September-October 2013 Movie Journal
246 6.5 6.91. The Iceman (2012)
Lifeless crime drama that, much to my surprise, can't even be saved by the fact that it's got Michael Shannon in the lead role playing a broken, deranged character. You know something's wrong when the climactic scenes of a film like this inspire snorts and laughter, rather than the tension that the filmmakers were hoping for.
72 7.8 5.62. Vampire (2011)
This starts off like a dreamy venture into the type of realm into which movies like this hardly ever go into. The dialogue between the two characters whom we meet during the first twenty minutes or so made me super intrigued as to the direction in which this was going. Unfortunately, after that, the movie deflates like those balloons up there, and from that point on, it's one boring and atmospheric scene after another, all the way until the tedious final scenes.
54 7.2 6.83. Paradise: Faith (2012)
The second film in Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy is every bit as macabre and subversive as the first, despite dealing with an entirely different plot. I wasn't able to fit the third part of the trilogy into my schedule at the Toronto International Film Festival, but I have a feeling it won't be long before I'm able to see it.
250 6.5 6.54. Byzantium (2012)
Solid vampire film (which is something we can hardly ever say nowadays) with extremely well-developed characters and an appealing protagonist. The movie waxes melancholic and has more flashbacks than I'd like, but this is one of those cases where getting through all of that makes it worth it in order to arrive at the film's satisfying and intense final scenes.
740 8.1 8.15. 3-Iron (2004)
From the little I've seen (so far) of Kim Ki-Duk's work, it strikes me as though he has an uncanny ability to take simple, domestic things, and give them all sorts weird, dark, funny, entertaining and visually interesting twists. That's what happens in the extraordinary 3-Iron, which I found impossible to look away from. It is every bit as absorbing as the other one of his films that I saw recently (Moebius), but with the benefit that there aren't any gag-inducing moments, which made 3-Iron a more palatable experience.
10 7.6 6.16. The Unspeakable Act (2012)
The voiceover in The Unspeakable Act can often be pretty annoying, considering how obvious it feels that the protagonist is reading them, and how hard it is to think of what we're hearing as true reflections. But if you're able to ignore that, this is a powerful and understated examination of one of those secrets that is kept quiet by almost anyone who's unfortunate enough to have it. That the movie is so frank about it, and never enters over-the-top tragedy mode, only makes it more affecting and authentic.
123 6.2 6.27. Adore (2013)
Naomi Watts gives yet another nuanced dramatic performance in which we believe every expression, every tear and every twitching in her face... but she's trapped in a bad soap opera, in which the two female characters are developed nicely but the two males are wooden and one-dimensional, so there's only so much she can do to save the project, and I'm very sorry to say she doesn't save it.
193 7.5 7.58. Fruitvale Station (2013)
The best male lead performance that I've seen this year so far is that of Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station, one of those movies that would fall apart without the strength of its lead actor. This is an examination of how it's possible to be a caring, loving person, yet find oneself forced to engage in disagreeable behavior due to the cards that one has been dealt by life. In that sense, aside from showcasing a real-life tragedy, this is a movie that might make some people examine (or re-examine) their prejudices, and for that, this is a terrific piece of indie drama. This is also one of those cases where the fact that the film's ending is shown to us from the beginning doesn't dilute the effect; rather, it makes the entire film an agonizing experience in which you'll find yourself constantly dreading what you know is coming.
10 6.9 6.69. Gimme the Loot (2012)
22 5.6 5.610. +1 (2013)
This started off having all the potential to be a cool companion piece to this year's John Dies at the End. It's frequently ethereal, it wants to explore ideas about our place in the world, and the premise is ripe for potential. Sadly, 85% of the movie consists of characters walking from one room to another trying to "understand what's going on" and to "discover things", and so, it gets to a point where one grows weary of that. Also, during the climax, when the movie loses focus from its main characters and incorporates a lot of other people, some of the script's lines are so awfully bad that they take away from all the warmth and authenticity that characterized much of the movie's first half. Ultimately a wasted opportunity.
35 5.8 5.611. C.O.G. (2013)
C.O.G. gets off to a great start, but it's ultimately a much less assured film than Kyle Patrick Alvarez's Easier with Practice. During the first five minutes of this film, something very particular happens to the protagonist, and I found myself relating really strongly to his reaction to that particular event. But as the movie goes along, it does more tinkering with interesting ideas than actually do anything all that interesting. Easier with Practice dragged a bit before it got to the final act and hit you with an absolute punch. I can't say the same for this one, but I still find myself intrigued as to what Alvarez will do next.
656 7.8 8.112. Prisoners (2013)
Prisoners managed to sustain my interest for the entirety of its two-and-a-half-hour running time, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that the reason for that has more to do with the strength of the acting rather than with the plot and its (mostly feeble) twists. I found this film to be consistently compelling, but rarely ever moving or suspenseful. There's a constant feeling that the film's climax will bring forth earth-shattering revelations... and then when we find out the truth, it's like "Oh. That's it? Okay, then." It's also kind of unfortunate that the actor who plays the character who turns out to be the villain is an actor I admire so much, but who, in this case, has to play a villain whose motivations are so... boring and Hollywood-ish. Give the movie credit for being shot well and for assembling such an impressive cast (though, for my taste, I would've liked to see more Maria Bello and less Hugh Jackman), but if you take the solid performances away, this isn't much more than a TV movie.
