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Film Log For The First Half of 2010

July 1, 2010

I had decided to watch a few less films this year in order to make room for more reading but it turns out that I am actually ahead of schedule for the year.  I had planned to watch 200 new films this year (by which I mean films that I had either not seen before or not seen for at least ten years) and I am currently at 116.

This is not a full list of all the films I watched as I lost my computer part of the way through the year.  Where possible, I have attempted to reconstruct the record by linking to the missing films that I actually reviewed.

JANUARY

1.  Bad Lieutenant : Port of Call New Orleans (2009) : First film of the year and it is a joy.  This is Herzog at his absurdist best, it takes the nihilism, bleakness and spiritual despair of the Ferrara film of the same name and presents it as a comedy.  Nicholas Cage is on superb form, really physically inhabiting the role.  It’s full of great dialogue, lovely ideas and nice little visual motifs.  Great stuff, made me want to rewatch the original.

2.  Fish Tank (2009) [Ruthless Culture]  : Wonderful film.  It explores the ambiguities of teenaged life.  Half-way between childhood and adulthood.  The film’s lead character is the older of two daughters of a single and very young mother.  However, both the mother and the younger sister are also ambiguous.  This ambiguity is then projected against Connor, the mother’s lover.  He takes an interest in Mia and encourages her with kindness but those actions can be read as either parental in nature or predatory and sexual.  This ambiguity is driven by the ambiguities in Mia herself.  I you see her as an adult then Connor is flirting and seducing her.  If you see her as a child, then he is deeply creepy.  There’s also a wonderful sequence at the end where Mia abducts Connor’s daughter and sees her future as a single mum, screaming at her child.

3.  Crank 2 : High Voltage (2009) : A very silly film indeed but a lot of fun.  Heavily stylised and drawing inspiration from video games, it is filled with absurdist sexuality and border-line racism but is held together by the fantastically cool and aloof Jason Statham.  Enjoyed it but it is a soufflet of a film.

4.  Daybreakers (2010) :  I went to see this on the basis of the trailer, which promised an exploration of the concept of peak oil through the means of a vampire society running out of blood.  Unfortunately, what I got was an empty bog-standard action film.  There are moments of real visual invention here (particularly the bit where the vampires all turn on each other) but other than that it is something of a waste of time.  Much like last year’s surrogates, an intriguing idea for a film has been occluded by too many shoot-outs and car chases.

5.  Sexy Beast (2000) :  I adored this with all of my tiny black heart.  Narratively, this is pure genre hokum : ageng pro forced out of retirement to do one last risky job.  However, the visual style of the film, the performances by Kingsley and Winstone and the wit of the script really elevate this into something special.  An ode to what a man will do in order to keep chaos out of his life.

6.  Punch Drunk Love (2002) :  This is very much a snap shot of the values of American indie cinema – Its all about slightly weird people finding happiness.  The transformation of Sandler’s character from a hen-pecked whipping boy to a demented tough guy is beautiful to watch and hilarious.  the script heaps misery upon misery onto him and, because he’s that kind of guy, the people responsible expect him to take it.  But once he encounters something worth hanging on to (a woman natch) he starts to fight back, terrifying people into leaving him alone.  Great stuff.

7.  Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010) : The life story of Ian Dury.  Great physical performance from Serkis who, as ever, does a fantastic job of physically inhabiting the person he is told to play.  The script itself, however, is somewhat hit and miss.  We are shown how hard Dury had it growing up (though it does chicken out of stating that he was sexually abused) andit shows how this left him emotionally aloof and self-involved.  It also shows how he could be incredibly sweet and incredibly charismatic and so would suck other people into his life.  However, having set up this psychological puzzle, the film offers no real answers.  If Dury was a loner why was he so gregarious?  If he so needed the attention and love of other people, why was he such a prick?  The sub-plot involving the son should have provided an avenue for these questioned to be answered as it sets up parallels between Dury’s relationship with his father and his own relationship with his son, but nothing is forth-coming.  Having said that, the film does weave the actual music in quite nicely and there are stylistic flourishes that are intensely enjoyable.

8.  An Englishman in New York (2009) [Videovista]  : The Naked Civil Servant is a film that is gently covered in fairy dust.  It portrays Britain as an oppressively repressed society out of which Crisp blooms like a solitary flower.  His strength comes from the fact that he never allowed the greyness to touch him.  He lived his life (bleak and depressing at times) as though the world around him matched him.  This film, by contrast, presents him as an ornate weed in a garden full of beautiful blooms.

9.  Birth (2004) : I watched this on the basis of Sexy Beast and it was something of a let down.  There are wonderful cinematic moments in it such as the opening fairy-tale like run through a snow-covered central park and the two long takes in which Anna and Joseph stare straight at the camera and allow the subtleties of their feelings play across their face.  However, beyond that I found the narrative largely uninteresting.  The film presents itself as being all about love but in reality I think it is about the movement between being in love and not being in love and the ease with which humans can move between these states.  Interesting but left me rather cold.

10.  Still Walking (2008) : Early contender for film of the year.  Ozu famously produced these beautifully sedate films in which incommunicative families would slowly work through their problems and confront them thanks to the gentle massaging of events.  Still Walking is much less structured.  There is no working through of the family’s problems, merely an observation of what those problems are and how they present themselves through rather subtle gibes and passive-aggressive shows of rudeness and disdain.  The point of the film (clearly a response to Ozu, it even has palate-cleansing scenery shots and images of trains) is that real families do not necessarily resolve their issues.  In fact, issues are what family life is all about.  Families are made up of weird quirks, old grievances, stupid habits and so on.  The film explores all of this with a neat layer of symbolism (frosty father son chats inside while outside a father plays with his kids in the sun) and some genuinely beautiful shot selection and performances.  Makes me want to go back and look at all of those Ozu films I never got round to seeing.

