Not much to say about this month. I worked very hard at my job, I participated in Dry July (which was tough), I progressed many hours through Witcher 3 and after some challenging viewing I ended up more often than not resorting to the comforts of re-watching films I enjoy. Still, I saw some great films in the cinema this month. You all know my obsession with Magic Mike XXL, but Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Rams and Mr Holmes have a spot in my current Top 25 of the year. I ended up watching 31 films in July, so let’s get straight into it.
Magic Mike XXL – Reviewed (4.5/5)
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – Reviewed (4/5)
Rams – The Un Certain Regard winner is a fascinating window into unique Icelandic living, a consistently surprising tone-shifting comedy-thriller. Sibling rivalries and fatal degenerative diseases cause the conflict, but there’s a perfectly judged comedy to all this tragedy. I could never quite pin this down and it constantly threw me and kept me guessing. Beautifully shot. The Icelandic seem to really get the Scandinavian deadpan humour that so often doesn’t work for me. See also Of Horses and Men, one of the funniest films of last year. (4/5)
Mr Holmes – Reviewed (4/5)
Amy – Very unsettling viewing but another grand editing feat from Kapadia and the team. This is a tragic story of fame-induced all-round recession – physical/maturity/confidence/inspiration. That’s the biggest shock for me. Very early on in Amy we hear Winehouse sing for the first time. Her voice is incredible, her aura is massive, and she appears to be of age beyond her 18 years. But, only a handful of years later, she looks petite. She has shrunk as a result of the drug abuse, but she is often surrounded by large bodyguards and swamped by the paparazzi. She now looks like a child. She seems to have reversed in age, and the maturity, confidence and inspiration she had on fruitful scale has all been stripped away. Comparisons may be futile, but this is not a Senna. Loved use of on-screen lyrics, which are Amy’s story in her own words, but the archive-driven approach becomes less effective in the misery-bludgeoning second half. (3.5/5)
Trainwreck – Reviewed (3/5)
Minions – Fun times, but a step down from the Despicable Me films. Pop hit montage-y and lacking in any real plot. Visual slapstick/minion-sounds do all the work and that’s just enough. No strong human characters to complement. A lot of similarities to the far superior Shaun the Sheep, surprisingly. (3/5)
Ruben Guthrie – I may have ranted about this to anyone and everyone who will listen. Rather obnoxious stuff with a nip of Sydney yuppie-culture truth that offers brief contemplation of forgiveness. But the sickening levels of product placement, sketchy stereotypical characters, forced and quickly ignored side-character drama, and thin analysis of the mass addiction vs. mass abstinence struggle drag the desired laugh quota to all-but nothing. I expect this is a pretty decent stage show, because there is a story worth telling here, but this film flubs it. (1.5/5)
New at Home
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem – Wow! The acting is amazing, but how bout that impeccable direction here? Two talky hours set entirely in one location, and spanning many years, shouldn’t moves this quickly. I was on the edge of my seat. (4/5)
Silent Heart – Reviewed (4/5)
Save the Date – Turned out to be a perfect Saturday night time filler. Has familiar indie drama problems – the beautiful apartments on book store wage etc. Not particularly substantial, but has lots of warm fuzzies. Hot cast (Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie!) and a thoughtful look at modern relationships and commitment. And obviously hit some marks. (3.5/5)
Young Sophie Bell – A detective mystery featuring a young woman simultaneously grieving the loss of her best friend, and completing her journey into womanhood. This is a stylish drama that is very clever with its revelations, and Sophie literally follows in her friend’s footsteps – to the point of staying in the same Berlin room, working the same job and eventually wearing the clothes she left behind, shedding her inhibitions and becoming the independent woman her friend so desperately and tragically desired. (3.5/5)
They Have Escaped – Reviewed (3.5/5)
The Guest – Well, that was underwhelming. It is It Follows’ smug, swaggering older brother who ends up being completely embarrassed in a one-on-one. Wingard shows signs of being a great director (this is better than the fatally confused You’re Next at least), because it does have a great final chase sequence and the score is boss, but he’s also way too heavy-handed. The thematic undercurrent – the PTSD effects of war on returning veterans, and the willingness of the grieving to allow a stranger to fill the role of a lost loved one – is wiped out by some truly unacceptable behaviour. Better as a mystery; I just did not accept the third act reveal as to David’s motivations. Dan Stevens’ iconic performance is fantastic, but Carpenter and Argento (and David Robert Mitchell) this is not. (3/5)
