January Round Up

So I’ve run into a lot of the same problems as last year with just watching too many films and having too much on leading to me falling massively behind on this, like I still haven’t written about films I saw weeks ago. So, with that in mind, I’m just gonna jot down the titles of the films and maybe a few words on each and hopefully with less of a backlog I can go back to doing a film at a time

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017)

I love Martin McDonagh, I think In Bruges has one of the most perfect screenplays I know and I’m a big fan of the three main cast members so this film had an easy way into my heart. I did feel however that the screenplay here was less focused than McDonagh’s other work and at points felt inconsistent, the family scenes in particular often veered a little too close to melodrama for my tastes. I also felt as though the cause and effect in this film was a little inconsistent with characters seeing little to no repercussions to their actions which should have easily landed them in prison.
With all said and done, I really did enjoy the film, it had a great concept and tackled interesting ideas with some great humour and touching moments and a really fantastic cast all round.

Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989)

I don’t have a huge amount to say about this to be honest, I watched it 3 or 4 weeks ago now and it hasn’t stuck in my mind in any meaningful way although it was great to see such an influential film. Whilst it hasn’t necessarily made a huge impact on my life, I did enjoy the film and was at no point bored even if it wasn’t half as funny as it was advertised to be, strong cast of likable characters, James Spader is a stand out.

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Its a real shame that this film didn’t get more attention in the latter half of the year, I suppose it wasn’t the best film of the year but there’s a lot of great stuff in here. I was reminded of Mr Robot whilst I was watching this just in the fact that it felt so current in the way it engaged with social media in a non-condescending way. It might also be one of the most well cast films I’ve seen this year, every single actor was perfect for their part, obviously you can’t talk about the actors without talking about how Great Aubrey Plaza is in this, really proving (if her other work wasn’t enough) her worth as a dramatic actress and so separate from April Ludgate. Elizabeth Olsen has less to do but is fantastic as the valley girl insta model, ignoring her early work in films like Martha Marcy May Marlene, watching this and Wind River (not necessary but its so good!) really prove her range.
It is a funny film, but the levels of cringe and just general dread suppress that side of things and make it feel as far from funny as possible but thats not a bad thing at all because the film has a lot more to offer than laughs and is just really worth watching.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

I kinda thought I knew what to expect after seeing Dogtooth and The Lobster, especially since the trailers for this film gave away a lot of the story, but still I was consistently surprised from the opening shot. What I really didn’t expect was how odd the dialogue was and the detached delivery from the actors, I suppose it is in keeping with Lanthimos’ other work but those had much more heightened settings than the fairly typical house and hospital (ignoring the events happening within). Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman are predictably fantastic and continue to be a great duo on screen, Barry Keoghan is sinister in a novel way giving him an a sense of actual unpredictability and theres even a small, fun role that Alicia Silverstone is clearly enjoying.
It’s a bit of a given that the film is beautifully shot but the camera movement is super interesting, almost always moving and zooming in on actors with clever editing that keeps the same movement between separate scenes. I’m not sure how well it will hold up for repeat viewings, especially with the detached tone that meant the film relied more on its mystery to keep me engaged but I really liked it the one time I did watch it, its also a lot funnier than expected.

I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (2017)

This is the film I was writing about last year when I stopped writing this blog, I wasn’t sober enough watching the film to remember any of the details when trying to write about it the next day or week or whatever so at that point I just gave up. But this year I’ve rewatched the film and will tackle it once and for all in a small post with other films because I also find this a very hard film to pin down properly, I’ve tried a few times to write about this film but its always stumped me.
I think the main problem for me is the attempt to capture the ironic downplayed humour thats so prevalent in indie film but it lacks ta certain subtlety which just makes the jokes feel like a pale imitation of Fargo without the laughter. Melanie Lynskey’s character is pretty much the human embodiment of this sense of humour and she does a good job but the character just isn’t compelling or likable enough to care. There were hints of interesting things with the film’s antagonists, the brief view we get into their world has hints of the occult in a True Detective kind of way. Devon Graye’s character Christian is particularly interesting and could have been quite an iconic character if given a bit more depth as the rich, effeminate but incredibly violent junky, unfortunately Jane Levy doesn’t really have anything interesting to do but its nice to see her pop up any way.
Much like Jeremy Saulnier, who directed him in Blue Ruin, Macon Blair has a proclivity and an eye for violence that translates very effectively on screen.
Theres a lot to like about the film but it manages to fall short in quite a few areas, including some incredibly questionable lighting and colour grading at points, but its a good debut and watchable, though maybe more fun when not sober?