11.  The Road (2009) : I was impressed by this.  The film-maker clearly picked up on the most clearly defined strand of the book, namely the idea of the generation gap between the suspicious father and the open-hearted son and folded in a lot of the more metaphysical aspects (such as the idea of hope and carrying the flame and the boy being a god) but without relying on them explicitly.  The photography is fantastic, the acting is superb, the more up-tempo sections (such as sneaking into houses) are well-handled and everything about it screams competence.  However, I was very much aware of how much the story lost by virtue of being cut off from the book’s prose.  The story feels somehow slight and small because of it.  Not a great film but a very successful adaptation.

12.  Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947) [Ruthless Culture] : A return to the shores of Ozu-land for me and I found this to be a nice and gentle reminder of what exactly it is I love about Ozu’s work.  I think that it is based upon a number of things : Firstly, the humanistic tone.  Secondly, the observation of social realities.  Thirdly, the recognisable cinematic tics.  Fourthly, the intimacy of it all.

13.  The Wild Bunch (1969) : Understandably a classic.  On one level, a fantastically directed and incredibly violent and nihilistic western.  On another level, a meditation upon the end of the cowboy days.  On yet another level, a commentary upon the addictive nature of violence and how, once one lives a life of violence, the tendency is to keep going right to the end.

14.  Blissfully Yours (2002) [Ruthless Culture]  : Intriguing work by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.  Less enigmatic than his more recent works.  Opens with a very conventional introduction where the characters and their relationships are quite clearly mapped out.  the desires, the jealousies etc.  Then, about 45 minutes in, the credits run and we have one of the director’s signature key-changes.  A shift to the jungle.  Here we see the characters effectively cavorting in the wild.  Taking pleasure in food, sex, cool water, shade on a hot day and everything else that comes to hand.  The boy is something of a cypher.  Initially completely passive he only really comes alive in this sensual Other Place.  The film ends with a statement that this was not love but a passing thing.  Hmm.

15.  The Girl Cut In Two (2007) [Ruthless Culture]  : I wasn’t blown away by this.  I think that Chabrol’s aloof cynicism has finally got the better of him as it is a film all about love and passion but where none of this love or passion is actually felt.  The ambivalence towards the main protagonist/victim is somewhat off-putting and seemingly undeserved.

16.  Jennifer’s Body (2009)  : This feels very much like a Buffy script that didn’t make the cut.  The soundtrack is decent and there are some nice cinematic touches (including the montage that accompanies the final credit) but the idea of highschool + monsters = social comment is an overused one and frankly this film did not hae very much to say, let alone anything that was new.  Disappointing.

LOG DETAILS LOST

Given that I no longer have access to my full list of films or my initial thoughts on the films I saw, I have decided simply to link to the films I have reviewed but without placing them in any particular order :

MARCH

38.  Frenzy (1972) : Did not enjoy this one at all.  I can still appreciate Hitchcock’s technique as a director but I really do struggle with the endless succession of films about innocent men being chased by the police while they themselves race to track down the person responsible for the crime.  On the plus side, I did enjoy the 70s local colour (Covent Garden as an actual fruit and veg market) and the infamous scene with the spuds in the back of the truck.  A minor work by any stretch of the imagination.

39.  Green Zone (2010) : Serves me bloody right!  The last Bourne film put me (literally) to sleep and this one bored the pants off of me too.  I simply don’t find shaky and blurrily focused camera-work that engaging and I don’t find people walking while muttering into phones and radios that exciting.  This is really the film that broke the camel’s back as far as Greengrass is concerned and as far as the War in Iraq is concerned too.  The film’s desire to say the right things (No WMD, massaging of intelligence, foolish to dismantle the state with nothing in place to replace it) is admirable but surely we have all been hearing this for ages now.  The facts are KNOWN.  If there is anything that needs to be said about Iraq, it is about the aftermath of the war.  The sculpting of Iraq as it is now.

40.  Brighton Rock (1947) : A great film.  From a formalist standpoint, Boulting’s pacing, composition, lighting and structure are flawless.  It is full of wonderful little jokes and neatly put together and well-framed shots.  Narratively, it is tight as a drum and thematically it remains a powerful meditation upon the wages of sin and the degeneration of the human soul.  Excellent film, justifiably a classic.

41.  No Maps For These Territories (2000) : A feature-length interview with William Gibson that has aged quite badly in the intervening ten years.  Visually it is uninventive.  Gibson is filmed talking in the back of a car driving round a city, occasionally there are some effect applies to the windows and then there’s lots and LOTS of speeded-up footage of traffic.  The interview is quite poorly conceived and is genuinely lacking in any kind of focus so by and large what you get is the traditional SFnal ‘trembling before the future with no idea what’s coming’ standpoint.  There are some anecdotes about his early career but this really is weak beer : Dull to look at, lacking in ideas, lacking in focus.  Bah.

42.  Mysterious Object at Noon (2000) : Weerasethakul’s first film.  An experimental documentary in which the director travels across Thailand interviewing different people and getting them to contribute to a story.  I struggled with this one and I think it is easily his least interesting film because you can see the strings being pulled : The overlapping structures and stories-within-stories-within-documentaries with different stagings, tellings and performances of the different vignettes is just a little bit too clever and generates way more light than it does heat.  There’s no humanity to it, only clever meta-textual framing.  Interesting to note though that some of the scenes do basically get recycled in his later films.  I was toying with the idea of writing about this, simply because I’ve written about his other films, but it really struggled to engage me in any meaningful way.

43.  Fermat’s Room (2007) : Rather disappointing like so many of the recent films to escape the apparently quite robust Spanish genre scene.  Spain seems able to produce an endless stream of neatly made low-budget films but they all lack that certain something about the script that makes them special.  Fermat’s Room is a spin on Saw and Cube but with maths.  Only it’s not really about maths.  It’s not really about anything.  Bunch of mathematicians get locked in a shrinking room that shrinks if they don’t solve puzzles BUT almost from the get-go they start cheating so it’s not about the maths.  Then there’s the angle that they’re trying to work out why they are in the room but while there are loads of secrets there, they’re not in any way related to the characters or the drama, so it’s not about the secrets.  It’s a decent way to kill an hour and a half but is otherwise quite disappointing.

