Jan 312015
 

Through the first month of 2015 I watched a total of 23 films. I have been making more of an effort to watch TV in 2015, and I will be including everything I watch there in these round-ups.

Mads Mikkelson

In January we were also were given a PS4, which means that on some evenings film and TV won’t matter. Nothing else will matter. We are going to have to be disciplined with how we spend our time this year, but what a cool new toy.

All categories below (after the jump) are ranked in order of preference:
 

Theatrical Screenings

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Selma – Immensely powerful and superbly made. Focused, yet bigger than the great man at the heart of this history. It is more a document of a historical event than a biopic, and all the better for it. Oyelowo is a mighty force in this very significant film. (4.5/5)

Keep on Keepin’ On – What a wonderful documentary. So inspiring. Clark Terry, a master jazz musician and teacher takes on a young, blind pianist, Justin Kauflin, as his latest pupil. This is at the age of 90 when he is suffering from ailing health. Directed, over a five year period, by one of Terry’s former students Keep on Keepin’ On shows the secrets to mentoring a young musician – don’t throw a chair at them (yes, that is a stab at Whiplash), but care, inspire and encourage creative identity. (4.5/5)

Arrietty – One of several formerly-unseen Ghibli titles and I caught this at the ACMI theatre in Melbourne on New Year’s Day. Such a sweet story, the world of the Borrowers beautifully imagined. An emotional ending. (4/5)

American Sniper – Thoughts at the link. But, a heavily flawed film. (2.5/5)

Unbroken – Or ‘War Man’. What a thoroughly average motion picture. I went for Roger Deakins’ (dubiously) Oscar nominated cinematography but the excellent O’Connell came out on top of this dull, crawling, overlong war drama that tries to be so many things – a biopic, a survival thriller, a POW drama – but ends up limp on all fronts. An incredible story, for sure, but the script (and direction) is poor. (2/5)
 

New at Home

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Baadasssss! – Brilliant. Supremely enjoyable, inspiring and profound. Mario Van Peebles directs and stars as his father, and honours his struggle to make his landmark 1971 blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. A cinematic bible for wannabe filmmakers whose passion and ideas outweigh meagre means and opportunity. So…most filmmakers. (4/5)

Tomboy – I caught Celine Sciamma’s third feature, Girlhood, at TIFF last year and remember this being a hit at the Sydney Film Festival a few years back. Well, everyone was right. This is a lovely little film about confronting sexuality and gender identity through the confusing childhood years, afraid of non-acceptance. The lead performance (and her chemistry with the other children) is remarkable. (4/5)

Lilya 4-Ever – Holy moly this is excellent. Tragic, deeply upsetting Russian social-realist drama, brilliantly handled by Moodysson (recently, We are the Best!) (4/5)

Wake in Fright – Inconsequential addiction and affliction – gambling, alcohol, violence – in a lawless outback land. Dissatisfied school teacher Grant gets so lured in we forget the man we meet at the beginning. Is this one of the booziest films ever made? I think it is what Daniel Plainview meant when he “saw the worst in people”. An unnerving metaphoric ‘off the boat’ loss of identity. (4/5)

Frailty – Matthew McConaughey before the McConaissance. He’s excellent here. The complexities of the bold and effective late change in perspective asks us to question everything we’ve seen before and have faith in. A chilling, unpredictable film that on surface level has a pretty simple narrative, but simmers with saddening, uneasy subtext. One of only two features from Bill Paxton, who also stars. (4/5)

Ponyo – The cutest thing. One of Miyazaki’s most kid-friendly (along with My Neighbour Totoro) and the animation is wonderful. Not one I will return to that often personally, but I’ll make sure my kids do. (4/5)

Swingers – Very entertaining Saturday night-with-beers viewing. Captures that stable camaraderie (with so many now-iconic, quotable LA/Vegas set-piece exchanges) between thinner, old-school Vaughn and Favreau, sought by many amongst uncertain LA future prospects. Defined a generation, I think? (4/5)

The Interview – I genuinely like the Rogen/Franco on-screen bromance, and I have a Seth Rogen sense of humour. Superbad/This is the End/Bad Neighbours sort of thing. This is really silly, but not totally dumb. Just watching these two idiots bicker with each other is worth it alone, despite it being hit-and-miss for too long…and simply too long. (3.5/5)

A Walk Among The Tombstones – Y2K obsessed, but rather good, with ‘Interesting Liam Neeson’ for once since The Grey. A shake-up of the noir thriller, made with composure and clear vision. A rarity in the genre these days. Also aptly named. It happens. (3.5/5)

The Maze Runner – YA adaptation that doesn’t mess around. Built the mechanics of its premise economically and effectively, despite exposition central. The action is intense and the acting from the young cast is solid. Disappointing that we went all this way to be left with an open-sequel ending, but far better than expected. (3/5)

Mr Smith Goes to Washington – Fresh-faced Stewart as green, idealistic Senator Smith is great as this political-underdog tale gathers very late steam (after chugging along on idle for so long). Claude Rains is excellent too. (3/5)

