Viewing recap January

Mr Turner (2014)
Beautifully photographed, the images echoing Turners paintings, and with an excellent lead performance by Timothy Spall. Turner is a man you both loathe and admire. The weakness is the story, the first hour or more is dull and tedious to sit through. We’ve seen many times before an artist struggling between remaining true to his cause and simultaneously having emotional responsibilities and sexual needs. My attention was constantly wandering off, there was little to latch on to in terms of plot development. The only character I liked is the woman he rents a room from. It does get better in the second half though.
I love a number of Mike Leigh’s previous films, especially Secret & Lies, Another Year, and Happy-Go-Lucky. Mr Turner just wasn’t for me, and I hope the director goes back to his usual style next time.
Rating 5/10

Birdman (2014)
A self-aware showbiz satire about big-headed actors and critics. Why are people giving this film such high praise?  Don’t get what the big deal is. Overhyped and not as amazing as the reviews indicate. The uninterrupted camera work is impressive, and Edward Norton plays the asshole well, but there isn’t any story, just people preparing for a play and chatting in a basement. The first 30 minutes is a complete bore and I had little interest in any of the characters.
The last 20 minutes are admittedly intriguing, but cannot save the film. Nearly every scene feels like a “performance”. The washed up actor trying to remain relevant is only moderately interesting. I didn’t have an emotional connection to the situations I didn’t feel much about Michael Keaton’s character. The problem is I feel Riggan's desire for recognition, but why he loved the theater is absent.
I like how Iñárritu suggests that the artists are the ones putting their lives on the line every night, while the critics can hate something so easily.
The self-centered artist looking for acclaim is basically what Iñárritu is doing, promoting himself.
Favorite quotes: “Why do I always have to beg people to love me”
”A man becomes a critic when he cannot become an artist, just as a man becomes an informer when he can’t become a soldier”
Rating 6/10

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Holly Golightly has a charm that you forget her self-centered ways. Worth seeing for Audrey Hepburn's performance, the iconic fashion aspect, and the memorable song Moon River. The stand out scenes involve a party, and shop lifting, the latter has a questionable message. 
I wonder how much money Tiffany’s paid to have their name associated with the movie, while watching you don’t feel like it’s product placement, even though it’s actually in the title.
Rating 7/10

Palo Alto (2013)
Directed by Gia Coppola, who is granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, The screenplay is based on stories written by James Franco, and he also has a role in the movie.
There’s a distinct feeling he is playing a character that is close to the real James Franco, someone who is attracted to teenage girls (it’s a condition called Ephebophilia).  There was a case recently on the news when 34 year old Franco was hitting on a 17 year old. It was noticed and he had to publically apologize. 
So while I find Franco’s character creepy, he also plays a person who the girls feel drawn to and are attracted to. Some girls are attracted to their teacher and I think it’s the same kind of thing here. However the age difference is just one aspect of the story, which also deals with teenager issues such as parties, boredom, fitting in, figuring out your boundaries and who you are, etc. We've seen films with these themes before, so it's not that groundbreaking, but the soundtrack, good performances, and loose narrative creates an atmosphere so you feel you are stepping into that world.
Rating 7/10

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Full review here.
Rating 9/10

Risky Business (1983)
A believable coming of age drama starring a young Tom Cruise. The only part that was slightly unrealistic was the Princeton guy showing up at night during the party.  I mainly watched because Tangerine Dream Founder Edgar Froese died recently, which I wrote about here. Having watched the movie, now I know why the song is called Love on a Real Train.
Rating 8/10

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
A low budget absurdist/deadpan comedy that might grow on me on rewatch, which is often the case with Jarmusch. I liked how the two male leads had different personalities, one of them with more empathy than the other.
Quirky like we know the director, but to me not as good as his next film Down By Law (1986).
Favorite quote: “It’s funny, you come to some place new, and everything looks just the same”
Rating 7/10

Down By Law (1986)
Rewatch. The sequence with the three guys in jail is the highlight. Perhaps Jarmusch’s most quotable film. The last act feels contrived though, so that's why I gave the film an 8 and not a 9.
Favorite quote: "If looks can kill, I am dead now"
Rating 8/10