44.  Wolf (1994) : Surprised by how much of this film had stayed with me considering that I haven’t seen it for all of fifteen years.  An interesting spin on the werewolf myth that suggests that, actually, taking on the masculine traits of the wolf can be a good thing.  The direction is not brilliant it must be said but the central conflict between the passive aggressive Nicholson and the passive-aggressive Spader (“Tell me what to do”) is a good one.  I also think that, in light of Buffy, it’s quite a neat political spin on the fact that werewolves have become a symbol for toxic masculinity.  Admittedly, this might well be down to the fact that the film was made a long time ago  – and probably written even further back than that – but as a result I think that the film deserves a re-appraisal.

45.  Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010) [Ruthless Culture]  : Mildly amusing documentary about the street art scene and how one of the scene’s hangers on managed to cash in on the sudden media interest in the craze.  Neatly directed and wryly amusing, it’s fairly lightweight stuff that’s heavy on the human interest and light on pretty much everything else.  There might well be a commentary here upon how intellectually vacant and commercialised the art fraternity is but if there is a commentary in that ilk embedded in the film then it’s stated in quite an on the nose fashion and with very little argument or elucidation of the basic idea.

46.  The Wolf Man (1941) : Looked into this as part of some research into a notional piece about werewolves and masculinity but found rather slim pickings here.  It’s an iconic film… or at least it was as I think most of the trappings of this film have since been supplanted by better films.  The film contains an edge of hostility towards the central character Larry (played appallingly by Chaney as a big rubbery baby) but that edge mostly comes from issues of class and xenophobia on the grounds that he’s the son of the local landowner who left to make a fortune in America.  Nice atmospheric set though and it skips along quite well but I think this film really is long past its sell-by date.

47.   The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009) : A rather long but very well made and well acted conspiracy thriller.  They should make more of these kinds of films as I had forgotten quite how much fun a good cinematic mystery could be, especially when they deal in plot rather than chasing and shoot-outs.  How splendid it is to watch a film that is about people sitting down and thinking.  Wonderfully weird central performance by Noomi Rapace too.  Made me want to read the books.

48.  Shutter Island (2010) : A very solid psychological thriller.  Plot-wise it’s one of those stories that blurs the lines between madness, sanity, reality, paranoia and justified fear but cinematically this is pure Hitchcock and it has some lovely moments.  Perhaps a trifle lightweight by Scorsese standards, but an entirely enjoyable genre romp with spectacular photography nonetheless.

49.  Sorority Row (2008) [Videovista]  : Shitty, misogynistic and pointless slasher film with no tension, no atmosphere, no wit, no point.  Rubbish.

50.  The Box (2009) [Videovista]  : Actually really enjoyed this.  Based on a Richard Matheson short story, it begins as a kind of psychological thriller based around a moral dilemma : Would you kill a strange for $1,000,000?  From there, the film spirals outwards into a Parallax View-style examination of the nature of conspiracy and how the revealed truths of religion are nothing more than another shadowy conspiracy in which forces beyond our control dictate the terms of our lives.  I’m not sure that the film completely works as it is quite baroque as far as ideas go but I still think that this film was cruelly overlooked.

51.  Kick Ass (2010) : *Sigh* Yes, there were a few nice moments in this but, having seen the trailer, I don’t think there’s very much more to the film.  there’s a nice scene in which the psychotic violence of a super hero’s life is brought home to the viewpoint character but after that, there’s a frankly inexcusable lapse back into cartoonish kung-fu special effects nonsense thereby depriving the film of a deeper theme.  As far as post-modern examinations of the super hero mythos goes, this is reminiscent of Scream i.e. it’s not particularly clever and generally draws attention to the rules of the genre by pointing and mugging rather than deconstructing.

52.  The Big Lebowski (1998) : Haven’t seen this film since its original release and it is a joy the second time around.  I think the second half could be a bit tighter but there are so many beautiful little touches (like the way in which Walter swallows Bush’s Gulf War rhetoric and how The Dude mindlessly repeats what Walter tells him) that I can’t fault the film – Lovely lovely stuff.

53.  The Bargee (1964) [Videovista]  : Quite an interesting look at the lives of men working the canals prior to their transformation into a rubbish holiday destination.  From the makers of Steptoe and Son and so the social realism is there.  However, the film is not as funny as it should be and the drama misfires when the ending tries to have it both ways.  A pity but an interesting film nonetheless.

54.  The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life (2008) [Videovista]  : Nicely made and nicely directed but utterly stupid.  A French family drama composed of nothing but bright primary coloured emotional moments of crisis straight out of the drawer marked cliché.  Nice use of music but ultimately a really irritatingly dumb piece of film-making.

55.  Black Snow (1990) [Ruthless Culture]  : Nice Chinese film dealing with an ex-convict’s attempts to re-integrate himself into an increasingly capitalistic Chinese society.  Nice back and forth, the odd nice shot, story nicely told but ultimately nothing more than the kind of thing I like.

56.  Pontypool (2009) : Ostensibly an interesting spin on the zombie movie (set in a radio station, the apocalypse takes place off camera in a way reminiscent of Barty’s Party in Nigel Kneale’s Beasts) the film’s real meat lies in the very SFnal concept of a virus that spreads not through language but through the understanding of language.  Half memetic virus, half metaphor for the cultural imperialism that flows from the global dominance of the English language, the exposition of the idea itself is a little muddled but the sub-text and contours of the idea are compelling stuff.

APRIL

57.  Clash of the Titans (1981) : It is surprising how long this film actually takes to get going.    It is at least half an hour before the action kicks in but I think this willingness to introduce the character and nature of the gods really adds to a film that really does look pretty damn good compared to most contemporary action films.  Yes the lead is a bit wooden and yes the supposedly plot-driving central romance is rather lifeless but great action scenes and a great sense of an ancient world in which islands of civilisation existed against a backdrop of weirdness.  Very true to the feel of the Odyssey.

