Film Reviews

Review Round Up – June 2020

I had a few goals for this month. The first was to revisit some films I had watched a long time ago, generally as a teen, and not seen since. The second was to watch more documentaries. The last was to watch as many films as possible. I nailed all three.

Apologies for the lack of plot summaries, there are just too many films here. Hopefully Google can help you out but I’m happy to cover any specific films in the comments.

Ip Man 3 (2015)

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Three films in and the Ip Man series and fatigue has well and truly set in. There’s half of a really interesting story here as a rival played by Zhang Jin has some decent substance to him, but it is still all a little same same. The fourth film was well-received so I will get around to it eventually.

Grade: C

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

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With good box office and decent reviews,  I wasn’t surprised to find Birds of Prey to be a watchable, moderately enjoyable film. What I was surprised by was how tame and by-the-numbers it was. There’s some extreme stuff of course, but aside from the odd colourful moments it is really very thin and unsurprising. Robbie is terrific but none of the other women ever really make a mark. A hard one to rate, but on the DCU scale it’s a masterpiece.

Grade: C+

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019)

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Sometimes a film just hits the spot for whatever reason, which is exactly what this did for me. Much of the reaction to this upon its release was for Hanks’ performance, and it is excellent, but there’s a lot more substance to it than that. Rhys is great, in a far less forgiving role, while Marielle Heller’s direction and creative choices never let the film fall into the dull or mawkish. Affecting and affirming, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Grade: A

City of God (2002)

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When I first watched this film sometime around a decade ago, I was blown away by its energy and power. I was glad to find my reaction as an adult with a tonne of films under my belt was still the same. This is just over two hours of non-stop action and exploits and dynamic visuals. Shining a light on a whole new world for many people (unfairly and inaccurately according to some), this remains one of the most brilliant films I’ve ever seen.

Grade: A+

Lust, Caution (2007)

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Notorious for its graphic sex scenes, I found Lust, Caution really tame on that front. I’m not sure what that says about me. According to Wiki, the title could also be translated as “colourful ring” which makes a lot more sense to me. Anyway, this is a really well acted and beautifully-shot film that never quite went anywhere for me. This was Ang Lee’s first film following Brokeback Mountain, and for me, he is unable to recreate the magic of that film here.

Grade: C+

Won’t You Be My Neighbour? (2018)

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Following on from A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood I decided to check out this much vaunted doco. Made by a well respected documentarian in Morgan Neville (already an Oscar winner for 20 Feet from Stardom), this went on to become the highest grossing biographical doco of all time. Although not a name in Australia, I know how much Americans love Rogers so this is no surprise. It’s also no surprise how good this is. A really honest and upfront piece, I was nonetheless a little disappointed that Roger’s own childhood wasn’t explored a little more in depth. As has always been my problem with docos, I missed the flair and dramatism of fiction but I know I have to judge them on a different scale.

Grade: A-

Sabrina (1954)

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A Billy Wilder film with Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, and at 25 years old, Audrey Hepburn at her very perkiest. You can’t really go wrong. It’s not an amazing film and you’ll know where it’s headed very early, but there’s always joy in seeing these classic actors bouncing off each other, like we so rarely see these days.

Grade: B

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

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This one popped up in a number of “underrated” and “overlooked” end of decade lists, so the wife and I decided to give it a go. There’s not much added on to the standard courtroom/legal thriller genre, however it is a brisk and enjoyable ride with some very clever writing and a strong Matthew McConaughey (this is very early McConaissance) lead performance. I can definitely understand its placement on all those lists.

Grade: B+

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

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I only just watched this a few months back, but as is my stupid rule, I won’t give a film a perfect rating on first viewing. I wanted to give this a perfect rating so I went back and watched it and there you go, top marks.

Grade: A+

Yojimbo (1961)

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One of the legendary Kurosawa samurai films, I went in to Yojimbo expecting a little more. It’s quite a fun film, and there’s no doubting its impact on future filmmakers such as Sergio Leone, it’s just a little too silly for me. Kurosawa liked to mix very serious drama with humour but I think with this one, he didn’t quite get the balance right.

Grade: C-

I Am Not Your Negro (2015)

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Another doco, this one focusing on novelist (among many things) James Baldwin, and his role in the civil rights movement in America in the 50’s and 60’s. Using Samuel L. Jackson to read the now-deceased Baldwin’s own manuscripts from the 70’s, mixed with interviews and footage from the times, this is a really powerful piece of work. Of course, it is also very depressing, especially in how prevalent it all remains today.

