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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Mr Robot – Season 2 (2016)

This has been my only series over the Christmas break, university and having to worry about internships sucks cause it really takes your time away from whats important, being television. This may be a little sporadic and not very in depth at all since I watched this series over 3 weeks with some big gaps here and there for various reasons. Oh also spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen it, I’ll try to mark them but just be careful.

I loved season 1 when I watched it but for some reason I wasn’t particularly excited to watch this but I’m really glad I did. Narratively I can understand criticism levelled towards this season but I feel that watching it as a binge can help to brush past those concerns. (Spoilers ahead) I did feel that Elliot was slightly wasted as a character this season, I felt like he had very little impact on the story of f society, especially in the first half of the season with his status in confinement. The reveal of his confinement was wonderfully done albeit quite expected, and I really enjoy how Esmail plays with having an unreliable narrator, somewhat of a rarity in television and film. Even if he only really served to give Elliot something to do, I really enjoyed Ray as a character, I thought he was an interesting and well rounded character who served his limited purpose well.(Spoilers end) Despite the character being sidelined, Rami Malek was fantastic this season, I don’t know if I noticed how good he was in season 1 but I was pretty blown away by him this season. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Christian Slater who was given very little interesting material to work with but I suppose that was only natural after the season 1 plot twist. The power struggle between Elliot and Mr Robot did get a little tiresome and seemed to make very little progress.

This really was a season for the ladies, with the fantastic addition of Grace Gummer as FBI agent Dominique and Carly Chaikin’s Darlene moving the story on more than anyone else and Angela with a surprisingly interesting arc this season. I cannot say enough good things about Grace Gummer’s character Dom, I had found Gummer quite annoying in American Horror Story so I wasn’t thrilled to see her addition to the cast but I was so so wrong. Dom is one of my new favourite characters on television, she is such a layered character with perhaps more depth than any of the other characters on the show. It was refreshing to see a female character who is exceedingly capable, neither sexualised or sexless, equal parts sensitive and tough with a sense of humour and can handle herself not only intellectually but in a fight, yet she never felt preachy or like they were making a point with her being a woman, she just was. She was a grounded and believable character I was always eager to see more of and to see her survive any perilous situation.and Grace Gummer did a wonderful job. Chaikin stepped up her game with Darlene this season who is a fun chaacter but has yet to be given much more depth beyond what she has. Angela was a a nice eye into the mysterious world of E Corp and her inner turmoil was interesting and performed well, although I must admit I am growing tired of the same nervous expression with the furrowed brow three times an episode, although hopefully we’ll see Angela have more backbone with her new circumstances. Whilst talking about the ladies, we have to mention the terrifying and terrifyingly beautiful Joanna Wellick, at the start of the season you may wonder why we’re seeing so much of her, not that you’ll be complaining, she’s fantastic, but she seems unrelated, but it all pays off. (Spoilers) She pulls some serious Claire Underwood shit which could really change circumstances for Tyrell going forward. Tyrell was one of the big mysteries of the season, only coming back for the last two episodes, I honestly found him pretty tiresome with the constant crying which wasn’t quite believable but I’m excited to see him return as a regular next season (spoilers).

The cinematography continues to be top notch and distinctive through out with its cold and distant offices and unconventional extreme close ups, its such a pleasure to watch. I particularly enjoyed any scenes shot outside at night time, one example that comes to mind is the end of episode 10, a really fantastic sequence which was beautifully shot. (spoilers) Talking about that particular sequence, one thing I’ve loved in Mr Robot since that incredibly unnerving but brilliant suicide in season 1 is the way this show depicts gun violence. The stand out moments are Gideon’s murder, the shooting in China and the restaurant shooting in episode 10, the choice to show that restaurant shooting from outside is the kind of inspired direction that makes the show stand out. I cant quite put it into words, but theres just something about the gun play that feels so unique to this show, its quick, its brutal and its bloody but never over the top, it feels more real than most shows and movies which is perhaps why its so effective. However the show didn’t handle violence so well in the case of Elliot’s beating being swapped out for an overly long, heavy handed 90s sitcom sequence was a swing and a miss (spoilers).