58.  O Sangue (1989) : The only thing I really like about this film is the cinematography.  The cinematography is really good but the plot is completely impenetrable.  There are some nice moods and there are gestures that kind of resemble characterisation and plotting but nothing ever really coheres into a recognisable shape.  A pity, I may look into some of Pedro Costa’s other films though.

59.  Clash of the Titans (2010) : Rubbish.  I fell asleep during a fight scene.  I think that there must have been a decent script at some point in the production history… something about a war between men and gods.  But then, as the re-writes piled up, this idea was watered down into a horrible script that possesses none of the charm of the original – And that’s saying something as the original script was deeply problematic.  Ugh.

60.  Double Take (2009) [Ruthless Culture]  : Excellent documentary essay about the concept of doubles in international politics and culture.  Fear.  Explored thanks to a weird deployment of Alfred Hitchcock who is reinvented as a kind of cinematic version of Borges.  At times difficult to follow but substantial and brilliant.

61.  The Father of My Children (2009) [Ruthless Culture]  : Beautifully shot, beautifully acted and beautifully directed film about a family dealing with grief.  Not terribly intellectually intense or particularly insightful, but it is undeniably moving and undeniably beautifully observed and filled with brilliant moments.  One of my films of the year I would say.

62.  Cold Souls (2009) : Starts well with an intriguing concept very much in the Kaufman tradition but having explored the idea of a) Paul Giamatti losing his soul and b) Paul Giamatti trying out different souls, the film moves into a plot line about his trying to get his soul back that does not quite work.  Pity.

63.  I Am Love (2010) : Takes a while to get going but intentionally so.  Starts out as a claustrophobic story of tensions at the heart of an Italian industrial family.  A regimented and hierarchical establishment enthroned in a sepulchral house.  Then, at a dinner party, a crack appears between the son and the father.  This crack widens as a chef is brought into the inner circle, drawing out the central character who falls in love with him.  By the end of the film, it becomes clear that words are unnecessary as wave after wave of astonishing shots and beautifully constructed layered scenes animated by John Adams’ music bring the emotions sliding home… the film builds and builds as the central character searches for freedom… for a way out and finally it breaks.  I left the cinema tearful this film is so emotionally powerful.  One of the films of the year without a doubt.  Brilliant.  Genuinely Brilliant.

64.  Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008) : Really quite a predictable and uninteresting overview of Lovecraft’s work.  Nothing we didn’t know.  Nothing particularly radical is said.  Nothing particularly interesting is mentioned.  Frankly, this film gives an image of a critical body of thought that is smugly self-congratulatory and utterly stagnant – Has everything that needs to be said about Lovecraft been said?  Where are the new perspectives?  The new interpretations?  Quel Dommage!

65.  Pi (1998) : Can’t believe that it has been a decade since I saw this film in the cinema.  Wow.  Still holds up stylistically and intellectually as a fantastic exploration not only of the line between genius and madness but also the bridge of intuition that separates scientific rigour from mystical speculation.  A brilliant study in obsession.

66.  Session 9 (2001) : Had not seen this film before and, in truth, I was half expecting it to be better than it was.  The ending is quite heavily telegraphed and so I started looking for some other Big Truth.  At one point I imagined that the various workmen might well be different parts of some patient’s personality, struggling to pull things together and then eventually turning on each other but this much smarter film never quite appeared.  Instead we have a film that meanders sedately towards its inevitable ending.  Great location though.  A decent but not particularly satisfying psychological thriller.  Meh.

67.  The Ghost (2010) : An enjoyable if somewhat lightweight political thriller enlivened by the fact that Polansky directs the living shit out of it, filling almost every shot with weird references and subtle stylistic tricks that serve as a kind of real time deconstruction of the plot which, in turn, makes for a cinematic experience more like attending a comedy than a thriller.

68.  Law Abiding Citizen (2009) [Videovista]  : This film is driven by a potentially interesting idea – Given that we are living in a broken society, is it better to break that society wven further by taking the law into our own hands or compromise our principles and work within the system?  Sadly, the film never actually engages with these ideas.  It just shouts and cuts people’s legs off.  Dull.

69.  Dogtooth (2009) : Was disappointed by this.  Yes it is occasionally quite funny, yes it is eye-wateringly explicit and yes it is weird but I found that as an allegory for well… anything… it was sloppy and lacking in bite and as a human drama it was lacking in psychological depth.  There are some interesting observations (such as the way that parents effectively create a closed-world for their children and fill their heads with all kinds of weird crap and the way in which this weird crap is replaced with other forms of weird crap from the outside world) but on the whole, I found it a touch over-long and lacking in focus.  Meh.

70.  The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) [Videovista]  : I really liked this film.  Yes, it is a touch too long (there’s a beat too many in the third act) but the cinematography is superb, the tension palpable and the engagement with ideas surrounding gender really quite compelling.  Great film… must track down some more Dario Argento, my knowledge of his work is sorely lacking.

71.  Life During Wartime (2009) : I really enjoyed this but it was a much closer sequel to Solondz’s Happiness than I realised so I found myself scrabbling to remember precise plot-lines, something not helped by the fact that pretty much all of the characters are played by different actors.  As with Happiness, there are some wonderful lines and some wonderfully fucked up ideas and relationships.  The film is structured around the Bar Mitzvah question of whether one can ever actually forgive another person for their transgressions against you or whether you are simply forgetting (thereby begging the question as to whether it is possible to forget without forgiving and the film sets about suggesting that this is possible).  Funny, intelligent, beautifully written and well-acted.  Lovely stuff.

72.  Agora (2009) : Quite disappointed by this actually.  The film’s articulation of the time and the place is flawless – It paints Alexandria as this seething Cauldron of factionalism in which important ideas are locked out of politics and so are forced to find an airing by the mob in the agora.  Of course, this leads to rabble-rousing and incitement of hatred and this leads to a round of tit-for-tat violence as different power-blocks gain traction with the Empire and so get more or less of a free hand for wiping out their enemies.  However, this background may be well executed but I found the story of Hypatia to be bungled by virtue of the fact that she spends the entire film thinking about gravity and reasoning badly about an idea that was entirely wrong.  There’s a point to be made here about how philosophy cannot stay in the ivory tower during a time when ideas are being fought over but the love stories and soap operatic relationship in the foreground never really engaged with those powerful and more interesting themes.

