May 2017 In Review

A packed month for my film-watching, as I worked my way through franchise films, took in the latest offerings, and unexpectedly viewed what would become all-time favourite films. So, enough waffling on, let's see what films I viewed over the past May.

A Dog's Purpose - 1.5/5 - Bad dog! Look at the mess you've caused.

Guardians of the Galaxy [rewatch] - 5/5 - So, if someone does something irksome, I CAN'T remove their spine? Unbelievable. 

Aliens [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - In taking on sequel duties, James Cameron shifts the genre from outright horror, to action with horror elements within, and the results are largely successful. What we have is a mother/daughter tale wrapped in a tense and entertaining action/horror package, phenomenally portrayed by both Sigourney Weaver, and Carrie Henn. If I had any problems, it'd be how the characterisation for the group of characters is largely lacking, with much of it feeling like gung-ho cliches. Nevertheless, it's a successful sequel that contains one of the most iconic lines in cinema.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A film that has the best use of David Hasslehoff, especially when compared to the films he's acted in.

Sleepless Night (2011) - 4/5 - Director Frédéric Jardin ensures the tension never lets up, as the impressive Sleepless Night oozes suspense throughout its 98 minute runtime. If anything, the tension ratchets as the plot unfolds. One scene especially impressing is a kitchen fight scene, which can be likened to a violent piece of slapstick. It's certainly more impressive than the gunplay, which is often generic and results in the glaring use of CG blood.

Best film of the month & Best film
rewatched: The Prestige

Something Wild - 4.5/5 - Fronted by fantastic performances from Jeff Daniels & Melanie Griffith, director Jonathan Demme delivers a wonderful tale about love, and the unexpected forms it can take. At first, we're gifted with a delightful screwball comedy, before it seamlessly shifts into an engaging thriller. While it's a shame the film ends on the typical "final confrontation" that Hollywood loves to cram in, the rest of the film is a joy to watch.

Serial Mom - 4/5 - Having never seen a John Waters film, I can't stress enough that I really did not know what to expect going into this. Fortunately, what I received was a razor sharp satire on the obsession with true crime, with a jet black comedic sensibility. Granted, at moments it seemed to flip suddenly between playing things for laughs, and treating the murders with more of a horrifying realism than expected. Thankfully, Kathleen Turner absolutely slays in the lead role, proving a delight all throughout.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Fourth time I've seen this film in eight days, and the gags hit their marks just as well as they did the first time I saw it. Pom Klementieff also remains a lovable standout, I can't wait to see more of her character in future instalments.

Alien³ - 2/5 - Viewed the theatrical cut, and to say it's disappointing is an understatement. The editing is damn well shoddy, while the majority of the side characters are left underdeveloped and thinly characterised. It's not as though things start off well though, Newt and Hicks are unceremoniously offed in the opening, killing potential storytelling avenues, leaving Ripley to become a generic action heroine. There are interesting attempts at story here, particularly in the end, but they're tarnished by David Fincher's artistic vision getting throttled by studio interference. The horror and the action are so standard, especially in the final act (along with an awful CG rendering of the alien). It's especially unflattering when compared to how well the former two films did them. It's a shame, as there are elements which serve well as a finale to this trilogy (before the fourth one came along).

The Prestige [rewatch] - 5/5 - A tightly plotted, intelligent picture that rewards upon repeat viewings, as the morally grey characters exceptionally intrigue and engage one. Christopher Nolan's most underrated film, and easily one of his absolute best contributions to cinema.

Before Sunset - 5/5 - 9 years after their chance meeting, and the wonderful night that followed it, Jesse and Celine meet once more, this time at a book signing of his. It delivers everything wonderful the first film did, yet manages to build upon it all, adding the passage of time, how these characters lives did not go the way they envisioned exactly, and those eternal questions of "What if?". It's a thoroughly engaging, masterfully delivered story about two souls reconnecting, in the most beautiful of ways. I'm glad there's one more film in the Before saga, because these characters make up my favourite cinematic romance of all time.

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Best film seen in cinemas: The Red Turtle

Their Finest - 3.5/5 - What a delightful little film. Yes, there may be some soapy elements in play, especially where romance is involved, but it doesn't threaten to undermine what's a wholly engaging and charming piece of wartime cinema. Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin are utterly fantastic in their roles, while Bill Nighy is nothing short of an absolute treasure.

