October 2015 movie capsules

18 movies watched in October. Counts:
– 13 new to the database / previously unseen. New total: 1,876.
– 5 revisits.
– 16 newly reviewed here; the first exclusion is The Unknown, addressed previously. In the other case (Back to the Future Part II) Aside from some quick thoughts at Letterboxd, I did not give full attention to the writeup the film deserves in my opinion, both because we watched the film strictly in observance of the extremely important date with which it coincided this past month, and because I simply didn’t have the time. But it will come up in a project sooner or later, at which point it will receive its full due; it’s a strange film I admire very much. In order to preserve my sanity this will happen on occasion from now on, particularly when I’m on vacation or the like. (This month I was away for a week, which resulted in basically a movie cram session in the last ten days.) That’s right, I’ve finally advanced to giving myself license to just enjoy a movie!
– 1 newly reviewed in full, Capote, a revised version of my original essay.
– 15 new or updated capsules, all below. Mystic River got what probably could have been edited into a complete essay at Letterboxd, but it would likely have ended up just being a rant, and these days I doubt such things are really productive.
– You may notice that this post is, well, rather late. You’ll be pleased to know there’s an annoying and hilarious reason behind this! After my vacation I underwent dental surgery which laid me up for a few days; I used the opportunity to finish the Best Actor project, but at the time I did so I was taking multiple medications that resulted in me basically being completely baffled when I tried to remember enough about the films to properly write about them later. So I rewatched portions of those I still could; the hazy memory of Spy as it stands will have to suffice for now.

Project breakdowns:
– Because it was my initiative to finish the current Oscar project this month, I skipped over all work on the Top 250. It shall return to our roster in November.
Best Actor: Finished! Watched the final 8 films whose lead performances won, then wrote about the entire adventure as you saw a few days ago. In addition to Capote, this last batch included As Good as It Gets, Training Day, Mystic River, Ray, The Last King of Scotland, Crazy Heart and The Theory of Everything. Read all about the whole sordid episode over here. I’ve uploaded a fancy illustrated version (with slight editing that I really should incorporate at the blog version, yikes) here. Next month we begin with Best Actress, which will take slightly longer; with 53 films set to get new reviews (and remember, that number will probably become 54 in a couple of months), I’m expecting it take us well into next summer; in fact, we’ll wind up the IMDB list first (thank fucking god).
2010s Catchup: Took the 250 break as an opportunity to catch up on Compliance, Goodbye to Language 2D and Camille Claudel 1915. Not one of them is worth the relatively brief time it takes to watch them. Modern arthouse cinema is… kind of a sham sometimes?
New Movies: Searching for something dumb I caught Spy while rather high. I like Melissa McCarthy. It made me laff.
Recommendations: Knocked out a few long-festering big guns here, chiefly the Coens’ The Man Who Wasn’t There, which I enjoyed but found vacant. All That Jazz I found thorny and difficult but sophisticated and brilliant in a manner that reminded me of the great Petulia. More of an obligatory hole-filling exercise than a recommendation per se, but I caught the only Stanley Kubrick feature I’d never seen, Fear and Desire, via Kino’s release. It will remain the only one not in my personal collection, alas.
Other: Our only Halloween indulgence was the spectacular Lon Chaney picture The Unknown, previously reviewed here. Securing my own copy required the purchase of a multi-film “TCM Archives” collection, so I have an embarrassment of Chaney riches now, unfortunately none of the films that are supposedly among his best. I’ve only had time to screen the first of the other two proper films, The Ace of Hearts, so far.

Capsules:

***

The Ace of Hearts (1921, Wallace Worsley) [r]
Early Lon Chaney picture for Samuel Goldwyn comes close to being a really chilling portrait of the simple coldbloodedness of cult mentality, as it follows a “brotherhood” of anarchists (all male save one member) planning to murder — via bombing of a public space — a man who “has lived too long,” for reasons that are (refreshingly) never explained. The film then gets rather bogged down in moralistic stuff involving a love triangle, but its air of mystery and strangeness still seduces.

As Good as It Gets (1997, James L. Brooks) [hr]
(Revisit; no change.) Overlong but sometimes incisive comedy of asshole, OCD-suffering romance writer Jack Nicholson attempting to reform himself into a member of the human race, prodded along by a waitress and single mom (Helen Hunt) and a struggling neighbor (Greg Kinnear). Brooks’ talent for crafting characters and memorable dialogue makes this a pleasure despite its indulgences.

Compliance (2012, Craig Zobel) [c]
Despite some creative license, this is a reasonably accurate — thus, horribly unpleasant — dramatization of the rash of sexual assaults that occurred in rural fast food joints and grocery stores via prank call in the early 2000s, especially the one in Kentucky that led to the perp’s capture. It’s well-acted and directed, uncomfortable to watch, and completely, irksomely pointless. At least the you-are-there feeling of United 93 could be construed as having some social purpose.

