at. Favorite quote: "Beloved be the one who sits down"(out of context the quotation doesn't make sense)
Café de Flore (2011)
Definitely among the most underrated and overlooked new films. The title is a tune from the beautiful soundtrack, also featuring contemporary classics by Pink Floyd and Sigur Ros. I was very impressed by the film, recommended by Bonjour Tristesse, and could easily see myself rewatching several times in future. So what was to like? I found script to be original, with (no spoilers) a fascinating and un-guessable twist ending. Two separate stories, a mother's love of her son, and also a parallel tale of falling in love again as a married 40-year-old DJ. Interestingly, the film kind of sparked the "being scared of zero comments" article I wrote recently. In that the Cafe De Flore story describes an interesting juxtaposition of selfless/selfish behaviour, which is not as straightforward as it sounds, as we as human beings are never just one emotion. Lisa wrote an insightful review on the film here, best to read, after you watch.
Bonjour Tristesse suggests it is a pity there is a twist ending: "Imagine if Kieslowski gave us all the answers to The Double Life of Veronique, it might still be a great film, but it would not be a masterpiece. The magic is in the mystery and Café de Flore gives it up a little too freely."
Point Blank (1967)
Pretty confusing and dull, characters didn't interest me, and there really wasn't a whole lot of plot. A cross between French new wave cinema and classic film noir. If I read more about why I should admire this, I'm sure that would reveal hidden layers. They talked like movie stars, not real people. I liked the camera work, but lost patience. Not for me.
Did not finish
All About My Mother (1999)
I know I'm supposed to like this oscar-winning film, not bad, just didn't find it particularly memorable. I loved The Skin I Live In (2011), but that was an atypical Almodóvar story. I usually struggle to warm to his style of filmmaking. Perhaps it's a case of the Spanish mentality I have a tough time relating to. I don't know if there is much going on beneath the surface in All About My Mother besides the homages to old movies? Didn't do much for me besides entertainment, didn't get me thinking. Had no clue what the director was trying to say. Probably among the better Almodóvar efforts in terms of story, in my case I wouldn't rewatch. Not a bad movie, just not really my taste. I agree with Eric's opinion: "everyone was portrayed in the same light — men, women, transgender, none of that mattered. We are all human, and I don’t know if I have seen a better movie to demonstrate this."
The Dictator (2012)
Extremely vulgar comedy, often so off-putting that I hardly laughed at all. What made me smile a couple times were the names The Dictator called his friend Zoey (Anna Faris), for example "Hairy Potter" or a girl with a “chemo” hair piece...My favorite bit was on the helicopter, which was funny, and the wall of photos. Completely implausible, that Zoey could not see through his lies, but I guess it’s just for laughs. I enjoyed Borat. Bruno and The Dictator I didn't care much for. Actor/writer Sasha Baron Cohen does have one redeeming moment when he mocks the US for being a dictatorship where the rich get richer, he kind of has a point.
The Story Of The Cure - Much More Music (2000) (documentary)
Lots of sound bites, interesting to hear Robert Smith's opinions. The doc is a little repetitive. I don't know who's fault that is, the interviewers, the editing of the documentary, or simply Smith himself.
24 Hour Party People (2002)
To coincide with reading and writing about Joy Division, I had this on my to-watch-schedule. Some great one-liners. A step inside the Manchester post-punk music scene in the late 1970s and 80s. Messy behind the scenes look at Joy Division, Happy Mondays, and other bands under the wing of manager Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan). In fact, a reason to watch is if you liked The Trip (2010), since it’s the same team, director Michael Winterbottom, and even Rob Brydon makes a cameo appearance as a journalist. I wouldn't bother with this film, if you have no interest in the music. The musicians obnoxious antics may change your mind about the bands, leave the movie on the shelf if you want to remember the bands as Gods. Favorite funny quote about the drummer: "Try something a lot simpler, faster but slower.."