73.  Left Bank (2008) [Videovista]  : Belgian Horror film that left me feeling quite uneasy thanks to its pervasive use of incredibly misogynistic imagery from blood-encrusted knickers to an evil sucking black hole at the heart of a building.  Need to think more about this one as I either love it or hate it.

74.  La Nina Santa (2004) [Ruthless Culture]  : By Lucrecia Martel who also made The Headless Woman, I found this film to be rather unsatisfying : I like the architecture of the film; this intensely female hotel environment which looks strangely like a hospital and which is suddenly filled with doctors and how there’s a power struggle between the two realities – on the one hand there’s a female reality dominated by religion and relationships, but on the other there’s a masculine reality dominated by sex and the promise of sex.  The film plays out the conflict between these two world-views.  However, I found the fore-ground characters to be rather uninteresting and I never really felt that there was a human emotional element to these clashing architectures… Martel shows that the characters feel tensions between the worlds but she never shows us any of the characters reaching any decisions… it’s all very static and all very dramatically inert except for the gradual sexualisation of the relationships between the female children.  Hmmm.

MAY

75.  The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2010)
: Beautifully tense three-handed drama held together by a series of reversals and twists forced across by sheer acting power and depth of characterisation.  Kept me guessing right up until the end, a superbly written, directed and acted British film.  Yay!

76.  Valhalla Rising (2010) [Videovista] :  A fantastically shot and scored film that manages to combine Herzogian existentialism with Mallick-style awe before nature and Viking Nihilism.  Need to think a bit more about this one but undeniably one of coolest films I have ever seen… but at the same time these ideas have all been expressed before.  There’s nothing new here.  Nothing challenging.  It’s all a bit too comfy to be really interesting.

77.  Heartbeat Detector (2007) [Ruthless Culture]  :  Exquisitely Ballardian tale about the human tendency to play semantic games as a way of justifying morally questionable activities.  In particular, the dehumanising language of corporate ‘restructuring’ and the German policies surrounding the Holocaust.  Atmospheric, beautiful, haunting.  Lovely film, if a little long.

78.  Iron Man 2 (2010) :  Starts off badly.  Hideously in fact as Stark makes his appearance in front of a load of cheerleaders and a huge waving American flag before boasting at length about how awesome he is.  From there we move to a largely tension-free series of talky bits as Stark wrestles unconvincingly with his sense of mortality while the film drives home the idea that you simply cannot rely upon your friends, eventually they will all turn on you if you let your guard down or show any weakness.  Then there’s a load of robots flying around and hitting each other in the face.  Competently strung together if devoid of real character and drama but at least there aren’t too many action scenes.

79.  Le Cri du Hibou (1986) :  Deliciously twisted ‘lesser’ Chabrol which really does deserve to be considered up there with his greatest output.  It’s all about a depressed stalker who takes an interest in a girl only for the girl to return the interest ten fold unleashing upon the man the jealousies of her hot-headed fiance and his vindictive and unhinged ex-wife.  Great stuff though I think I need to think about it some more as it is quite late.

80.  The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) :  Decent time-travel manga.  Interesting because rather than going for all out action, the focus is much more upon mundanity as the protagonist tries to use her new powers to fix the problems with her personal life.  Ending does not quite work and the relationships as a whole are somewhat odd but I admire the ambition and I quite enjoyed the film as a whole.

81.  Origin : Spirits of the Past (2006) :  The plot of this is effectively a re-working of Princess Mononoke with a load of mystical guff about technology confronting nature but in this case nature is weirdly other and technology is associated with a desire to return to the past.  The visuals are luscious and some of the action sequences are well done but ultimately I found it all a wee bit lightweight.

82.  Four Lions (2010) :  Unexpectedly thoughtful British comedy.  The buffoonery of the suicide bombers is genuinely funny and there is some truly world-class Urdu swearing going on but the meat of the film is in the relationship between the protagonist Omar (an excellent Riz Ahmed) and his family who are interestingly supportive of his desire to blow himself up.  There is also a wonderful joke about the police not being able to tell the difference between a wookie and a honey monster… they all look alike don’t they?

83.  44 Inch Chest (2009) [Ruthless Culture]  : Rather cruelly under-rated British film that sees the writers of Sexy Beast team up again with some of the same actors.  As in Sexy Beast the result is a script that is written with a stunningly vulgar eloquence and acted with a polymorphic intensity.  However, where Sexy Beast was 50% caper flick and 50% character study, 44 Inch Chest is all character study… hence the fact that it is a very talky film in which very little actually happens.  However, the characterisation and the pacing of the exploration of the central character is so good that I was more than eager to set ignore the fact that nothing very much happens.

84.  An Education (2009) : I think that structurally this is a good film.  I like the character of David and the way in which his true nature is revealed to a naïve Jenny (and audience) and I like the relationship with the French teacher.  However, I found the central character to be horribly naïve, petite bourgeoise and annoying.  I also found the father to be an annoying caricature.  I think the film would have been much improved by taking David as the POV character : Meet David, he’s trapped in a loveless marriage in the suburbs… he wants to improve himself but he has no culture, no education and no money so he takes up with a louche aristocrat and sets about fiddling the property market.  Depressed, isolated and alienated he attempts to recapture his purity and sense of self by ‘falling in love’ with a naïve petite bourgeoise who lives round the corner from him… initially it works but eventually the truth comes out and his true nature is revealed.  Alone.  Loveless.  Trapped.  Miserable.  Fuck middle class people going to Oxford!

85.  Lawrence of Arabia (1962) : Have not seen this since I was a child and adored it.  With hindsight, I think that the film starts a lot better than it progresses – The opening with him still in the belly of the establishment, the motorbike crash, the funeral and the crossing of the desert are excellent but the film rather loses energy once they take the city.  Still beautifully shot, beautifully paced and beautifully performed.

