This month: “Begin Again”, “Benny & Jolene”, “Cuban Fury”, “Dinosaur 13”, “Fading Gigolo”, “A Good Year”, “The Grandmaster”, “Interstellar”, “A Long Way Down”, “Mauvais sang” (pictured above), “Mr. Leos caraX”, “The Other Woman”, “Paddington”, “St Vincent”, “Stranger by the Lake”, “Two Days, One Night” and “Two Faces of January”.
This post is a collection of things I’ve seen recently or forgot to write about earlier this year. Also, some features I’ve written in last week or so include: “How American Stand-Ups Became Respected Actors”, a very lengthy “Love letter to comedy podcasts”. ”, an “Interview with cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd”, a look at “How filmmakers take revenge on critics”, and a short bit on why We Are the Best! is the best film of 2014.
This month, the average rating is 4.79/10 with film of the month being Fuji stock. Follow @halfacanyon for more.
Begin Again (2014) – 3.5/10
Director: Writer: John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levin, James Corden
“No, I actually just think music is about ears, not eyes.”
Who keeps handing out professional contracts to inept musicians? Well, Begin Again suggests the blame lies with alcoholic fuck-ups hanging around open mic nights after losing their jobs. They also look like Mark Ruffalo. His ears are spellbound by Keira Knightley’s voice and her outspoken stance of not selling out; yet she drawls mid-tempo ballads, strums open major chords, and writes lyrics taken out of a 13-year-old’s diary. While the film is more dull than hateable, not even Ruffalo’s natural charm can offset James Corden’s reappearances.
Benny & Jolene (2014) – 4.5/10
Director/Writer: Jamie Adams
Starring: Craig Roberts, Charlotte Ritchie, Dolly Wells
“We’re gonna take all that energy, all the rollercoaster stuff, and put it right in the middle here.”
With a working title of Jolene: The Indie Folk Star – I don’t think this was supposed to a joke – Adams’ semi-improvised comedy is made bearable due to its warm performances slotted into an amiable story about a folk duo with romantic longings. However, too often the mumblecore-ish approach is swapped for Apatow-ish riffing that’s largely as uninspired as folk music itself. Roberts’ character is replaced by a tree on an album cover, which sums it up pretty well.
Cuban Fury (2014) – 2.5/10
Director: James Griffiths
Writer: Jon Brown
Starring: Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O’Dowd
“Legs of a stallion, arms of an eagle.”
The title Cuban Fury implies some form of energy or emotion. Well, the Fury bit. What appears is a sub-par romantic comedy in which everyone is sleepwalking (apart from when a stand-in does some semi-fancy leg kick).
Dinosaur 13 (2014) – 3/10
Director: Todd Douglas Miller
“How dare they. How dare they do this.”
Er… it’s already dead, guys. No need to cry over spilt dinosaur bones.
Fading Gigolo (2014) – 3/10
Director/Writer: John Turturro
Starring: John Turturro, Vanessa Paradis, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sofía Vergara
“Maybe the money’s blocking him. Listen, we can do this for free if that’s going to make you feel better?”
When Turturro announced plans to make a film based on his Jesus character from The Big Lebowski, I assumed the guy was joking. After Fading Gigolo, he must be confident in getting anything commissioned. Stone and Vergara are sex-starved women who throw thousands of dollars for Turturro to shyly do his thing; they obsesses over his physical appearance, sense of humour, and ability to provide the kind of sexual satisfaction that only existed in their fantasies. So, yes, Turturro has written an absurd fantasy about his life, all without irony.
The real crux of the story is a religious based romance subplot for Paradis, jarringly with little connection with the aforementioned hook – aside from Stone and Vergara remarking that his shagging techniques change when he’s in love. Yet during all of this, you’re just waiting for a few peeps of Woody Allen as a pimp.
The Fault in Our Stars (2014) – 4/10
Director: Josh Boone
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, John Green (novel)
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff
“Depression’s not a side effect of cancer; it’s a side effect of dying.”
Considering it’s a love story about two teens dying of cancer, Boone’s weepie is concerned with one thing: making you cry. There’s little about what it feels like to be dying, and minimal screen-time for how surrounding loved ones cope. Instead, Woodley is on autopilot, and Elgort has the most obnoxious character quirk whereby he carries unlit cigarettes in his mouth to demonstrate his control over death. I wish it was better, but apparently the world’s not a wish-giving factory.
A Good Year (2006) – 4/10
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Mark Klein, Peter Mayle (novel)
Starring: Russell Crowe, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish
“My life is in London. I don’t do weekends.”
Crowe plays a businessman who’s adamant that taking a holiday is a dangerous distraction that affects your work. Sort of implies to A Good Year, a script whereby the sunny location is more important than any character.
