Watched This Month: April 2016

Hello, Captain! Welcome to another edition of Watched This Month. After pretty much two solid months of television, I’m finally catching up on some movies! I also recently joined letterboxd, which is essentially a film-focused social network that enables you to track and rate everything you watch. Give me a follow if you’re also set up over there and I’ll stalk you back. Also, I’ll make note that some of my ratings over on letterboxd may differ slightly to those I’ve given here because of the ability to award half stars. I wish I could hand out half stars on my blog, but there doesn’t appear to be a code or symbol for them and I’m not too fond on using an image as they look different depending on the browser and/or device and I’m all about order and consistency. Anyway, on with it!

Film Rating
Hail, Caesar! (Dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)

The Coen brothers’ latest film follows Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood ‘fixer’ who is employed to protect and disguise the private lives of film stars. In the film, ‘Hail, Caesar!’ is a huge production that is halted by the kidnapping of its lead actor. Eddie Mannix begins proceedings to have the actor returned, all the while juggling with his usual daily duties such as dealing with the ever-persistent press and tending to an assortment of film stars embroiled in personal affairs.

The film is roughly shot in segments as Eddie Mannix travels from production to production for his work. Each set is beautifully and attentively crafted and all are brought to life by the wonderfully illustrious cast.

Come the end, it wasn’t as gripping as I anticipated it to be, but Hail, Caesar! was nevertheless charming, frequently funny and terrifically written with an assortment of masterful dialogue. In many ways, I saw it as the Coen brothers’ love letter to cinema and a fine piece of endearing and pleasurable light viewing.

★★★☆☆
Kung Fu Panda 3 (Dir. Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh)

The third film in the Kung Fu Panda series is more of the same, as we follow Po’s everlasting journey of self-discovery with more kung-fu to learn and a new villain in tow. I absolutely loved it, though. Just like the first two films, Kung Fu Panda continues to sound like a silly idea on paper, but is – in actuality – a highly stylistic film with a lot of heart and some expert comedy.

My only gripe with the third installment is that the film struggles to have a serious moment. Oftentimes the drama is lightened by a moment of silliness or some comical dialogue. The comedy itself is great – with even some of the less pronounced jokes worthy of an audible chuckle – but it’s a step back from Kung Fu Panda 2, which blended action, drama and humour so well.

Nevertheless, the film is an absolute blast with barely a dull moment. As ever, Jack Black is perfect as Po and I was glad to see Jackie Chan had a couple more lines this time around. Furthermore, J.K. Simmons and Bryan Cranston were wonderful additions who really brought their characters to life (though it is a shame Simmons’ villain Kai wasn’t was well developed as previous antagonists) and the film itself is so gorgeously animated and designed that – should the story fail you – at least it’s glorious to look at. The action sequences are also stunning and live up to everything precedent.

Kung Fu Panda 3 completes one of the finest animated trilogies around, but apparently there are no less than three more films planned. DreamWorks have done exceedingly well so far, but I wonder if the franchise will fatigue going into a hexology.

★★★★☆
New York, I Love You (Dir. Natalie Portman, Shunji Iwai, et al)

A collection of eleven short films by a variety of directors all set in New York City and revolving around themes of love or sex. Some are great, others not so much.

I watched the anthology due to Shunji Iwai’s involvement and (unsurprisingly) I found his short film – which stars Orlando Bloom as a composer stuck reading Russian literature – to be one of the most interesting. The plot was more satisfying and complete than most, though it wasn’t my favourite.

I really loved Shekhar Kapur and Natalie Portman’s segments. Kapur’s follows a suicidal opera singer (Julie Christie) who checks into a hotel and is befriended by a doleful bellboy (Shia LaBeouf). It’s delicately shot and very melancholic in tone. Almost everything I see of LaBeouf outside of Transformers I find entirely affecting; he’s a wonderful enigma of an actor.

Portman’s film is possibly the shortest, but I found it nonetheless emotional and also quite solemn and bittersweet. It follows a ballet dancer (Carlos Acosta) as he spends a day with his daughter, before handing her back to his ex-wife and her new partner. The daughter is played magnificently by Taylor Geare and though Acosta is actually a real life ballet dancer rather than an actor, I found his performance very nuanced and touching. It’s a very wistful and stirring few minutes that the format of a short film is able to portray immensely.

I also enjoyed Faith Akin’s short, which follows a painter (Uğur Yücel) obsessed with a local shopgirl (Shu Qi). Eventually he asks her if she’ll sit for him, but she declines. It’s another melancholic tale (I seem fond of those) tackled beautifully.

Sadly, I didn’t care for much else, which is why the rating isn’t so great. But if you have a couple of minutes to spare, a short film can be a great use your time. Sometimes I would much rather watch a collection of shorts over a feature, as there are often a couple of hidden gems and the format and low budget nature of shorts allow for a lot of artistry and creativity.

