Jan 312016
 

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In January I watched 27 films, completed 3 full seasons of television and read 6 novels. The latter is a much-better-than-expected start on a goal I have set myself in 2016 – to read 30 novels. I have been enjoying the balance, actually finding myself more comfortable in the world of Ancillary Justice or The Price of Salt than in the cinema.

What I expect to be one of the highlight events of the year, a Hateful Eight Q&A screening with Quentin Tarantino, Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson in attendance, came on the back of seeing the film at a Roadshow screening the night before. I can’t think of the last time I saw the same film in a cinema two nights in a row. Especially one projected in 70mm. And one that warrants immediate repeat watching, like this does.  We also attended a special screening of Birdman, with live accompanying percussion score from Antonio Sanchez. A terrific experience, as Sanchez introduced the screening and told of his friendship with Inarritu and how he came to be a part of the film.

With very few other cinema visits I have been raiding Netflix, iTunes and Dendy Direct for film and TV, catching up with a few acclaimed films I missed out on last year and working through new seasons of True Detective and Bored to Death, in addition to the excellent first two seasons of Halt & Catch Fire, which no one talks about.

Check out my thoughts on all first-time viewing (film) after the jump:

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Theatrical Viewing

The Hateful Eight (x2) – Reviewed (4.5/5)

Steve JobsReviewed (4.5/5)

Room – Unfortunately this is not sitting with me as well as many other people, and I feel guilty about that because how good is Jacob Tremblay? Brie Larson gives it her all too (though I feel like here work in the unacknowledged Short Term 12 was just as good) and all signs suggest that Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her own novel is very competent, but there are some dubious decisions from Lenny Abrahamson that let the team down. The haphazard use of perspective and the rush for an emotional response were troubling, but the way they gave Room considerable expansive feel, while making the outside world feel claustrophobic was very impressive. Often overwhelmingly intense at times too. (3.5/5)

Anomalisa – The animation style is fascinating, the voice-cast incredibly good, and Charlie Kaufman’s address of depression and alienation is uncomfortably direct. Feels like Kaufman is retreading ideas though (mid-life identity crises, human connection through otherworldly forces) albeit with an astonishing new presentation and baffling surreal flourishes. Still not sure what to make of this one, but I appreciate it more than enjoyed it. (3/5)

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Chi-raqThe first great film of 2016. Timely and furious. Playful and hopeful. Hilarious and shocking. Consistently enthralling and surprising. One should never ignore a Spike Lee movie, especially when he is this angry. If Teyonah Parris wasn’t already a star after Dear White People…she is now. (4.5/5)

Breathe Like Chi-raq, if I had watched this in 2015 it would have made my Top 25. A knockout feature debut from Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds). Economical and brilliantly handled. Striking performances from the two very talented young women, this films gets high school life and the emotional extremes of adolescent friendship. (4/5)

The MendOne of the film’s greatest qualities is the fact that it is indefinable. It never lets up the challenge for its audience. This is a raw, aggressive and abrasive film, full of energy and masculine angst. It is about the relationship between two brothers, Mat (Josh Lucas, an iconic performance) and Alan (Stephen Plunkett), who become unexpected roommates when Mat crashes a party one night at Alan’s Harlem apartment and then doesn’t leave. Estranged, and almost polar-opposite personalities, they connect through mutual feelings of discontent for their lives. The Mend is a hyperactive film stylistically, but it remains confidently grounded, understanding the human condition and plumbing the depths of modern dysfunction. The extended party sequence should be studied in future film classes. (4/5)

Queen of EarthThe superb and unnerving new film from Alex Ross Perry features astonishing performances from Elizabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston, detailing the destructive creature that is grief and the disillusionment and sinister tendencies that surface when human connection and the basic bonds of trust and friendship become frayed to irreparable levels. (4/5)

The Suicide TheoryI have already seen two strong, under-seen Australian films in 2016 (the other being Cut Snake) but this very unusual film has big ideas and a lot on its mind. The premise – a suicidal man, whose repeated attempts to kill himself fail, hires a hit-man to do the job. I found myself frequently surprised by where this film went, so compelled by the central relationship and the tragedy of both their lives, that I was able to forgive its somewhat contrived narrative. Terrific performance from Steve Mouzakis.(3.5/5)