 

Sorry these are all rushed and haphazardly written, its been a while since I’ve watched most of these and I’m almost certain there’ve been more films I’ve watched for the first time but already forgotten somehow, I’ll try to do better!

 

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Inland Empire (2006)

This one really is going to be a short post because I have honestly no idea what to say about this film. I watched it in hopes that it would be a good companion to Mulholland Drive for an essay I was writing on Lynch but I found this film so entire bewildering that from about 40 minutes in I was so lost I couldn’t even make notes on it. The very basic set up is that Laura Dern plays an actress called Nikki Grace who gets a role in a strange film and during the process of shooting her life and the film start to blend. Well thats a paraphrasing of the DVD blurb and maybe is accurate to like, a fifth of the overall film, but if there’s anything I managed to take away from this, is that maybe its not something to be understood in a conventional way. This is the most balls to the wall surrealist piece of work that I’ve seen of Lynch’s (admittedly I’ve only seen Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks S1, Blue Velvet and Eraserhead) and the root of surrealism is Dadaism which had the slogan ‘DADA doesn’t mean anything’. Whereas films like Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet are mostly surrealist due to their narratives and Lynch’s formation of space, Inland Empire uses an arsenal of surrealist film-making techniques without the strongly grounded narrative throughline of the other films I mentioned.

Because of the ambiguity of literally everything in the film and its lengthy run time, it really is an endeavor to watch this, and you have to really let yourself go with it and try your best not to get frustrated. Theres a lot of rewarding material in here with a great performance from Laura Dern to carry you through most of it, as usual Lynch has a way of making everything terrifying even if it really shouldn’t be, I audibly screamed at one point and was just generally on edge throughout. What I took from the film was that it was a comment on the experience of watching something (films/tv) and the ownership that audiences often feel over actors, I honestly cant say if thats right at all, but similarly I don’t think it’d be easy to tell me I was wrong which is always nice. Just to round it out a little, I should say that I did enjoy this film a lot, I really want to watch it again and see if I can figure it out a little more, but in my (very non-expert) opinion, if you’re a fan of Lynch and the way Mulholland Drive is structured, then this is definitely worth a watch, if for nothing else to see how Lynch builds a palpable sense of dread throughout every frame of this absolutely bizarre film.

The Handmaiden (2016)

I went into The Handmaiden knowing next to nothing about it other than it was meant to be amazing and there was a lot of graphic sex which seems like the right amount of information to have leading into this film. I’ll try and keep details sparse in case, god forbid, someone else reads this and they haven’t seen it because the lack of knowledge going in really let me sink into the mystery and allure of this film.

Normally I find that if a film relies to heavily on a big twist at the end, the body of the film is fairly lackluster. The Handmaiden has a lot of twists though, for the most part, they aren’t saved til the end of the film and they inform the narrative in ways that should reward multiple rewatches. One of the central themes of the film is the construction of identity which is beautifully demonstrated through its three part structure each from the view point of another character, allowing you to see a character you were previously aligned with from an outside perspective of vice versa. This and the non-linear structure of the film allow for some rewarding script writing with clever lines peppered throughout that will cause you to reevaluate prior scenes and character motivations as you go along. Granted this isn’t some groundbreaking structure, and to be fair the film never really does anything particularly groundbreaking, but everything it does, it does just so damn well.

The film is just BEAUTIFUL from start to finish, set in Korea under Japanese occupation in the 1930s, the bulk of the action takes place in a large mansion, split with one half in Japanese style, the other English. The production design, from the sets, to the costumes and props and really just anything that might be on screen is intricately designed, presenting an impossibly perfect image of the era and the fashions of the time (although probably modernised). Everything in this film feels deliberate, especially in regards to the cinematography, almost every image is framed perfectly and the camera glides precisely without a single moment of shakiness.