★★☆☆☆
Picnic (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

Picnic is a Japanese short-film helmed by one of my all-time favourite writer-directors; Shunji Iwai. There are two slightly different versions: a 67-minute cut and another at 72-minutes. The one I have is the 67-minute version.

The film follows a trio of mentally unwell 20-somethings – Coco, Tsumuji and Satoru – who are all patients at a psychiatric hospital. They long for the outside world but are forbidden to leave the walls of the asylum. However, they believe as long as they don’t go beyond the wall, they aren’t violating any rules, and so they climb up onto the wall of the institution and explore the surrounding city by walking along the walls and never touching the ground. Before long, they have a chance encounter with a priest who introduces them to the Bible. Tsumuji misinterprets a portion of the text and believes the world is ending soon. Thereafter, they hunt for the perfect spot to picnic and witness the end of the world.

First and foremost, the film has a very intelligible portrayal of the mentally ill; displaying to great degree how the simplest of phrases can have multiple interpretations. Furthermore, in such a short space of time, the audience grow to have such a tremendous understanding of Tsumuji and – to a lesser degree – Coco. The characterisation is magnificent, with Tadanobu Asano and Chara (who play Tsumuji and Coco respectively) truly excelling (fun fact: the two met on the set of Picnic and married a year later).

The cinematography is typically Iwai – very dreamy and quietly alluring – and the music is well implemented and accentuates well the enchanting tone of the film. Despite the almost fantastical quality of Picnic, however, some sequences were rather haunting (well one, especially). Tsumuji has hallucinations of his old homeroom teacher, who is portrayed to a very effective and disconcerting degree by a puppet. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s one of the most visually unsettling sequences I have seen in a while.

Picnic is one of the strongest and most comprehensive shorts I have seen from Iwai thus far; as emotionally engaging as April Story come the end, with excellent development for a short work. Iwai often ends on bittersweet tones and I have a feeling some of the imagery from Picnic will stay with me for a very long time.

★★★★☆
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (Dir. Julian Jarrold)

On my quest to watch Andrew Garfield’s entire filmography, I have come to the Red Riding trilogy, which chronicles almost a decade of police corruption, organised crime and serial murders in Yorkshire.

The first film – set in 1974 – follows Yorkshire Post journalist Eddie Dunford (Garfield) as he investigates a series of child murders he believes to be connected. His investigation uncovers massive corruption in the West Yorkshire Constabulary and Dunford finds himself embroiled in a dangerous world with no one to turn to for help.

Garfield is on-point as cocky Northern reporter Eddie Dunford; his accent is convincing and the character is very layered and compelling. Sean Bean also stars as a rather vicious and shady real estate developer. As vile as his character was, I found his performance utterly captivating.

The film starts off as a bit of a slow burner, but picks up during the second half. The climax was thoroughly gripping and though it’s the first in a trilogy, I felt the movie also worked well as a stand-alone story.

The opening Red Riding installment is an absorbing work of neo-noir and I can’t wait to see where the sequels go given the ending. Furthermore, Andrew Garfield’s earlier work continues to impress. The Red Riding trilogy was released two years after his film debut in Boy A; it’s amazing to see what powerful and impassioned characters he debuted with.

★★★★☆
The Jungle Book (Dir. Jon Favreau)

I’m not the biggest fan of Disney’s animated collection (with my favourite being the seldom mentioned Hercules), but like many, I have fond memories watching Disney’s The Jungle Book in my childhood and was curious to see this fused digitised, live-action rendering.

Faverau’s version is an enjoyable romp and a blockbuster with a little more soul than most, but to me it never became great. As per the original, Mowgli’s journey remains a satisfying and delightful tale and many of the characters retain their lovable characteristics and/or memorability, but I never felt particularly engaged. The film could have done with some more development for a couple of its characters (especially the wolves) and the death of a significant character – a prime opportunity to garner some strong emotional investment – was all but glossed over.

I wasn’t too keen on some of the singing, either. The nod to the Bare Necessities was great, but King Louie’s song seemed a little stilted and out of place and served as a reminder of the original more than anything.

Furthermore, it seems as if the ending was altered to allow for the opportunity of sequels. I’m not too sure how I feel about that, but who knows – they could be good. The whole environment and setting of the film was brilliant (although it was at times geographically skewed) and if they continue to perfect that then – if nothing else – they can crank out some visual marvels. The effects were a real stand-out aspect and display absolutely how convincing artificial, computer-generated environments can be.

I also loved the voice cast. Bill Murray and Ben Kingsley were near perfect as Baloo and Bagheera respectively and Idris Elba is stunning as the domineering Shere Khan. His voice is suitably commanding and sinister.