506 7.9 8.213. Rush (2013)
Yawn. Rush dedicates its first half to supposedly developing the two main characters, but all it really does during that time is portray each them as one-dimensionally as possible: the reckless one and the responsible one. No room for gray areas here. The script even goes to great lengths to make sure you know this, and as a result, there's an exaggerated amount of lines spoken throughout the movie exclusively to keep reminding you that one of them is super reckless and the other is super responsible. You know, in case you forget. Some people seem to assume that, since you've been told that the movie's based on a true story, that should be enough for you to buy into it. Not for me. You can tell me all the times you want that these two people existed- but the two protagonists in Rush aren't authentic beings. As a result of that, I found myself totally disconnected (as well as really bored) by the proceedings, and could seriously not care less as to who won which race and whose car would break down, etc. The race sequences are okay, but nothing visually impressive and nothing you haven't seen done better in other films. Once the supposed "character development" is over, the rest of the film focuses almost entirely on the races, and since these aren't anything spectacular, there's a general "meh" feeling all the way through the end of the movie. I'm perplexed by the acclaim for Rush- it's as generic as they come.
833 6.5 6.814. This Is the End (2013)
34 5.2 4.615. Some Girl(s)
41 6 7.316. Metallica Through the Never (2013)
One of the coolest concert movies I've ever seen, with a fictional narrative attached to it that takes all sorts of weird and interesting twists. Shock of all shocks, the 3D did what it's supposed to do, which is make the movie visually appealing rather than annoying (never thought I'd make that comment about a Metallica concert movie, but there you have it).
19 6.5 6.717. The Dirties (2013)
Another found footage movie, and another attempt to achieve the greatness of Elephant. It's okay, and the characters are engaging enough, but nothing makes it stand out within the overcrowded found footage genre, and needless to say, it falls way short of what Gus Van Sant accomplished ten years ago.
1217 7.7 818. Gravity (2013)
It's a pretty simple, linear story, with an emotional crux that's kind of manipulative, but the film's extraordinary visuals and Sandra Bullock's courageous performance make this a highly absorbing experience. The only actual complaint (and the only thing that ever took me "out" of the experience) is the fact that the score is pretty generic, particularly during the moments of suspense, although it does take off very nicely during the climax.
408 5.4 5.519. The Purge (2013)
Starts off with a great premise, ripe for potential to make tons of sociopolitical commentary, and then it just throws that away, and it's just one boring chase sequence after another. Also, this movie has got to have the record for number of times someone is about to get killed, and then boom, a third person shows up to save the day.
24 4.9 5.620. The Human Race (2013)
I give The Human Race credit for trying to do something different and for surprising me very often with a few twists and turns... but the fact that it overall feels so silly, and that the acting is so amateurish and the ending so laughable just doesn't help make it a wholly satisfying experience.
380 6.3 6.721. The Heat (2013)
The funny bits in The Heat are pretty scattered throughout. In between those funny moments, there's a lot of Melissa McCarthy cursing and chomping her teeth, and a really annoying soundtrack. Sandra Bullock's always a charmer in comedies, but there's just not that much material to work with here.
71 7 7.422. Yossi & Jagger (2002)
154 7 7.123. Enough Said (2013)
In Enough Said, the characters are charming, the actors who play them are a delight to watch, and there are several very funny individual moments... unfortunately, the film has a problem that is ever-present throughout the running time, which makes it hard to fully appreciate those virtues: the situations feel really manufactured. The script is heavily contrived, and some of the things that happen are downright phony, and can't be saved even by great acting or by hilarious one-liners. Nicole Holofcener fared much better at dealing with material of this sort when she tackled Friends with Money back in 2006.
41 5.4 5.824. Concussion (2013)
Much like Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, Concussion takes a fascinating subject, with all the potential to go into searing dark realms, but approaches it too coldly, which makes the result feel muted and monotonous. The movie essentially consists of women staring awkwardly at each other.
106 7.2 7.125. Import/Export (2007)
Import/Export tells the story of two different characters who never physically meet at any point during the running time, but who cross paths in more ways than one. The movie is about struggling to survive, about dealing with the cards life has dealt you, and about people using others and being used themselves. Ulrich Seidl's Paradise films centered around only one character. This one is even more powerful and effectively disturbing than the Paradise films, because of the way it draws the intersections between these two peoples' lives.
578 7.5 7.926. Captain Phillips (2013)
101 6.6 6.727. In a World... (2013)
480 7.9 828. Before Midnight (2013)
Now I realize just how important it was for me to get a chance to watch this alone on my couch. I'm still working through figuring out all the ways in which this movie blindsided me, after so many years of anticipating it. But without a doubt, I needed to experience it in an intimate setting. And yes, this is how I spent Halloween. :)
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