Monthly recap February

Spotlight (2015) (Tom McCarthy)
Best Picture winner. The movie is predictable, and told in a good vs bad way that you root for the journalists and can’t be in favor of the priests. The suspense is the best thing it has going for it, especially when Ruffalo is given an off-the-record lead at about 75 min into the film. The thriller/investigative aspect was also the strength of All The President Men (1976), which the film is influenced by. The scene between Tucci and Ruffalo reminded me of the Donald Sutherland and Kevin Costner bench scene in JFK (1991).
Spotlight is not a good as its influences, but there is a memorable sequence when a journalist reads an address and realizes the ugliness is close to his home in a nearby street. He runs over there and attaches a warning on the fridge to the kids. That part works on a cinematic level, whereas a lot of other scenes are forgettable. I expected the church would attempt to sabotage the journalists, but that was mostly cover up rather than explicit threats.
Could put you off supporting the Catholic church. A shame those priests tarnished the loving message of Christianity. You may also feel uncomfortable listening to a children’s choir which plays as part of the soundtrack.
Spotlight is what I would label a “consensus movie”. Almost everyone already agrees what the priests did is wrong and that the cover up was unacceptable. The film could have done more to show how the victims’ lives were affected, and then the audience would have understood the trauma better. However they were shamed into silence and if they had focused a lot on the victims, the end scene wouldn't have had the same impact.
For me, it's not the best film about the subject matter. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012) was a powerful documentary where I felt the victim's pain.
Of course, the message of Spotlight is important so these tragic events stop happening. The film also draws attention to the continued need for investigative journalism.
Rating 7/10

The Martian (2015) (Ridley Scott)
Not a game changer, and follows the formula of other mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, but is entertaining enough. The power of the human spirit when faced with adversity is so overplayed at this point it’s a total cliché come awards season. The ingenuity in how to survive in tough conditions kept me interested. Has been labelled a comedy, the only time I remember smiling was when he made some dance moves to the disco music. Matt Damon is convincing and the scenes on Mars are believable.
Got to say, I’m not for a Mars mission, which to me is a first world problem.  I know it's fiction, but I’m sickened that so many millions could be spent on rescuing an astronaut. People die of hunger on earth every hour in Africa. What should the money go towards? A white American to save NASA's reputation or 500 starving Africans? Interstellar justifies going far into space because earth is polluted. The Martian is simply NASA spending a bunch of money on unnecessary exploring. This article agrees with me, why go to Mars? 
Another reviewer commented: “For a film purportedly about the value of human life, there’s practically no interest in human behavior”
Rating 6/10

Wonderland (1999) (Michael Winterbottom)
Included on Time Out's list of the 100 best British films. The filmmaking feels very turn of the century, with its intersecting stories telling us of the pressures of marriage, children, pregnancy and the search for love. Remember this was the time of Traffic (2000), Magnolia (1999), The Hours (2002), Amores Perros (2000), Happiness (1998), and Go (1999).
I liked the first date between Gina McKee and Stuart Townsend which had warmth and struck a chord. A film that at first glance seems bland, but certain scenes stuck with me, both the heart-warming and the vile moments. And yet you realize why they are frustrated and do mean things. Although you can read many things into the stories, I see it foremost as a film about loneliness and the search for those who make you feel good about yourself, where you don't have to try so hard and can just be yourself. The neatness of the last act brought my rating down, but it's still an engaging two hours. Nyman's score works well in Wonderland, and stirs the emotions.
If you are a Londoner you may recognize places here and there. Alex at Boycotting Trends championed the film in his article about London in film, which you can read here
Rating 7/10

John Wick (2014) (Chad Stahelski)
Better than I expected. A return to the simple action movies of days gone by. A man with nothing to lose like John Wick is a dangerous prospect. The scene when he digs his weapons out from under the floor was like a metaphor for the past we try and forget deep inside of ourselves but which is still in there. A movie that could dissuade people from breaking into people's houses or stealing a car.
Rating 8/10

Sense and Sensibility (1995) (Ang Lee)
A captivating adaptation of Jane Austen's book. The scene when Emma Thompson breaks down is very moving, and I was glued to the screen the entire time. These are characters that stayed with me long after the film was over. There are also comedic moments which I wasn't expecting.
Rating 9/10

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) (Joseph Sargent)
This is how suspense thrillers should be made. The tension is held until the nail-biting conclusion. The rare film when you root for both sides.
Inspired the color names in Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992). The criminals call themselves Mr Blue and so on.
Rating 9/10

Black Hawk Down (2001) (Ridley Scott)
As exciting as the best thrillers, and these soldiers deserve respect for the bravery they showed, but should I be enjoying this war?
Rating 8/10

Closer (2004) (Mike Nichols)
Hated the shallow and unpleasant characters, and has an implausible story. London is a huge city so meeting on an online chat room by chance in that way would not happen.
Rating 5/10

