December round-up

I know it’s been 2018 for a while now, but still, happy new year.

I’ve watched a lot of TV over the last month as well, I have a recommendation for you if you have Netflix: Korean crime drama ‘Stranger’, it is ace and well worth its sixteen or so hours. Yes, this is what I do with my free time. I also watched some movies. Here are my thoughts on those…

158. Dallas Buyers Club (2013): In which a man works outside of the system to provide unsanctioned treatment for HIV after his own diagnosis. Powerhouse performances, and an interesting story. Ron Woodroof has a real arc from hateful and debauched, to defiant and open via desperation. It’s heart-wrenching but ultimately unsatisfying.

159. Shimmer Lake (2017): In which a small town sheriff investigates a bank heist, backwards. When I say ‘backwards’ I mean that in the sense that, a-la Memento (2000), the film begins at the end and works backwards scene by scene until the revelation at the start. It’s tonally weird: part black comedy, part mystery drama but it doesn’t always blend these genres effectively. It’s entertaining, if not wholly successful.

160. Bridesmaids (2011): In which a down-on-her-luck baker is invited to be maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding, things don’t go as planned. I don’t know how I hadn’t seen this already. It’s a hilarious and relatable comedy. Also, I love Kristen Wiig.

161. Monsters (2010): In which a photojournalist escorts his boss’s daughter through an ‘infected zone’ between Mexico and the USA. It’s a character-driven, low budget invasion movie, with minimal actual aliens. And I liked that about it. It’s a personal story with a science fiction backdrop more than it is a science fiction film in the stereotypical sense. It’s an interesting set up for a simple story.

162. Murder on the Orient Express (2017): In which eminent Belgian detective Hercule Poirot solves a murder on the eponymous train. While not a necessary remake of the classic Agatha Christie, it certainly looks good, all the cast hold their own, however, I’d have prefered to see more of the passengers and less of Poirot’s meanderings. Also, not a glimpse of David Suchet which is, for someone who grew up watching his Poirot, jarring, confusing, and scary; I suppose Kenneth Branagh and his walrus moustache is okay, though.

163. The Martian (2015): In which a man gets left behind on mars by his crewmates and friends. Tense and surprisingly funny, uplifting science-fiction.     

164. Hell or High Water (2016): In which two Texan brothers rob some banks to save their family’s land. It’s a fantastic, moody crime movie. It hammers home its message, it doesn’t feel preachy. The characters are strong and relatable and the landscape is stunning. The opening sequence alone is exemplary.

165. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997): In which four high school friends are stalked by a killer a year after a terrible road accident. It’s not a good movie; it’s schlocky, silly and dated, but easy to watch.

166. Edge of Winter (2016): Two boys are stranded with their deadbeat, slightly unhinged father in the wilds of snowy Canada after their car breaks down on a hunting trip. I like the cast, I like the setting, and the premise is interesting on paper, but the film is somehow less than the sum of its parts, quickly descending from character study on fatherhood and failure into an overly melodramatic and ill-conceived ‘thriller’.   

167. Star Wars: The Force Awakens* (2015): In which a runaway stormtrooper and a scavenger from a nothing planet team up with the resistance to combat the rising threat of the post-Empire power, The First Order. I quite enjoy Star Wars, and the Force awakens is excellent both for its technical quality, and for its nostalgia–following the blueprint of the first Star Wars Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope to great effect and kicking off the new trilogy with style and emotional depth. The characters are strong, especially Kylo Ren (the fantastic Adam Driver), and the story leads nicely into…   

168. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): In which Rey works with Luke Skywalker to hone her Force powers, and the out-matched Resistance face off against the First Order. Where The Force Awakens works because of its parallels with A New Hope, The Last Jedi works because of its lack of reference, making it fresh and surprising entry in the Star Wars saga. I am aware of the backlash this film has weathered, and I find many of the criticisms unfounded. I have a lot of love for this film, and I think Rian Johnson did a good job. Is it perfect? No, of course not, but it’s a Star Wars film, and none of them are without their clunky sections. Holdo is a stand out for me and the ever fabulous Laura Dern slayed the role; Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren continues to intrigue me; and the theme of failure was a really good, effective and new take on an established universe. The sound design was great, the salt planet was beautiful and the Porgs, delightful. A fitting tribute to the departed Princess, Carrie Fisher.      

169. The Intern (2015): In which a retired widower takes a new job as a ‘Senior Intern’ for a burgeoning fashion start-up. DeNiro and Hathaway have a good rapport, and this film that I picked as a light daytime watch had much more to it than I had expected. I sweet, funny and optimistic fish-out-of-water comedy. I haven’t seen Nancy Meyers’s other films, but I might check them out.   

170. The Disaster Artist (2017): In which a young wannabe actor called Greg Sestero meets and moves to LA with the eccentric and mysterious Tommy Wiseau to follow their dreams of becoming famous and successful actors like James Dean. I adore The Room, I have had the pleasure of seeing it more times than is probably reasonable–in friends houses and sold out movie theatres. The tale behind that masterpiece of terrible filmmaking is just as strange as The Room itself, and The Disaster Artist is an excellent and hilarious testament to that fact. James Franco’s performance is incredible as Tommy and Dave Franco is good as Greg, but their relationship really helps sell the friendship between two seemingly disparate people. They really are friends, and that’s what The Disaster Artist is really about: true friendship, and following your dreams no matter what.

171. The Dish* (2000): In which the team manning a satellite dish in a small Australian town play help NASA with the first Apollo moon landing. An extraordinary and humorous film with a cast of quirky and believable characters led by the great Sam Neill, for whom I have an ever-growing fondness.

172. Battle Royale* (2000): In which a class of school children are released onto a remote island with a range of weapons and ordered to kill one another in a government mandated ‘Battle Royale’. It’s a visceral, grotesque and disturbing adaptation of an (apparently even more disturbing manga), and it is amazing; an absurd, character-focused satire. Takeshi Kitano is in it and that more than enough to sell a movie to me, but c’mon, it’s Battle Royale, it’s a bloody classic (literally)…    

Film of the Month: The Disaster Artist

(*) Indicates a film I rewatched this month. These films, however good they may be, will never be considered for my ‘Film of the Month’.



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