Nov 032016
 

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This month I decided to focus a lot more on films, in an attempt to check off a bunch on on my still-lengthy watchlist before year’s end. I did a pretty good job of that, but I have about 40 films left to tackle in November and December. A busy month in October – family visits, various life admin and a short break out of town – resulted in only five cinema visits. It was interesting that the two most disappointing viewing experiences this month were at the cinema. It is a problem when you start to dread what sort of public audience you get, and rough crowds are one reason we have waited for the home release a lot more this year.

I watched a total of 30 films. And about 20 eps of TV (well down on last month).

Sam and I have been spending a lot more time playing games – card games and board games (not console) – and this has been a lot of fun. If you’re looking to start a collection of games, these are some I can recommend: Love Letter, The Rivals of Catan, Jaipur, Flux and Tides of Time. In October I read Dave Eggers’ new book ‘Heroes of the Frontier’ and William Goldman’s ‘The Princess Bride’, both of which I enjoyed. I’m also deep into both Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose’ and Neal Stephenson’s ‘Seveneves’, both of which are incredible so far.

November – in addition to continuing to deplete my watchlist (Sully, The Infiltrator, The BFG amongst them), we’re looking forward to American Honey, Arrival, Nocturnal Animals and I, Daniel Blake. Thoughts on some of my October viewing after the jump.

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In-Cinema Viewing

Hell or High WaterTerrificGreat script – character attentive and smartly establishes layered socio-economic backdrop for the cop/robber thrills. Pine’s best work, but Bridges is also tremendous. Pretty much my bread & butter. Consistently surprising, note-perfect with its humour, and densely populated with potent commentary – a 21st Century western with the bleak realism, wearing the quirks of the everyday with a dusty pride. (4.5/5)

Cafe SocietyReviewed(3.5/5)

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackThe plot is convoluted, and it doesn’t take many risks but this is still being undervalued. It is a compelling and seriously hard-hitting follow-up to the decent franchise launcher. Exactly what I wanted from this. Well-executed action sequences, capable female characters and the ever-reliable Tom Cruise beats up a LOT of people. He is ace as usual. (3/5)

Elle – Huppert is terrific and it works brilliantly in the thriller patches. But, the fascinating roster of flawed family/acquaintances and their intriguing dynamics aside, there’s just so much hot air. The dark comic elements consistently failed for me, much of the family-centric drama seemed inconsequential and forced. Am still puzzling, but enjoyed very little. (2.5/5)

The Neon Demon – Narratively and thematically thin (even for Refn), but the real bummer was that it was sensorially less interesting (and consequently) potent at the exhausting two hours. A Maps to the Stars-meets-Suspiria (but way more Maps) fairytale study of envy and sexual-awakening in the ruthless and literally self-devouring LA beauty game. (2/5)

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New-at-Home

Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids – What a world we live in. The only thing I didn’t like (no, LOVE!) was that it ended. A celebration of artistic collaboration from the master of the concert film, Jonathan Demme. JT is the ultimate entertainer, but we know (and he and Demme take every opportunity to highlight the Tennessee Kids, here) that this is the work of hundreds of people and thousands of hours of planning, practice, and precision. (4.5/5)

13th – One of the few docos this year to seriously trouble, and provoke a deep emotional impact, is Ava Duvernay’s tremendously crucial film. The data is shocking – evidence of a pipeline of decisions that effectively perpetuate slavery through the mass incarceration of black people – but it also has plenty of stylistic flourishes, and interesting visual aids. (4.5/5)

A.I: Artificial IntelligenceI remember watching about the first hour of this on TV when I was a teenager (which took a lot longer with the ads) and I never saw anything beyond David leaving the family. I wasn’t ready for what was to come. Ran the gamut of emotions, but most overwhelmed by just how dark and strange it is. Haley Joel Osment’s performance is incredible. It seems flawed, but I suspect that’s because it is always elusive and surprising. It isn’t neat and tidy. I can’t imagine a marriage of Kubrick and Spielberg being any other way. (4/5)

Finding Dory I’ll admit, I was skeptical about this. A sequel to one of Pixar’s more overrated films, focusing on that film’s most annoying character. But, it turns out, this one of Pixar’s strongest sequels. The story gets a bit wild but it has thoughtful messaging, some spellbinding animation (Hank), and clever running jokes – making it funnier than the original I’d say. It is also a winner for kids, making it the most kid-friendly of this year’s great animated crop. (4/5)

SuburraWas sorry to miss this at Sydney Film Festival – a sizzling and brutally violent concoction of religious dismantlement, political corruption and gang warfare with a backdrop of waterfront urbanisation. With enough plot threads to fill a mini series, this  Italian mafia epic is amongst the most cinematic features of world cinema in 2016. (4/5)

