A Few Sentences on a Lot of Films

My goal to write about every film I see is tough. By last count I’m 55 movies behind. So here’s a quick catch up on some of them.

Amanda Knox (Blackhurst, McGinn, 2016)

Pretty intriguing documentary that wants to be more suspenseful than it is. I remember this news story really well and the first act does it justice. The last two are still solid, but the payoff from some of the interviews (journalist and lawyers in particular) isn’t there.

Louder Than Bombs (Trier, 2015)

A heartfelt film from Joachim Trier. I love the way he plays with time and lets his camera roam in ways that seem to represent the perspectives of tangential characters. Isabelle Huppert is amazing, as always, and even in a short appearance. I think Gabriel Byrne carries the film though.

Darling (Keating, 2015)

It’s impossible to watch this film and not think of Polanski’s apartment trilogy, particularly Repulsion. That said, there’s an awesome mood to this piece, some nice period photography and costuming (sometimes ambiguously or anachronistically so), and fun, if not overplayed, editing.

Hairspray (Waters, 1988)

I always thought the play came first. This movie is hilariously campy (as expected from Waters), has plenty of creepy things happening that aren’t the focus of the frame (as expected from Waters), and totally mocks a lot of mainstream attitudes (as expected from Waters). My favorite part is maybe a surreptitious crotch-adjustment.

Gimme Danger (Jarmusch, 2016)

Jim Jarmusch and Iggy Pop? What could go wrong? It turns out, kind of a lot. I love them both, but this documentary is a mess. The middle of it totally works, especially when Jarmusch layers sound on sound and we move more rapidly through time. Some of the animation is also awesome. But the end is super-clunky; it starts to feel like a TV homage more than anything else. I do love seeing Mike Watt, Iggy Pop, and James Williamson interviewed in front of washing machines, sinks, and toilets.

The Lockpicker (Okita, 2016)

The film dragged a bit for me. Its 105 minute runtime could easily be about 80 and still accomplish the same. There’s a strong central performance, effective flashback/dream sequences, and a nicely choreographed party/drug scene.

Hellraiser (Barker, 1987)

Man, is this movie wacky. How did this get made? I don’t know the history of it. Not knowing much about Pin Head going in, I wasn’t expecting the S&M subplot. I guess this was Barker’s first feature; I also didn’t know that he’s directed so few. He should do more. This and Nightbreed – the two of his that I’ve seen – make good companion pieces.

Seven Psychopaths (McDonagh, 2012)

I’m a big fan of In Bruges and a bigger fan of The Pillowman, but Seven Psychopaths doesn’t hit the mark. It’s pretty funny, but not funny in many ways I haven’t seen before. The acting’s great and McDonagh does have a knack for getting awesome work from Colin Farrell, but after awhile it’s interest in combining casual violence and silliness wears thin.

Complete Unknown (Marston, 2016)

I hate to say that I really disliked this movie. I like Joshua Marston’s other work and am a big fan of the leads, but it’s so flat, at times unbelievable (the scene outside to get Weisz and Shannon up to the apartment), and just all hangs on a pretty flimsy premise.

Difret (Mehari, 2014)

Another one that I don’t love. There’s a fantastic story in here, but it just doesn’t need such glamorous treatment. Here are some of the notes I made after watching it, which I realize could have been its own blog post:

What’s the point of the scene of Difret running away? If you need a reason to get her out of the lawyer’s house just cut this scene entirely and cut to the orphanage – we’ll accept that the orphanage accepted here. Same with the Ministry of Justice thing. That’s how you resolve it? The two women at the bar and it’s all quickly hunky dory. This is such a weak lowest low.

Why all the fades to black? The one with the guys on horses chasing? Do you not have the budget for it. If not, then okay, don’t give false suspense (which this entire movie does; Difret going back to the village (does this even matter?); Andinet getting suspended; the Minister of Justice lawsuit…none have suspense, at least some should).

Who are some of these characters? Her partner – we don’t meet her until halfway through. And then she’s important? What’s with the scene with her at the bar? What’s up with this male reporter? We kind of see him a few times, but he basically just seems to be lurking.

Why’s the lawyer always crying? What’s with the weird zooms?

