Monsters: Dark Continent (2014)

Monsters (2010) was such a unique film that following it was always going to be difficult.  It took a fantastic subject and made it background, war and suffering as white noise whilst we go about our lives.  Something exotic.  Monsters: Dark Continent places war in the foreground and the interest is lost as the metaphor is so pronounced that why don’t you just make a film about the thing you are making a film about?

…but it still retains some of the original’s wonder and otherness.  It still feels different.  That’s enough sometimes.

Recommended.

 

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Listen Up Philip (2014)

When it comes down to it, spending time with genuine douche bags is rarely time well spent which leads me to the weird position of having watched a great film that I didn’t enjoy.

Listen Up Philip is beautifully filmed on 16mm, superbly scripted and the acting is universally perfect.  The problem is that both Philip, played by Jason Schwartzman, and his mentor Ike, Jonathan Pryce, are such completely terrible people that time in their company is painful.  And not in a Larry ‘this is what the world would be like if we didn’t censor ourselves’ David way because these guys are so cynical and misanthropic that their company is suffocating.

They are unbearable and so is this well crafted, insightful and at times funny film.

Did I mention that Elizabeth Moss is in this?  Well she is, and she is as brilliant as ever.

Recommended.

Selma (2014)

Selma is a interesting film on several counts and, given recent events in the US, a powerfully prescient and utterly engaging account of Martin Luther King’s involvement with the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march in 1965.  The performances are well rounded (although one wonders where Tim Roth will go next after playing George Wallace and Sepp Blatter, surely Walter Palmer is all that is left) and the script does a great job of highlighting the tactical, and provocative, nature of peaceful protest.

In terms of telling a cinematic tale, the really smart choice here is putting the focus on a march.  The language of cinema is, due to it’s visual nature, simple and the act of walking works perfectly on film.  Walking on film is about agency, it’s the ultimate expression of individual freedom and forward movement.  Think about Tony Manero strutting, the Wild Bunch going to their chosen fate, Lawrence walking out of the desert.  Walking is so important that there are whole films based around not walking; Light Sleeper (1992), Taxi Driver (1976), Cosmopolis (2012) and many more see cars as isolation / retreat from the world.  On film people walk for defiance, acceptance and belonging.  I can’r help but think about the fact that my wife can’t walk home alone at night and what that says about the ownership of public space.

Selma is all about when to walk and why and, most importantly, who is taking those steps.  It reclaims the cinematic portrayal of the Civil Rights struggle from Forrest Gump (white Southern manners ended that school segregation didn’t you know) and heroic FBI agents and hands it to it’s rightful owners.

Highly recommended.

Inherent Vice (2014)

Here’s a great delve of a movie; Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel about an LA P.I. investigating the disappearance of local businessman.

It’s a wonderful sprawling sunshine noir that’s hard to explain without revealing more but it works because there’s too much story.  What you end up with is a sense of someone tipping their toe into a massive stagnant pool of corruption and fishing out that one thing, the one wrong that he can do something about. Joaquin Pheonix is great in the central role, Josh Brolin is intensely perfect as the personification of the backlash to the dream and Martin Short does his thing.

Very funny, kinda wistful, great soundtrack and, like There Will Be Blood (2007), a film that’ll demand repeat viewing.

Highly Recommended.

Birdman (2014)

Is there a more disingenuous film than Birdman?

A 119 minute trick shot that rallies against effects laden blockbusters.

A cry against criticism that looks down on popular cinema.

A victory of style over substance.

Empty.

Great performances.

Avengers: The Age of Ultron (2015)

Watching this latest instalment of the Marvel content delivery system I couldn’t help but think of the surprisingly good X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), both have killer robots and Billy Whizz but Singer’s movie had the distinction of not just being a series of things that happen.  It had a mission and proven high stakes.  Whedon’s film is just more stuff with classic bants thrown in so we can call it witty.  In fairness though it does have the better Maximoff / Quicksilver in Aaron Taylor-Johnson… it also has the usual logical weaknesses (I presume The Falcon had something better to do with his time than help save the world), same old finale and the device of cutting to Stark’s face remains awful.

I’m not saying that it’s not entertaining, it is on several occasions, it’s just more akin to a fast food restaurant than a film, serving a million customers a day… tastes good but it’s not a meal etc.

The individual adventures are much better.

Get ready for a billion more hours of this.

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

The lack at the heart of Ridley Scott’s Biblical epic is faith.  The film can’t decide what it believes or even if it does and this leaves the viewer unsure of what the story is about.  Why is the story of Moses important?  You wouldn’t know from this.

In 1956, when Charlton Heston donned the beard and the big voice, we had a clear story about the right of people to live free.  The Holocaust and the founding of Israel were very recent memories, the Civil Rights movement was under way in the US and the Cold War was here.  The story had context and faith.  Ridley Scott’s context appears to be CGI and 3D and his faith seems supported by the box office receipts of Maximus and Frodo.  All of this manifests itself in a film that resorts to religion only when there’s no other explanation (the tide being out is particularly eye rolling) giving us an underwhelming ‘God of the gaps’ feeling.

I have no faith myself but stories should and, just like Robin Hood (2010) and King Arthur (2004) before it, Scott’s film mistakes the reality of a situation for the truth of the story and throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Black Sea (2014)

Gold bars are brilliantly cinematic.  They are the most simplistic representation of wealth you could hope for and, because the bars are heavy, you can see that lifting them comes at a cost.  They also glisten.  Cash is just paper, the country it’s printed in could crumble tomorrow, but gold will always be gold.  Dobbs knows it and so does Kelly.

Black Sea is about Nazi gold and a group of men so trodden on that they are willing to travel to the bottom of the ocean to get it.  It’s a tense, ensemble piece led by Jude Law and directed by Kevin Macdonald.  Both actor and director take solid steps and so does the script by Dennis Kelly which, of course, heads exactly where you think it will but why else would you be watching?

This is a claustrophobic gem with some genuine heart in mouth moments and, like all theses films, it succeeds because no matter what happens you’re still hoping some gold makes it to the surface.

Highly Recommended.