Film Reviews 14: “Never Let Me Go”, “Enter the Void”, “Days of Heaven”, “Blue Valentine” and 21 others…

days of heaven 1

This month: “A Woman Under the Influence”, “All About My Mother”, “American Graffiti”, “Assassination of a High School President”, “Badlands”, “Blue Valentine”, “Broadcast News”, “Crimewave”, “Days of Heaven” (pictured above), “Enter the Void”, “Following”, “Howard Stern’s Private Parts”, “Lost and Delirious”, “Morning Glory”, “Never Let Me Go”, “Paul”, “Rashomon”, “The Switch”, “Talk to Her”, “Tamara Drewe”, “This is England”, “Tokyo Story”, “True Grit”, “Unmade Beds” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”.

This month, the average rating is 6.08/10, and the film of the month is Days of Heaven. I’ve spent the last seven hours listen to heavy drone metal. I’m not really enjoying it, but I think that’s the point. Follow @halfacanyon for more.

A Woman Under the Influence (1974) – 5/10

Director/Writer: John Cassavetes
Starring: Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands

a woman under the influenceA Woman Under the Influence is the kind of film you really love or really hate. Yet, impossibly, I’m in neither category.

All About My Mother
(1999) – 5/10

Director/Writer: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Antonia San Juan

all about my motherA flashy soap opera with the dramatic qualities of a train conductor announcing a death on the tracks. “All a-bored!”

American Graffiti
(1973) – 4/10

Director: George Lucas
Writers: George Lucas, Gloria Katz, Willard Huyck
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat

american graffitiAmerican Graffiti is a goofy coming-of-age tale about teenage slackers and their “crazy” escapades one night. You get what is says on the tin (apart from any American graffiti), but pales in comparison with Dazed and Confused and subUrubia.

It is rumoured that the new Star Wars film has been cancelled because of a power cut, so George Lucas is doing that thing with a wire and a potato.

Assassination of a High School President
(2008) – 5/10

Director: Brett Simon
Writers: Tim Calpin, Kevin Jakubowski
Starring: Reece Thompson, Bruce Willis, Mischa barton, Josh Pais

assassination of a high school presidentSetting a neo-noir mystery in an American high school isn’t a wholly original idea. It’s already been done in Brick, Veronica Mars and many sitcoms (I assume, without using Google). Assassination of a High School President brings a slight twist by using more direct references to existing classics – this dive for originality backfires, and helps explain why the film was a straight-to-DVD release.

For example, if you’re familiar with the film Chinatown, you can guess the ending. And, by the way, the Faye Dunaway role is filled by Mischa Barton. Elsewhere, the jokes mostly fall flat through poor timing. The assassination of Kennedy is re-enacted with a paintball gun, but the sequence feels longer than Reagan’s residency.

(1973) – 6/10

Director/Writer: Terrence Malick
Starring: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek

badlandsBadlands swings from poetry into simply just waiting for a murder. Perhaps to compensate for the lull at the end of the second act, Malick introduces social commentary into the final act with Sheen enjoying the media attention – he gives himself up on purpose, tossing his comb to the audience – but it shoves Badlands into an eponymous area.

Blue Valentine
(2010) – 3/10

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, Joey Curtis
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams

blue valentineA blue-par valentine.

Broadcast News
(1987) – 7/10

Director/Writer: James L Brooks
Starring: Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Albert Brooks, Jack Nicholson

broadcast newsThe office is rocked when William Hurt steps in as a famous sports reporter entering the world of serious news. He lacks political knowledge, and relies on Holly Hunter to feed him, word by word, through an earpiece. He uses this experience as an opportunity to use a chat-up line on her afterwards about wanting her voice inside his head all the time, and then the film spirals a little.

(1985) – 5/10

Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Sam Raimi, The Coen brothers
Starring: Louise Lasser, Brion James, Bruce Campbell

crimewaveThe Coens and Sam Raimi collaborated for the screenplay of The Hudsucker Proxy, which is one of my favourite films. However, the “demo” version was Crimewave, an overly fond pastiche of slapstick and screwball comedy. The essence of Crimewave is destructed by its self-awareness – a lesson learned, as seen in the interior mechanics of The Hudsucker Proxy – whilst lacking the relentless of Raimi’s own Evil Dead trilogy.

Days of Heaven
(1978) – 9/10

Director/Writer: Terrence Malick
Starring: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz

days of heaven 2Legend has it – or, what I read on Wikipedia – that Terrence Malick took two years to edit Days of Heaven, and it shows. The cinematography is so beautiful that an art gallery – or, at the very least, a tumblr – could be made from still photographs from the film. The camera controls the essence, but is moved by trains, the sun and whatever music is being played in the background. There is sunlight, but the world could collapse on Richard Gere at any moment; only he and I know it.

