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Posts Tagged ‘22 July’

I have recently published my top ten movies of the year.  I only included films I saw at the cinema, however, film distribution is changing; more films are being released online at the same time, or instead of theatrically.  Netflix original productions, and exclusive distributed movies have stepped up a gear employing A list actors and directors.  Below are the movies by the most significant of these directors.  For the record, Roma would have made my top ten movies of the year if eligible.    

Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) – Mexico City 1970/71, an upper middle-class family is going through a time of transition, told from the point of view of their housekeepers, who has her own issues to deal with.  After spending time in space, the future and the wizarding world, director returns to his native Mexic for the first time since 2001’s Y Tu Mamá También, it was worth the wait!  The family drama shot in beautiful black and white immediately invokes thoughts of Yasujirô Ozu, Roma is that good, it sits comfortably in such auspicious company.  There is little in the way of plot, the film just drifts along evoking a dreamlike feeling.  As in life, there are smaller resolutions but no real conclusion, the story goes after the lights go down.  Simply shot, often with a fixed camera, but always beautiful to look at.  Cuarón employs a deep-focus to great effect, there is always something going on in frame.  The same is true of the incredible sound design.  This leads to my only criticism, IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN SCREENED IN MORE CINEMAS!Roma

Annihilation (Alex Garland) –  A meteor hits an area of Florida swampland and is now surrounded by what the film calls the shimmer, it blocks all contact with the outside world, and all expeditions into it have failed to return.  Cellular biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) joins an all-female team in.  With a great track record as an author and screen-writer, Alex Garland hit the ground running with his directorial debut Ex Machina.  The cast is first rate, particularly Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Oscar Isaac, but it is often Tessa Thompson that steals the show.  Elements of the movie will draw comparisons with Arrival, it sadly isn’t that good, but that movie set a pretty high bar.  This is still an excellent film.  Drowned in the mythology of the genre(s), the film asks some big questions in a very bold way, but has the intelligence and the restraint not to answer them. annihilation

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen) – Portmanteau western consisting of six stories: A guitar-playing gunslinger (Tim Blake Nelson).  A bank robber (James Franco). A travelling theatrical show owner (Liam Neeson). A prospector (Tom Waits). A young woman on a wagon train heading west (Zoe Kazan).  Five strangers on a stagecoach (Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson, Jonjo O’Neill, Saul Rubinek, Chelcie Ross).  The western is as old as cinema.  From Ford (and before) to Eastwood and Costner, via Peckinpah and Leone the genre has established and reinvented itself countless times, but it still has its beats, its clichés.  With the western filmmakers have told every story imaginable, from the birth of America (and tried to justify the more unseemly aspects  of it), to a nations loss of innocence, and so much more. With True Grit and No Country For Old Men, The Coen Brothers have demonstrated their understanding and appreciation of the Western.  Here they have taken the archetypes of the genre and subverted them, in the process both embracing and exposing the absurdities of filmmaking.  The result is a film that you can take as disposable fun, or a thought-provoking meditation on the mythology of the western movie, I chose to take both!The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

 22 July (Paul Greengrass) – True story of the atrocity on the island of Utøya in 2011, and its aftermath.  Paul Greengrass has an uncanny ability to bring real life stories to the screen making them cinematic, and entertaining without losing the humanity, and sensitivity.  Take exhibits 1 to 3: Bloody Sunday, United 93, and Captain Phillips.  The brilliance of the story, is that although terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is front and centre, it isn’t his story.  It is the victims story, the survivors story, but most importantly Norway’s story.  The film is a little on the long side and could lose some of the middle section where the metaphors are a little heavy-handed.  This is a small quibble for a very powerful movie. 22 July

Bird Box (Susanne Bier) – Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and two young children embark on a river journey wearing blindfolds.  We learn in flashback what got them to this point, and about the mysterious entity that once seen drives you to suicide.  Bullock and the supporting cast (including: Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Tom Hollander, Jacki Weaver, and BD Wong) are all fantastic.  The characters representing a microcosm of society are a little clichéd, but that is the necessary shorthand of a film, and doesn’t stop you empathise with them.  The best thing about the film is the concept and the story, that shows just enough, and leaves so much more for the audience to wonder.  The direction is taught making the over two hour runtime seem like 100 minutes. DSC04279.CR2

Hold the Dark (Jeremy Saulnier) – A young boy goes missing in a small town on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness.  The boys farther (Alexander Skarsgård) is away, fighting in Iraq.  His mother (Riley Keough) hires a wolf expert (Jeffrey Wright) to track and kill the animals responsible.   Jeremy Saulnier’s first two movies Blue Ruin, and Green Room are not happy affairs, but they are positively shiney and glowing in comparison to Hold the Dark.  The film is cold, dark and oppressive.  I describe, Roma as having a dreamlike feeling, this movie has that same quality, but this is a far less pleasant dream, this is the type of dream that you wake from with a feeling of hopeless despair.  It is a far better, deeper and more intelligent film than many have given it credit for, but it’s a really hard film to like or enjoy.  I am really glad I watched it, and really need to see it again to better understand it, I’m just not sure I want to watch it again.Hold the Dark

Apostle (Gareth Evans) – A troubled young man (Dan Stevens) travels to a remote island to infiltrate a cult who have kidnap his sister.   After the success of the Raid movies, Welsh born director Gareth Evans returns home to the UK for a rather unusual and brutal horror.  Comparisons with Wicker Man are inevitable, while it fails to come close to the contestant feeling of dread invoked by that film; it isn’t a laughable mess like the 2006 remake.   What it lacks in dread it makes up for in downright eerie and creepiness.  To its credit, the story doesn’t always go where you expect it to, it is however a little saggy toward the middle and would have benefited from a fifteen-twenty minute trim off the runtime.  More a film for horror fans than those of Evans earlier work, I certainly enjoyed it. Apostle

Mute (Duncan Jones) – Berlin, 2052. A mute barman (Alexander Skarsgård) is searching for his missing girlfriend (Seyneb Saleh).  The story overlaps with an AWOL U.S. military medic (Paul Rudd) who with the help of fellow surgeon and all-round sleazebag (Justin Theroux) is trying to acquire fake ID and travel papers to get back home.  Duncan Jones bust onto the scene just under a decade ago with the excellent Moon (2009).  The follow-up Source Code (2011) is and underrated gem, even the bonkers video game  Warcraft (2016) isn’t bad.  Mute, however, is a strange beast.  The Blade Runner inspired idea of a hardboiled 40’s detective in a future setting is good, but the film is a mess.  The balance between the two stories don’t work.  It would have been better if the Justin Theroux character were dropped completely and the Paul Rudd story reduced.  That said, Skarsgård is a good lead if a little lacking in dimension.  Clint Mansell’s electro-synth score is excellent.  And for fans of Moon, there is a nice Easter egg , we get to see what happened to the Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) clones. Mute

 Netflix have also released: Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (Andy Serkis), and Outlaw King  (David Mackenzie).  As well as Orson Welles’ last film The Other Side Of The Wind that has been in some sort of limbo for the past four decades.  I am yet to see any of these. 

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