Anchored by two fantastic performances from the lead actresses, Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri, the film goes to some pretty extreme places but rather than walking away feeling disturbed as you might from Oldboy, I ended up feeling quite empowered and positive. Despite the content of my little write up, the film isn’t perfect, I found the last third less gripping than the two leading up to it but thats really not saying much, it was over 2 weeks ago that I saw this so exact details are hazy. But in short, this is a beautiful film (in every respect) which I could happily write essays on the themes of, but unlike many thematically dense films it manages to stay fun and engaging whilst also being something of a film-making masterpiece.

Great Expectations (1946)

I am very behind on writing up things I’ve watched, I think I saw 6 movies last week and have only written up two of them so I’m laying a bit of catch up at the moment which also means i might not remember some of them perfectly.

This adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations by David Lean is the most iconic telling of the story outside of it’s book form. I will admit that I didn’t finish reading the book, but what I did read I actually really loved, the prose has so much character as does the narration. This is obviously something that can’t really be carried over in the film form and for me, that was where this adaptation faltered. I felt as though it tried to be too literal of a transposition in a lot of ways, the most notable example being the scene where Pip steals the food and tools from his sister and Joe. In the book, due to Pip’s guilty conscience, every sound from floorboards or every look from a cow feels as though they were speaking directly to him. I think it says something along the lines of ‘the floorboards creaked as if they were shouting’ (obviously terribly paraphrased but hey, the important thing is that it’s just a suggestion, not literal voices. The film version gives the floorboards, the food and the cows actual, individual voices, turning the scene into a humourous moment, at least for a modern audience. This is just one example of what I think to be a bigger issue in the film, which is that it doesn’t utilise the modes of expression exclusive to film because it tries too hard to be loyal to the novel.

There was some clever framing in shots throughout the film and Lean does a good job of telling the story in a coherent and accessible way without losing too much.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

There’s not a huge amount I feel I can really say about Roger Corman’s adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ and ‘Hop-frog’ and that’s because its a film without a huge amount of substance. In so far as it’s faithfulness to the texts, it takes huge liberties and the majority of the characters are inventions of the film, but really that’s necessary coming from such sparsely detailed texts, but they capture the spirit and main plot points faithfully.

The film has an original heroine and audience surrogate in Francesca, a young christian peasant girl who is taken in by the nefarious Prospero. Prospero is the only named character in the story ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, but is given no characterisation, for the flm, the character seems to be largely derived from the nameless king in ‘Hop-frog’ with a healthy dollop of satanism. It becomes essentially a morality tale between these two opposed characters, with such side characters as Juliana (played by Hazel Court who does her best with such kitsch material) a mistress of satan, Gino who is Francesca’s boyfriend and Francesca’s father. Francesca is taken under Prospero’s wing and clothed with the best clothes and given the best food in the hopes he may conver her to Satanism whilst Francesca plays along in order to try and save Gino and her father. All the while Prosero throws wild hedonistic parties with the nobles he has barricaded in his castle to rotect against the red death afflicting the surounding villages. Its at these parties where we are introduced to Hop Toad and Esmerelda, re-imaginings of Hop-Frog and Tripetta, when Prospero’s advisor strikes Esmerelda, Hop-Toad vows revenge. This story line is ancillary to the main narrative of the film, like a b-plot on a TV show but it captures the mythic spirit of the story well as well as providing us with a 8 year old girl being dubbed over by a 30 year old woman which is just great. The entire film is incredibly kitschy in this same vein and to an extent films don’t quite reach anymore, it has some light leanings into the exploitation genre ut it does have artistic ambitions. Roger Corman had a great fondness for Poe’s work and clearly wanted to do it justice, not only is the narrative a clever adaptation and expansion of the stories, the cinematography is actually good with fantastic pathecolor throughout. Even the wackier sequences such as Juliana’s dream after her stanic ritual is rooted in some cultural ntions of exoticism. That being said, the film totally glazes over any symbolic meaning behind the 7 different coloured rooms, a key feature from the story and the film is at the end of the day, a camp b-movie.