Linda Manz – yes, the girl sampled in Primal Scream’s “Kill All Hippies” – narrates Days of Heaven. The simple plot involves a couple who pretend to be brother and sister (to avoid gossip) and become labourers on the run. They hatch a scheme that involves a wealthy, dying farmer, which creates a love triangle – as opposed to a Toblerone, which is just a lovely triangle. However, the real story is how poetry can be created from a catharsis of sunburn and lovelorn wheat.

Enter the Void
(2009) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy

enter the voidDespite the sugary opening credits, Enter the Void is an extremely unpleasant way to spend three hours. It was, in many ways, a reminder of the worst moments of my life that never actually happened.

After a less-than-subtle introduction of the values of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the bland protagonist is killed in a drugs raid. However, he floats around as a spirit, watching his sister and some other things. We are taken along this slow and visually enthralling journey, but it’s a bit like listening to a really beautiful person telling you about what they dreamed of last night – you don’t care, but you don’t mind looking. Well, if you’re a sociopath.

(1998) – 3/10

Director/Writer: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan

followingChristopher Nolan’s debut feature, Following, is a low-budget neo-noir thriller that jumps in a non-chronological order. The gritty black-and-white is accompanied by a sputtering soundtrack and amateur actors who indulge Nolan’s screenplay. Like many films Nolan would later direct, Following tries to be as complicated as possible, but the final twist doesn’t pay off. Instead, you’re left with the earliest evidence that Nolan’s ambitions are probably greater than his writing talents.

Howard Stern’s Private Parts
(1997) – 6/10

Director: Betty Thomas
Writers: Len Blum, Michael Kalesniko, Howard Stern (book)
Starring: Howard Stern, Robin Quivers, POaul Giamatti

howard stern's private partsI don’t know how familiar you are with Howard Stern. Over here, in England, people are aware of the massive influence his radio show has in America. However, not so many of us have actually heard of him. Apart from a few losers with too much time. Like this person. Writing right now. On his own. In the middle of the night. Drinking whisky. Trying to remember why I watched this film.

The main selling point of the radio show is the celebrity interviews, in which Stern asks the same questions over and over again, so much so that the interviewee eventually gives in. This is a remarkable talent, especially listening to audio of famously private figures like David Letterman and Jerry Seinfeld slowly losing their temper with someone they don’t want to castigate because of his listening figures. But none of that’s in the film – it’s just an unfunny man making unfunny jokes, and here I am, writing about it, wondering why my life can’t be even a fraction as successful as his.

Lost and Delirious
(2001) – 6/10

Director: Léa Pool
Writers: Judith Thompson, Susan Swan (novel)
Starring: Piper Perabo, Jesicca Paré, Mischa Barton

lost and deliriousI watched Lost and Delirious by accident. I actually expected to be watching Delirious, a Tom DiCillo film starring Steve Buscemi. Instead I ended up seeing a coming-of-age lesbian love story based on a novel called The Wives of Bath that involves broken mirrors, gardening and a vicious bird that eats worms. Not what I was expecting, but at least I didn’t end up with a JJ Abrams drama set on an island.

Morning Glory
(2010) – 6.5/10

Director: Roger Michell
Writer: Aline Brosh McKenna
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton

morning gloryRachel McAdams is a wannabe journalist. Hey, who isn’t? Anyway, she anchors a trashy morning television show, helmed by Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford, which she wants to succeed. Hey, who doesn’t?

Never Let Me Go
(2010) – 8/10

Director: Mark Romanek
Writers: Alex Garland, Kazuo Ishiguro (novel)
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield
“None of you will go to America. None of you will working in supermarkets. None of you will do anything, except live the life that has already been set out for you. You will become adults, but only briefly.”

never let me goThe novel of Never Let Me Go really drags – not just because of the oncoming force velocity – and takes an age for the ‘twist’ to be revealed. In the film adaptation, the ‘twist’ is reveals in the first few seconds, subtitled, just in case you’re too stupid to understand any other method of exposition. Dumbing down, perhaps, but it’s effective.

(2011) – 5/10

Director: Greg Mottola
Writers: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Seth Rogen

paul pegg frostPaul is written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. That may seem like a strange sentence to start a review, but that’s the only reason why 90% of audiences flocked to see a film with so little energy.

(1950) – 8/10

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shiobu Hashimoto
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura

rashomonIn Rashomon, the early scenes are played out with a serene headache – rain scatters across a confused man, and no one sings, “Hallelujah.” We are treated to four different accounts of the events that led to a dead body in the forest. Of course, these contradictory narratives prove you can’t rely on one person alone, so what’s the point of you reading this review?