Super one-note enemy lawyer. He’s like a Disney villain

Great scene with elders; strong opening (strong enough, although Meaza’s character intro is boring); and I get the idea behind the radio from house-to-house at the end, which basically works.

J.S.A: Joint Security Area (Chan-Wook, 2000)

Strong film from Park Chan-Wook that has a lot of his trademarks (a certain level of camp, an interest in Americana, visually gorgeous graphic matches). It’s reminiscent of The Net from Ki-duk Kim, at least in its North-South Korea dynamics. This one’s got some good subtext (one of the main characters is both North and South Korean, for example).

Midnight Special (Nichols, 2016)

I really, really love the first act of this film. The opening 15 minutes are amazing. Great performances throughout. It got a little sidetracked for me. I think I just wanted a different film. Adam Driver’s character is good, and I see how he’s integral, but I like this better as a three-hander road suspense film. And also: Bill Camp!

Detective Story (Wyler, 1951)

A pretty darn melodramatic film from William Wyler (Kirk Douglas’ scenes with his wife in the office. The ending finishing the prayer (it’s not even that he finishes the prayer, it’s that he does so looking off into the distance); the elongated death). Still, there’s great blocking. One room is tough. Wyler keeps it pretty snappy with a lot of movement in and out. The last 10 minutes get somewhat complex. His wife turns out to be stronger that we thought; his masculinity disappears.

Spy Game (Scott, 2001)

I think I’ve seen this movie before. I hate the score in it, there are bad end-of-scene buttons, and I can’t get into these freeze frames. It’s vintage Tony Scott (RIP), which isn’t usually my style. Still, if high-budget spy is your thing, this might be up your alley.

Beasts of No Nation (Fukunaga, 2015)

Man did I want to love this film. Incredible cinematography and blocking, several amazing performances, a great subject…and it still feels a little hollow. At times the movie comes off as an exercise in choreography. But I’d watch it again.

John and Mary (Yates, 1969)

Not your typical American New Wave film, this one’s funnier than usual. It actually becomes a rom-com by the end. It’s also so hip and 2016 for 1969: the pour-over coffee, organic eggs, records, designer furniture. I like some of these “answering edits” – that is, edits that seem to answer a visual question. There’s one where he looks to an empty hook and she walks by the camera in a towel in the next shot. It’s like his look filled in her absence.

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (Nicloux, 2014)

A matter-of-fact comedy that maybe recalls, oddly enough, Mister Bean. The movie feels kind of arrogant. Maybe that’s supposed to be Houellebecq playing Houellebecq. I get that irony, but it doesn’t have staying power. I’ve only ever read Platform, and some of this comes from popular sentiment against his writing – he won’t get in the cab with the Muslim; talks about getting drunk when accepting the award; rumors that he had a relationship with a Muslim.

Your Sister’s Sister (Shelton, 2011)

This movie has a really great first two acts, and then a third act that doesn’t quote work.  Why go to the montage with (not my favorite) music when your dialogue and character interactions have been so great? I know we need to see them all “healing” but suddenly we’re in PSA territory!

Sophie’s Choice (Pakula, 1982)

First time seeing this one. Despite Streep’s great performance I found it strangely forgettable. It’s shot interestingly, too, but I just couldn’t really take Kline’s character. I think he plays it well, but it starts to feel so redundant.

Mustang (Ergüven, 2015)

This one’s curious. I liked the central performances. There’s some great camera and incredible tension. But talking to a friend from Turkey, apparently it’s also controversial (or maybe just inane?) in its representation. I wish I was able to evaluate it better from a cultural standpoint. For my cinematic money it works.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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One Response to A Few Sentences on a Lot of Films

  1. John L. Ghertner says:

    Response quickly to two films. I want closely the Amanda Knox press coverage to try to find a reason why it was headline news fo so long. The doc told me not I g. We about her or her story and left me w no sympathy. And I still have no clue why it was so important a story.

    Beasts did not work. Like Luther it was shallow, the central character left no emotion and it did not hint to further the historical understanding. As I recall it was over saturated, a film which should have been dark and colorless. I guess the mood was just wrong.

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