The Grandmaster (2014) – 7/10
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Writers: Wong Kar-wai, Zou Jingzhi, Xu Haofeng
Starring: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen
Also, I interviewed the cinematographer.
Interstellar (2014) – 4/10
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
“Love transcends space and time.”
My hatred for Interstellar transcends space and time. The lazy rehashing of 2001, the non-human dialogue, the Shyamalan elements, how women are nothing more than father worshipers, that goddamn poem. Even the impressive wormhole sequence – I saw it on 70mm at BFI IMAX – is ruined by knowing Matthew McConaughey is going to start speaking at any moment. If I could go back in time and tell myself not to watch it, I would; but that’s just too stupid an idea to contemplate. I would love to expand on this more, but my bookshelf is telling me it’s time to go.
A Long Way Down (2014) – 3.5/10
Director: Pascal Chaumeil
Writers: Jack Thorne, Nick Hornby (novel)
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Imogen Poots, Aaron Paul, Toni Collette
“Other people aren’t allowed to be in pain.”
I’m embarrassed to have read the book, and now I’m embarrassed to have seen the film. Four people plan to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, then have a tawdry meet-cute and agree to think things over. Initially, Collette’s character is defined by being boring. By the end, it’s confirmed – and remarked upon in the coda – that they’re all similarly lacking.
Mauvais sang (1986) – 9.5/10
English title: The Night is Young
Director: Leos Carax
Starring: Denis Lavant, Juliette Binoche, Michel Piccoli, Julie Delpy
“If you see a little yellow moon in each of my eyes, it means I’m coming.”
Mauvais sang is like Les amants du Point-Neuf and Holy Motors in that it also occupies a Carax universe that exists to serve cinema. Delirious set-pieces and playful editing reflect the Godard influence (as is having a female lead called Anna), but Carax delivers more. Much, much more. For one, there’s a real vein of romance (albeit a strange interpretation) running through a Paris beset by invented diseases and broken lamplights. A virus makes its way through the population, infecting anyone who has sex without love; an ambiguous disease that fully reflects the film’s ostentatious mood.
Framed by autumnal shots, Alex (Lavant) shares a loving relationship with Lise (Delpy) before he’s recruited to assist criminals in stealing a lifesaving serum. That’s when he’s struck by the charms of a gangster’s girlfriend, Anna (Binoche), whose alluring diffidence carries the kind of weight only felt by fictional characters. After all, Alex admits to quirks like only loving girls with dead fathers, and can only express his emotions in an unbroken shot of him sprinting down the streets to David Bowie’s “Modern Girls” almost two decades before Greta Gerwig does the same in Frances Ha.
Despite the artificial sets, Lavant and Binoche treat the impossible romance with astonishing conviction. The unique chemistry is developed via an audacious parachute jump in a dystopian atmosphere; their respective running sequences capture an inner spirit attributed to French New Wave. It also helps that Carax, like Godard, knows how to create an iconic image, even if it’s just Delpy saving the day on a motorcycle; each impulsive, poetic shot emerges like an unstoppable heartbeat. With the love overflowing, Lise continues to pen letters that have no address.
Mr. Leos caraX (2014) – 5.5/10
Director: Tessa Louise-Salomé
“I admit I have a contempt for the press. If I were an animal in the wild, I’d go after anyone filming me.”
This doc celebrating Leos Carax is a firm reminder of the director’s determination to bring as much emotion as possible to the screen, regardless of Denis Lavant’s protests. As a fan of Carax anyway, I didn’t mind sitting through the clip show and talking heads, each echoing each other’s praises. But there are few revelations, and it wraps up like a DVD extra.
The Other Woman (2014) – 3.5/10
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Writers: Melissa Stack
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, Nicki Minaj
“You had sex with my husband 50 times? Don’t you have a job or hobbies?”
If you’re hoping for a female comedy akin to Bridesmaids, lower your expectations because this is closer to The Sweetest Thing. In fact, it also focuses on a trio of women whose thinly written personalities all revolve a man – the same one, as it turns out. Diaz at one point jokes that they are “the wife”, “the lawyer” and “the boobs”, except I’m sure she’s quoting the pitch. Look out for multiple gags involving diarrhoea, defecating dogs, and that the director is a relative of John Cassavettes.
The key bonding moment occurs in the style of Elizabethtown via a wordless montage, which is quite frankly ridiculous. If only the surrounding dialogue was also drowned out by music.
Paddington (2014) – 6/10
Director: Paul King
Writers: Paul King, Hamish McColl
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman
“Your leg’s grown back.”
When Paddington Bear first appeared in 1958 as Michael Bond’s literary creation, the anthropomorphic bear would have been an unlikely candidate to be skateboarding 56 years later in a CGI blockbuster. Yet Paddington stays reasonably true to the original character’s understated charm, without straying into the murky territory one fears when children’s films rely on talking animals. There is a real sense of nostalgia and fondness towards a bear swapping deepest, darkest Peru for London.