Sleepless (2017) - 1/5 - A cinematic sleeping pill in its own right, and a poor butchering of a great French film.

Alien: Covenant - 3.5/5 - It's clear Ridley Scott is intent on continuing what he set out to do in 2012's Prometheus, but it also feels combined with reattempting what he did to make Alien such a success. The result isn't a bad one, but the flaws are evident. For one, the Prometheus elements are put on the backburner, to focus on the brand new crew of the Covenant. While many of these characters feel interchangeable, it must be said Billy Crudup is compelling as the captain with religious beliefs, while Danny McBride is rather fun.

Katherine Waterston does fantastic work as Daniels, but the writing fails to make her a compelling figure like Ripley, or even Elisabeth Shaw. Amy Seimetz pulls off a bravura performance in her big scene, which delivers the tension that shows Ridley Scott hasn't lost his touch when it comes to horror. It's just a shame this tension isn't as evident in the finale, which feels distractingly familiar to Scott's original masterpiece.

It must be said that two elements hurt the Xenomorphs more than helping them. Firstly, the over-reliance on CG, which loses any terror the creatures have generated since their first appearance. The second is the typical prequel problem, where the original mystique which helped the image is lost, for needless explaining. But frankly, I haven't even gotten to the absolute best part of the film, which is anything involving Michael Fassbender. Here, he reprises his role as Prometheus android David, while also playing the Covenant android named Walter. It's two roles superbly played, resulting in the films best scenes, and marking one as one of the best inclusions into the Alien mythology.

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrells [rewatch] - 4/5 - The first feature length film from Guy Ritchie, and it's a great example of what he can deliver on his best of days. Razor sharp dialogue, humorous interactions, and terrific characters that stick in your mind, all of which comes together in intriguing ways. I've seen this named the British Pulp Fiction, and for my money, I can't think of a better example. Although, whoever told Sting he should try acting needs to sort their shit out.

Stranger By The Lake - 3.5/5 - An erotically charged thriller that's well directed by Alain Guiraudie. Yet I couldn't help but feel disappointed, as in the look at the line between love and sex, there's a lack of interest for delving into the characters, outside of Henri. Maybe that's why I found his scenes most engaging.

A Good Day To Die Hard - 0.5/5 - This is an empty, vacuous picture as lacking in effort as either of the leads performances, with no energy put into the loud action scenes. It's essentially civilian casualty porn. A Good Day To Die Hard? More like A Good Reason To Say Fuck-Off To This Long Dead Franchise.

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Best film watched for the first time:
Mysterious Skin

Submarine (2010) - 4/5 - The directorial debut of Richard Ayoade, Submarine is a wonderful coming of age teen drama that's easy to relate to. Capturing moments of joy that comes from first love, as well as the hardships from being in the eye of a storm that is a parents relationship, crumbling before ones eyes. Equally funny and saddening, this is stylish stuff. The performances work well, with Craig Roberts making for an engaging lead who tries to solve situations with the best of intentions, no matter how wrong-headed they can be. Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins do wonderful work as the parents, dealing with their troubled relationship in such a manner, it's no wonder lead character Oliver has such misguided ideas.

Memento [rewatch] - 5/5 -  A masterful thriller that unfolds in an ingenious manner, allowing the story to be even more compelling, its revelations to hold even more weight, and change the perspective on these characters and their actions. An early masterpiece from Christopher Nolan, and a great early example of the intelligent storytelling he's capable of delivering.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower [rewatch] - 5/5 - I rewatched this expecting some realization to come to mind. Some glaring flaw I overlooked, some massive problem that gnawed at me until I willingly declared this film to be ultimately flawed. But, for me, there aren't any. This film remains heartfelt, saddening, emotionally engaging, wonderfully acted, humorous and something special I hold dear in my heart.

Sherlock Holmes  (2009) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - A good showcase for how well Guy Ritchie's style can translate outside of his usual wheelhouse. A slick, well stylized film that's packed full of fun, with a focus on the action scenes, no matter how needlessly inserted they seem to be. Subtlety is clearly not Guy Ritchie's style, but at least Robert Downey, Jr and Jude Law make for a winning lead duo.