Joy Division (2007) (documentary)
For fans of the band, there is nothing particularly new on offer here, it tells the basic story again of Joy Division. The most interesting revelations were about Ian Curtis' influences. Unless you are a diehard fan, or you have already seen biopic Control (2007), I wouldn't bother.
Joy Division: Under Review (2006) (documentary)
Interesting interpretations of specific songs of Joy Division. Going to borrow info for my Joy Division posts.
The Trip (2010) (6 part TV-series)
I had already viewed the shorter cinema version, so I thought, what surprises would the TV-series have to offer? Unfortunately, the best bits are mostly in the movie already, and since I had mostly seen the deleted impressions on youtube, the series was basically a rerun of what I had seen previously. If you have a choice, go with the movie version. I can see on IMDB a season 2 is in the works for 2012…Does that mean there will be another movie too? Hope so ( :
Take This Waltz (2011)
Overlong, and uneven drama of a woman (Michelle Williams) split between two men (Seth Rogan and Luke Kirby)
There was potential here, moments of cuteness, particularly on the airplane, indoor amusement ride , or even the morning stroll. (won't spoil the movie watching those clips). Presumably going for something in the same ballpark as Blue Valentine, though not quite as, well, cute. It's difficult to pinpoint what was wrong with Take this Waltz, because the cinematography is beautiful, Williams' performance is very good, and there are memorable scenes. The weakness for me is the script, which lacks something for a running time of two hours. Seth Rogan seemed miscast and I think his performance was poor, when an actor, unintentionally looks at the camera(several times in the same scene!!!), it's the kiss of death in my book. Is a bad sign this film is going to video-on-demand. I was expecting more from the story than what I got. The director Sarah Polley, who previously made Away From Her (2006), focuses mostly on the happiness of Michelle Williams, and obviously the theme of early marriage is what Take this Waltz is about. The soundtrack is like an ad for Canadian music, including Leonard Cohen(the title is a reference to a song of his).I especially liked the obscure cover of Closing Time by Feist, which is nowhere to be found online.
Besides the dragged out scenes, my other complaint with Take This Waltz is we are given most of the answers, so there is not enough “space” for the viewers to make up our own minds. Easy to warm up to M Williams’ cute antics, even when she’s misbehaving, I guess women can look more objectively at her attitude, I certainly can’t ( ;
The film divided critics at the Toronto film festival in 2011. If you enjoy the filmmaking style of Blue Valentine which occasionally has a cute moment sprinkled in, check out Take this Waltz. If you don't, not recommended.
Last Year in Marienbad (1961)
Could be the best film I've seen all year. I was concerned might be too slow and arty, I was wrong. Amazing film. For me, it's about a married temptress enjoying the attention of another man, she doesn't reject him entirely and plays along. A cryptic film from the French new wave, the line between fantasy and reality is blurred. Does the woman not remember meeting the man a year ago, or is she pretending not to know him now? Was his memory a dream, or is he mad? Why do the guests behave in such an odd manner? I don't think anyone has definitive answers, which is why Alain Resnais' masterpiece continues to fascinate. Also, the setting is expertly portrayed by cinematographer Sacha Vierny, each frame is like a beautiful photograph. The director is quoted in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, that the film is an attempt to capture the complexities of thought. The dvd from amazon.co.uk is well worth getting your hands on, the extras are absorbing stuff, containing 6 or 7 interesting interpretations, and comparisons to other films.
My top 5 of May:
1.) Last Year in Marienbad (1961)
2.) The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1969)
3.) Tenebre (1982)
4.) Songs from the second floor (2000)
5.) Career Girls (1997)
6.) Café de Flore (2011)
7.) Prometheus (2012) (in 3D)
8.) Suspiria (1977)
9.) Vanishing Point (1971)
10.) Karate Kid (1984)
Readers, any thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Have you seen any of the above? What are the best films you saw during the month of May?