86.  Le Bossu (1997) : A modern classic if you ask me.  Funny but substantial, action-packed but intelligent, superb period detail and brilliant performances too.  This is what period drama should be all about.

87.  Cube (1997) : Another re-watch I am afraid.  Very sloppy.  I still like this film a lot – the acting, the use of a single room, the puzzle that goes nowhere and the clashing personalities but upon rewatching it I was struck by how the film’s pacing is not always brilliant and how it completely fails to tie the characters into the situation they are living through necessitating large chunks of infodump to sell the conflicts and psychological implosions.  Okay but not as great as I once thought it was.

88.  Dead Space : Downfall (2008) : Animated feature-length tie in for a video game I am going to be writing about this week.  Highly derivative, questionable character design and animation and lots of unnecessary gore and swearing flesh out a rather unimpressive but perfectly workmanlike combination of Alien and Night of the Living Dead.  Meh… but what do you expect from a cartoon based upon a video game?

89.  Maigret Sets a Trap (1958) : Jean Gabin is widely seen as one of the best on-screen Maigrets.  I can see why.  He brings to the part an interesting blend of muscular intensity and laid back informality that intertwine wonderfully in the scenes in which Maigret is trying to break down a suspect.  the film itself is reasonably well-paced and it looks and feels a lot like A Touch of Darkness – all mottled concrete walls, covered arcades and terrible heat allowing barely suppressed emotions to filter upwards into something ugly and violent.  Really enjoyed this actually… an under-appreciated gem as it’s not available on DVD with english sub-titles.  Shame really.

90.  La Moustache (2005) [Ruthless Culture]  : Proper head fuck of a film with an excellent cast.  Bloke decides to shave off his moustache and his wife doesn’t notice.  Nor do his friends.  Is his wife playing an elaborate plank or is he going mad?  As the film progresses, more and more things start popping in and out of existence including holidays, photographs and his parents.  I see this film as being a bit like L’Avventura – a deconstruction of the traditional story-telling tools used by audiences to make sense of psychological thrillers.  Very similar to Haneke in this respect.

91.  City of War (2009) [Videovista]  : Worthy and well-made film about the Nanjing massacre that skimps on political context and characterisation and so slumps into an increasingly comical cavalcade of Japanese war atrocities.  Dull.

92. Two Evil Eyes (1990) [Videovista]  : Anthology film in which George A. Romero and Dario Argento take on Poe short stories.  Romero’s film is an incoherent and directionless mess that devolves into zombies (yawn) but Argento’s is a fantastically weird examination of a man’s sense of failure and his projection of said feelings on inadequacies onto his girlfriend.

93.  Soi Cowboy (2008) [Videovista]  : Thomas Clay’s second film – feelsa lot like a former enfant terrible paying his dues by showing that he a) has seen the classic art house films and assimilated their techniques and b) can replicate those same techniques in a film of his own.  The story and characters are interesting and it’s undeniably a well-made film but I can’t help but mourn Clay’s own voice.

94.  The Witches of Eastwick (1987) : Tried to watch this when I was a lot younger but got bored halfway through.  Can now see why.  It’s effectively a rather crude exercise in gender politics punctuated with increasingly surreal sexual allegories.  A very silly (and actually quite dull) film.

95.  Robin Hood (2010) : Starts out with a nice battle sequence (though Richard the Lion Heart looks, sounds and behaves exactly like the bloke who replaced Chris Morris in the IT Crowd) and some interesting social history but after a while it devolves into a near-remake of Kingdom of Heaven complete with daddy issues and sequence in which the hero single-handedly rebuilds the local economy.  Walked out after the third folk dance (set to a terrible version of Women of Ireland… because there are no English folk songs and certainly none that were written prior to the 1970s).

96.  The Lost Boys (1987) : Actually not a bad film at all.  I had not realised quite how much of it Joss Whedon lifted for the original Buffy film.  Drops him even further in my esteem.  Beautifully paced and actually strikes a much less poncy attitude towards the vampires : They’re not romantic outsiders OR inhuman monsters, they’re basically just swaggering anti-social cocks.

JUNE

97.  New Rose Hotel (1998) : Abel Ferrara adapts a William Gibson short story with Christopher Walken, Asia Argento and Willem Defoe.  Sounds good, no?  In truth this is a rather run of the mill story of espionage and betrayal as a pair of chancers hoping to make a fortune in corporate defections wind up getting played themselves.  Walken’s great but Argento and Defoe seem to spend more time shagging than actually acting.  Some neat directorial flourishes… ho hum.

98.  The Deadly Affair (1966) : Sidney Lumet directs James Mason in an adaptation of the first of Le Carre’s Smiley novels.  The opening is simply superb — Mason plays Smiley as this man utterly trapped and frantic: His increasingly bitter relationship with his job is characterised by a desire to stay and a desire to leave, an early scene in which he prowls around his boss’ office is brilliant.  This attitude is a reflection of Smiley’s attitude towards his nymphomaniacal wife: Love and hate.  Betrayal and affection.  To a certain extent these are themes played out in the rest of the Smiley series but they are especially well implemented here.  For example, the sense of kinship between Smiley and a disgruntled civil servant who winds up apparently killing himself is intensely moving… “there but for the grace of God go I” Smiley (weirdly renamed as Dobbs because Le Carre sold the rights to the Smiley name) thinks.  The actual plot itself, once it gets moving, is very much sub-Hitchcock.  There are some nice moments and some great supporting characters but it’s all a bit too predictable to be really satisfying as a thriller.  OF COURSE the bad guy is going to be your wife’s lover man!  Which is also picked up on in Tinker Tailor.  I’m tempted to read the book version of this as if the book is a lot like the film then it strikes me that Le Carre basically made all the big character moves in this book and merely repeated them later.  Hmmm.

