Watched This Month: June – September 2016

Well, well. What do we have here… Watched This Month? It’s that ancient monthly post I said I would keep up with. So much for that! I lasted five months from January until May until I got sidetracked and the posts stopped. Apologies! Forgiveness, please! Here’s the long overdue list that covers every film I watched from the beginning of June to the end of September. Also, I just realised I’ve already watched more this year than I did in 2015. Hooray! Still on track to double last years amount. Anyway, if anybody is still here… Hello again! It’s lovely to see you.

Previous: January, February, March, April and May

Film Rating
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Dir. Zack Snyder)

As somebody who isn’t massively into Batman or Superman (and has long since departed the superhero hype train), I was ready to give this film a miss. However, the entice of Ben Affleck eventually got me on board and I made room for it one lazy day. Though bloated and overly long (I watched the three-hour extended cut), Batman v Superman is a largely innocuous action movie, at least perhaps to the common folk. It’s rather by-the-numbers and pretty unremarkable all things considered, but it saw me comfortably into the evening and was fulfilling as a decent piece of light entertainment, despite being relatively dark and unfunny throughout.

★★☆☆☆
Blue Valentine (Dir. Derek Cianfrance)

An incredibly moving film; alluring and sweet, yet heartbreaking and tender. One of the most affecting and remarkable I have seen in recent memory. I can’t recall another quite like it that portrays romance in such a beautiful, yet forlorn and bittersweet manner. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams go from elation to pain and then to utter heartbreak so fluently; the entire film has such an authentic feel to it that a number of scenes are soul-destroying to watch. One of those rare films that stays with you.

★★★★☆
Bottle Rocket (Dir. Wes Anderson)

It’s brilliant to see how Wes Anderson’s quirks, style and talent as a director was so discernible and seemingly honed right from his first feature. The story behind the inception of Bottle Rocket is as charming as the film itself and the picture is such a strong start for not only Anderson, but also Luke and Owen Wilson. The characters are as eccentric and endearing as you would expect and the ending is just lovely. Easily one of my top three favourites from Wes Anderson.

★★★★☆
Death Billiards (Dir. Yuzuru Tachikawa)

In Japan, there exists an annual project funded by the government that supports young animators. Dubbed the Young Animator Training Project, it produces a number of animated short films every year. Death Billiards is one of four produced in 2013 and follows two recently deceased men who are allegedly trapped in a mysterious bar which acts as a sort of purgatory. The bartender has the men compete in a game of billiards with the fate of their souls on the line. It’s a very interesting, high-octane concept that does well to avoid the crippling melodrama found all too often in anime. It’s fluently paced, with an intriguing atmosphere and some interesting dialogue. It was adapted into a full series in 2015, but sadly never quite reached the allure of the original short.

★★★☆☆
Eye in the Sky (Dir. Gavin Hood)

A superb modern thriller with a sublime cast that focuses heavily on topics of morality and the politics of war. Helen Mirren is stunning and Alan Rickaman bows out with a memorable performance and chilling last lines.

★★★★☆
Green Room (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

A dark, enticing thriller that is unfortunately a little predictable in areas and ultimately let down by a number of archetypal characters. Nevertheless, Saulnier builds an imposing sense of dread and is able to execute some masterful suspense.

★★★☆☆
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Dir. Taika Waititi)

My favourite of the year thus far. Sam Neill and Julian Dennison are so joyous together. It’s tender and touching, yet fun, energetic and a totally wild romp with some wonderfully witty dialogue. Also, who knew Sam Neill was a Kiwi? Until now, I thought he was Irish through and through!

★★★★☆
I Am Not a Serial Killer (Dir. Billy O’Brien)

I went into this blind and came away mildly satisfied. One of those movies with a promising start that slowly falls apart with every act. I didn’t get behind the ending and wish it had gone a different direction, but solid performances from both Max Records and Christopher Lloyd nonetheless. Couldn’t believe that was the kid from Where the Wild Things Are at first.

★★☆☆☆
Imperium (Dir. Daniel Ragussis)

Daniel Radcliffe is quite amazing. I enjoyed him in the Harry Potter franchise and adore his charisma, but hadn’t really rated him as an actor until now. Imperium itself is a rather by-the-books thriller, but is elevated and carried wonderfully by Radcliffe. He’s one to watch from now on, for sure.

★★★☆☆
In the Heart of the Sea (Dir. Ron Howard)

After the lukewarm critical response, I didn’t expect much from In the Heart of the Sea, but found it a rather grand, compelling and well-produced tale. It takes certain artistic liberties – some unfortunate – but I liked the inclusion of Herman Melville as a character and came away rather fulfilled and happy. An action-adventure with a lot heart and soul.

