Watched This Month: March 2017

Good day to you, wherever you may be. Welcome to Watched This Month. You may have noticed that I have been much more restrained with these posts lately. This is to make them a lot more readable and accessible. When I started Watched This Month over a year go, it was supposed to be concise and informative, but sometimes I would write so much that I felt the posts became unsightly and difficult to discern at a glance. So, from now on, anything I am particularly enamored with or irked by will likely have it’s own review in a separate post, while Watched This Month will return to its intended function as a terse and instructive monthly run-down. Hooray!

Previous: February 2017

Film Rating
20th Century Women (Dir. Mike Mills)

20th Century Women shows that, no matter how old, we are always coming of age, absorbing new traits and moulting others. Continually, we gain fresh knowledge and learn about new things, all the while imparting and perfecting our wisdom as we traipse through a turbulent existence. It is a film about growing and living, depicting the relationships and the fleeting emotions that form our lives.

I feel like I could have sat through many more hours of those wondrous Californian vistas, accompanied by that dreamy principal theme, observing those truthful people, with their routine thoughts and emotions that feel so keen and touching and real.

★★★★★
A United Kingdom (Dir. Amma Asante)

A biopic chronicling the events leading to the formation of Botswana, following the lives of Prince Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, who shook the world by going against their families and culture in order to marry one another. It’s a fulfilling film that is both entertaining and instructive, as biographies should be.

I felt it lacked quite tremendously in the initial development of Seretse and Ruth’s relationship — a proposal is made within what seemed like the first fifteen minutes — but David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike truly embody their characters and make a terrific pair. Nothing seems too manufactured and the film displays well the conflict between emotion, politics and society.

★★★☆☆
Beauty and the Beast (Dir. Bill Condon)

Neither astonishing nor stagnant. Beauty and the Beast tells a complete and mostly content tale that is at times amusing and at others pedestrian, but it doesn’t offer anything you won’t find in the animated fable. Emma Watson was mostly agreeable, but largely forgettable and Dan Stevens as the Beast felt a little hollow to me, but otherwise the cast are the film’s biggest draw and many of the characters are very charismatic and enjoyable to watch.

The songs were neither too sparse nor too abundant, but they seemed to me — like most Disney music — more a show of falsetto and some easy exposition rather than anything particularly creative or even intriguing, though the choreography was quite eye-catching, at times. It’s all very Disney and knows well its target audience, which sadly isn’t me.

★★☆☆☆
Breathe In (Dir. Drake Doremus)

A largely convincing drama about an exchange student who begins to fracture the relationships of her host family by falling for the sullen husband, who dreams of the perceived freedoms of his former life and desires to be whisked away. As wrong and deceitful as their romance is, it was well developed and felt very authentic and sympathetic to a degree.

It explores well the fluctuations and fragility of the heart and though Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones are the clear focal points, their romance doesn’t feel one-sided and the film portrays very keenly the needless despair and anguish inflicted upon loved ones due to betrayal and duplicity. However, there are some coincidences in the plot that feel slightly contrived and the ending leaves a little to be desired.

★★★☆☆
Cafe Noir (Dir. Jung Sung-il)

A colossal three and a half hour film about a man who roams the streets of Seoul after breaking up with his lover, whose husband had just returned from overseas. Some of its imagery is rather pretentious, but ultimately it’s a majestic tale of love and loss, with cinematography and dialogue so captivating I would have gladly watched another hour.

The main character played by Shin Ha-kyun is like the French archetypes of the New Wave, a romantic loner who is rather tragic and almost nihilistic. There are also some tremendously long shots; in one a character charmingly recounts the tale of her past love over eleven minutes. It’s a mesmerising picture with some striking sequences, but certainly not for everybody.

★★★★☆
Chang-ok’s Letter (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

A series of shorts produced by Nescafe, featuring the talents of Bae Doona and Shunji Iwai; two of my favourite people. Bae plays a housewife at the beck and call of her family, who rarely show her their appreciation. Her mother-in-law purposely makes her life difficult, but Bae pushes on regardless, living a selfless existence.

It includes many long takes that exemplify Iwai’s quaint camerawork, as we weave around the cast in fluid and unobtrusive motions. The cast act out these theater-esque scenes with great naturalness, as Iwai builds an understated but nonetheless moving portrayal of an ordinary family divided. It’s masterful, as ever. I loved the final tinges of melancholy.