To Have and Have Not (1944)
Excellent performances by Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Walter Brennan. While I really liked the chemistry, the dialogue at times is too over-explanatory, fewer words could have been used. A film that would hold up to rewatching, even though the setting feels similar to Casablanca (1942)
Rating 7.5/10

Tracks (2013)
The film is not bad, yet a bit forgettable. Based on a true story. Always reliable Mia Wasikowska gives a strong performance as woman who goes on a long and daring journey across the Australian desert. Robyn Davidson seeks to escape the patronizing gaze of a humanity that tries to fetishise her. To quote Lisa Thatcher in her review
"So while Tracks does its level best to stay out of Robyn Davidson’s way in her great event of self definition, by the very nature of the cameras gaze, we include ourselves in the act she is running from."
Rating 6.5/10

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
A few of the story elements I have seen before in films such as Aliens, Groundhog Day, and the Matrix, yet it’s still a really good action/sci-fi movie, didn’t matter about the repetitiveness, which I thought might be tiresome.
Rating 8/10

Like Father, Like Son (2013)
Interesting dilemma of two families whose children were switched at birth. A very tricky situation to deal with. Especially the two fathers are memorable. The father-son ”doesn’t matter” conversation about why they are father and mother is quietly powerful.
Of the directors other work, Maborosi (1995) I found dull and putt me to sleep. I Wish (2011) I only liked the second half. Like Father, Like Son is a story I think that will appeal to a wider audience.
I haven’t seen Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows (2004) or Still Walking (2008). 
Rating 7.5/10

Goodbye to Language (2014) 
For me, the most pretentious film of 2014, if you can even call it a fully formed film. Jean-Luc Godard's name gives the non-story extra importance.
Perhaps as a homage to the donkey in Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966), a dog wanders around, and over the course of some seasons observes a married woman and a single man as they meet, love, argue and fight. Many scenes of them naked, but the relationship is too vague for me to care what happens to them.
A collection of moments and images the viewer has to make sense of. Some beautiful, some ugly. TV screens in the background but the characters look the other way. Perhaps the constantly changing focus and fleetingness of the film is a comment on the human condition, our days contain random moments with and without meaning. But I didn’t need Godard to tell me that.
I’m sure others will extract deep, philosophical meanings from the film, it’s made in such a way that you can read anything in to it if you want. It follows no rules and cares not for plot. Props that Godard used 3D at the age of 84. I can only comment on the dvd, which wasn’t the theatrical version Godard intended for me to see. I’d love to read a defense of why this film is great and awards worthy.
Favorite quote: “Everyone can stop God from existing, but no one does”
Rating 4/10

Starred Up (2013)
A love it or hate it kind of film, the main characters are quite vile and foul-mouthed. I’ve always loved prison dramas and thought this one was powerful and moving. These characters I would never want to meet in person(scary!), so fascinating for me to get a chance to hang out with them through the medium of film.
Jack O'Connell shines in the lead role as the troubled and violent teenager. The father (Ben Mendelsohn) also gave a great supporting performance, and the relationship with his son is the most memorable aspect. For me, the realism of the story and British prison slang was new, and I read somewhere that it’s more of a prison of the mind as the boy acts a similar way on the outside. 
Of course we’ve seen realism before(Steve McQueen's Hunger), group therapy(1999’s Girl Interrupted) and father/son relationships, with inmates and prison personnel doing bad things(In The Name of The Father), but Starred Up was different to me.
Rating 8/10

Camp X-Ray (2014)
Prison drama. A soldier (played by Kristen Stewart) is assigned to Guantanamo Bay and befriends a man who has been imprisoned there for three years. Better than I expected, I was emotionally involved. Deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
Rating 7.5/10

Leviathan (2014)
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. For me, the audience laughter in the cinema actually was a plus, and helped me enjoy Leviathan more than I might have done by myself. It is a serious drama, but the Russian humour is not something I see every day and was fun to watch.
I'd label Leviathan a drama where the director wanted to have some amusing moments(which an audience may not know how to respond to). Even though I'm not familiar with Russian culture, I compare the film to real life, we joke around, drink or no drink, to keep our spirits up, so we can get through the day.
The last act is too spelled out, which for me prevented it from becoming a great film.
Rating 7.5/10

