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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Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

This takes the crown from Lady Macbeth as the most unpleasant film I’ve seen so far this year, however, Todd Solondz uses this unpleasantness to more compelling ends. The film is very much like a typical American teen high-school comedy, except its not particularly funny and literally everyone in the film is a total dick, creating a bleak portrait of middle America and a girl who’s fallen through the cracks. The film is classified as a dark comedy, and whilst certainly dark, to me, calling it a comedy feels reminiscent of Synecdoche New York‘s branding as ‘the smash hit comedy of the year’, when in actuality it feels about as far from a comedy as possible. Welcome to the Dollhouse does have a definite comedic tone throughout, in the form of the same incongruous, disaffected, ironic humour that was prevalent in the 90s, but the themes were too dark and I felt too bad for the protagonist Dawn to find any of it funny.

Solondz’s take on junior high is ultimately pretty nihilistic, definitely more so than any other high school films I can think of, he plays on audience expectations of these types of films and subverts them, keeping his characters in stasis. There’s a sense of momentum in the film that is never fulfilled, transitions between scenes are scored with jaunty rock and roll music that builds and then kind of just stops. The first time this music comes in is over a shot of Dawn sat on her bed, the music creates the impression that she’s going to spring up and enact some sort of plan, but she doesn’t, the music ends and the scene cuts. This feels fairly emblematic of the film as a whole, throughout, the audience expects some character journey or growth, or some change in status, I was personally hoping for a Carrie moment where she flips and kills everyone but none of this ever comes to fruition. This nihilistic world view is best articulated by Dawn’s brother who when asked if the next grade is better replies saying it sucks too, as does the year after, as does Junior High as a whole.

I said earlier that everyone in this film was horrible, that was no exaggeration, literally everyone is just the worst, even Dawn isn’t particularly likable. This portrayal of Dawn is really interesting as a typical high school movie would almost certainly try harder to make her sympathetic and likable but that wouldn’t be true to life. Dawn is a product of a family who consistently put her down and openly favour her siblings and a school environment where she is incessantly bullied and has one student frequently telling her he’s going to rape her. Its no surprise she has a hard shell and is seen using some of the same bullying techniques that are used on her on others though to little success. The other characters in the film all fit into archetypal roles, including one of the worst mothers I’ve ever seen on film, but these stereotypes work due to the film’s tone and the fact that it’s being shown through the eyes of a young teen in a community where popularity is key.

The characters might not be innately believable in a real world context and some of the events that occur are hopefully far from the norm, but despite these heightened aspects and offbeat tone, it feels bleakly realistic. I can’t say I enjoyed this film nor would I go around recommending it to people, but its very interesting on a number of levels ultimately a great and subversive look in to high school life.

Repo Man (1984)

I wouldn’t know how to ever describe this film, it goes slightly beyond comprehension in the most fantastic way. The film is actually theoretically quite dense but its disguised by layers and layers of fantastic 80s kitsch and comedy so much so that it’d be incredibly easy to miss any deeper point and to just enjoy it for what it is.

The film stars Emilio Estevez as Otto, an 18 year old kid from a poor family who pretends to be older than he is and has an outlandish style, complete with a Madonna-esque holy cross earring. Otto has a surprise induction into the world of repo man but finds himself embracing this lifestyle, the mentorship and the code that it comes with. As repo men they repossess cars of people who cant pay their bills and hold them till they pay up, however, its not all that simple as they have a fierce rivalry with the other repo men in town, the Rodrigues brothers. The car is central to this film, set in LA, a fragmented city where you have to drive everywhere, the car becomes an incredibly significant representation of the driver, it is it’s own self contained world. The identity affixed to cars is a key part of Otto’s own self discovery of his identity. It sounds simple enough, but theres more, a trio of punk anarchists are wreaking havoc across LA, with such fantastic lines as ‘lets go do some crime’, they are a biting satire of counter cultural youths who don’t contribute much to the narrative but are so ridiculous and funny you’ll always be glad when they pop up. As if this wasn’t all enough for a fleshed out film, I neglected to mention the opening, which sets up a huge element of the film. The opening finds a man driving a malibu in the desert with a secret in his trunk, this secret is alien life and anyone who opens the trunk gets immediately evaporated, the radiation is also destroying this driver the longer he’s around it. This malibu becomes a hot commodity that Otto and his crew compete with the Rodrigues brothers to find in order to claim the bounty, they’re not the only ones, theres a conspiracy group, the United Fruitcake Organisation (UFO) and a government branch lead by a torture happy woman with a metal hand. All these groups try to get the malibu, backstabbing each other, forming alliances, having fights and eventually converging on the malibu, now glowing from radiation, causing a literal storm and setting people on fire. Otto and one of his co-workers get in the car which proceeds to raise into the air and fly around the city, like Grease but radioactive. So yeah, its a pretty crazy film.

