Mar 012016
 

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In February I watched 28 films and 21 episodes of TV – not bad, considering most of them were around the 60 min length). I was also trying to review one film per week, which I maintained until the final week. Honestly, there wasn’t much I felt inspired to write about. I watched a lot of average films this month. I also read Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Purity’, Ernest Cline’s ‘Ready Player One’, most of Anthony Doerr’s ‘All the Light We Cannot See’, and for a step back into the past multiple of the classic original ‘Goosebumps’ series.

Like January, I haven’t been to the cinema very often – only Hail Caesar! and Concussion outside of the three media screenings, content with watching semi-new and older content at home. I had either seen most of February’s big releases already (Brooklyn, Jobs, 45 Years), or they simply didn’t interest me (Deadpool).

Coming up in March – some hotter screenings, including 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Witch, A Bigger Splash and Sherpa – and a well-deserved break at Easter. I have an ambitious reading goal in mind, and I would like to spend a little more time gaming. Though I am looking forward to continuing on with 11.22.63 and starting American Crime Story, TV will be culled.

My thoughts on most of my new viewing after the jump:

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Theatrical Screenings

Microbe and Gasoline Reviewed (3.5/5)

Hail CaesarA fun play on old Hollywood studios, the celebrity product and one man’s attempt to understand the political, spiritual and economic forces at play in a world of existential and creative chaos. But it all felt very rushed, over before it hit third gear? Most of the cast are cameos; I think the trailer is misleading, there. Often hilarious, but at times awkwardly ‘off’. As expected, it is minor Coen Bros – their worst since Burn After Reading, but like the far more interesting A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis it might grow on me over time. (3.5/5)

ConcussionThe findings are chilling. Terrifying. Tackles the individual and the science v. a U.S mega corporation desperate to cover its ass. It lacks focus – stretched subplots, erratic editing and an often overbearingly melodramatic score –  but GG nominee Will Smith and Alec Baldwin are great. (3/5)

Triple 9 – Grubby, overstuffed heist/crooked cop thriller rifts on many before it. There is a splash of Heat, True Detective Season 2, and Bad Lieutenant. Charismatic performances (especially from Affleck and Collins Jr.) and a few very tense sequences, but largely underwhelming. John Hillcoat seems to have no interest in his female characters at all. It all just gets a bit silly. (2.5/5)

Zoolander 2Very. Bad. (1/5)

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TruthA tremendous journalistic drama with real stakes – careers on the line and extreme public shaming of professional morals and credibility – with another towering performance from Cate Blanchett. It is the story of a journalist who dared to challenge the leader of the nation on the eve of a second term, a team committed to her leadership, and a veteran CBS news anchor who believed in the truth. All are hung out to dry by their employer when a telling oversight provokes a media war they cannot hope to win. It is about the search for and full disclosure of the truth, but the truth is in the film’s presentation. I was very impressed. It made me angry and it is just a very well put together film. Shamefully underseen, considering it had a very limited release in Australian cinemas last November. Don’t miss it on home entertainment release. (4/5)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – George Lazenby’s lone outing as Bond isn’t memorable for his often-wooden portrayal, but it contains one of the strongest narratives this side of Goldfinger – including a soulful love story, a thoroughly fascinating undercover infiltration, thrilling chase sequences, and some of the stronger technical work so far in the franchise. The score is ace. Most fans rank this pretty high, and it is certainly one of the best so far. (4/5)

Timbuktu I feel like I have been waiting years to see this film. Missed it at SFF back in 2014 and now it has popped up on Netflix after making it on to several 2015 ‘Best of’ lists. Was it worth the wait? Yes. This confronting film adopts a fresh perspective in telling its shocking story. It portrays the maddeningly hypocritical Islamic extremism – blatant terrorism of the tranquil desert village they rule, justified by an arcane belief system. Sissako is clearly a gifted filmmaker, patiently building his world through simple images; there are characters, and cause/effect drama, but they exist as a cog in the condemnation of the Jihadist ideology and its pollution of Timbuktu. Features an incredible long-take, too. (3.5/5)

TrumboReviewed (3.5/5)

GrandmaA briskly told roadtrip movie with a huge heart. A misanthropic poet, Elle (Lily Tomlin) takes her granddaughter across Los Angeles in search of the money she needs to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. Set over the course of a single day – the bond that develops between the pair is charming, while Tomlin’s ornery, world-weary character Elle plunges straight into the painful past in the hopes of improving her granddaughter’s future. Tomlin and Sam Elliot are terrific. (3.5/5)