IndignationA moving, and intellectually dense portrait of identity fusion and youthful defiance. Adapted from the Phillip Roth novel. Has an unusual structure (including a 15-min verbal showdown centrepiece), but the A+ performances from Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts and Linda Emond and the glorious dialogue ensure this is always captivating. (4/5)

Blue Jay – By far my favourite performance to date from Sarah Paulson, who I have only ever seen play “intense!” (except for perhaps Carol). She’s fantastic, and this film deals out buckets of charm veiled in melancholy, cleverly keeping questions hanging over the viewer. (3.5/5)

River of GrassI have now watched all of Kelly Reichardt’s films, concluding where it all began with this ultra low-budget roadtrip movie, that delves into many of the themes that have defined her career – amongst them vivid portraits of south and mid-west suburban wastelands, domestic boredom and the search for fulfilment. (3.5/5)

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in his own WordsThe guy is a bonafide genius. I had only heard some of his most acclaimed albums (Hot Rats, Apostrophe, Over Nite Sensation) prior to this film, but I have since learned that his body of work is impossibly huge (and diverse). For a man who famously hated being interviewed, this (sometimes inelegant) assortment of reactions successfully paints a detailed portrait of this fascinating individual. (3.5/5)

Heart of a DogMore of an art project than a film, but often extraordinary. Laurie Anderson’s voice is as hypnotic as her images, and some of her poetic connections (between her dog being swooped by a bird and the 9/11 attacks, for example) are startlingly profound(3.5/5)

Shadow of a VampireEerie and strange. I wonder what die-hard F.W Murnau fans think of this portrayal – as much of a blood-sucker as the extreme method actor/vampire he hires for his production Nosferatu, the filming of which is fictionally portrayed here. (3.5/5)

Ouija: Origin of Evil – Hell of a work of direction, and some excellent casting/acting (that young girl actually resembles Elizabeth Reaser, no?). No one really expected this to be any good, and yet it is frequently very good. (3.5/5)

DenialHas drifted from my memory rather efficiently, but this true life drama is (at least) powerfully acted. (3/5)

BeetlejuiceSo shoot me, but I had a better time with Miss Peregrine’s than this, which I suspect is very much ‘of its time’ and only so. (3/5)

MascotsHaven’t seen any of Christopher Guest’s other films. I am guessing this isn’t one of his best, though it does have it’s moments. Most involved Zach Woods and Tom Bennett. (3/5)

The Final GirlsGreat premise and fun enough that one can shrug off its startling mid-way derailment. (3/5)

Interview With A Vampire – Thank heavens for 12-year-old Kirsten Dunst, who wipes both Cruise and Pitt (both very oddly miscast) off the screen. Never into it, and found it a slog for most of the second half. (2.5/5)

Hallowe’en PartyNot a bad late-Christie entry, but certainly a less-than-serviceable adaptation. Suchet isn’t given much help by his hammy supporting cast. (2.5/5)

War Dogs I was told that this was worth watching for Jonah Hill’s performance. It does think it is hot shit, but he is almost exclusively the reason why this remained moderately compelling. (2.5/5)

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Re-watches

Batman (1989)What I realised this time – it pretty much covers the same territory as Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight combined, but with a much cooler German Expressionism-inspired aesthetic and an unwavering and desperately-welcomed sense of humour, and without all the fat (Ra’s al Ghul, Harvey Dent – instantly cooler here played by Billy Dee Williams – and those damn boats and super-computers). Nicholson’s Joker is legendary, and Alfred is so great. Sorry Michael Caine, Michael Gough is Alfred. (4/5)

Batman ReturnsThis movie is bonkers. Lots of discussions about sex (of all things), and many images that will forever remained seared in my brain. Pfeiffer is nothing short of iconic, too. (3.5/5)

Grimsby – Gets my vote for the most under-appreciated film of 2016. Enjoyment does rest a lot on the comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen (and I don’t usually like his work), but this is his most surprisingly sweet and earnest creation to date. It is also incredibly efficient and downright hilarious. Worth it alone for an exchange between SBC and Annabelle Wallis. (3.5/5)

GoosebumpsI am not embarrassed to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this film for a second time within 12 months. It is a wacky portrait of R.L Stine and his iconic creations, and a damn fine Goosebumps story of its own. Having re-read and reviewed all 62 original series novels this year, this no doubt provided a stronger nostalgia kick than most. (3.5/5)

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TV

Bojack Horseman S2 E4-12 (Season – 4/5)

Black Mirror S3 E1

Silicon Valley S1 E1-2

Brooklyn Nine-Nine S3 Various

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