Sunday, August 28, 2016

Movie Journal: July

The Witch
Another late entry into this series, though one which is at least slightly less late than the June journal was. It's a shame, really, because July was easily the best month of the year for me in terms of the quality of movies I watched, so much so that I struggled to narrow this list down to just ten. For the record, films which just missed the cut include: Ghostbusters (2016), No Home Movie (2015), L'inhumaine (1924), Call Me Kuchu (2012) and Real Life (1979).

The worst film I watched in July was The Trip, Roger Corman's 1967 dalliance with psychedelia and LSD that is most notable for featuring such soon-to-be luminaries as Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern, and for being written by another future legend, Jack Nicholson. Any film with that pool of talent at its disposal is going to have some worthwhile stuff in it, and the last twenty minutes or so, when Fonda's character descends into a prolonged and disjointed acid trip that possibly destroys his mind, is visceral and brilliant in its use of abstract, associative editing. But it's a long and dull road to get to the one good part of the film.

I also watched Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which I didn't think was as bad as most of the Internet did. It's not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a lot more fun than Man of Steel (it would almost have to be, admittedly) and it has the courtesy to be bad in interesting ways. Taken as a whole, it's an awful mess, but there are some individual scenes and sequences - most of them featuring Ben Affleck's Batman - that work really well, and I could see myself rewatching it dozens of times before I sat through even one minute of Zack Snyder's first Superman story again.

Now, let's get to the good stuff. Here are the ten best films I watched for the first time in July.

Movie Journal: June

The Lovers on the Bridge
I think it's fair to say that I've fallen off a little bit when it comes to these monthly journals, and this blog in general. In my defense, the last month or so has been pretty hectic with work (not to mention that I've spent way too much time delving into the ins and outs of the Presidential election, an occupation which is much too stressful to do without being paid), but that's not really much of an excuse considering I still managed to find time to watch a lot of films during that same time period, and these posts generally don't take that long to knock together. Here's hoping that I can finish the year off strong after this summer stumble.

I watched 33 films in June, and the worst of them was Stanley Kramer's On The Beach. Aside from the fact that the title caused me to constantly think of this sick guitar lick, which was a distraction even if it wasn't the film's fault, it was such a drab, dreary experience. Even for a film about people waiting to die from radiation poisoning, which has never been the perkiest of sub-genres, it proceeds at such a ponderous pace that it bores long before it has a chance to lecture on the absurdity of nuclear war. Kramer more ably balanced social commentary and genre filmmaking with The Defiant Ones and Judgement At Nuremberg. Here, the results are too turgid to contemplate.

Right, on to the good films I watched in June.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Halftime Top 10

O.J.: Made in America

Even though January of 2016 now seems like it happened 15 years ago, we are somehow only halfway through this fucking year, which means that it's a good time to look back over the last six months and consider how the year is shaping up, film-wise.

The answer is "not great", as evidenced by the fact that my number one film is arguably not actually a film, and the slate of mainstream fare has been pretty woeful with a few bright sparks dotted around the place. Still, there's plenty of promising stuff on the horizon - Manchester by the Sea! Rogue One! Kubo and the Two Strings! Moana! La La Land! - and I still have to catch up on a bunch of films that I haven't had a chance to see/haven't played anywhere near me (my anticipation for Green Room remains sky high), so there's still plenty of time for 2016 to sort itself out. 

Right, let's get to the top ten.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Film Review: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

In creating a mockumentary about the rise and fall (then rise) of a vainglorious pop superstar, The Lonely Island (a.k.a. Saturday Night Live alumni Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) set themselves a dauntingly high bar. By making a faux-documentary set in the world of popular music and all the ridiculousness that comes along with it, they invite comparisons with This Is Spinal Tap, a beloved cult classic whose influence on the mockumentary format continues to this day. It takes an admirable confidence to want to be compared to the very best, but it also invites a level of scrutiny that goofy comedies usually try to avoid.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Movie Journal: May

Isabelle Adjani in Possession (1981)
I watched 38 films in May, which breaks down into 31 features and 7 shorts. One of those viewings was a rewatch of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, a film that I love more and more with each viewing, and which I find myself revisiting every few years. In addition to being an emotionally draining experience and a virtuoso display of editing and pacing (it's three hours long and it feels like maybe half that), I always forget at least five or six of the famous actors who are in it, so even though I know the layout of the film pretty well at this point, it's still able to surprise. It also gets funnier and funnier with each viewing, possibly because the story gets a little less overwhelming each time, so the genuinely funny moments don't get lost as easily as they did on my first viewing.

The worst film I watched all month was David A. Stewart's Honest, which I watched purely to discuss it on this episode of Shot/Reverse Shot. As bad as a Swinging London-set film, shot by The Other One from Eurythmics, starring three-quarters of All Saints and drenched in all the worst excesses of post-Guy Ritchie British gangster films may sound, I was still surprised by how dreary the whole thing was. I was hoping for camp value - and it does deliver that during a climactic scene involving the Irish neighbour from Shameless, a machete and a fortuitous watermelon - but for the most part it's just incompetent enough to be bad, but not incompetent enough to be compelling.

