So it's been a bit of a while, hasn't it. More than a month. Things happened, one after the other and I had to put things on hold. But if you're reading this, it means that I'm (for the most part) through them all, so we're back at it. I don't feel like writing the same thing three times now, so if you want to know what's up, I'd suggest you check out Page #68 at Tapastic
, where I give a sort-of in-depth explanation to my absence. You can check out an abridged version of that at LbH's new website, too.
Wait, what? New website? Yes, that's all explained over there.
Sadly, although I managed to get everything comic-related done despite the speedbumps along the way, I couldn't do it without sacrificing the Movie Logs. Amidst the chores and the deadlines, I stopped having enough time to write a page-long review for each individual film I just saw. I think the last one I completed was for Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), and I was midway writing about Ava DuVernay's Selma when I decided to call it quits for the time being. I would continue watching movies and reviewing them, but that'd only be in the super-tiny format I've been doing for some years now. English-speaking readers can get an even shorter form of them at my Twitter account
. Enough time had passed for me to think that this was the right move, anyways: I only make a movie log whenever I update my comic... and since the last update, I must have seen like 20-or-so movies. I would drop an Old Testament of movie reviews, all of the sudden. So unwieldy.
But I'm not one to leave things behind so easily. I'll try to get you up to speed. Super briefly, this is what I saw:
What I liked
If I'm honest, I haven't seen much that I would say I really, really like. Of all the films I've seen since the last update, I think only four rank among my favorites of the year. That's not a bad number by any means, but the vast majority of the stuff I liked was with a respectfully muted approval. I liked it, thought it was fine. They may have some really good individual aspects going on here and there, but as a whole, little of them truly registered with me. I liked Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher
far more than I liked Moneyball (I thought that was too data-based and it severely downplayed Jonah Hill's character importance to the plot), although I think going to this movie knowing -- even a little -- about the true story was a mistake. You'll see the clues and hints coming from a mile away. But the performances are all top notch. Channing Tatum's really becoming something major.
Surprise Oscar nominee Zaza Urushadze's Tangerines
was one of the films I really liked. It's about an old man nursing two wounded soldiers from opposite sides. It's a really warm, human piece of work. Surprise Oscar not-nominee Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure
was also one of the films I really liked. It's about a family having a bit of a crisis of implications and instictual responses. It gets conversations going, and that ending scene... one of the best of the year. It really got into my head. While on the subject of Oscar films, there's the forementioned Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
. I honestly liked it. But I respect it far more than I actually like it. It's harsh, it's edgy, it's all so well made and put together, but it's so shallow and pretentious with its attitude, too. Keaton's great. Norton and Stone are also pretty good, but the two of them go absolutely nowhere later on. Didn't need to be a single take film, too. But I liked it, honest!
And then there was the Annual Oscar Disappointment. Ava DuVernay's Selma
. What the hell happened, Academy? I remember reading the campaign behind this film sent screeners only to THEM and it got with a measly two nominations: Best Picture and... Best Original Song, of all things. It'd be a worthy winner at both categories, but not making any room for DuVernay's direction, Oyelowo's performance, the film's editing or its screenplay was a major mistake. Put this one among the films I really, really liked.
Another film with great editing and performances: Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild
. This guy, I tell you. If I was a Hollywood actor I'd be as eager to work with him as I'd be terrified of him. First was Dallas Buyers Club, now this: the man really pushes his actors to a painful physical extreme -- but then again... it's all good. The stuff he captures is legitimate, and Reese Witherspoon's amazing here in all of her shades: from rebellious, trashy nymphomaniac to an exhausted camper in search of redemption. Fantastic stuff, all around. We could also talk about Jean-Luc and Pierre Dardenne's Two Days, One Night
, as another film with great female performances, walking around hoping to be redeemed. Marion Cotillard drives and walks around a small village hoping to get her co-workers to rescind a bonus pay that would effectively leave her unemployed. Some of them have legitimate reasons to take the pay, others are more self-centered and blame the situation on her. It's one of the more humane films I've seen this year -- and coming from the Dardennes, of course it would be. Cotillard's great, too -- she's a worthy replacement for Jennifer Aniston at the Oscar... whose film we'll be touching upon later.