Philadelphia (1993) (Jonathan Demme)
Rewatch. Well-acted, and does a good job of humanizing gays and aids victims, but too predictable.
It’s an above average movie because he is not an angel, but a man who made mistakes. Likewise Denzel’s character is flawed and openly homophobic. A weakness is Antonio Banderas’ character is underdeveloped.
I didn’t enjoy the close-ups with the actors staring directly at the camera, but it’s an important film. Fantastic use of music at the beginning and at the end of the movie.
Favorite quote: “Will someone please explain that to me. Like I’m a six-year-old”
Rating 7.5/10

The Fisher King (1991) (Terry Gilliam)
Rewatch. Not as good as I remembered. A cult classic I've just grown out of. Overly sentimental. 
Rating 6/10

Timecrimes (2007) (Nacho Vigalondo)
Rewatch. Interesting time travel concept, and I liked the cartoonish storytelling. Unfortunately the last act was unsatisfying and felt incomplete, which brings my grade down a notch.
Rating 7/10

Diva (1981) (Jean-Jacques Beineix)
I love the visual style and neon-lit Paris. The story had some contrived moments and was also too drawn-out. Kudos for keeping the info on the tape a secret for so long. There’s an exciting moped chase sequence in the metro. The walk taken by Jules and Cynthia across the city includes a beautiful piano piece by Vladimir Cosma.
Not quite as good as the director’s later effort Betty Blue (see review below), but Diva is still gorgeous and pleasing to look like paintings in an art gallery. I love early 80s cinema for the style, and Diva has quite a lot in common with films such as Blade Runner (1982) or The Hunger (1983).
Rating 8/10

Betty Blue 37°2 le matin (1986) (Jean-Jacques Beineix)
February blind spot review
Rating 8/10

Kundskabens Træ aka Tree of Knowledge (1981) (Nils Malmros)
A Danish classic. The filmmakers present the situations without judgement. A realistic coming of age story that works but feels somewhat redundant because I had already experienced these situations. The value it has today is you can relive your past and a time capsule of how it was to grow up in the 1950s in Denmark. In that way it’s timeless. I admire this film more than I enjoyed it.
Rating 8/10

Mifunes Sidste Sang (1999) (Søren Kragh-Jacobsen)
Rewatch. You could call it a Danish version of Rain Man (1988), without the road movie aspect, but with a touch of Black Christmas (1974) sprinkled on top.
Rating 6.5/10

Klovn: The Movie (2010) (Mikkel Nørgaard)
A vulgar Danish comedy in bad taste, with funny moments. Based on characters from the TV-series of the same name (which I have not seen)
Rating 7/10

I Am Curious / Jag är nyfiken - en film i gult (1967) (Vilgot Sjöman)
About a 20 year old who is curious about politics and her own sexuality. There are some good observations about society, such as those born with disadvantages, and how unfair life is, we have no choice how smart or loving our parents are.
Questions how can you justify military service when non-violent protesting is a big deal, and so on.
Seems in order to put bums on seats the filmmakers decided to have the erotic moments juxtaposition with the intellectual aspects.
Tough to tell what is part of the characters real life and what is staged. An early example of mockumentary. Features interviews with Olof Palme and Martin Luther King.
Rating 7.5

Reprise (2006) (Joachim Trier)
Rewatch. Better than I remembered. About the difficulty of being a writer while also maintaining relationships. Even though it's about creative people, the story is relatable to those who have been young and in love, trying to find out what they want out of life.
Frustration at feeling like lesser imitators rather than the great writers they admire.  Also is about how you can come around to liking someone, despite hating them on first encounter. In your youth you can be rebellious towards dull family life with TV dinners, mock people who no longer read/write or listen to punk, yet later becoming the very thing you criticize! Love can hurt you and friendships can encourage you. There are also smaller relatable moments, such as a parent tidying up his belongings, saying it's for the best, but causing annoyance. Besides that, there are quite a lot of references to various books which I found interesting.
Rating 8.5/10

My Life as a Dog (Swedish: Mitt Liv Som Hund) (1985) (Lasse Hallström)
Sweet coming of age story with also sad moments. Set in the late 1950s.  Despite its name, I wasn’t invested emotionally in the dog Sickan at all. Apparently the title must be because the boy barks for fun. The story was quite slow-paced. I finished it, but was a slog.
There are those who have expressed love for the film. I’m not sure why I didn’t like it more, because it seems to do most things well. The funniest scenes are in the last 20 min, involving a newly purchased TV and winter bathing.
Rating 6.5/10

The Simple-Minded Murderer  (Swedish: Den enfaldige mördaren)  (1982) (Hans Alfredson)
Swedish classic which take place in 1930's Skåne, Sweden. A breakthrough performance by Stellan Skarsgård. The title is misleading, it’s not really about the murder, but WHY he becomes a murderer.
What I took away was a man labelled a simpleton who in fact was not. However, not many realized he had thoughts of his own. And yet later in the film he does behave as a fool which was a bit confusing to me. Maybe I’m overthinking it. An example of how oddballs were mistreated in those times. Sad to see him treated as an animal when he cleared wanted a better life. There are similarities to the 1987 film Pelle the Conqueror, with the unfaithful husband and oppressed workers at the farm.
Rating 7/10

It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012) (Don Hertzfeldt)
Powerful yet intense. A collection of random moments and dreams in the life of Bill, told in rapid pace with voice-over narration.  The trilogy which has been edited together into a 62 min film definitely has that “need to see multiple times” vibe about it.