Fair play to the supporting actors, though, many of whom have gone on to find work in things like the Twilight series, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, instead of having their careers fatally derailed by association.

Now, to the good stuff. Here are the ten best films that I watched for the very first time in May of 2016.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Movie Journal: April

Owing to a combination of work and family, this was a comparatively light month for me when it came to movie watching. I only watched 20 films that were new to me, though they all were of a pretty high quality so it balances out. Even the worst film I watched this month - Dheeraj Akolkar's Liv & Ingmar - wasn't bad per se, it was just a fairly middling documentary about two great artists that I hoped would be better. It did make me want to watch (or rewatch) a bunch of Ingmar Bergman films in the near future, so that's one positive to come out of an otherwise not especially enlightening experience.

Maybe my most significant viewing this month (aside from the ten listed below) was my rewatch (well, rewatches, since I watched it twice in one day) of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Everything I loved the first time - its energy, the new characters, the fact that everyone involved seems so excited to be making a Star Wars movie - was still present and correct, while the stuff that bothered me - the way the film stops dead every time an old character appears, the entire third act - didn't bother me as much. Its place as my third favourite Star Wars film is increasingly secure.

Right, to the business at hand. Here are the ten best films that I watched for the first time in April, 2016.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Film Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

One of the more surprising (not to mention lucrative) developments in recent years has been Walt Disney's decision to reach back into their cavernous back catalogue to create live-action versions of their animated classics. It's surprising both because of how successful those films have been (most notably Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, which grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide back in 2010), but also because it's such a simple idea that it feels like it should have happened ten times over already. With a steady stream of similar adaptations due over the next couple of years (some of which make more sense than others), Disney's nostalgia-mining looks set to continue for some time. We can only hope that the next installments display as much love and wit as Jon Favreau's take on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Or, more accurately, his take on the 1967 Disney version of The Jungle Book, since the story and design of Favreau's film has much more in common with that than the original stories.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Film Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

When the first trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane appeared mere weeks before the film was due to come out - a shocking turn of events in an age of drip-feeding information, release dates being announced years in advance, and teasers for trailers for movies that won't come out for many months - and once it became clear that it wasn't a direct sequel to Matt Reeves' Cloverfield, the first thing I thought of, as is so often the case, was Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The third installment in the venerable horror franchise created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill is most famous for being the only one not to feature the character of Michael Myers, instead focusing on a supernatural storyline that had nothing to do with the slasher genre that defined (and was defined by) the previous films.

Film Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Early in Hail, Caesar!, Joel and Ethan Coen's farce set at an MGM-esque movie studio in the early 1950s, the narrator (Michael Gambon) refers to the films overseen by producer/fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as pieces of gossamer. It's a poignant phrase to describe the kind of shimmering popular entertainment being cranked out by the fictional Capitol Pictures, but it also feels like the Coens are lampshading how light and frivolous Hail, Caesar! feels compared to some of their other films. Much as Woody Allen ended You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger by invoking Shakespeare's line about sound and fury, or the Coens ended their own Burn After Reading by having J.K. Simmons acknowledge that the story didn't amount to much, the "gossamer" line feels like a pre-emptive apology for the film which contains it.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Movie Journal: March

Much of my viewing this month was driven by an overwhelming desire to fill in some gaps in my knowledge of the French New Wave. I'd watched most of Godard's major work from the '60s and basically everything that Truffaut made, but the death of Jacques Rivette in January made me realise that there were some big names from the movement whose work I had never seen. Starting with Rivette's Paris Belongs to Us (which didn't make the top ten for the month but is still great), I started rinsing Hulu's selection of Criterion titles in order to see as many of the unseen films from the period as possible. So far, it's a decision I've been very happy with, and I would not be surprised if future journal entries end up being very French indeed.

After a subdued February I tried to make up for it with a hectic March. As such, I watched 31 new films this month, along with a long overdue rewatch of North by Northwest, which remains sublime even though I'm not sure if I'd include it in my top 10 Hitchcock films. Definitely would make the top 20, though. I mean, probably.

The worst film I saw in March was the Thai horror film Shutter, which I decided to watch purely because it was expiring from my Hulu queue. This is more of a relativistic assessment than the result of the film being egregiously bad. It's an effectively creepy ghost story with plenty of jump scares that genuinely freaked me out. The problem is that it has only one trick (a moment of silence is followed immediately by the sudden appearance of a horrible looking ghost, accompanied by loud music) and when every scare in a film is essentially the same, it gets a little tiresome by the end. In the case of Shutter, it goes beyond tiresome and ends up being kind of funny, particularly during the last half hour, when each of the ghost's appearances feel more and more like the Scary Movie parodies that would have been made if Shutter had been a big enough phenomenon to warrant the lazy mockery.

And now, here are the ten best films I watched for the first time in March of 2016.