99.  The Killer Inside Me (2010) : Felt quite ambivalent about this one actually… I adored the way in which the character of Lou is essentially a murderous thug who is kept together be the stultifying Southern pressure to conform.  Initially he seems quite innocent, but as the film progresses, we learn that in addition to being a psychopath, he is actually a corrupt wheeler-dealer with a track record of accepting bribes.  You can see this in the fact that he keeps resorting to polite pleasantries at inopportune moments such as apologising while he tries to beat a woman to death and telling her he loves her before stabbing her.  I also adored the way in which the community around him was invested in him and how his increasingly risky and brutal tactics harms the community in quite indirect ways.  By the end, one of the local deputies (a seemingly well-meaning simp) is a gun-toting thug backed by an army of guys with rifles.  Also loved the way in which the house serves as a kind of shell of respectability.  A shell that he destroys utterly at the end of the film.  Despite all of these good things and Affleck’s droop-eyed performance, I felt that the internals of the film were lacking.  Because it was so obvious what Lou was and what he was going to do, there was little tension in any of his actions despite a plot which revolved around his repeated successful attempts to evade capture.  Slightly disappointed in this but it’s still a really good film.  Made me want to read some more Jim Thompson actually.

100.  Cop au Vin (1985) : Bit of Chabrol to round out the first hundred films of the year.  This mid-80s noir adaptation is well outside of Chabrol’s golden period and, to be honest, there’s an air of nostalgia about it.  15 years after the grand old days and he’s still using the same actors (who are admittedly excellent) and the same setting.  The film itself is less than the sum of its parts.  It’s basically a Simenon-style murder mystery with a brilliantly drawn incestuous love triangle on the side (the mother really reminded me of my mum… made me quite uncomfortable).  Loved the central plot, loved the love triangle, loved the characters and loved the astonishingly vicious cop (who plays a similar role to the one in An Inspector Calls) but the film never really coheres into anything surprising.  This is very much Chabrol stuck in the 70s.

101.  La Route de Corinthe (1967) : Hmmm.  A self-consciously odd-ball and quasi-surrealistic spy film by Chabrol that features a love triangle and nothing hugely engaging.  Couldn’t get into it if I’m honest.

102.  The Brothers Bloom (2009) [Ruthless Culture]  : I thought that this was a very enjoyable and interesting film.  There’s a real engagement with the concept of postmodernity going on and how films with stylised aesthetics (like those of Wes Anderson) as well as head-fucky plot devices and mystery tropes all place the audience in the position of being insiders.  Much like conmen.  BUT does this ‘knowingness’ come at the expense of genuine emotional engagement?  I need to think some more about the film but I was very impressed indeed.

103.  Avatar (2009) : I saw this film the way James Cameron intended me to!  As a low-bit rate illegally downloaded copy of a DVD watched on a computer monitor whilst reading the London Review of Books.  In truth, the film is fine.  It’s not too badly paced considering its length and the action sequences are not that bad.  The problem is that for a film that lavishes so much attention on its own ideas and setting, it is a bit sad that those ideas are so utterly derivative.  It really is a lengthy revisitation of the likes of Dances with Wolves and The New World but with an SFnal tendency to make literal all of the suggestions of those films.  So it’s not enough to suggest that the Navi are more in sync with nature than we are, you have to show them LITERALLY having some kind of neural uplink to nature.  It’s okay but I really did feel like I had seen it all before.

104.  Black Death (2010) [Ruthless Culture]  : Great film.  British Horror from the director of Triangle, it’s essentially a revisitation of Heart of Darkness set in medieval England but, unlike Valhalla Rising, it moves the debate on by looking at the way in which Faith provides a protection against existential horror.  Beautifully shot, beautifully acted, intensely clever, easily one of my films of the year.  I don’t think you could come up with a more ‘Jonathan’ film than this if you tried.

105.  They Came Back (2004) : A French zombie film told with the pacing and themes of an art house drama.  Basic set up is that the dead come back to life but rather than plunging society into chaos, the french civil service simply have meeting and set up refugee centres for them to live in as a half-way house between the graveyard and their old lives.  The film is largely focused upon the reactions of the humans who go through an initial period of adaptation as they learn to accept that the person they grieved for and buried has now returned to them.  The dead return home as though nothing happened.  However, as the film wears on, the dead reveal themselves to be slightly ‘off’.  They do not sleep, they do not speak, they seem incapable of original thought, they are emotionally distant and prone to wandering the streets at night.  Gradually, the experts (fuelled by the disappointment at not getting back the loved-ones they lost) start to change their opinions about the dead… they are not shell-shocked humans but something else… they do not understand language merely repeat it (something that is neatly unverifiable).  Eventually, the dead decide to leave.  Their sudden departure resulting in the kind of violence associated with your average zombie apocalypse.  Odd film, but quite thoughtful.

106.  12 Angry Men (1957) : Never seen the original version of this but it is really excellent.  Some lovely camera work, some stunning shot composition (especially given the fact that it all takes place in a single room) and some lovely performances.  Great stuff.

107.  The Duellists (1977) : Ridley Scott’s first film.  Made in the wake of Barry Lyndon, the film is beautifully shot and has a real eye for period detailing on the level of sets, costumes and behaviour.  The story itself is based upon a Conrad short story and you can see the existentialist tendencies in the fact that it deals with a pair of officers who spend their lives fighting endless duels over nonsense.  They loathe each other, but at the same time, they are utterly dependent upon each other for their senses of self.  Scott never quite manages to convey the inner world of the duellists and so the film falls a little flatter than it perhaps should have given the strength of the themes and ideas but it is very pretty and mildly entertaining.

108.  Dreams with Sharp Teeth (2008) : Quite enjoyed this but it is very very lightweight indeed.  Paints Ellison as a colourful and sweary character but does not really delve into his personality or what made him such an influential and well-respected author.

109.  Van Diemens Land (2009) [Videovista]  : Almost identical to Valhalla Rising but without the redeeming presence of Vikings.  Dull, pretentious, intellectually empty but with some nice (if rather one-note) photography.

110.  The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce (2008)  : Same story but told in an hour with much more insight and much more flair.  Does a good job showing how hunger gnaws away at moral principle inflating minor transgressions and personality quirks into grounds for murder and finishes with a spirited attack upon the British penal system that turned a simple thief into a monster.

