1 January 2014

Films Seen 2013: October, November, December

Films I saw in October, November and December 2013. The format is: film title (English lang. and/or original language where required — occasionally a film's alternative title, too); director(s) and year; whether it's a rewatch; numerical grade out of 10 (all grading is subject to change, of course, and intended as merely a personal indicator/reminder). Titles in bold indicate that the film is, by and large, a 2013 UK first release or is eligible for year-end inclusion. Films are listed as seen chronologically, viewed from bottom to top.

Blancanieves (Pablo Berger/2012) 8
Quite something! All the filmmaking aspects — visual, aural, thematic etc — converge with spellbinding effect. Lovely and moving.

Machete (Ethan Maniquis/2010) 4
It was watchable yet entirely forgettable. Don't know why it stopped the faux scratched-up film effect after 10 minutes, but glad it did. (Fake exploitation nostalgia got tired quick; give me the real deal any day.) It mainly proved that 90% of what De Niro's done since 1995 has been utter dross and that Lindsay Lohan really isn't any kind of actress.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Adam McKay/2013) 5
Scores well with many of its dafter gags, but misses with several others. It stretches itself thin at 2 hours. Cameos were fun enough.

The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola/2013) 4
Slim on ideas, short on interest. Coppola coasting. Unsure it delivers its argument well. The most vacuous film of the year.

47 Ronin (Carl Rinsch/2013) 6
Plot nowt to shout about, but I enjoyed the demons, beasts and witches. Good swordplay too. Enjoyable romp, but with perhaps a few iffy edges.

My Name Is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis/1945) 7
A breezy smalltime noir, compact and swiftly paced. Nina Foch suffers well. Each plot turn is effective and gripping.

Whistle and I'll Come to You

Whistle and I'll Come to You (Jonathan Miller/1968) 7 short/tv
Michael Hordern does the stuffy prof role with ease. Director Miller nicely ekes out the ominous mundanity. Frightful.

The Signalman (Lawrence Gordon Clark/1976) 7 short/tv
There's something in the way Denholm Elliott merely speaks that unnerves, but The Figure, his face and the tunnel ratchet it up.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller2013) 6
It's like a two-hour 'inspirational' camera advert, but has lovely moments of affecting pause and playful ad lib.

The Tractate Middoth (Mark Gatiss/2013) 7 short/tv
Stuff  Downton Abbey, Lark Rise to Midwifemarch or whatever, I'd like to see more period TV (short/mini films) like BBC's Ghost Story for Christmas. They should be seasonal — weekly even. This was beautifully, tautly directed and expertly acted. It looked great. Simple shots of swirling dust particles and slow-creeping shadows were turned into terrifying images. And at 38 minutes it swiftly got the job done.

Man of Steel (Zack Snyder/2012) 6 rewatch
Noticed just how handsome Henry Cavill is. I noticed it the first time around, but it's a fact worth repeating.

Alice in Wonderland (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske/1951) 5
Great inventive animation. The colour was vivid, wonderful. Didn't fully win me over though.

Cremaster 2 (Matthew Barney/1999) 8
Sound, image, theme, pace are at their strongest (so far). Its near insoluble nature is fascinating. Could watch it on a loop.

Leviathan (Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor/2012) 8
The dark grit of an industry artfully conveyed (yet not overtly so) via a unique viewpoint. There's a grand, hard beauty here.

Alice in Wonderland (Jonathan Miller/1966) 6
Well doused in strange sixties British cultishness. Part inspired, part flat. Great atypical score by Ravi Shankar.

Cremaster 5 (Matthew Barney/1997) 6
Must admit the testicular focus is lost on me, but I'm not sure it dents the enjoyment of these deranged films. Ursula Andress!

Cremaster 1

Cremaster 1 (Matthew Barney/1996) 6 short
Visually strong, use of colour exceptional. A vast, monumental ode to crazed invention. Not quite as thoroughly engaging as 4.

The Spider Woman (Roy William Neill/1944) 4
Amusing, but slight and a dash boring Sherlock Holmes quickie flick. More of a filler between other, better SH adventures?

Cremaster 4 (Matthew Barney/1995) 7 short
Immediately curious, captivating. Something indefinably and genuinely weird to it. Barney's mind is a tricky and beguiling place.

The Lavender Hill Mob (Charles Crichton/1951) 7
Slocombe's gorgeous B&W photography and Guinness' expert characterisation stand tall. Fitfully funny, plenty of daffy charm.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Timur Bekmambetov/2012) 4
Looked gloomy/ropey as all hell. Iffy plastic FX. Cast looked bored. Bekmambetov's best so far — which is worrying.

Drawing Restraint 9 (Matthew Barney/2005) 7
Björk, a whaling ship and petroleum jelly. Barney's curious strange actions. Avoids longueurs w/ mesmerising diversions.

Piranhaconda (Jim Wynorski/2012) 3
I really don't think Michael Madsen cares any more. Someone needs to tell him he doesn't have to do every script he receives.

Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock/2013) 5
An exercise in self love, Disney style. The plot's a wispy biscuit; flashbacks are saccharine intrusions. Though there are some moving scenes. Thompson's such a pro, she could do roles like this asleep. She's precisely good, hits every beat with ease, very controlled. Hanks is every bit as assured as Thompson. He's obviously having fun, but he nails an underlying solemnity in the part very well too. The best scenes are the small moments between Thompson and Paul Giamatti; I partly wished that it was the story of Poppins and Her Driver (but with the overt sentimentality on show elsewhere, that film could've become very Driving Miss Daisy-like.) The score was erratic and a real mess. It coated most scenes in forced jollity or a dreary weepy tone. And I usually like Thomas Newman.

A Foreign Affair

A Foreign Affair (Billy Wilder/1948) 7
One of Wilder's sly comic delights. Dietrich sings and smirks like a surefire star. Splendid B&W photography gives it shine.

Virus (John Bruno/1999) 6
Despite bad reports, I enjoyed it. It's flawed with ropey aspects and dodgy decisions, but it has a great premise and some exciting moments. Donald Sutherland's Oirish-accented sea Cap'n is awful. Rare he gives a duff performance, but he's on the lowest rung here. Jamie Lee Curtis was good. The central sci-fi idea has oodles of potential. There's lots of fun to be had despite the iffy bits. I liked the 'alien presence' and how the (mostly practical) special effects were used. It's also a rare film that would absolutely benefit from a good overhaul. I'd love to see it remade and reckon the best person to remake it would be Chris Cunningham. I'd like to see him take it on, rewire and retool it and make it his own.

Stuck on You (Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly/2003) 5
Amiable and has its heart in the right place. Some giggles, but few big laughs. Cher and Streep are game. Perhaps one of the better Farrelly flicks?

Kiss the Girls (Gary Fleder/1997) 6
It's obvious who the killer is from go, but it's fun enough snooping along with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd (both very good). Generic but decent.

The Butler (Lee Daniels/2013) 6
Schmaltz sheen alert!... But it doesn't fog its inherent views. A rotary name cast add their tuppence-worth with starry pep. 'Twas ok. A lot of it was ripe and ready for awards from the first frame, but there was an agreeable sincerity to it. Sly editing made the strongest points. I'm not sure which Oprah Winfrey I liked best: drunk Oprah, 'old lady makeup' Oprah or Oprah in a shell suit.

Short Term 12 (Destin Cretton/2013) 8
Bold, warm, moving, full of wonderful human interactions. Deftly directed. The whole cast are outstanding, Brie Larson especially. An exemplary film.

Scrooge (Brian Desmond Hurst/1951) 6
Economic and well-paced; a great version and a great ghost story. Alastair Sim's performance is an absolute joy. Framing is great.

Nebraska (Alexander payne/2013) 7
Lonely, folksy America painted in becoming, poignant strokes. Bruce Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb are all stellar. The elegant photography stood out. Some kind of wonderful.

Carrie (Kimberley Pierce/2013) 5
It has moments that work, but it's a pretty pedestrian affair. Anonymous bullies, Carrie miscast, limited fresh angles. It's... ok, unremarkable. Julianne Moore's creepy religi-nut mum worked well, as did Judy Greer's sincere teacher. The score felt off and the editing a dash hasty. Why no risks taken? I reckon the filmmakers could've changed more, pushed it into new territory: B&W? Dogme95-style camerawork? OTT 3D may have even worked.

Only God Forgives (Nicholas Winding Refn/2012) 8 rewatch
Tough, harsh, it burns cold and is often barmy to the nth degree. It's all wall-to-wall blank despair. I'm a fan. As a slice of murky hell, a glimpse at reprehensible figures, it succeeds wonderfully/horribly. Some films are ok being just that. On second watch, the slick-dank visuals, aural assault and all its vulgar merits intensify. Still one of 2013's strongest films.

The American

The American (Anton Corbjin/2011) 7
Nicely paced with a tone that seeps through and sneaks up on you. The cinematography is top-drawer; direction and score equal it. A great Clooney performance. It felt like an 'off-hours' Bond film with a distinct Euro sensibility. Fascinating to see Clooney intricately think and reflect on screen. Had I seen it in 2010 it may well have been on that year's Best Films list.

X-Men: The Last Stand (Brett Ratner/2006) 5
It never truly lifts off — it needed more oomph — but some of the action entertains. More could've been done with the characters. All three of these first X-Men films had same effect on me: ok, diverting, didn't wow me, but perfectly watchable, nicely average. Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut very nearly sank the film. Awful. Painful. Luckily, he just sank his own (gladly brief) scenes. Considering it was subtitled The Last Stand, it was odd that no one really had any fight in them. They lacked conviction.

Robocroc (Arthur Sinclair/2013) 3
A metallic crocodile named Stella, a member of Boyzone straining to act and a £2.50 budget — it was glorious* (*soul-destroying).

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence/2013) 6
Fun, snappy sequel. Steps up what was good in the first one. Impressive cast. Liked the various game hazards.