The Switch
(2010) – 6/10

Directors: Josh Gordon, Will Speck
Writers: Allan Loeb, Jeffrey Eugenides (short story)
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Patrick Wilson

the switchWell, The Switch is sort-of a fucked up version of a mainstream romcom. The plot also involves a child’s head full of lice, which reminds me: my head is full of lies.

Talk to Her
(2002) – 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Javier Cámara, Darío Grandinetti, Leonor Watling

talk to herI’ve spent the last three months writing a screenplay called Highlights From Our Fate about a coma victim. I haven’t written much of it, partly because I’m slow, but I’m concerned about the scientific inaccuracy. While You Were Sleeping and Seinfeld aren’t too concerned – a finger moves, the eyes open, and it’s the perfect romantic encounter. But not Talk to Her.

Here, the coma isn’t a plot point, but a symbol. Falling in love with a comatose dancer, a male healthcare worker tries to live the life she would have wanted, so he visits museums and theatres. Despite some quirky camera techniques and fantasy sequences,  the film aims for a certain degree of realism with its subject matter, and does so with occasional moments of dialogue where doctors will explain the science of comas. In researching my own screenplay, I had a quick look on Yahoo Answers, and most of the best received responses were transcriptions from Talk to Her.

Tamara Drewe
(2010) – 4.5/10

Director: Stephen Frears
Writers: Moira Buffini, Posy Simmonds (novel)
starring: Gemma Arterton, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans, Tamsin Greig

tamara dreweI’m so tired.

This is England
(2006) – 7.5/10

Director: Shane Meadows
Writers: Shane Meadows, Paddy Considine
Starring: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Andrew Shim

this is englandI saw this months ago, but forgot to review it. I also can’t remember anything about it, other than I wanted to give it 8/10. I’ve knocked the score down as the film clearly wasn’t ‘unforgettable’.

Tokyo Story
(1953) – 7.5/10

Director: Yasujirō Ozu
Writers: Kōgo Noda, Yasujirō Ozu
Starring: Chishū Ryū Chieko Higashiyama Setsuko Hara

tokyo storyThe camera barely moves in Tokyo Story, and neither does the plot. This doesn’t really matter as the film’s essence lies in the placid lines of dialogue that remind me of a nightmare I had after drinking too much coca cola on a Thursday afternoon.

“I’m glad we’re still here. The world has changed so.”
“But you haven’t changed at all.”

The urgency of Japan’s new generation of workers contrasts with the patient black-and-white drops of eerie space, where cupboards have been dusted but remain empty. Your heart breaks when you see the older generation feel left out, because you see your past, present and future in front of you.

“Isn’t life disappointing?”
“Yes, it is.”


True Grit
(2010) – 7.5/10

Directors: The Coen brothers
Writers: The Coen brothers, Charles Portis (novel)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin

true gritIf you want an engrossing amalgamation of Paper Moon and Winter’s Bone, then you might like True Grit. It might be hard to work out what Jeff Bridges is saying, but I’m fairly certain insults sound better in a southern accent.

True Grit is a wonderful remake that truly deserves critical analysis, so the worst way to review it would be to rank what I’ve seen of the Coen brothers’ filmography.

Well, anyway: 1) The Hudsucker Proxy 2) Barton Fink 3) Fargo 4) The Big Lebowski 5) No Country For Old Men 6) O Brother Where Art Thou 7) True Grit 8) A Serious Man 9) Raising Arizona 10) Miller’s Crossing 11) Blood Simple 12) Intolerable Cruelty 13) Crimewave 14) Burn After Reading


Unmade Beds
(2009) – 7.5/10

Director: Alexis Dos Santos
Writers: Alexis Dos Santos, Marianela Maldonado
Starring: Fernando Tielve, Déborah François, Michiel Huisman, Iddo Goldberg
“Do you have any secrets?”
“Have you ever told anyone any of them?”
“No. They’re secrets.”

unmade bedsThat is an example of the meandering dialogue featured in Unmade Beds that you probably recognise from countless other films, and possibly from the emptiest, loneliest parts of your drunken memory. So why does it work in Unmade Beds?

The cut-up style of Unmade Beds is a reminder of the vacuous nature of life – as if you could ever forget – and this is, probably unintentionally, helped with the screenplay’s corridor of vague mattress metaphors. You end up with that dizzy feeling you get when you wake up from a gorgeous dream you can’t really remember. Or, I was drunk when I watched this, and I couldn’t really remember what happened when I woke up the next day.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
(1988) – 4/10

Director/Writer: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Julieta Serrano

woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown Sadly, the DVD wasn’t the edition that makes you laugh or keeps you awake.

Follow @halfacanyon for more.

About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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