★★★☆☆
Little Witch Academia (Dir. Yoh Yoshinari)

Another animated short produced in 2013 as part of the Young Animator Training Project, alongside Death Billiards and two others. Little Witch Academia is a lively foray into the world of magic, with a straight-forward but nonetheless exciting plot, complimented wonderfully by a perky roster of characters, humorous dialogue and a number of enjoyable set pieces. At just twenty-six minutes long, it’s well paced and surprisingly comprehensive.

★★★☆☆
Me Before You (Dir. Thea Sharrock)

One of those quirky, impassioned romantic dramas that will have you either rolling your eyes or releasing your tears. I’m a sucker for them, though. Emilia Clarke was a delight, with the film itself very charming and fun, but with an utterly heartrending final act. It very much subscribes to its genre and is thus a tad predictable, but if you’re a fan of these sort of modern romantic tragedies, then it can do no wrong.

★★★☆☆
Now You See Me (Dir. Louis Leterrier)

Honestly, this film was a waste of time. The plot was absolutely absurd; full of amazing coincidences and a stupidly uninspired twist that is so far-fetched it’s actually mind-blowing. I can’t believe they made another.

★☆☆☆☆
Pawn Sacrifice (Dir. Edward Zwick)

I was in the mood for some tense Tobey Maguire à la Brothers and Pawn Sacrifice didn’t disappoint. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, Maguire plays the late chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, who is pit against Russian grandmaster Boris Spassky in the 1972 World Chess Championship. The film itself was compelling, but never quite exceptional. Still, it offered good insight into Bobby Fischer and is carried wonderfully by Maguire, who is brilliantly captivating. I can’t comment extensively on the films accuracy, but often the best biographical pictures are able to well-up a great sense of intrigue surrounding their subject – so much so, you want to know more – and in that regard, Pawn Sacrifice was a success and entirely worth watching. I spent a good hour or two reading up about Bobby Fischer afterwards. A fascinating and enigmatic man, to say the least.

★★★☆☆
Side Effects (Dir. Steven Soderbergh)

I find Rooney Mara captivating. She has the ability to be very eloquent and expressive in the most subtle of ways. She seemingly inhabits her characters and – I feel – frequently delivers memorable performances. Side Effects wasn’t as much of as Mara vehicle as I expected – much thanks to the ever dashing Guy Pearce – but remained a captivating thriller with a couple of interesting twists and turns.

★★★☆☆
Sing Street (Dir. John Carney)

An utterly charming and wondrous film, with an endearing atmosphere brought completely to life by a cast of lively, genuine characters. Sing Street is one of my favourites of the year and probably one of the most memorable of recent times. Even now, I find myself humming along to the Riddle of the Model. The ending, too, was near flawless. A good film can completely fall apart without a decent conclusion, but Sing Street’s final moments were wonderfully executed and I loved the tinges of ambiguity.

★★★★☆
Smashed (Dir. James Ponsoldt)

I really loved Smashed, in large part due to Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays an oblivious alcoholic who decides to finally tone down her drinking, opposite her on-screen husband Aaron Paul. Despite strong performances all-around, Winstead is the clear driving force, helped along by some sharp dialogue and a largely well-paced plot that does well to balance the drama with some more light-hearted and downright hilarious moments, preventing the subject matter from becoming overbearing or melodramatic.

★★★★☆
Straw Dogs (Dir. Sam Peckinpah)

Straw Dogs is a film I have wanted to see for years; to finally watch it feels like some sort of accomplishment. Filmed in the early 70s and set in rural England, it follows an American mathematician and his young English wife who become victims of ruthless local harassment. The build-up to the explosively violent climax was masterfully executed and it was interesting to see Dustin Hoffman in such a different role to what I’ve seen him in previously. Apparently, he only took it for the money, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. His character felt fully embraced and Susan George was equally compelling as his lively and glamorous wife.

★★★☆☆
Swiss Army Man (Dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)

This film really is something else, with an opening that – at first – seems utterly bizarre, but quickly develops into something quite magical that continually blurs the line between beautiful and peculiar. Paul Dano plays the most lovable stalker of the year and Daniel Radcliffe is perhaps the most convincing dead body ever. The soundtrack, too, is remarkable; largely a cappella and bursting with zest and emotion, it’s the perfect accompaniment of film and music, elevating the most stirring scenes to wondrous, enchanting degrees.