Suspect Zero (E. Elias Merhige/2004) 4
Messy, try-hard direction makes a dithering time of it. The shadow of Seven is long and overpowering. Kingsley good; Eckhart wired.

D.O.A. (Rudolph Maté/1950) 6
Decent enough noir, but the novel concept overcomes the plot; it's all just a stagger to an endgame. Good performances, solid direction.

Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt/2013) 5
Far better as it goes along; drama aspect had more conviction than the comic. Nicely edited, full of confidence, but no real spark. I wasn't sure if the mostly broad characters were deliberately heightened for effect or just sketchily drawn (not enough time with some of them?). I may well be biased but Julianne Moore was excellent and had the best scenes/character. Scarlett Johansson was very good too. Gordon-Levitt's surety worked well enough.

Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón/2013) 8
Lots of gasping, plenty of tears (ain't denying) and all the wow. Bullock exceptional. A feat and a feast of great, detailed filmmaking.

Thor: The Dark World (Alan taylor/2013) 7
Thor upped his game. Honed quips, a vitality to the action, design details solid. Some plot fluffs but, pah! I had a ball. You know, I'm not so fussed about tube station inaccuracies when elsewhere there are inter-dimensional gods and monsters.

Philomena (Stephen Frears/2013) 5
Froth coats the painful themes, but all is well intended and nicely performed. Plot turns are too easy. Dench good, Coogan better. Script's twee and some of it felt slightly fudged, but moments of unforced emotion work. Direction is largely free of flair or surprise.

The Passenger

The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni/1975) 7
Curious study of escape, identity. Slyly obscure, tricky to pin down. Occasionally infuriating, often great. Those landscapes!

War Witch (Kim Nguyen/2012) 8
Perceptive and harsh. Beautifully directed with a clear sensitivity. A cracking performance from Rachel Mwanza. Such vivid imagery. Brilliant.

Animal Crackers (Victor Heerman/1930) 8
Groucho's face, bodily contortions and rapid one-liners. Harpo's harp playing. Chico's cheek. Dumont's foil. 97mins of happy.

Under Still Waters (Carolyn Miller/2008) 5
Paranoid love triangle done cheaply, but accrues intrigue. Lake Bell and Jason Clarke give fine performances. It's no Dead Calm.

Visiting Hours (Jean-Claude Lord/1982) 7
Rough, slightly loopy and overwrought slasher with a chilling edge. But that's what made it stand out, what I liked about it. The feminist angle, evident in a string of ways, gives it a fresh slant. Great performance from Michael Ironside. Choice direction, score.

Wrong (Quentin Dupieux/2012) 2
Looks and sounds slick, but it's so in love with its own blank weirdness. It gets tedious and exasperating fast. A desperate insta-cult item. It has hints of Monty Python, Jonze/Kaufman, After Hours, Tim & Eric, David Lynch, but nowt here is as good or as original as any of 'em. It's all loaned oddness.

Self Storage (Tom DeNucci/2013) 3
Torture yawn. A bit of a sloppily-edited mess. Dull characters yacking for an age makes for a low-thrill watch. It's diet horror.

Kill Theory (Chris Moore/2009) 5
Generic Slasher Alert! No one asked for Saw based on the premise of Touching the Void, but here it is. Ropey fun. Lacks theory.

Bait (Kimble Rendall/2012) 6
Clean up, aisle 3! Stupid and knows it. As much fun as its premise promises, but not much more. I'd gladly watch parts 2, 3, 4... The fact that this wasn't an utterly boring waste of time meant it was leagues better than Sharknado.

A Haunting in Salem (Shane Van Dyke/2011) 3
Re horror scares, the 'less is more' rule doesn't apply when there really isn't anything there to induce fear. Awful. This is so laughably bad (acting, script esp.) that it's actually oddly entertaining. That's when it's not just incredibly boring. All the main characters are so disparate and thrown-together that none of them appear credible or convincing as family members. It felt like the actors were assembled 5 minutes prior to filming. Ditto the script. Ditto the concept. Rushed and fudged filmmaking.

Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh/2012) 5
Occasionally funny, often strains for cleverness, sometimes questionable. Has a severe case of Tarantino/Coen bros envy. Rockwell (dynamic, brash), Walken (dry, coy) are best in show. Women get the short straw, but OH-SO-META-COMMENT. *eye roll* It has a cake-and-eat-it approach: go for offence, then reference it. Not too convincing. The lively/moving moments were better.

Upside Down (Juan Solanas/2012) 5
The only film ever to feature both antimatter and anti-wrinkle cream? Nicely designed, if too ornate and CGI-heavy. Never really lifts off. Also: wot no Diana Ross theme tune? Looks and feels like a blend of Richard Curtis, Tim Burton and the Wachowskis. Love story's a bit drab, which is an issue in a love story.

Five best new films:

War Witch
Short Term 12

Five best older films:

Visiting Hours
Animal Crackers
Cremaster 4, 1, 5, 2
The American
A Foreign Affair

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