Foxcatcher (2014)
Overpraised oscar-baity film, the performances are the main attraction. The characters are quite dull, I never sensed they had a life outside of what we see on screen. 
There are maybe 3-4 memorable sequences(breaks the mirror, overeats, and has to lose weight on the bike), (John du Pont and the horses) (the awkward interview with Ruffalo), (the ending).
The tension between Mark Schultz and John du Pont kept me watching, but the film is too long, and with too many boring parts.
“We were his newest trophies. If you didn’t want to be displayed on his wall, he threatened to ruin you,” Schultz writes in his autobiography, also called Foxcatcher.
Rating 6/10

The Lunchbox (2013)
Heartwarming film set in India, I liked and cared about the characters. Could easily rewatch in future.
Rating 8/10

Seen any of these? Agree or disagree? Watched anything great in January? As always, comments are welcome


  1. I requested Lunchbox from Netflix, based on a student's review, but I didn't get a chance to watch it. And I've been hearing a lot of underwhelming things about Turner. it's a shame -- I love Mike Leigh.

    1. @Irene: The Lunchbox is a sweet movie, and worth seeing. Hope you get a chance to catch it soon!
      Yes, I usually love Mike Leigh as well, Mr. Turner was a disappointment. I have read positive reviews, but aside from the cinematography it just didn’t appeal to me.

  2. "Birdman" is a stellar film, one of the best in years. Don't really understand your lack of love for it :(

    1. @Shala: I can admire aspects of Birdman such as the camerawork, but I was not invested emotionally in the characters, and the story underwhelmed me. I’m surprised by all the love for it. I’m in the minority with my opinion. Glad you loved it anyway :)

  3. Breakfast at Tiffany's is definitely worth it for AH's performance. Glad you got to see two Cruise's better movies. Risky Business is a teen classic and Edge of Tomorrow is all sorts of fun.

    1. @Wendell: I couldn't take my eyes off Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and it was only afterwards I realized the male lead George Peppard was the guy with the cigar from the A-Team!
      Indeed, two of Cruise’s better films.

  4. I liked Birdman a little more than you (I'll review it this coming week), but I'd place it around the middle of the 8 nominees.

    I'm afraid I actively disliked Hepburn's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's precisely because she's so self-centered and selfish.

    Snow White is a classic. If you haven't seen it yet, try Blancanieves for a decidely different take on this story.

    I was the perfect age to see Risky Business when it came out and I loved it. Still do. And yes, the Tangerine Dream score is fantastic. "So what is it you want to major in Joel?" "Business."

    I liked Stranger in Paradise and Down by Law, but I prefer other Jarmusch films over them.

    To Have and Have Not is another classic.

    Edge of Tomorrow is far better than a lot of people, who never saw it, gave it credit for. It's got a horrible title, though. It makes it sound like a sopa opera.

    I haven't seen The Lunchbox, but I've got it in my Netflix queue.

    1. @Chip Lary: I haven’t seen all the 8 Best Picture nominees. I have high hopes for Whiplash.

      I expected to like Birdman more than I did. The uninterrupted footage is impressive, but it’s not like they are the first to do it. Enter the Void (2009) impressed me more with its style. I haven’t seen Russian Ark (2002), but that used a single 96-minute Steadicam sequence shot.

      A Hepburn’s character I tolerated because of her charm, the reason for only giving it a 7/10 for me was the story. Mickey Rooney's performance as I.Y. Yunioshi was odd, they should have just used an Asian actor.

      I’ve seen Blancanieves, and really liked it too! Risky Business is one of my favorites from January, glad I finally saw it. Edge of Tomorrow I agree deserves to be seen, especially for fans of sci-fi/action. I enjoyed The Lunchbox, which is not a Bollywood musical, I think it has universal appeal.