The Kings of Summer – A fine coming-of-age, teen summer-transformation drama with a pair of convincing relationships; a young man and his best friend, and a young man and his step-father. Can totally relate to the urge to run away and live outside the suffocating adult presence, and the conflicts that arise from duelling egos in that isolation. Uses montage often, but well, and music (‘The Youth’) especially well. Decent performances from Nick Robinson and Nick Offerman (compare this role to the lazy, thankless one in Me & Early & the Dying Girl), but this film contains one of the most baffling characters in recent memory. Who was Biaggio? A tag-along weirdo we learn nothing about, and whose behaviour always struck me as ‘uncharacteristic’, even though I didn’t know who he was. Oh, and Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson? Dial it down, guys. (3/5)
Faust (2011) – I finished it, and for that reason I feel like I deserve a pat on the back. Tough going, but I haven’t seen anything like it. (3/5)
The Boy Next Door – It is dumb, but actually (terribly) enjoyable. The dialogue is odious, some of the acting appalling, but there’s surprisingly little restraint – I am going to make that sex scene pretty explicit and actually show that eye being gouged out. A big hit, and I get why. (2/5)
Peace, Love and Misunderstanding – What a bunch of bullshit. A few inspired moments from the talented, but inconsistent cast (including Katherine Keener, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Olsen and Jeffrey Dean Morgan), but this is such contrived, saccharine, Woodstock pot-haze crap. Takes every opportunity to air the characters’ opposing views and beliefs about the state of America, which makes up most of the forced ‘dramatic’ conflict – and yet everything is so sickeningly cheery we know it is all going to be just fine in the end. (1.5/5)
Not listed: Safe and Velvet Goldmine, part of a Todd Haynes Director of the Month focus I am very behind on. Stay tuned – sometime in August.
Mad Max: Fury Road – You know what, I can’t think of a reason why this isn’t a five star film. What impressed me the most this time was the editing and the continuity. How do all those plains of action make cohesive sense. It is pretty much perfect in what it is trying to achieve and when those ambitions have no bounds the result is a wonderful gift. (5/5)
Superbad – Gets better every time (up to about seven views now), which I find most unfathomable. (4.5/5)
The World’s End – “Let’s get this antique on the roadshow!” Hot Fuzz still trumps, but this is my second favourite from Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy. The whole thing is brilliant, but it doesn’t get much more perfect than that first 20 minutes. Watch it again. (4.5/5)
Blow-Up – There’s something about David Hemmings becoming obsessed with, contemplating, and eventually solving a mystery (see Deep Red, Argento follows Hemmings for a long time as he wanders around an old house searching for the key clue) that keeps me captivated. I love the ending so much, too. (4/5)
John Wick – Beautiful.
Viggo Tarasov: I heard you struck my son.
Aureilo: Yes, sir, I did.
Viggo Tarasov: And may I ask why?
Aureilo: Yeah, well, because he stole John Wick’s car, sir, and, uh, killed his dog.
Viggo Tarasov: [pause] Oh.
Has anyone counted how many people John Wick kills in this film? Has to be over a hundred. (4/5)
The Village – Night’s best film. Definitely. No film with such confident direction, feature that score, possess such great acting from Bryce Dallas Howard and Joaquin Phoenix, and have that ballsy second-act twist should be so hated. You’re all wrong. (4/5)
Leon: The Professional – Iconic, for Portman and Oldman, but also as an entry in the NYC-set films canon. A seriously underrated feature is the score. Sublime. Lesson: when Danny Aiello speaks, you listen. The man is full of wisdom. Do The Right Thing backs me up. (4/5)
Ex-Machina – Reviewed a few months ago, but I liked it more on the second look. (4/5)
eXistenZ – Didn’t hold up quite so well this time, knowing the ending and what we are actually watching, but still one of Cronenberg’s most interesting films. (4/5)
Ping Pong Summer – I never lived a summer of ’85, but I connect to this film a lot more than I care to admit. A really under-appreciated teen summer-transformation comedy. (3.5/5)
Enter the Void – I highly respect Noe as a filmmaker and despise his work at the same time. This is a tough sit. The first 30 minutes, again…captivating. But, a bit long innit? If I never get the chance to see Love 3D, I won’t have sleepless nights of despair. (2.5/5)
Wet Hot American Summer – We watched the whole eight episodes back-to-back. Works as a prequel to the events in the film – what happened on the first day of camp, as opposed to the last – and brimming with random hilarity. Rudd, Meloni, Cooper and Banks especially. The hopefully unspoiled roster of cameos is simply amazing. We found the first four episodes to be stronger than the tail, but fans of the film will be well-serviced. (4/5)