★★★☆☆
Get Out (Dir. Mike Mills)

A young black man goes with his white girlfriend to visit her family for the first time, only to find them and their acquaintances bemusingly unsettling. Get Out is a movie I watched based entirely on the positive word of mouth — I avoided all trailers and synopsis. Initially I felt the characters were a little too outlandish, which made them seem rather unauthentic, but this was clearly the point as it built a brilliant sense of uneasiness and irregularity.

I felt the film was masterful in its suspense; it was able to maintain a particularly disconcerting atmosphere throughout. It was also well written, with dialogue that plays with your preconceptions, though I do have some gripes with certain character motivations and wasn’t entirely behind the final act. All-in-all a decent thriller with a couple of horror elements, but I didn’t feel it lived up to the hype.

★★★☆☆
Ghost in the Shell (Dir. Rupert Sanders)

As a generic action movie, Ghost in the Shell is passable, but relatively unexceptional. However, as an adaptation of such a breathtaking and esoteric franchise, it misses the mark entirely. It is formulaic and devoid of any substantial philosophy — ultimately another great concept dumbed-down for the lowest common denominator.

It’s frustrating, as the allusions to the prior material generally translate well to live-action, but the vast alterations and perplexing union of sources hindered what could have been a terrific film. They couldn’t even commit and go whole hog with the ending, which seemed to be going the direction of Oshii’s initial adaptation before fizzling away and becoming completely vapid. It seems the ghost was far too much for them.

★★☆☆☆
I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (Dir. Park Chan-wook)

After being institutionalised, a girl who believes she’s a cyborg sets about trying to lose her sympathy so she can wreak vengeance on the white suits who took her grandmother away to a sanitarium. I’m a Cyborg is a very peculiar film that is at times funny and charming, but it was far from as engaging as Park Chan-wook’s other work.

It focuses less on plot and more on its characters and their interactions, and while the characters are quirky and unpredictable, they are essentially caricatures and are compelling mostly on surface level. The film has some great moments of comedy and delight, along with a couple of tender scenes with the two main characters, but it grows tedious and ultimately lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.

★★☆☆☆
Inside Llewyn Davis (Dir. Mike Mills)

A glimpse into the life of a struggling folk musician. In ways, Inside Llewyn Davis reminded me of a Shunji Iwai movie with its meandering plot and expert use of soft focus. It is perhaps the Coen brothers’ most poignant film, with tragic character Llewyn David played with tremendous finesse by Oscar Isaac.

The movie saunters between encounters as Llewyn struggles to subsist, presenting a wandering pace that may deter some viewers, but Llewyn’s life unravels with such terrific emotion and spontaneity that it’s easy to become lost in his world. The dialogue and the characters are very reflective, ultimately forming a splendid film with striking introspection.

★★★★☆
Jack Reacher (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie)

A competent if predictable action movie, in which Tom Cruise stars as the eponymous Jack Reacher — a former Military Police Corps officer hell bent on tracking down a sniper who murdered five innocent civilians.

The action is engaging and there are some terrific surprises within the cast (Werner Herzog plays the topmost villain) but it’s rarely daring and sticks to a very linear, undemanding plot that is full of tropes. Decent for its demographic.

★★☆☆☆
Kong: Skull Island (Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts)

If you want to see a giant ape punching helicopters out of the sky and slamming creepy two-legged lizards into a mountain, then this is the film for you. There is much spectacle in Kong: Skull Island, but sadly not much else. The cast are impressive, but struggle to breathe much life into the undeveloped characters.

Much of the dialogue is woeful, with an eerie tone jarringly interrupted by frequent occasions of comic relief. While the action is thrilling, it is at times gratuitous and oddly out of place, with character deaths included at regular intervals to seemingly appease the lowest common denominator. There’s not much in the way of intelligence and originality here, but there’s a giant ape kicking ass so who cares.

★★☆☆☆
Logan (Dir. James Mangold)

An exemplary send off for both the Wolverine and Professor X characters, with incredibly moving themes of depression and hopelessness, handled with accuracy and care. It’s in stark contrast to the other X-Men movies, with characters weak in body and mind and a lot of very authentic human drama. Jackman and Stewart are the clear stand-outs and have the best characterisation.

The only thing that irked me was the plot concerning the mutants’ safety across the border. It felt very simplified and shallow to grant them immunity from such ruthless villains just because they passed into a different territory. Nonetheless, Logan is a tremendous picture. It likely won’t be the last X-Men movie, but it would be so bittersweet and poignant if it were — that last shot is impeccable.