★★★★☆
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Dir. Terry Gilliam)

Still working my way through Andrew Garfield’s filmography, I have arrived at The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. This is only my second Gilliam film after Monty Python and the Holy Grail and it has me on the fence. On one hand, Doctor Parnassus is incredibly creative and bursting at the seams with imagination, but on the other – beyond the visuals – it wasn’t particularly engaging and felt a touch meandering and haphazard. Though much of that was likely due to Heath Ledger’s unfortunate passing and it is admirable how Gilliam and the writers were able to get back on track and mould the movie into something coherent given the circumstances. I’m slightly hesitant, but also somewhat intrigued to explore more of Gilliam’s work.

★★☆☆☆
The Neon Demon (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

I really wanted to like The Neon Demon. The cinematography is certainly a feat and I loved the soundtrack and the whole neon vibe, but come the end it just felt soulless and vulgar. Refn took the supposed cutthroat nature of the fashion and modelling industries a bit too literally. It lacked substance and frequently came across as pretentious. Disappointingly, it had much more in common with Starry Eyes than I hoped.

★★☆☆☆
The Place Beyond the Pines (Dir. Derek Cianfrance)

I had to follow Blue Valentine with another by the same director. The Place Beyond the Pines – whilst not as arresting and memorable as Cianfrance’s previous film – was nevertheless a powerful and thought-provoking watch, with an enthralling ambience and persuasive characters. Like Blue Valentine, it felt largely authentic and fluently performed, with some stunning cinematography and a couple of particularly rousing sequences, tinged with melancholy.

★★★☆☆
The Shallows (Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra)

You know what you’re in for with The Shallows, but – wonderfully – that barely detracts from the suspense and gripping terror of the film. Blake Lively gives a brilliant performance and the digital shark is largely convincing. The cinematography is enthralling, communicating with seeming effortlessness both the allure and dread of the ocean. Scenes of joyous surfing are brilliantly foreboding and the inevitable attack is suitably and very memorably savage; the ocean tainted blood red, followed by a spine-chilling, inaudible shriek from under the waters surface. The films climax is gritty and relentless and all-in-all – despite arguable predictability – The Shallows is a marvellous, anxiety-inducing experience.

★★★★☆
The Station Agent (Dir. Tom McCarthy)

An endearing, well-crafted, exquisitely written film bursting with understated beauty. Peter Dinklage absolutely shines as a lonesome yet innerly benign young man; both defeated and hopeless, yet longing and disposed. A very human film – heartfelt and soulful – and an all-around delightful watch.

★★★★☆
Triple 9 (Dir. John Hillcoat)

Triple 9 seemed to have all the components of a tremendous heist thriller, but never quite got there. It’s a satisfactory watch with two brilliant heist sequences, but ultimately I found the plot rather lackluster and – despite the large and morally diverse roster – I didn’t feel there were any particularly likable characters or people to root for, which made for a very apathetic, humdrum payoff.

★★☆☆☆
Warcraft (Dir. Duncan Jones)

Warcraft isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a wonderful start to a franchise that has magnificent potential. It was engaging from title to credits and ended on a great note. I adore the world and with a little polishing and some further melding, the characters will become deeper and all the more engaging. I really hope a sequel is possible and that it isn’t another ten years from announcement to release.

★★★☆☆
X-Men: Apocalypse (Dir. Bryan Singer)

I enjoyed First Class and Days of Future Past, but Apocalypse felt rather shallow in comparison. The new characters had absolute minimal development and impact and whereas First Class and Future Past featured two very solid, gratifying climaxes, the ending of Apocalypse felt like a major cop-out, with some quick resolutions and – essentially – a deus ex machina. It’s a fun watch if you’re up for a brainless blockbuster, but nonetheless disappointing after two stellar prequels.

★★☆☆☆
Youth in Revolt (Dir. Miguel Arteta)

Say what you will about Michael Cera, but he was terrific in this. His François alter-ego was superbly portrayed, with the dialogue masterfully delivered. The plot never relents and the comedy is continually on-point; all-in-all Youth in Revolt is such a fun watch. Nice seeing Portia Doubleday’s earlier work, too. Adore her in Mr. Robot.

★★★☆☆

Finito! Apologies again for not sticking to my proposed monthly schedule, but I’m slowly catching up. I’ll try and get October and November written up by the end of the month, then Watched This Month will be back on track! There’s still so much I’m dying to see this year. I managed to squeeze in some television, too, but I’ll probably leave those thoughts for an end of year write up. I just don’t watch enough television to comment on it on a monthly basis. Anyway… until next time, meine freunde.

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