  5. Bummer you didn't like Birdman, I didn't find it boring at all and I really felt for Keaton's character. It's ok though, I don't always agree w/ what the critics love ;-) I haven't seen Mr Turner but Another Year bored me to tears, so I don't know how I'd feel about this one. As for Foxcatcher, the performances are indeed the main attraction but the film itself is really too somber for my liking.

    1. @Ruth: Shame about Birdman, I just didn’t care what happened to those characters. I found the journeys they were on uninteresting. It happens I don’t agree with the Academy about which are the year’s best films. I’m not trying to be contrary, we like what we like :) I am rooting for Boyhood and Grand Budapest Hotel on oscar night
      Sorry you didn’t care for Another Year, I guess it just wasn’t for you. It’s actually in my top 25 of all-time!
      Finally some common ground, I think we are more or less on the same page regarding Foxcatcher.

    2. Like you said, we like what we like, no accounting for taste/preference ;) I do like Grand Budapest Hotel, that one is in my Top 10 of the year. I REALLY want to like Another Year as I like the actors in it, but I nearly fell asleep watching it :(

    3. @Ruth: I felt a deep connection to the characters in Another Year, plus I grew up in the UK, so that may explain why it worked for me. Mr Turner on the other hand I felt was slow and dull, and wouldn't recommend

  6. I'm sorry you hated Birdman. I can relate on how sometimes it can be quite too emotional and too much seasoning. I disliked it at first, but then someone mentioned that the Birdman isn't real and it's the voice in his head. So, I think it's about ditching your negativity.

    I love that you love The Lunchbox. It's a good movie and a good foodie movie. Also Breakfast at Tiffany, it's one iconic movie.

    I also just watched The Foxcatcher. I saw it in an exclusive theater and though it was a comfortable watching, the movie wasn't as great. Just worth to see Carell. It's such an overrated one.

    1. @Andina: Well I didn’t hate Birdman. If I hated it I would have walked out before it ended :) I just didn’t think it was one of the best movies of the year, I still gave it 6/10, but didn’t like the characters. They seemed so arrogant and self-centered. The voice in Riggan’s head was quite interesting, but again I didn’t connect on an emotional level.
      Yep, I loved The Lunchbox, indeed a good foodie movie :)
      The performances in Foxcatcher are good, but it wasn’t a film that appealed to me.

  7. Oooooh interesting to see your reviews of Birdman and Foxcatcher. I really liked both but agree that Starred Up deserves a better score than either. As for Goodbye to Language... don't even get me started on that pretentious piece of crap. Jeeeesus it was dreadful. The screening I was at, people were giving it a standing ovation and I couldn't believe my eyes.

    1. @Pete Turner: Haha, yeah, pretentious is the right word for Goodbye to Language. I guess Jean-LucGodard gets a free pass at Cannes due to his prior contributions to the French New Wave.
      Starred Up was not an easy watch, but I liked it a lot more than Birdman and Foxcatcher. I am partial to prison drama though, so there is that.

  8. I watched Edge of Tomorrow last night actually, really enjoyed it.
    As for Mr Turner, I would probably give it the same rating as you. It was a well crafted film but I just didn't get anything out of it.

    1. @Lights Camera Reaction. Sorry for the late reply, I have the flu.

      The photography, acting, and costumes I could appreciate in Mr Turner, but the story didn't come together into a satifying whole for me. Maybe Mike Leigh should have trimmed 30 min of footage from the first hour. Edge of Tommrrow was a nice surprise!

  9. Foxcatcher was a strange film for me. Not an easy watch. The muted colour palette was very pretty, but everything felt really inaccessible for me. It was a weird one.

    Edge of Tomorrow is a really fantastic film - solid sci-fi blockbuster with some great set pieces and good story. I actually believed Emily Blunt could kick the living crap out of those aliens!

    1. @Jaina:
      Foxcatcher, I don't mind bleakness or inaccessibility, but for me they made a boring movie from an intriguing story. I know others LOVED it, so a weird one indeed.

      Glad you too loved Edge of Tomorrow. Blunt was believable as a female warrior :)

  10. Woohoo, I'm not the only one who was just so-so on Birdman! I really liked some aspects of it, but overall I thought it was just too on the nose. Hardly the biting satire that so many are making it out to be.