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001, Joel Coen) [r]
Despite elegant black & white photography and a chilling performance by Billy Bob Thornton, this is Coen by numbers: a seemingly normal man’s stupid action and its wild domino effect, the flippant attitude toward characters, random events and ideas strung awkwardly together, all fused with a superficial appropriation of the base elements of film noir. It’s enormously fun while it’s on, but its attempts at substance via rambling voiceover undercut the airless exercise in style.

Training Day (2001, Antoine Fuqua) [r]
Gritty-ish studio thriller about an opportunistic rookie cop (Ethan Hawke) and his corrupt training officer (Denzel Washington) on a 24-hour whirlwind of Rampart scandals, killings, payouts, fake warrants, the works. Washington flagrantly chews scenery, Hawke’s role could’ve been played by anyone, and the film — generic but exciting for the first 2/3 — spirals into the usual nonsensical action film bullshit by the finale.

Mystic River (2003, Clint Eastwood) [c]
(Revisit; slight upgrade.) Shoddy attempt at “moral ambiguity” is all for naught in this shockingly bad mystery about three men, one of whom was abused as a child, and their involvement in the murder of a sexy sexy teenager. Eastwood’s storytelling (abetted by novelist Dennis Lehane) is confused and nonsensical; his conclusion is infuriatingly lazy.

Ray (2004, Taylor Hackford) [r]
Biopic of Ray Charles attempts to cover so much ground in one of the most eventful and culturally vital lives of the 20th century that it seems never to stop to take much of a breath. As a result it lacks nuance, though it is often utterly electrifying in the sequences dealing with Charles playing live and recording. But nearly everything is redeemed by Jamie Foxx’s magnificent performance — one of the best portrayals of a real person ever recorded on film.

All That Jazz (1979, Bob Fosse) [hr]
Spectactularly messed-up autobiographical chronicle of Fosse working himself to death has a nearly unique, almost avant garde rhythm and is altogether extremely disturbing, though it doesn’t lack for considerable opulence and pizzazz. It owes a lot to a few older films, especially 8 1/2, but it really represents a rare moment of a Hollywood studio signing on for a no-holds-barred personal vision that is, at bottom, monumentally apeshit.

Goodbye to Language (2014, Jean-Luc Godard)
Finally, the perfect film to put on when you want any unwanted company to leave immediately. It’s the cinematic Metal Machine Music. Supposedly the 3D effects are outstanding, so there’s that?

The Last King of Scotland (2006, Kevin MacDonald)
Forest Whitaker’s embodiment of Idi Amin is compelling, but this illuminates very little about him; instead it focuses on a fictitious punching bag of a doctor (James McAvoy) who somehow becomes the paranoid Amin’s confidante. The relationship of the two men is basically a slightly high-stakes office sitcom. There are insufficient portrayals of the human rights violations of Uganda under Amin, and this just transports traditional melodramatics to a politically exotic time and locale.

Fear and Desire (1953, Stanley Kubrick)
Kubrick’s no-budget debut feature, consisting of lots of philosophy-major conversations set in a fictitious and ambiguous war, is as maudlin, pretentious and amateurish as advertised — though its sincerity is obvious. His instinct as a still photographer is evident everywhere, but he carries with his journalistic past a self-importance that only makes the weak dialogue in Howard Sackler’s script more unbearable, the blatant misogyny more off-putting.

Crazy Heart (2009, Scott Cooper)
Song-filled odyssey of a renegade alcoholic country singer-songwriter played by Jeff Bridges driving around the southwest in a hearse is pretty much the worst case scenario of what would happen if a hack Hollywood screenwriter punched up the sublime Tender Mercies, relying upon a ludicrous love affair between Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a single mom and writer, written in a manner suggesting that the filmmakers are unaware that women journalists are actually professionals doing a job.

The Theory of Everything (2014, James Marsh) [r]
Solid biopic of Stephen Hawking doesn’t wholly escape the bothersome troubled-genius-rescued-by-long-suffering-lady stereotype but succeeds modestly on its own terms by placing emphasis on how all-consuming it is to live with and take care of someone like Hawking, especially when fame and its attendant pressures come knocking. Eddie Redmayne’s performance in the role is certainly credible, but Felicity Jones’ much subtler work as Jane is the more impressive accomplishment.

Camille Claudel 1915 (2013, Bruno Dumont) [c]
Grim episode from the institutionalized, abandoned, conspiratorial final years of the title sculptor boasts Juliette Binoche doing excellent work, but does she ever not? Praised for its spareness and precision, the film is as fatalistic and vaguely “historical” as The Turin House, only with less action (!). Admirers of Claudel as an artist wishing for illumination will likely be disappointed.

Spy (2015, Paul Feig) [r]
Funny vehicle for Melissa McCarthy, which features her as a CIA agent fighting hard on her first field assignment, functions well enough as a parody of action franchises, though its best moments come with its Get Smart-like depictions of mundane reality colliding with license-to-kill escapades. Miranda Hart nearly steals the film in her precious few scenes.

***

Additional Letterboxd links: Capote. That is all.

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