111.  Eagles over London (1969) [Videovista]  : A fun and silly Italian Exploitation film set during the Second World War.  Good action set pieces make for an exciting watch but what I found most compelling was the way in which the director re-imagines Wartime London as a version of 1960s Rome.

112.  Kisses (2008) [Videovista]  : Very sweet Irish film about a pair of kids who run away from home and open up as they have adventures together.  Strong performances and a (mostly) coherent visual signature carry the film very comfortably.  Not life-changing but certainly very pleasant indeed.

113.  Get Him To The Greek (2010) : Possibly the single worst-directed film I have ever seen.  Firstly, I get the impression that either there was not a finalised script when shooting begun or the film was dramatically changed in the editing suite as the narrative is full of plat lines that simply go nowhere.  Secondly, there are drastic and jarring changes in tone frequently within the same sketch so we’ll move from slapstick comedy to quiet comedy of embarrassment and then back before shifting to pathos.  Thirdly, the film is full of scenes of people saying their piece and then walking out the room meaning that the director (or possibly the editor) have no idea of how to film comedy.  Surely scenes should build to a punchline and then sell that punchline?  If you then have people wandering in and out of rooms around the gag a) you’re bloating the run time and b) you’re allowing the film’s energy levels to drop.  This is particularly obvious in a hectic and slapstick scene that feels really forced largely because the film operates in a much slower register.  There are also some other issues including the fact that the music in the film moves between serious rock and roll and comedy songs.  Either/Or surely?  Good performances and some genuinely funny and obscene jokes make the film eminently watchable but for christ sake… go to film school!

114.  Curio (2010) : Walked out of this after twenty minutes but that was enough to notice a duff script (apparently you can’t get coffee in Britain because everyone drinks tea all the time), astonishingly sub-porno poor performances and an inability to inject anything approaching tension.  I’d be surprised if this even made it out on DVD.  Even the Graham Coxon-penned score was rubbish and derivative.

115.  4, 3, 2, 1 (2010) : Derivative exploitation flick that blatantly rips off Doug Liman’s far superior Go, including the interwoven non-linear narrative.  The script isn’t bad, the direction does have a degree of flair and the female characters are spunky and self-assured in that exploitation bizarro version of female empowerment which involves wandering around in your pants and getting your baps out.  Not a bad film though all things considered.  Held my attention to the end.

116.  Dead Cert (2010) : British Horror film that combines elements of the British Gangster flick (Lock Stock + Long Good Friday) with Vampires.  Quite neatly directed and has some decent performances but the pacing is off.  Way off : The problem is too much characterisation.  Instead of introducing us to a few characters and sticking with them, the script introduces us to a load of not-particularly interesting bods and then spends ages mapping out their relationships and personalities.  This means that the film takes an eternity to keep going and even when it does keep going it loses pace and focus by flitting back to deal with some character’s personal sub-plot.  This is particularly grating towards the end of the film as the film climaxes but then goes on for ten minutes in order to set up a sequel (I’d be surprised if one happened) and include an ill-judged cameo by Danny Dyer as an accountant.  Pleasing enough but in need of some more time in the editing suite.

9 Comments
  1. Paul permalink
    July 1, 2010 8:58 pm

    Stay away from Stieg Larsson’s books. They’re crap. I was very surprised the film adaptation which my sister dragged me to watch.

    Like

  2. July 1, 2010 9:20 pm

    too late I’m afraid Paul. I read the second one and was horrified by the scale of the bloating and padding.

    Like

  3. mark c permalink
    July 2, 2010 11:52 am

    Crank 2 borderline racist? what was borderline about it? Also it was hair raisingly misogynistic. I quite enjoyed the first one but 2 just left a bad taste in my mouth.

    shame about Dogtooth as I’m looking forward to it

    I just saw Valhalla Rising and enjoyed it, though I was struggling to stay awake at times – it didn’t help that we’d recently seen ‘Agguire Wrath of Klaus Kinski’. Great one-eyed acting skillz from Mads Whatsisiname tho

    no “Un Prophete”? thought that would be right up your street

    Like

  4. July 2, 2010 3:47 pm

    Hi Mark :-)

    Yup… I saw Un Prophete and quite enjoyed it without being blown away by it but I think I saw it during the period I lost to my computer crash.

    Valhalla Rising is good fun but I was really annoyed that it seemed to have so little to say. Why are the pretty ones always so vacuous?

    Like

  5. mark c permalink
    July 2, 2010 4:36 pm

    re VH, I did vaguely wonder if One-Eye was supposed to represent the god Odin (who also had, um, one eye and had the gift of prophecy) and it all tied into the whole paganism-giving-way-to-christianity theme. But then all the stupid christians got themselves killed so that was the end of that.

    Like

  6. July 2, 2010 5:44 pm

    I don’t think that the film is that theologically precise in its allegories. I think (as I said in my review) that it’s more that One-Eye represents the savagery of humanity and he passes from the Vikings to the Christians as there’s a sense that the Viking civilisation is worn out and dominated by these old men who make their money betting on fights rather than raiding but all of that doesn’t really hook up in any meaningful way with them going all Heart of Darkness in America… I don’t know… Human Savagery follows mankind even to the eden-like New World? something like that.

    Like

  7. Paul v permalink
    July 8, 2010 5:14 pm

    I concur with your opinion on the few films we’ve seen in common (except for Avatar) and you’ve peeked my curiosity for “Black Death” which I’ve heard nothing about. I will look that one up. I will watch “The Road” eventually (more so now that you are so enthusiastic about it).
    Just to save you some time, in the unlikely event that you stumble upon “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel”, DON’T! I know, I know… why would I ever even entertain the thought? One word: my son. He liked it unfortunately. I will not buy him the DVD though. It would be so against my principles. Rubbish, as you would say.
    Thanks for the reviews.

    Like

  8. July 8, 2010 9:20 pm

    I’ll take your word for it Paul :-)

    Like

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