Thursday, December 01, 2016

Movie Journal: November

November was another month focused primarily on catching up with 2016 releases, with all but three of the twenty-four I watched coming out in the last twelve months. As is so often the case, a year that looked like it might be barren in August looks positively flush in November, as a consensus about the best films begins to form, and seemingly every week a film comes out which seems determined to shake up any established sense of order. It's chaotic and beautiful and it's my favourite period of the film calendar.

The worst film I saw this month was Mick Jackson's Denial, a moribund courtroom drama recounting the real case of a historian (Rachel Weisz) who was sued by Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) - not to be confused with the defensive end for the Cowboys - for libel after she accurately described his beliefs and methods. It's a compelling story, but one which is retold with little drive or power, wasting a great cast on material that couldn't be more important, but which winds up feeling trivial. Not merely bad, but wholly inadequate.

Now, lets talk about that good good stuff. Here are the ten best films I watched for the first time in November of 2016.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Film Review: Moana (2016)

Halfway through Moana, the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) derisively calls the eponymous character (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) "princess". She says that she isn't a princess, she's the daughter of a chief, and while Maui isn't swayed by the distinction, it's an important one to Moana - it's the latest example of man trying to define who she is, and in doing so underestimating her - but also for the film around her. "Princess" comes laden with certain expectations about responsibilities, behaviours, and decorum, just as the notion of a "Disney Princess" is associated with a certain kind of storytelling.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Film Review: De Palma (2015)

Documentaries about directors are relatively rare considering how often filmmakers like to talk about their craft, and good ones are even harder to find. That's partly because even the great directors run out of good production stories eventually - sure, Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark were fraught with disaster, but how many people really want to hear about the production of Always or The Terminal? But it's also because the subjects often want to present their work in a positive light, either due to nebulous concerns about their legacy, or because they are afraid that excess honesty might burn bridges and make it harder for them to work. That kind of mild self-censorship might be prudent, but it can get in the way of genuine insight.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Film Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

In addition to being the fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange plays out like a microcosm of the juggernaut that birthed it. Like the MCU itself, Strange starts out relatively normal, gets odder as it goes along, is plagued by a lack of compelling antagonists, and is better at wry comedy than action or spectacle. For all the flashes of weirdness that are allowed to creep in around the edges, it is a quintessential Marvel movie, with all the positives and problems that entails.

Film Review: Into the Inferno (2016)

Considering his reputation as our foremost chronicler of Man's place in/battle with nature - one which may be defined more by the alt comedy world's fascination with him than by his actual work - it's surprising how little Werner Herzog's presence is felt in his latest, the Netflix documentary Into the Inferno. Sure, his unmistakable Bavarian drone carries the film along, and the subject matter - the destructive/cultural power of volcanoes - is perfectly suited to his unique blend of boundless curiosity and aching pessimism, but he's an almost entirely off-screen presence, and there's little sense of his personal involvement with the project. For the most part, the focus is on volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, who serves as presenter, expert and audience surrogate as he travels the world, investigating different active volcanoes and placing them in a global, historical context.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Movie Journal: October

Queen of Katwe
It's the most wonderful time of the year...

No, not because Christmas is just around the corner (though that is a plus) but because it's awards season! Good films are finally coming out again! After what has been one of the more dispiriting summers in recent memory, the next couple of months look phenomenal and the slow drip of interesting, challenging movies started in October, as reflected by this month's list, which is less reliant on non-2016 films than usual.

In total, I watched 22 films this month, 21 of which were first time viewings. The lone rewatch was of James Whale's Frankenstein, which I hadn't seen in about a decade, and was even more haunting and gorgeous than I remembered. Karloff's performance as The Monster is one for the ages, not merely because he's convincing as a hulking mass of murderous potential, but because he also makes The Monster's fear as he's trapped in a burning building feel palpably real.

The worst film I watched was Finian's Rainbow, Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of the 1947 musical about an Irish couple (Fred Astaire and Petula Clark) coming to America, pursued by a Leprechaun (Tommy Steele, in what may be the most grating performance ever committed to celluloid) and interrupting the lives of a small town while singing terrible, forgettable songs. Also, there's blackface for some reason. A thoroughly dispiriting watch, though it's weirdly inspirational; Coppola was only four years away from making The Godfather, after all, so anything is possible.