Neel Sethi did a good job as Mowgli considering he was likely acting alone against a green screen, though I did feel his expressions were somewhat wooden a couple of times throughout and some dialogue was unconvincing, but it’s nothing that distracted me from the character or the film.

The Jungle Book is by no means a bad film, but I was never able to lose myself in it like you should in a great adventure. It’s a film with a lot of spectacle and one I can certainly enjoy, but not one I truly believe in or can get behind.

★★★☆☆
The Witch (Dir. Robert Eggers)

I’m not the biggest fan of the horror genre, but there are a couple of horror movies that I do believe are rather tremendous. The Witch is one of them.

Set during the 17th century in New England, The Witch follows a family excommunicated from the Christian plantation on which they live. They set up a farm on the edge of a forest and settle in to a new way of life, but when new-born baby Samuel vanishes, their lives begin to go awry and eldest daughter Thomasin carries the brunt of the blame.

The Witch isn’t an in-your-face kind of horror. It doesn’t rely on jump scares (though there are a couple) or excessive gore. Instead, it builds an eerie sense of discomfort and a strong unnerving atmosphere. Like the aliens in Dark Skies and the creatures in The Descent, there are small glimpses of the eponymous witch very early on, and much of what’s frightening is the very knowledge of this crone and the families confusion and denial to accept their situation.

The dialogue is mostly based on writings from the time the film is set and is thoroughly unique and immersive. The cast, too, inhabit their characters terrifyingly well and in many ways, the film is more about the Thomasin character than the witch or anybody else. She is portrayed near flawlessly by Anya Taylor-Joy (whom I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of from now on) and the characters’ journey and progression is enveloping and very well developed.

It took me a little while to digest The Witch, but the more I think about it the more it grows on me. Definitely a film to add to my ‘must watch horrors’ list.

★★★★☆
Tokyo Fist (Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto)

Tokyo Fist is my first film from Shinya Tsukamoto. I’m aware of the directors massive cult status and had often wanted to explore some of his work. I’m not sure Tokyo Fist was a good starting point, but it certainly had a very distinctive and ferocious style, which I’ve read is Tsukamoto’s signature.

The film follows a business man who takes up boxing in an effort to seek revenge against an old school friend (who is now a semi-professional boxer) he suspects is having an affair with his fiancée.

I believe I went into Tokyo Fist with the wrong expectations. I started watching it thinking it was a boxing film, but in many ways it’s more akin to a horror than a sports drama. This – combined with Tsukamoto’s very explosive style of filmmaking – threw me off a little. I came away from it slightly haggard; it’s been a long time since I watched anything so intense and strangely unnerving.

The film depicts a lot of rage, both in the characters and in the way the film is constructed. The way it’s cut, the sound effects, the choreography in the action sequences – it’s fierce, powerful and violent. The films depiction of boxing and vehement fury are unlike anything I have viewed before. Tsukamoto’s directorial style certainly seems very unique and I’m interested in exploring it further, but I feel I need to give Tokyo Fist another go to really appreciate its artistry. It’s very chaotic and tumultuous and at times oddly distressing. It’s difficult for me to work out how I feel about it, which is something I haven’t felt about a film in a long while.

★★☆☆☆
Undo (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

I believe Shunji Iwai is one of the most interesting contemporary directors around and I always go into his films with a sense of excitement and wonder. Iwai has a very distinctive style; often utulising muted colours and a somewhat dreamy quality, with a large focus on observation and tone with less a reliance on dialogue. Undo is very much an Iwai movie, but I wasn’t as drawn in as I have been with his other work thus far.

The 47-minute film follows a couple whose relationship has become somewhat stale. Things begin to unravel after the girlfriend develops ‘Obsessive Knot-Binding Syndrome’ and begins tying up everything in sight.

As with most of Iwai’s work, there’s no clear-cut way to explain Undo. It’s a pensive piece and one I won’t hesitate to admit I don’t fully understand, but that’s what I love about Iwai. His films require working out, but even then, there’s no explicit interpretation. From Undo, I took the girlfriend’s knot-tying syndrome as a cry for help to her boyfriend, who fails to satisfy her or their relationship. In the end, she repeatedly requests he “really” tie her up but the boyfriend can’t adequately fulfill her desires, thus she relents he doesn’t understand or gratify her and disappears.

I appreciate the artistry of Undo and it is beautifully shot, but I wasn’t absorbed by the film as I often am by Iwai. Needless to say, I didn’t particularly connect with the characters and the film didn’t seem to have as much substance or heart as some of the directors other short work, namely April Story and Picnic. I’ll probably revisit Undo at a later date in an effort to take something more from it, but thus far it’s one of my least favourites from Iwai.

★★☆☆☆

As usual, onto television next. I finished the second season of Better Call Saul this month and as you’re all probably aware, the hotly anticipated sixth season of Game of Thrones premiered on April 24th. I also returned to anime after a lengthy break. Next month it’ll be more Game of Thrones and the third season of Peaky Blinders will be hitting our screens. May 5th, mark your diaries!