Small Crimes (2017) - 2.5/5 - A film packed with decent performances from the talented cast, but none can save the messy nature of the film. The plot is put together as well as a LEGO model with a foundation of pebbles and custard. Convoluted, with an especially weak finale, this is a disappointing second feature from E.L. Katz. 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword - 1.5/5 - Guy Ritchie, do you want a Medieval Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, or a rubbish version of Lord of the Rings?

Biggest Disappointment:
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Airplane! [rewatch] - 5/5 - Sitting in bed, recovering from an awful cold with chamomile tea, rewatching my all time favourite comedy is the best thing to do. Every joke was as hilarious as the first time I saw it enacted, with even a few jokes I hadn't seen before being noticed. A comedic masterpiece.

Troll Hunter - 4/5 - Directed by André Øvredal, the film makes good use of the found footage style, even if it falls into the typical genre pitfalls. A thrilling and engaging flick with a well realised world hidden away, its a blast, even if the characters of the camerapeople essentially stop at their religion.

One Hour Photo - 4/5 - One can only imagine what a risk this must've been, as Robin Williams went from the lovable lead to portraying a sinister sociopath. He's chilling, downright unsettling, but at the centre of it all, he merely longs for that perfect idea of a family. Williams exceptionally captures all of this about the character, managing to elicit creepiness and sympathy in equal measure. Helping things are Mark Romanek's writing and direction, which sell this tense thriller throughout the 96 minute runtime.

The Hunger (1983) - 4/5 - What a sumptuous feast this is, delivering stunning cinematography and sound design. An atmospheric and eerie picture, delivering a wonderful take on vampire romance. Yes, you can feel the split between David Bowie's storyline and Susan Sarandon's, but that doesn't hinder their magnificent performances, nor does it make what's happening onscreen any less compelling. Catherine Deneuve is such an engaging screen presence, I don't know if the film would've worked as well without her in the lead role.

Mysterious Skin -5/5 - I hold an undying love for cinema, but few films leave me crying. However, as the film ended, the monologue closed out the film, and Samskeyti by Sigur Rós played, I was reduced to floods of tears.

Gregg Araki delivers a raw, heartbreaking and powerful tale with a horrendous subject matter, while handling the characters and the awful reality in such a compassionate manner. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a wonderful actor, and this has to be undoubtedly his greatest performance yet. Brady Corbet definitely deserves a mention, as he leaves behind the UFO fantasies he's crafted to help himself cope, and comes to terms with reality. Not a film I will forget so easily, and I most likely will return to it. Definitely a hard watch, but it's worth it.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl [rewatch] - 2.5/5 - Considering this was based on a Disney ride, its a great feat the film managed to be such a hit. I haven't seen this film in at least 10 years, but I recall rather liking it. Which makes my reaction here a bit of a surprise.

Gore Verbinski needed to be reined in a bit. He has an eye for spectacle and set pieces, but the overlong runtime, coupled with pacing issues and a an unnecessarily bouncing plot is problematic. I do like that the film is willing to subvert expectations sometimes, and especially how it let's a female character have such a proactive role, rather than being just the damsel. A shame she's on the receiving end of a tepid romance subplot with the bland Orlando Bloom. Geoffrey Rush gleefully chews the scenery as Captain Barbossa, and is a delight to watch.

As for Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow? Consider me not a fan. It could have been much worse, especially after seeing what Depp has later on done in Mortdecai, but this was the character that launched four sequels? This irritating caricature was such an icon, and got Depp an Academy Award nomination? The mind boggles.

Biggest Surprise: Once

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest [rewatch] - 1/5 - The first was overlong, for sure, but this one is an outright bloated carcass of a film. There's a pointless diversion involving an island of cannibals which runs on for entirely too long, and has NO CONSEQUENCE on the remainder of the plot. Orblando Bloom returns to make little of an impact in his role, while Keira Knightley resumes being the best part of the star trio. This time, however, the proactive heroine is largely relegated to being part of a forced love triangle.

Johnny Depp unfortunately returns to half-heartedly do kooky for Jack Sparrow, who's pushed to the forefront, and characterised as an unlikable coward. The plot says his times up, and Davy Jones has come to collect him for his locker. So our protagonist, who we're meant to care about and root for, tries to offer his friend, cohort, and saviour as a bargaining chip to spare himself. And when that fails? He half-heartedly tries to spare Will, and makes a deal to damn 99 other souls. Why is this selfish slug of a character such an icon?