Without any further ado, let's talk about the best films I watched in October, 2016.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Movie Journal: September

Hell or High Water
Oh shit, a movie journal that's more or less on time! That's what happens when you go on holiday for a few weeks and have a little bit of time to actually put one of these things together!

Said holiday did eat into my film viewing for the month, however, since I watched a relatively paltry 27 films in September, four of which were rewatches. For the record, those rewatches were of Pan's Labyrinth, which I watched for Shot/Reverse Shot purposes; The General, because I've been on a Keaton kick lately and wanted to revisit it for the first time in a decade; Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, just because; and The War Room, which for some reason I find myself revisiting every four years. (I also wanted to refresh my memory in advance of watching the Documentary Now! pastiche of it, "The Bunker", which was unsurprisingly perfect.) All four were great, for very different reasons.

Of the new to me films I watched this month, the worst was Cimarron, the 1931 Western which is only really notable for winning Best Picture that year. As a film, it's a drab epic of American expansionism which covers 40 years but feels like it takes 50 to watch. There's a few fun, eccentric performances in the mix, but Richard Dix and Irene Dunne make for pretty boring leads, and their strained marriage isn't a strong enough backbone to sustain a movie that's light on substance or fun.

(X-Men: Apocalypse ran a close second for worst film of the month, but I'm going to write a review of that later because I feel like its shittiness can't be easily summarised in a single paragraph. Make no mistake, though: it's pretty bad, and would be the worst X-Men-associated movie if the first Wolverine film wasn't there giving it a low bar to clear.)

Enough of the bad stuff, here are the ten best films I watched for the first time in September, 2016.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Film Review: Sully (2016)

As a recreation of an historical event and the man at its centre, Clint Eastwood's Sully is perfectly molded to its subject matter. It's a workmanlike, professional exercise in storytelling that is upended by a single event; the fateful day in January, 2009 when the engine of Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's (Tom Hanks) plane was taken out by a bird strike, requiring him to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River, which he achieved without losing any of the one hundred and fifty-five lives on board.

Movie Journal: August

Wendy and Lucy
I'm somewhat late on this month's movie journal on account of work, and since I'm going to be spending much of the next week traveling and going to comedy shows, I thought I'd better write this now otherwise I'll be writing about films I saw in August in October, and that isn't a good look.

August was easily my weakest month for movies this year. Due to a hectic few weeks, I only managed to squeeze in 20 films throughout the month, one of which was Suicide Squad, far and away the worst film I've seen so far this year, and one of the most miserable cinematic experiences I can remember. I already spent two whole episodes of Shot/Reverse Shot talking about why it's terrible in and of itself and representative of everything wrong with blockbuster filmmaking, so let's leave it at that.

I also re-watched Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons for the first time in about a decade and it was roughly ten times better than I remembered. Admittedly, I remembered it being really good, but I didn't remember it being brilliant (until the tacked on happy ending, which is hilariously obvious and ill-fitting). It's easy to obsess over the fact that it's an incomplete work because swathes of it were cut and destroyed over seventy years ago, but focusing on the lost masterpiece that no one living has seen can only distract from the masterpiece that we actually have. It also reminded me of how much I enjoy the scene in The Squid in the Whale in which Jesse Eisenberg tries to impress a girl by bragging about having only seen stills of the film, a scene I think of very often because it's not a million miles away from what I was like as a teenager.

Right, let's get down to business. Here are the ten best films I watched for the first time in August.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Film Review: Weiner (2016)

In art and politics, timing is crucial. A gaffe or scandal at the wrong moment can sink a candidate, or be forgotten in a matter of days, depending on when it happens. Sometimes the difference between a boring documentary and a compelling one comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Both good and bad timing are in full effect in Weiner, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's documentary about Anthony Weiner's ill-fated run for Mayor of New York in 2013, two years after he resigned from Congress amidst a sexting scandal. It was great timing for the filmmakers since production started as Weiner entered the race and was riding high in the polls, which in turn allowed them to be at the epicentre when a second sexting scandal fatally derailed his campaign. It was bad timing for the candidate, obviously, because he's not looking ahead to his re-election campaign right now.