The TerminalSo ‘Spielberg’, but this charming and heart-warming film was the pick-me-up I needed at the time. It took me most of the film to accept Hanks’ preposterous accent, but his character is so endearing and it is so chock-full of incredible production detail, subtle visual pleasures and kind characters that there was rarely a moment the smile left my face. (3.5/5)

Damsels in DistressFor some reason I thought this was universally loved by everyone. Clearly not. It is a very odd film – my introduction to Whit Stillman. This is a perfect role for Greta Gerwig, who is terrific with her droll delivery, but the entire cast nail Stillman’s witty banter. I remained amused throughout at its wry social satire about relationships, college life, and promotion of mental health awareness (?), even when in a state of bewilderment at exactly what I was watching. Some brilliant running jokes. (3/5)

The InvitationTense as all hell, but I wish the payoff was more satisfying. Deals with grief and emotional trauma to follow tragedy, and the different ways we choose to cope. A dinner party involving long-term friends, their connection fractured through said tragedy, is the stage for this formally-innovative, low-budget psychological thriller. It is a slow-burn, hinting at sinister intentions, and possessing a palpable sense of dread. I like Logan Marshall-Green a lot – he should be in more – but I still don’t get Michiel Huisman. He struggles to convey the ambiguity required of his character. (3/5)

Taj MahalScreening at the upcoming French Film Festival, and though quite good I am reluctant to recommend. Either side of the intense and smartly handled siege on the Mumbai Taj Mahal Hotel, and Louise’s (Stacy Martin, Nymphomaniac) struggle to survive, is a very protracted build-up with a lot of idle activity and awkward establishment of Louise’s attempts to acclimatise to the city, and a bungled emotional reflection. From the 89 minutes, a third of the runtime is not compelling at all. Still, considering most of the film is set within a single hotel room, the desired tension is certainly achieved during that middle hour. I was most impressed by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing as Louise’s desperate father. (3/5)

Nina ForeverCommitted to its crazy idea, no doubt about it. After his girlfriend dies in a car crash, a young man falls in love with a coworker as he deals with his grief. Their relationship is complicated when his ex, unable to find rest in the afterlife, appears to sarcastically torment them whenever they have sex. Seeing the bloody, gnarly corpse emerge from beneath the sheets is a grisly image, and the film walks a delicate tonal tightrope. It has a twisted sense-of-humour, but but also rather touchingly deals with the difficulty of navigating through grief. Has a well-concealed late twist, and Abgail Hardingham is excellent. (3/5)

ElixirAn unknown. It premiered in Berlin last year, and then screened at MIFF. It is an ambitious little passion project from a young Australian filmmaker, shot with an abundance of invention and style in Berlin with an international cast (with a concoction of accents). Won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I was engaged throughout. It takes risks, and offers an interesting insider into the ideology of the surrealist; and this particular vagabond group of misfit artists, designers and literary wannabes trying to make a name in a cutthroat creative underworld. (3/5)

In the Shadow of Women – At 69 minutes it is barely a feature film, and is so minor it drifted away from almost immediately. Deals with a couple on the rocks and their individual affairs that crush their relationship….. Thoughtfully shot, especially, but the lead male is a major pain. (2.5/5)

The Brand New TestamentGod is alive and lives in Brussels with his daughter. Having built the world – and introduced so many laws to toy with humanity that it has all-but imploded – his opinionated young daughter makes a desperate decision. She escapes their home and enters the world, determined to re-write the testament. She seeks out six disciples – sad, lonely outcasts of different ages – to help. Makes cheeky comments on Creationism, humanity’s self-destruction, and how knowledge of certain mortality changes everything. Often very funny, but becomes quite tedious from about the half way. (2.5/5)

My King [Mon Roi] – God, why was this so long? A miserable, disastrously indulgent relationship melodrama, but the acting from Cannes-winner Emmanuelle Bercot is excellent. I liked Maiwenn’s last film, Polisse, but I wonder how that will hold up now. (2/5)

Black MoonThe one where Louis Malle went mad. No idea what happened here. Granted, the first 15 minutes are extraordinary. (2/5)

Goodbye to LanguageWatched in 2D. This was obviously a mistake, but I’m probably not going to find out just how watchable a person taking a shit is in 3D. (1/5)

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Re-watches

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – (4/5)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – (3.5/5)

The Counselor – (3.5/5)

Burn After Reading – (3/5)

Tomorrow Never Dies – (3/5)

Avengers: Age of Ultron – (3/5)

Diamonds are Forever – (1.5/5)

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TV

True Detective S2 E5-8 – (Season – 4.5/5)

And Then There Were None (Mini-series) – (4.5/5)

Fargo S2 E1-5

11.22.63 S1 E1-2

Flesh & Bone S1 E1-3 

Bored to Death S3 E5-8 – (Season – 3/5)

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