    I was surprised at how good Risky Business was. Made great use of the "L" train here!

    I agree with you on To Have and Have Not. Really enjoyable because of the performances, though overall it did feel like Casablanca redux.

    Too bad you didn't like Foxcatcher as much. I agree a little could have been taken off of it, but I was hooked the entire time. Absolutely phenomenal performances there.

    I hope to catch up with Leviathan, Starred Up and Palo Alto soon!

    1. Eric @ The Warning Sign:
      I wish I had liked Birdman more, but you have to be honest about your reaction, right? Yes, the satire was quite on the nose. Given the subject matter, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win Best Picture, if Boyhood should happen to miss out.

      Risky Business was better than expected. I’m sure there have been a few lovebirds on the L trains since the movie came out :)

      To Have and Have Not, yeah, I agree

      Foxcatcher is divisive

      Hope you like those other films! Of the three, Starred Up had the biggest impact on me.

  11. Glad you enjoyed Edge of Tomorrow, such a fun and fresh kind of action film.

    I heard Goodbye To Language is meant to be seen in 3D to be appreciated and that you have to be familiar with his filmography to really get it. I'll stay away from this one.

    Agree on Foxcatcher,really boring at times and the acting is not that impressive.

    Should watch The Lunchbox, everyone says how good it is,

    1. @Cristi B: Who knows, maybe Goodbye To Language is slightly more interesting in 3D, I couln't say, as it didn't go to cinemas in my area. All I have is the dvd release. Pete Turner in comments saw it at Cannes in 3D and didn't like it either, so there is that.

      I was ok with the performances in Foxcatcher, but yes, I agree it had some boring parts

      The Lunchbox is a simple, warm movie, that can put a smile on your face

  12. Very interesting set of films Chris.
    I've been meaning to watch Starred Up for a while now, and your mini review only reinforces that. Same can be said for Camp X-Ray and Leviathan, which are all high on my must-watch list.
    I'm glad you enjoyed Edge of Tomorrow. Certainly one of the best sci-fi/action films of the last few years. Like you said, the repetition of scenes worked well even though I was hesitant it would.
    I couldn't agree more with your thoughts on Birdman (which I will include in my February recap). It's overhyped and self-aware. I also could not get into the characters and felt no connection to any of them.
    Palo Alto was an interesting watch even though the pacing of it was a bit too tedious for me. I wouldn't be so quick to say that James Franco plays true to life, I mean, it was one episode and it did not go further than that. He said he did not know the girl was that young, and why would anyone post a video of it anyway? It looked to me as if someone was just trying to get famous.
    Also interesting to read your thoughts on Foxcatcher, which has been praised by a lot of people. Maybe it is good that I have delayed watching it.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. @niels85: I love films set in prison, Starred Up and Camp X-Ray both worked for me.
      I liked certain aspects of Leviathan.

      Edge of Tomorrow will probably feature on my upcoming Best of 2014 list

      Yep, most in the blogosphere appeared to praise Birdman, I really didn't see what all the fuss was about. I didn't care much about the characters. It was all too forced.

      Maybe I was too quick to pass judgement on James Franco, I've never met the guy. Give him the benefit of the doubt I suppose!

      Foxcatcher feels a bit oscar-baity, the performances are the main attraction. I couldn't even bring myself to finish Capote or Moneyball, so I'm thinking Bennett Miller's directorial style just isn't for me. Don't let my tepid reaction stop you from giving it a shot. Who knows, maybe you'll appreciate it.

      You're welcome!

  13. Awesome month of films! Sorry you didn't like Birdman and Mr. Turner more, but I'm so glad you liked Palo Alto, To Have and Have Not, Starred Up, Leviathan, and Edge of Tomorrow. Thrilled that you liked Wasikowska's performance in Tracks, by the way. It gets better the more I think about it.

    1. @Josh: Thanks! Mia Wasikowska was believable for sure in Tracks. Empowering stuff. Her performances improve the films she’s in. Robyn Davidson's memoir probably captured the inner emotions of her journey a bit better though. A good film, but for me, not quite a great film.


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