★★★★☆
Paterson (Dir. Jim Jarmusch)

Paterson is a film with a stunningly pensive ambience. It’s introspective and meditative, not so dissimilar to Inside Llewyn Davis, though the two central characters are opposites. Whereas Llewyn sought fame as a singer-songwriter, Paterson is a talented poet but remains content simply creating art, never sharing it. We follow his life for a week, watching him converse with his wife, meet people walking the dog, and observe the world from the drivers seat of a bus.

Paterson is juxtaposed well with his wife Laura and the character is well articulated and developed through his mannerisms, dialogue and the set decoration — there isn’t any contrived or particularly obvious exposition; the city and its inhabitants uncoil very organically. It’s a leisurely film without an overarching plot, but it has a beautiful and understated message about the creativity of individuals.

★★★★☆
Split (Dir. M. Night Shyamalan)

The apparent resurgence of M. Night Shyamalan. Split is definitely one of his more engaging films, with James McAvoy playing a man afflicted with dissociative identity disorder, whose dangerous alters begin to take over. I felt it started a lot stronger than it ended, with the final act becoming almost comical and more fantasy than thriller.

I also feel it’s a film that suffered from oversaturation — the marketing gave away far too much. Nevertheless, it’s a solid film from a director who proves he has some amount of genius left. The two central performances from Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy were also rather brilliant and very persuasive. The last scene was a little hokey, but also curious at the same time.

★★★☆☆
Spring Breakers (Dir. Harmony Korine)

A group of teen girls can’t afford to go on spring break, so they decide to rob a diner. Armed with sledgehammers and pretend guns, they motivate themselves with rudimentary dialogue about pretending to be in a video game. It’s all so shallow and gratuitous, with characters that barely possess a conscience.

Half the movie is monologue and ambience, with an abundance of intercut shots and a montage here and there — it creates a sort of video diary effect where the film is more a sequence of events rather than anything with substance. It’s horribly pretentious and the characters are irritating and frivolous. I couldn’t wait for it to end.

★☆☆☆☆
Stoker (Dir. Park Chan-wook)

A terrific tale of innocence lost. India Stoker has just turned eighteen, but is met with the news that her father has been involved in a fatal traffic accident. Shortly thereafter, an uncle she never knew existed comes to stay. While initially cold towards him, India grows curious and fascinated by this enigmatic man and his motives. Stoker is gorgeously shot and rich with symbolism — it’s tantalising to observe and enjoyable to interpret.

Chung Chung-hoon continues to offer much allure as Chan-wook’s cinematographer in residence and the script — penned by Wentworth Miller — unravels with tremendous intrigue, never revealing too much or too little. The main cast all hold their own as mesmeric, morally ambiguous characters and a number of scenes are very briskly edited, creating a spine-tingling succession of imagery. It’s bewitching on many levels and feels as though it will charm all the more with every viewing.

★★★★☆
The Wolf of Wall Street (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

A biographical film following the rise and fall of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who made a fortune through corruption and fraud. It’s a movie absolutely held up by its performances, with both Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill terrifically charismatic and entirely captivating. I thought DiCaprio displayed an even more tremendous calibre here than in The Revenant.

The plot and the dialogue developed and unfurled very naturally, with the lengthy runtime going by in an instant. The characters are crooks and fraudsters, but Scorsese and co. entice viewers through curiosity. It’s a fascinating tale with remarkable magnetism, told with incredible passion, ferocious drama and rapturous wit.

★★★★☆
Undulant Fever (Dir. Hiroshi Ando)

An adaptation of Kei Nakazawa’s early novel When I Sense the Sea. It’s a tale of love, sex, femininity and perversion, with leading actress Yui Ichikawa giving a stellar performance. The narrative swaps between past and present as the central relationship is examined at a rather leisurely pace, with many long takes and static, observant camerawork.

It’s an interesting film, with a great depiction of the struggles and undulating emotions that come with romance, but it isn’t particularly engaging. Though I do admire it’s quiet, watchful moments; there’s less a reliance on dialogue than there is on the visuals and the expression of silence.

★★☆☆☆

Nineteen films this month and over seventy for the year so far. I’m well on my way to that one hundred goal and we’re not even half way through the year! See you next time.

One thought on “Watched This Month: March 2017

Leave a comment...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s