You, The Living – An indescribably nutty cinematic style. Intermittently very funny, but not really my sort of humour. My introduction to Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson, and it lessens my regret of not seeing Golden Lion winner A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence at TIFF. (3/5)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Iconic exploration of NYC re-invention and materialistic distraction, with a woefully misjudged Asian characterisation from Mickey Rooney. Despite Audrey Hepburn’s excellent work, it is well inferior to what I remember to be a terrific novel. (3/5)

Ocean’s Eleven (1960) – Well, Mr Soderbergh (2001 version) is responsible for a rare remake that improves on the original. This is not bad by any means, but so inefficient. Given the simplicity and brevity of the heist there is an unproportionate amount of build-up. No one is particularly charismatic here, when I figured that would have been essential. (3/5)

Obvious Child – It has its moments of blunt honesty, and an excellent performance from Jenny Slate who manages to be exceptionally annoying. She lets loose a barrage of toilet humour, whether in stand-up mode or not, that is off-putting. I was lost early on when I was asked to care for a character who spends 20 minutes bawling and drinking herself into a state of depression when dumped by her jerk boyfriend, who we see less than a minute of. Then the plot actually kicks in, and it is pretty thin from there. Some people have criticized the rom-com elements, but honestly the interactions between Donna and Max were by far the most interesting here and the pair worked well together. This is going to come off poorly, but Slate was actually funnier bouncing jokes off Lacy’s own excellent timing than anywhere else. It is great that Donna is able to have an uninhibited path to an abortion, like any woman should if it is their decision, but the unexpected support from her formerly uptight mum felt drastically convenient at the time of introduction. I feel like this is widely loved, and I wish I was part of the gang. (2.5/5)

Ocean Waves – Ghibli’s weakest film. Substantially. Beautifully animated, as usual, but the story unnaturally is slow and uninvolving, with characters I didn’t particularly like. The flashback structure made things unnecessarily complicated. It seems to have been hidden – barely accessible outside Japan – but don’t stress about catching it. (2/5)

 

Re-watches

stills from film "Fury"

Fury – I appreciated everything about ‘tank opera’ Fury even more on a re-watch. Technically stunning, and the performances from the entire core group are terrific (even Bernthal, who I criticised in my initial review). The war cliches and somewhat predictable developments can be perceived to be detrimental but Ayer provides a punishing war experience and captures the incineration of innocence in powerful ways. (4/5)

Southland Tales – Entertaining chaos. With flashes of crazy brilliance. Film sets its own rules, and for that reason there is never a dull moment. The stunt casting works perfectly, really. I hated in on first look, but I now understand those passionate about its merit. It certainly isn’t poorly made. (3.5/5)

 

New-to-me TV (By Season)

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Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown Season 1/Season 2/Season 3 (Complete) – Show of the year so far. I have learned so much about the world, and I feel like there couldn’t be anyone better to take me around it than Tony. Food-centric of course, but throws in risky but digestible commentary on the country or city’s cultural, economical and political situation. And it is just well made. The photography is amazing. (4.5/5)

Bored to Death S1 E1,2,3,4,5,6 – What a find! Makes the best possible use of the comedic talents of Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Zach Galifainakas. I just watched episode 6, which involves Danson and Galifainakas getting stones on a stakeout. The highlight so far. What an idea, and Shwartzman’s character – a struggling writer/amateur private detective rarely without white wine in hand – is often uncomfortably relatable. (4.5/5)

Hannibal Season 2 (Complete) – Took a while to reach that next level that everyone was talking about, but the back half of this season is nutty as hell. Drops the repetitive structure and becomes completely unpredictable. (4/5)

Hannibal Season 1 (Complete) – This is a grisly, unsettling, nightmare-worthy show. I felt like its serial-killer-of-the-week structure was hard to accept, but technically it is stunning. Mikkelsen, Dancy and Fishburne, in particular, are very very good. (3.5/5)

Peaky Blinders S1 E1,2,3,4 – Still not sure what I think of this show yet. I am enjoying it, because of the historical setting, the appeal of the gangster-family drama and the stature of Cillian Murphy’s substantial presence. It’s new and fresh and I will continue. (3.5/5)

Togetherness S1 E1,2,3 – Written and directed by the Duplass Brothers and starring Mark Duplass alongside Melanie Lynskey, Amanda Peet and Steve Zissis. The first episode is the highlight so far, but this has the potential to be really great. (3.5/5)

The Missing (Miniseries) – After one episode I was hooked on this eight episode miniseries, but it began to lose its way after a while. There were too many puzzle pieces, and while many fell into place elegantly and acceptably, others were jammed in awkwardly. We follow some characters down paths that feel inconsequential, and having been given the God perspective the final reveals are less than satisfying. Still, this is a well-acted whodunit, that throws in enough red herrings to keep you gripped. I’d like to see a story dedicated to Tcheky Karyo’s standout veteran detective. (3/5)

Broadchurch S2 E1,2,3,4 – The first episode obliterated any doubts that this story couldn’t be stretched to a second season, but the next three have unravelled that strong work. Disappointing so far. (2.5/5)

Louis S1 & S3 various – Hilarious. I will have to go back and watch this properly throughout. Right now I am enjoying the odd episode here and there.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine S2 various – Not quite as consistent as S1, but I love how the entire ensemble, who work as well together as well any comedy I have seen since Seinfeld, get their time every episode. The show MVP’s – Braugher, Samberg and Crews – are always on.

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