I'm gonna dedicate this entire paragraph to a couple of movies, although I liked one far better than the other. They're pretty much the same thing, but seen through different perspectives: Ned Benson's The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
. It's two movies about the downfall of a married couple after the death of their infant child. The film subtitled Her
tells the story from Jessica Chastain's point of view as the wife, while Him
tells it from James McAvoy's point of view as the husband. I liked Him better than Her -- it's more confrontational and straight-forward, even if he's masking pain and grief with attitude and snark. But both films are all splendidly performed, and I would recommend you both to get the whole experience. There's a third movie here, too, but... we'll talk about it later, I'm afraid.
Then it's Chris Rock's Top Five
. It's basically Birdman. Same topics, same sort of characters. But it's basic Birdman, too: it's not as ambitious. The performances are not as skin-deep. If Rock's not of your liking, then you could say it's not as funny, too -- but that's not me. I liked this movie better than Birdman because it's tethered to Earth. You can make the same comparisons of Keaton being on Birdman because he was Batman, and Rock doing Top Five because of... his entire career, but Rock's not being overly vicious on his commentary, neither he's overly victimizing himself. He's playing the fame game well aware of its bullshit with a furious frailty. There's a good reason for wanting move on to greater, loftier things, but this movie's smart enough to keep in mind that people loved what you used to do before. It's also a film I'd listen to -- Chris Rock's on fire here, just like if he was doing a stand-up.
Last but not least of this block is Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman
. It's certainly one of the most eerily, impactfully bittersweet films I've seen all year. Hillary Swank stars as Mary Bee Cuddy, a New Yorker living in the Old West, tasked with taking three mentally ill women to a church faraway to get some treatment. She's got a can-do attitude that comes across as bossy, but in reality she's battling loneliness, desperately wanting to get married for once. Along the way she meets/saves George Briggs played by Tommy Lee Jones, and she arranges a deal so he can help her in her journey. This movie gets chillingly dark at times -- sober, straight-forward. Hopeless, even. But every now and then we get this bits of warmth and need which give this movie some great contrasts. It's a movie of unbreakable wills and prides facing guilty compassion. The entire ensemble is great, and the cinematography's excellent, too. Check it out.
Mostly BlaséMorten Tyldum's The Imitation Game
came as an early favorite for the Oscars... and somehow it still is but not really since very few people have actually stepped forward for this film? It tells the account of Alan Turing's involvement in World War II. He and his team worked on deciphering Enigma, the secret, nigh-impenetrable code used by the Nazis for communications. It's got lovely performances from everyone onboard -- actually, Benedict Cumberbatch seems to be redeeming meme-whore character Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, doing something quite similar to what Jim Parsons does on TV but nowhere near as annoying. However, the movie's a bit too respectful with the material given. We really don't get much information about Turing other than a flashback telling his first love. It's not bad, but overall it fells too clean (or shallow) for a movie about an operation so do-or-die which took place during WW2. It's a fine film with its moments, but nothing to write home about overall.Hirokazu Kore-eda's Like Father, Like Son
was a movie premiered in 2013 at Cannes that arrived earlier this year at a local outdoors cinema fest. It tells the story of two families who are notified their kids were swapped when they were born, so all these years they were raising the other family's child. With all those kids around it's undeniably cute, yet at the same time it's unavoidingly sad. However, it's not a movie of subtleties -- something I could say of most Japanese cinema, I'm afraid. It's all so contrived and made to make you feel bad, but it comes across as being terribly cruel instead. It's never unforgivably so, but it all makes you want to tell this movie to take a couple of minutes to think about the whole thing before doing whatever it thinks it's gonna do next.
A documentary Oscar nominee. John Maloof and Charlie Siskel's Finding Vivian Maier
. It's got such a good premise. There's this guy who needed lots of old photos for a project, so he bought at an auction a box full of them, unaware of their origin. None of the pictures was any good for his project, but they were all impressively, outstandingly good photos. Some of them were funny, some of there were quite tragic. Some of them had an appealing sense of style and framing. They were certainly the work of a master! An unknown master, though. She was Vivian Maier, and the film goes on to find out as much as possible about her, her creative method, and the people who knew her -- especially this last part, since her day job was being a nanny.