Everything will be OK (2006)
First part of the trilogy, about the tragi-comic life of Bill. An interesting thought, if the memories in our brain are lost when we die, or remain in the tissue.
Comparable to Requiem for a Dream (2000), Bill seems to be losing his mind, and we get to experience this mental breakdown as if we are inside his head. Quite disturbing.

I Am So Proud of You (2008)
Second part of trilogy and my favorite. Again very intense, every frame is packed with detail and story. Delves into Bill’s family history, and Bill’s continued journey through life.
The guy who uses a machine to move the leaves while Bill looks on was hilarious.
Favorite quote: “You will only get older”

It's Such a Beautiful Day (2011)
Third part of the trilogy. Chronicles Bill’s continued health problems. The first 10-12 minutes are unmemorable, but then about midway the film goes in an unexpected direction. Not as funny as the two previous installments. Although I did love the part about what would he do if he was immortal.
Rating of trilogy 8.5/10

What do you think? Agree or disagree? As always comments are welcome


  1. A lot of movies, Chris.
    I liked the Martian a lot more than you did, but I am also a sucker for real science in movies.
    Kundskabens træ is a true classic, maybe the best Malmros ever did (together with Zappa). I always felt terribly sorry for the girl.
    Not a fan of Klovn. Mandrilaftalen was great, Klovn stinks.

    1. @TSorensen: I appreciate how believable Mars looked and his ability to” science the shit out of this” was captured well, but the film to me was just another blockbuster. I didn’t feel his desperation and knew from the start how it would end.

      Yes, the girl in Kundskabens Træ was shut out and I felt sad for her too. I have Zappa on my watchlist. I would also list Sorg and Glæde among the best Malmros films.

  2. You've watched quite the range, good for you!

    1. @Rebecca: Thank you, I try to mix it up!

  3. So many to comment on. Agree on Spotlight. Liked The Martian more (and it's definitely not a comedy, despite the Golden Globes nom). Agree on John Wick and Sense & Sensibility. Didn't get into Pelham or Black Hawk Down as much as you. Agree on Closer and Philadelphia. Only saw Fisher King once, so don't know my reaction to a rewatch like you. Like TimeCrimes a little more. Didn't like Diva as much. Don't remember much from Mifune (saw it over 15 years ago). I've seen I Am Curious (Yellow) but remember nothing. (Watched it as a young adult decades ago to see how explicit it was). Liked My Life as a Dog more. Liked the third part of It's Such a Beautiful Day the most. Wasn't moved that much by the first two parts.

    1. @Chip: Yep, The Martian is not a comedy. The third part of It’s Such A Beautiful Day I need to rewatch, I was jaded at that point because the film is so intense. The ending is brillant about what would he do if he was immortal.
      Mifune is about a son who returns home because his father died. He finds his handicapped brother. It’s quite funny in places, although the similarities to Rain Man are obvious.

  4. whoa hate Closer that much? I didn't love it but I didn't hate it too. But when the cable plays it, I watch it just for the performances.

    Spotlight focused on a sensitive matter, revealing the facts maybe just enough to cover just how 'bad' how they uncover the church's issue. Besides, they are journalists so it's a bit 'neutral' or without much drama. they are pretty clever, ending the story like that because to continue it's going to open another chapter (or perhaps the issue is still happening now, I don't know).

    1. @Andina: I guess the performances are good in Closer, I just didn’t like the characters.
      Yeah, the ending of Spotlight with the list is effective and disturbing. Hopefully the film can make a difference in real life.

  5. I'm glad you liked Sense and Sensibility so much. It's one of my favorite movies.

  6. Oh, I still need to watch the Hertzfeldt trilogy, as well as Mea Maxima Culpa. Thrilled that you loved Sense and Sensibility and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. I rewatched Closer last year, and I still love it (for the performances alone), though it feels a little dated now.

    1. @Josh: Sorry for the belated response. A month of great discoveries! I don’t often have 4 films with an 8.5 rating or above. Don Hertzfeldt trilogy is certainly original. Sense & S made me all warm inside and at the other end of the spectrum disturbing Mea Maxima Culpa shook me to the core. Taking of Pelham One Two Three was a fun ride, really entertaining. Closer just felt impersonal the way the characters behaved, maybe that was Mike Nichols' intention, who knows.


What do you think about the post? I look forward to hearing from you. Rest assured I will reply soon.


Related Posts with Thumbnails