TV Show Rating
Better Call Saul, Season 2 (Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould)

A largely satisfying albeit very moreish climax to a superbly written series edging ever closer to the creation of Saul Goodman.

Gilligan and Gould continue to show they can barely put a foot wrong as Season 2 perfects upon everything that was great about Season 1. Jimmy’s characterisation remains impressive as his relationship with his brother Chuck continues to sour. We’ve already had some explosive drama surrounding the two and I can’t wait to see the final tipping point.

On Mike’s end, looks like a major player from Breaking Bad will enter the fray come Season 3. Now we wait!

★★★★☆
ERASED a.k.a. Boku dake ga Inai Machi (Dir. Tomohiko Itō)

I returned to the world of anime this month following a recommendation by 1 Nothing Please. If a series has both a manga and an anime adaptation, I would usually always go for the manga, but as I am backed up with a lot of manga at the moment and don’t like to be reading an awful lot at the same time (and given how well received the anime adaptation of ERASED was), I opted for the anime this time around.

ERASED is a twelve episode series that follows Satoru Fujinuma, a 29-year old dejected mangaka. Satoru has an extraordinary ability he labels ‘Revival’, which sees him whisked back in time a couple of minutes without warning in order to avert some sort of accident or tragedy. Satoru has to figure out what’s wrong in any given scenario and amend the situation, so that he can prevent any wrongful doing from ever happening.

However, after the murder of somebody close to him, Satoru is sent back 18 years to when he was a child. He realises the murder may be connected to a series of abductions that involved several of his classmate and that this might be his chance to uncover the mystery, save his friends and make everything right.

I love a good mystery and it’s a genre that has been portrayed tremendously in both anime and manga. I watched ERASED over the course of two days and found it to be an incredibly absorbing story, though not without its flaws.

The series does have some predictable elements (it isn’t very difficult to work out who the antagonist is) and one or two odd red herring-like moments that are very misleading for seemingly no reason.

Besides that, though, it’s an enthralling tale of mystery, friendship and love that is tackled with just the right amount of finesse. I felt the first half was stronger than the second, but everything came together wonderfully come the end, so much so, it deserves its spot as one of the more stirring and well produced anime series of recent times.

★★★★☆
Game of Thrones, Season 6 (Created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss)

From Better Call Saul onto Game of Thrones. It’s been wonderful having a constant stream of quality television to watch recently. Thus far, only the first episode of Season 6 has been broadcast, but so far so good. I enjoyed the premiere a lot more than Season 5’s, though the Sand Snakes and the Dorne plotline continue to tire.

The writing for Dorne and its characters has been rather lackluster; going in bizarre directions, not sufficiently developed and with a lot of cringe-inducing dialogue. I’m hoping we spend much of the screen-time elsewhere this season, because everything else is far more absorbing.

Melisandre has always been very enigmatic, but more than ever I’m intrigued to see which direction her characters goes and Lena Headey continues to display such raw emotion that I almost feel sorry for Cersei.

Bran is back next week! Remember him?

★★★★☆

That’s all, Captain. This is the most mammoth Watched This Month thus far! I always go on longer than I intend to, but you don’t mind, right? Watch anything exciting this month? Let me know! I’m always looking for recommendations. Thanks for stopping by and see you again.

7 thoughts on “Watched This Month: April 2016

  1. Yoooooooooooooooooo aniki! What’s goin on? So yeah I’ve only seen a fraction of the films you’ve mentioned so my comments will be brief. Firstly your thoughts on Hail! Caesar and The Witch have echoed what I’ve heard online, I really wanted to watch both but time got a way from me, plus with Hail! Caesar the reviews really turned me off from checking it out, though I’m still gonna watch it later on, probably in the summer.

    As for Jungle I have to disagree a little. For me I thought the film was very solid and fun, and I even liked it more than the original. What I appreciated about this new version was that it took the foundation of the original story but expanded upon it and changed a few things to make it a little more modern and dark, plus I just liked what they did with Mowgli as he wasn’t nearly as annoying or as useless as the orignal.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey hey hey HS55! Always love seeing you swing by. Hail, Caesar! and The Witch aren’t game changers, but they’re both worthy of your time I’d say. I believe The Witch is the most memorable out of the two and I really loved the atmosphere it built. Would be interesting to hear your thoughts. As for The Jungle Book – I read your review so I knew we were on different pages for this one, but I still think it’s a good film. It’s just, sometimes a movie really grabs you… it just comes together on every level and you can lose yourself to it, but sadly The Jungle Book never reached that point for me personally.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alrighty then, hopefully I’ll find the time to check those films out. And I see, fair point, I’d like to discuss Jungle Book with you in more extensive detail when we next see each other. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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