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End [rewatch] - 0.5/5 - What began in 2003 as a family pleasing swashbuckling adventure, adapted from a Disneyland ride, begins with a scene of child hanging. This is an appropriate way for Gore Verbinski to kick off his trilogy ender, which eventually devolves into 2 hours and 49 minutes of dickmeasuring and needless betrayals.

Raw (2017) - 4.5/5 - The feature length debut of Julia Ducournau, what she's delivered is something utterly engaging and engrossing. Telling the story of Justine, a 16 year old vegetarian who's started her first year of vet school, but finds herself getting an insatiable hunger for a human flesh. Utilised as an effective allegory for coming of age and identity, cannibalism is more than just a manner to show gore and decent practical effects. There's also great usage of black comedy, all of which shows a bright future for promising writer/director Ducournau.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - 1.5/5 - 4 years after Gore Verbinski ended his extremely overlong and poorly done trilogy, Chicago director Rob Marshall takes the helm.  An extremely unnecessary entry in the vein of Jason Bourne, this transports Johnny Depp's cartoonish character into the lead role. It doesn't work, but the lifeless direction, overly darkened visuals, poor scriptwork, and unengaging nature don't help things. Heck, at 136 minutes, this is the shortest adventure so far, but remains as overlong. It's long overdue, but perhaps we should call time on this franchise.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge - 1/5 - Pretty much proof that this franchise has more than run its course.

Y Tu Mamá También - 3.5/5 - An early work directed by Alfonso Cuarón, it's curious to see this came from the director of both Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men. Though, the result is a coming of age drama which manages to both amuse and entice. Though one wishes the amusing moments would come a bit more frequently, especially early on.

The main trio do fantastic work, as Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna and Maribel Verdú each sell their characters, on their own respective journeys. The voice-over narration simultaneously informs and irritates. It delves into the backstories and histories of the films characters, be they the leads or even characters who rarely appear in the film. It can be a nice touch, but much of the time, feels like a pointless addition.

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Worst film of the month: A Good Day To Die Hard

The Red Turtle - 4.5/5 - Michael Dudok de Wit brings to life a beautiful tale, through gorgeous animation, and a lack of dialogue (outside of the occasional "Hey"). Granted, there were some scenes where even the smallest amount of dialogue would've been beneficial, but the majority of the tale has no need for such a thing. You can clearly understand what's going on, as the story is told in a rather universal language. The characters, their actions, and their expressions, manages to hold the narrative rather well. A tale about loneliness, not giving up when life hits you hard, and making the best of whatever comes your way.

A Most Wanted Man - 4/5 - Now this was a great thriller. Anton Corbijn directs a gripping thriller, getting real tension out of the mere sight of a man signing papers. The narrative is weaved is a smart manner, feeling far from derivative. Philip Seymour Hoffman does phenomenal work, leading an exemplary cast. It's a shame this was his final leading role, but what a way to finish the career of a talented actor. 

Thank You For Smoking - 5/5 - Now, this made for a fantastic watch. Jason Reitman crafts a razor sharp, biting satire, with a pitch black sense of comedy. This is thanks to a strong script, as well as an excellent cast that's more than game to deliver what's required. Aaron Eckhart is especially fantastic, perfectly embodying his role. A real gem.

Eyes Without A Face - 5/5 - An atmospheric and unforgettable piece of horror, Georges Franju's Eyes Without A Face is nothing short of a masterful piece of work. Full of imagery that will stick in ones mind (especially the mask worn by a central character), with a mood that sticks with you long after viewing it. This is nothing short of fantastic cinema.

Once  (2007) - 5/5 - I was certainly on board with this film from early on, but then came THAT moment. A duet between our leads to the tune "Falling Slowly". With that one moment of perfection, with that beautiful moment of cinema, I absolutely fell in love with this picture.

But that's merely four minutes of this 82 minute film. Don't worry, the remaining 78 minutes are just as much worth the watch. The wonderful lead actors portraying their characters that feel oh so real, the documentary style direction, John Carney's direction & screenplay which ensures we're fully on board with this coming of age/romance story. Goodness me, is it possible for a film to be THIS wonderfully perfect?

Best film of the month: The Prestige
Best film seen in cinemas: The Red Turtle
Best film watched for the first time: Mysterious Skin
Best film rewatched: The Prestige
Biggest Disappointment: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Biggest Surprise: Once
Worst film of the month: A Good Day To Die Hard

Number of films watched: 39