I’m not going to try and unpack the film properly, that’s a job for a potential essay and either way I’d need to watch it again, needless to say, theres a lot at play in this film and some interesting ideas being represented. The film has a wide range of visual and spoken comedy mixed in with some slightly more serious moments. It is a genre bending, sci-fi, drama, comedy, post-modern, action epic and I don’t think I’ll ever see anything quite like it again.

The Good Place – Season 1 (2016)

This was a binge watch in varying states of sobriety so my recollection may not be as detailed, and unlike every other time I say I’ll keep things short and then write loads, I really think this one will be short.

Written by Mike Schur, the creator of Parks and Recreation, a favourite sitcom of mine, The Good Place is similar in some ways regarding the tone especially, but at the same time an entirely different beast. The main similarity comes in the form of kindness, one of the things that made Parks and Rec stand out so much was that everyone was overall kind to one another (excluding poor Jerry). With The Good Place being set in heaven, this niceness is a common thread and its reflected by the bright, colourful aesthetic and characters who by and large treat each other nicely. This setting also provides some clever humour as expletives are not fit for heaven and as such they are replaced by similar sounding, albeit unrelated words, a clever and humorous solution to the limitations of cable TV. However unlike, Parks and Rec, The Good Place isn’t actually particularly funny, its very pleasant and enjoyable but I can’t recall any jokes that actively made me laugh, perhaps this is due to a much smaller ensemble and a less compelling lead than Leslie Knope. This isn’t Kristen Bell’s fault, she does a good job with a not particularly interesting character, in fact none of the characters are particularly interesting and therein lies the problem. The ensemble does a good job with their material, particularly Kristen Bell and Ted Danson (also wonderful in Fargo S2) and a standout performance from D’arcy Carden who provides the bulk of the show’s humour and she does it so fantastically. However the characters lack chemistry and dont feel like a particularly united ensemble, perhaps due to the lack of group scenes or scenes where we have odd character pairings as the focus is almost always on Bell. This seems like a somewhat unfair critique as all sitcoms take time to find their footing and develop that chemistry, which is particularly hard with only 13 episodes, perhaps in the next season they’ll form a more cohesive group.

What the show lacks in outright laughter, it makes up for with its incredibly finely tuned and precise narrative which is unlike any sitcom I can recall ever seeing. The show has a great concept that could last many seasons but the show never rests on that, they completely change the dynamic about halfway through and then have a finishing plot twist that makes season 2 incredibly exciting, but also incredibly difficult to figure out how it will work. The plot twists never feel extraneous or forced but rather quite natural to the world Schur created, you can tell this show was intricately planned before production, as these plot twists are pulled off perfectly, more so than Westworld (which I loved) that prided itself on its twisty narrative but got quite messy. The writers employ an Orange is the New Black-esque mode of flashbacks to provide insight into the characters’ backgrounds, showing life before death as opposed to life before prison.

Despite not being the funniest show ever, it is really very enjoyable and must be applauded for the commitment to the complex narrative especially in a genre that doesn’t expect it. I’ll definitely watch season 2, but maybe wait for it to be over so I can binge it as that feels like a good way to watch this show.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

I don’t really have all that much to say about this film to be honest, although I’m not sure it’s a film that warrants all that much commentary.

I’d been wanting to see this film for a long time last year due to it being lauded as one of the best films of 2016 (particularly on Reddit) and I finally got the opportunity the other night thanks to Netflix (all praise). It’s an odd film really in a lot of ways, there certainly is a humour to it, that’s undeniable but I found the humour quite lacking, there were moments, particularly at the beginning that really got laughs from me and my mum but these moments were sparse and the middle section seemed to lack them completely. Despite not being as funny as expected, it was an undeniably sweet and heartwarming film (shout out to Bella, the best foster mother in film) but in an entirely predictable way, it bordered on becoming too syrupy towards the end but just managed to avoid it.

I appreciated that the film addressed, if only briefly the huge shortcomings of the foster care system, any more reference to this would have been too much. I also liked that it allowed a character and a dog to die and without giving it too much ceremony but just presenting the fact.

Taika Waititi’s direction and script have a fun and energetic tone but somehow the film, despite clocking in at just over an hour and a half, felt far longer than it was. I’m not sure I’d recommend this film to anyone to be honest, but I definitely don’t regret watching it, I suppose this is another victim of overhyping. Acting was strong throughout barring one notable exception, I particularly enjoyed Bella, Psycho Sam and the dogs.