It's a fun doc, this year "lost artist" nominee at the Oscars, for sure, following on the footsteps of Searching for Sugar Man, Cutie and the Boxer, and 20 Feet From Stardom. However, the movie isn't a really deep study on her: it's essentially a film about whatever they could find about Vivian, for as little as that could be. This means the movie comes across as being both overly celebratory and rewarding to her... and being tremendously harsh and negative about her. She was a fantastic photographer, and a shitty human being too. I really wish the film didn't make it so much about her negative side, because it goes on and on about that and once you get how she was as a person that's enough.Gina Prince-Bythewood's Beyond the Lights
was a film I kept hearing glowing reviews, getting mentioned at Top 10 lists with tremendous confidence and all. I'm cool with that, but I fail to see what's so unique about this movie. It's a warm romance film first, and a commentary on showbiz second -- a distant second. The performances by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker are pretty good, very much giving credence to the "opposite attract" saying in the best of ways. However, the pop world this movie shows only exists so the characters can get away from it. It is as cold, restrictive and misogynist as you can imagine. I'm not saying it's not that, or at least a subset of that, but as it's been the case with the films in this block: it's not deep enough to merit thought.
Ah, but if there's a movie that merits thought in this block... it's certainly Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem
. Of all the films I'm listing here, this is the one I liked the best, although it's not enough. It's one of the more interestingly weird films I've seen in ages, with one of the most lush and labored production designs, costumes, hairstyles, and lensings this year offered. So it's Terry Gilliam doing his thing, basically. Christoph Waltz's doing great work far removed from his zone of comfort, and Tilda Swinton... oh dear, she's amazing. But it's a bit too nebulous a film for me. I've never been too crazy about Gilliam's screenplays -- this didn't change things that much, sadly.
And then there's the opposite film to The Zero Theorem: Tim Burton's Big Eyes
. Here we have another director celebrated for his unique visual sensibilities -- so much so that you see a frame of his films and you immediately go "that's a Burton". Not so much here. No Burton flair or whimsy is found here. And Christoph Waltz's just doing his thing, the one you've seen him do time and time again. But if anything, the time he didn't use to make his decórs is greatly employed to make some of the darkest, more painful characters he's ever made. It's a weird but stable mix of comedy and drama, but I'd say it's better as the latter: by the time the third act comes, you'll wish they took the story a little more seriously. Amazing performance by Amy Adams, regardless.
Finally, it's David Michôd's The Rover
. I've been telling you people not to mess with Guy Pearce and finally somebody makes a movie about it. But honestly, it's ... I guess, I dunno. Walking Dead meets Dude, Where's My Car?. Sounds tremendously watchable, but it's a pretty minimalistic script, without much dialogue or any branching paths. Robert Pattinson's killing it here, though: he's straight-up unrecognizable. Kudos.
I didn't like Amma Asante's Belle
. The performances and the decórs are great but you end up feeling like you learned next to nothing from the characters involved. And then there's the opposite case: Alberto Arvelo's The Liberator
, Venezuela's film shortlisted for the Oscar. The decórs aren't bad at all, but surely you can learn something from this film -- if you're a student in a hurry with undone homework about Simón Bolivar due tomorrow. It's a point-by-point story of Bolívar's accomplishments -- and very little of Bolivar himself.
Sigh. Jon Stewart's Rosewater
. If the dude's leaving The Daily Show to focus on his filmmaking career, I'm really wishing he steps it up. For better or worse, this is a Jon Stewart film: it's funny and socially motivated, but it's too broad, never going on specifics. It doesn't help much either that this is a movie about asking for things that simply aren't there: you'll feel frustrated with the ongoing improductivity. But then we go straight-up into Super Nope territory with Rob Marshall's Into the Woods
: what a formless, reference-laden mess. None of the songs stick, and painfully just like Les Misérables, they never stop singing. At least you can forgive Tom Hooper for never shutting up because he had his actors singing classics, but I honestly can't remember any tune from this movie. Oscar voters: Meryl Streep was okay but not Oscar okay. And what's up with this movie being up for Best Production Design? Yeah, cool trees I guess.