Director Paul King, who made his name shooting The Mighty Boosh, shapes another alternate reality infused with childlike wonder – no one bats an eyelid at a well-spoken bear slouching on a train platform. Paddington’s polite tones come courtesy of Ben Whishaw (after Colin Firth dropped out during production) and is the softly spoken voice one might imagine from the books. At least, it fits in with the character’s immaculately rendered animation – appropriately cartoonish, not slapdash – with the detail evident in any close-ups of his fur.
Paddington’s integration with the real world benefits from the casting of Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as Mr and Mrs Banks, the parents of the family who take Paddington into their homes – initially for one night, then longer when they fall for his fuzzy charms. Bonneville is appropriately flustered with the bear, as if dealing with any old miscreant, whereas Hawkins sympathises with the plight of being far away from home. But even better is Nicole Kidman as a comically evil taxidermist, channelling her memorable role from To Die For, peppered with a Hitchcockian Cruella de Vil.
Bridging these figures is an action-packed arc – complete with a 5-minute skateboarding sequence – which are, to be honest, not for me; they’re understandably unavoidable, but also subtract from the droll character interactions. Still, these stunts are made bearable by comedian cameos: the likes of Alice Lowe, Peter Capaldi and Matt King manage to steal scenes with just a few lines. The succession of recognisable faces is redolent of Wes Anderson, whose fingerprints are all over the design, particularly when the family home is treated like a dollhouse – it’s one of the few Anderson imitations that don’t make you paw your eyes out.
With an underlying theme of London as a cultural melting pot, Paddington is a pleasant addition to the list of films that will inevitably play on TV every Christmas for the next few decades. Paddington is, unlike Seth Macfarlane’s Ted, someone you’d welcome into your home.
St. Vincent (2014) – 3.5/10
Director/Writer: Theodore Melfi
Starring: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd
“If you gamble, you might as well have a chance to win big.”
The dullness is encapsulated by a scene that uses a Green Day version of “Should I Stay or Should I Go”. When Murray runs through Dylan in the credits, it’s a cruel taste of what could have been. What a strange review this is.
Stranger by the Lake (2014) – 6.5/10
Director/Writer: Alain Guiraudie
Starring: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumçao
“Sex is great, but it doesn’t mean we have to have dinner and sleep together.”
Kudos to the sound design – water hitting rocks, ejaculate splurting on skin – for building up the tension of a thriller at the beach; the naked bodies expose the nature of human urges.
Two Days, One Night (2014) – 7.5/10
Directors/Writers: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione
“You can’t ask this of me.”
As working hours increase, so do a generation’s stress issues. And when the weekend comes, rather than having fun or updating stupid film blogs, the time is chewed up by errands and dull chores. That’s sort of the experience of watching Sandra (Cotillard) as she spends her Saturday and Sunday ticking boxes on her to-do list. Except Sandra’s to-do list is a list of work colleagues she needs to do convince to give up their pay bonuses for her to keep her job.
The company’s perception of Sandra as disposable is down to her struggle with depression, making the drama a simple yet effective attack on capitalism’s poor treatment of humanity. Although her co-workers initially voted in favour of keeping their bonuses, the system clearly doesn’t work when it comes down to mathematics. Like Sandra, the majority of staff are victims incapable of surviving on low wages – they worked three extra hours during her sick leave, but didn’t complain because of the much-needed overtime pay.
The Dardennes’ over-the-shoulder routine is again powerful in capturing Cotillard gradually weighed down from the process of being knocked down at doorsteps, or the surging guilt when someone concedes to her request. The mental health subplot is a bit ill-fitting, especially how it’s wedged into a threadbare narrative, but after thinking about it for two days and one night I couldn’t imagine the film without it – the workplace is an unforgiving ocean, sending waves crashing into the human spirit. It would have won the Palme d’Or had the Dardennes knocked on more doors.
The Two Faces of January (2014) – 4.5/10
Director: Hossein Amíni
Writers: Hossein Amíni, Patricia Highsmith (novel)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac
Kirsten Dunst tweeted an image from production two years ago of a cave populated by menacing cats. Sadly, the film is more conventional and less cat-ful than promised. It involves the kind of strange love triangle that only exists in popcorn thrillers, whereby people instantly fall for strangers to speed up the story. After Viggo scams a few victims, he and his wife, Kirsten, hit the road – and that’s where Oscar, a handsome conman, flutters his eyebrows and becomes embroiled with their chase. Why does he get involved? Partly financial reasons, partly because he just does.
At a slender 96 minutes, no more time is needed with these thinly written characters – an accusation which can’t be said at The Talented Mr. Ripley, also written by Patricia Highsmith. You can tell which novel was picked first.
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