Bone TomahawkThe budget for this film was extraordinarily low and one can sense that in the film’s somewhat disappointing final act, when things get truly violent and barbaric. But the motley posse, including the always fantastic Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins, are working so well together that this Searchers-via-Cormac McCarthy western satisfies on a character-level. While it is very dark, there is a sense of humour throughout that I appreciated. (3.5/5)

Goosebumps – Goofy nostalgic fun that is much better than it had any right to be, surprisingly succeeding through the kids’ charming chemistry. Starts to struggle when the chaos hits – it is a damn fine comedy, above all – but having read all of these books as a kid I frequently felt like I was ten again. (3.5/5)

Cut Snake – An ex-convict’s (Alex Russell) past comes back to haunt him when his former cellmate (a charismatic and intimidating Sullivan Stapleton) tracks him down and jeopardises his relationship with his fiancee. This edgy and often sinister crime drama has a subversive twist that keeps the tension palpable. (3.5/5)

The LadykillersLesser Coen Bros. no doubt, but still distinctly their brand of comedy and frequently hilarious. One of Tom Hanks’ most bizarre roles. (3/5)

Straight Outta ComptonWow, after it received all that buzz and scored the Original Screenplay Oscar nomination, this was underwhelming. Far too long – the second half is disastrously unfocused as it jumps between Eazy-E, Dre and Cube’s disparate lives – this is so stuffed with plot that threads are either conveniently glossed over or forgotten. Especially those that paint the N.W.A members in any sort of negative light. It is trying to be a biopic and make a statement about gang violence and police brutality, but they never gel very well. First third, the origins of N.W.A, recording ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and their controversial nation-wide tour, is very strong – Matthew Libatique’s cinematography the consistent MVP, along with the terrific performances from the three central youngsters. (3/5)

Sleeping With Other People – I like Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis, so I was interested in seeing this at the cinema. Catching up on VOD, it is little more than mildly interesting lazy-Sunday viewing. While the pair are quite funny together – this is amongst the best uses of Sudeikis’ droll, sarcastic quips – the story doesn’t tread any new territory. Both struggle to connect beyond sex, Brie’s character has serious hang-ups about her ex (a married and mustachioed Adam Scott), and the pair find themselves emotionally healing while falling into the friend zone. The flat second half makes it feel like a protracted 90mins. (2.5/5)

Black Mass – I was skeptical about Depp’s performance in Black Mass (the SAG nomination etc.) but he’s actually very good here. Pity he is surrounded by a dull, useless lump of a film for most of the runtime. There are some tense moments, but this is a real step down for Cooper. I know most people didn’t like Out of the Furnace, but I did. Everyone’s accents are ridiculous (I’m so tired of Cumberbatch), save for Juno Temple who is excellent in her limited screen time. (2.5/5)

The Road WithinHas committed and affecting performances from Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel and Zoe Kravitz but this mental illness road-trip comedy/drama is too timid, wary of breaking away from its inspiration (French film Vincent Wants To Sea). (2.5/5)

Pawn SacrificeYeah chess really isn’t cinematic. Takes an interesting angle – Bobby Fischer’s mental instability, his anxieties about duelling with the Soviet chess champion during the Cold War – but it squanders its minimal chances to be thrilling. None of the performances are particularly compelling, but Michael Stuhlbarg is solid in a minor role. (2/5)

Horse MoneySo, this made it to many 2015 Top 10 lists? Okay. Admittedly this was not good Friday-afternoon-after-a-long-week-at-work viewing, but what a snooze. I can’t think of an appropriate time when this would make sense or be compelling. (2/5)

The Blob (1958) – B-grade sci-fi where nothing much happens. 27-year-old Steve McQueen can’t pull off 17. Way too much talking and those effects are now giggle-worthy. There’s an ’88 version that I understand is much better. (1.5/5)

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Re-watches

Hot Fuzz (4.5/5)

Birdman (4.5/5)

Inherent Vice (4.5/5)

The Big Short (4.5/5)

Django Unchained (4/5)

Deathproof (4/5)

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TV (in order of viewing)

Jessica Jones S1 E10-13

Halt & Catch Fire S1 (4/5)

Making A Murderer – Mini-Series (3.5/5)

Halt & Catch Fire S2 (4/5)

True Detective S2 E1-4

Bored to Death S3 E1-4 

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