Not Oscar okay too was Clint Eastwood's American Sniper
: I mean, Bradley Cooper's giving a fine performance, a quite physical transformation. But this movie isn't anything Kathryn Bigelow didn't do first and better. This movie is far, far too broad and even more timidly respectful of its subject matter than The Imitation Game was. Fake baby. Still on war, there's Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
, which... I actually liked better than American Sniper, but the plot here is basically seeing Jack O'Connell getting beaten to a pulp for two hours. He's giving a tremendously resilient performance, but no one's really matching his ante: Jolie's still hasn't found her director's voice, the Coens do not exist here, and Desplat's giving a generic effort. What's up with Miyavi, I'll never know.Daniel Barnz's Cake
had some Oscar buzz going on, but it was all for Jennifer Aniston: make no mistake, she's really giving a performance here. She's really good. But this movie's overwhelmingly depressive -- it's socially stagnant and nearly lifeless. It's too spot-on on the apathy of depression. I'm thinking it was never gonna make the Oscar cut because it wasn't a pleasant sit. Still, an Oscar nod shouldn't be so distant if Aniston's vying for one: comedy, and now drama. She's got both in good health.Theodore Melfi's St. Vincent
... welp. This movie will curse and make threats and all that, but it's as soft and bland as it gets. The whole attitude is just for the sake of cliché -- make no mistake, the whole reason this movie exists is for the title. How will this guy gain sainthood... geez. Had I seen this movie earlier in 2014 I would've hated it even more: I'm thinking this movie was the softer, weightless film I saw all year. A waste of time. Even the awards talk about this movie was a waste of time: Why was Naomi Watts getting accolades for this movie but not for Birdman?
I felt the joke was on me when I saw Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice
. Needlessly complicated, hazy but not hazy enough. Can't remember anything about this movie's plot, honestly -- and what's worse is that the performances and the production values were all great. But it just wasn't my thing. I'm having trouble thinking of anyone I know who could say this is her or his thing, too.
I know Laura Poitras' Citizenfour
is really relevant and all, it's about Snowden, our perception of security and authority, and... zzzzz. Dear God this movie needed a Gibney or a Spurlock badly. They'd make a full-blown animated sequence detailing Snowden's methods, and would probably make it a bit more plastic because of that... but at least they'd inject it some life and personality into it. "Best editing in a documentary?", what editing?Jennifer Kent's The Babadook
is a movie I really admire for its technical and artistic merits. I also hate it. I hate its loathsome, overbearingly flat characters. The internet didn't stop hyping me this movie, and... it fell flat on its face. Disclaimer, though: I've never been too big on horror stories, so... maybe it's just me.
Going back to Ned Benson's The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
, now it's the turn of Them
. Yep, they took Her & Him and made a single movie out of them, much like folks are editing The Hobbit trilogy into a single film nowadays. I seriously can't recommend this movie as either a replacement for Her & Him or as some sort of "definitive experience", "director's cut", whichever way you'll call it. Whatever was great from both films is still here, but so much was cut out that characters now come across totally differently, or simply, are minimally present. Just watch it if you really liked the two Rigby films and you're curious for something else. I can't promise you'll be getting anything that improves them, though.
One of the Foreign Language Film frontrunners now: Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan
. Much like The Babadook, I really liked everything going on with the production of this film save for the characters. All of them are drunken, cruel, cowards, hypocrites and straight-up misogynists (two times I've used this word so far, um). I know it's telling something about Putin's Russia, and there's an engaging legal entangle subplot, but the characters are all too extremely negative. It doesn't help that the film's slow paced, too.
And that's about it. Now, do you picture this post with long, one-page reviews to each of these films? Madness. It's better this way, at least for the time being. Anyways, that's it for now. Next week the Oscars will come, and soon after that, my Top 10 films of the year! So stay tuned. Thanks for reading!