The development of the dark army has made them into a formidable and very threatening possible antagonist, they really do feel dangerous and the addition of Whiterose gives them a face which is greatly appreciated. I admittedly got a little lost with some of the Whiterose/E Corp drama and the powerplant but I imagine that all will become clear next season. (spoilers) Although I liked the cinematography, I didn’t care for the Lynchian meeting between Angela and Whiterose with that child, it didn’t feel like it belonged in the world of Mr Robot stylistically and was a little too self indulgent but its one small moment in a great season (spoilers).

I thought this was a really great season particularly thanks to the brilliant Grace Gummer and expanded roles for other characters. The stakes feel very real with the deaths of big characters early in the season and violence that feels indiscriminate and real. Along with the usual great performances from the old regulars and beautiful cinematography I’d say this is a great season that avoided the dreaded sophomore slump.

Zodiac (2007)

I almost don’t have enough good things to say about Zodiac, this was a really fantastic film that I’d been meaning to watch for such a long time and finally got round to with the Directors cut on blu-ray which has great special features which is why I mention it.

It’s quite an undertaking to take a true story that is so well known and that still has no satisfying conclusion and to turn that into an intensely gripping and suspenseful film. I think one of the main ways Fincher manages this is through his very filmic style and the way he plays with the genre in this film. The opening scene which depicts the killing of Darlene Ferrin plays like it comes straight out of a stereotypical slasher film, with two good looking teenagers being attacked alone in a car in the middle of nowhere, we’ve seen it a million times before. What Fincher does is really interesting, he takes these scenarios that have become cliches through their exposure in 90s slashers, I imagine at least in part thanks to the Zodiac killings, and he presents the with a clean and precise style. We are never made to forget that we are watching a movie, like we might be with the more journalistic style of a film such as Zero Dark Thirty for example, we are so aware that we’re watching a film that we start to forget that what we’re watching is true and that it happened. This tricks the audience into expecting filmic tropes to manifest themselves, you expect Graysmith’s family to get attacked, in the stunningly suspenseful basement scene we even fear for Graysmith despite the fact he wrote the book this is based on. It’s quite sobering in retrospect to watch the killings take place and to realise that we’re not watching a fiction, and from the special features it seems as though the deaths are presented very accurately and unlike the editing, they’re not quick or clean.

Even if you aren’t as drawn in by the style, the case is fascinating and the film is well worth watching to learn more about it. Despite the film being almost 3 hours long, it never drags for even a second, you constantly want to learn more and at the end you are desperate for it to keep going.

The film reminded me why Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favourite actors working today, his characterisation is distinct but he makes sure to keep it subtle and never lets it take over film, as ultimately his character isn’t the focus. The film also serves as a strong example of what I don’t enjoy about Mark Ruffalo’s acting, he makes strong choices in his characterisation but by god does he want us to notice. He’s so set on using this breathy affectation in his voice that he barely has any variation and it draws attention to the performative nature of his acting. Thankfully he never goes to the same extremes of Spotlight so it isn’t too distracting, I just thought it was an interesting contrast to Jae Gylenhaal. As usual Robert Downey Jr is Robert Downey Jr but he’s enjoyable and he injects nice, and needed moments of humour without being too huge a part in the film. John Carroll Lynch is a standout with very little screen time but a lot to work with in. I was also happy to see Chloe Sevigny who I always like and a surprise Jimmi Simpson Cameo.
I don’t feel that I can talk about the acting without mentioning the costume design, I don’t know much about this side of things, but it was hard not to notice how perfectly the clothes reflected the characters in the film.

This film has stuck with me for a good week after watching it, since seeing it, I have been incredibly paranoid when I’m in a room with windows and it’s night outside feeling that I might be being watched. I never felt particulary scared in the film, outside of the aformention basement scene and the lakeside killings (it takes a genius to make a killing in broad daylight so suspenseful), but the true nature of the film has made it stick with me horribly.