Grade: B+

Amy (2016)

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The life of Amy Winehouse covered by Asif Kapadia, director of the similarly lavishly praised Senna (another documentary on my list), this is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen. Sympathetic to Winehouse and with something of an agenda against certain people involved in her life, the film nonetheless has a lot of great things to say about fame and addiction that are universal. Chronicling Amy’s rise and fall, it’s a riveting and affecting watch.

Grade: A

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

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One of the most revered of art and foreign film, and probably just film overall, this is a simple story of people in the Pyrenees region of France, told through the presence of a donkey named Balthasar. Made by noted minimalist director Robert Bresson, this is sparse even by his standards. There has been criticism that a movie focusing on a donkey can’t be interesting, but in my view, Balthasar is simply a prop, and I would’ve found a film that was actually about the donkey to be more interesting. There’s enough to like, but there’s only so much religious and spiritual allegories I can take.

Grade: C

Top Gun (1986)

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It’s been so long since I’ve watched Top Gun that the only memory that remained was one of camp, homoerotic sequences of men flying planes, playing volleyball, and high fiving each other. There’s a lot of that of course, and I still don’t think it’s a particularly good film. It is however, a lot better than my memory and certainly a lot more serious. It’s not hard to see how Cruise became a superstar and Kelly McGillis provides a strong female counterpart for him to work off. That being said, it’s actually the Iceman Val Kilmer who I wanted to see more of.

Grade: C+

Now, Voyager (1942)

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This is classic 40’s cinema in every way. Big star, here the amazing Bette Davis, plays a downtrodden spinster under the rule of her authoritarian aristocratic mother (Gladys Cooper), who goes off for a few years and comes back transformed. It’s a very watchable film, Davis joined by the likes of Paul Hendreid and Claude Rains and working perfectly with them all (I don’t think it matters who you pair Bette with), and doesn’t always go the direction you think it will. A critic at the time called the film “workmanlike” and I don’t think I can do any better than that.

Grade: C+

The Terminator (1984)

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I’m not sure what viewing number this was, maybe fifth or sixth. Whatever it was, it’s still great. As relentless as the Terminator himself, James Cameron never lets up on the action and tension, while still allowing his sardonic humour to float in and oat. A couple of the special effects and stop-motion sequences jar a little, but certainly not enough to halt momentum. I forgot about moving on to T2 during my movie blitz, but I’ve seen that one just as many times and I really think they both belong in the conversation for best sci-fi films ever.

Grade: A

Mulholland Drive (2001)

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There’s a huge fan base for David Lynch’s Hollywood based surreal mystery drama. I can’t say I get it but hey, I’ve never got Lynch in general. I thought this was a lot like a slightly above average daytime soap on acid. Originally a television pilot that Lynch reworked a finale on to, it plays exactly like that sounds. Ideas and plot threads brought up all over the place for no resolution and an ending that comes from nowhere and drowns out any criticism with shouts of “ART!” Not for me. Naomi Watts is great though.

Grade: D

The Mission Impossible Series (1996-2018)

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I watched all of these relatively recently but the wife and I love them and there aren’t many better ways to kill a weekend at home than watching them all again. All besides the dodgy second film that is. Aside from that, they pretty much get better every film, building towards the action masterpiece that is Fallout. I can’t promise I won’t be talking about these again sometime soon.

Grade: Various

Amadeus (1984)

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A Best Picture winning (among eight overall) classic and in my view, one of the greatest films ever made. Working off a brilliant framing device which sees an elderly, suicidal Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham, Best Actor winner) giving an extended confession to a priest covering both his own life and his bitter jealousy of rival Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce, Best Actor loser). I watched the Director’s Cut this time round, and while admittedly long, the film is so full of life, drama, humour, and of course music, that there isn’t a moment of drag. I can’t imagine everyone is going to get as much out of it, but Miloš Forman pulled off something miraculous with this and 36 years later, it hasn’t lost anything.

Grade: A+

Like Crazy (2011)

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Sad movie haters look away. I’ve had this on my watchlist pretty much since it came out and for whatever reason it has always missed the cut. It’s pretty much what I expected; a well-written, perfectly-acted romance/drama that leaves you feeling pretty shitty in the end. Felicity Jones is one of my favourites actors and this early performance of hers is a very clear signal of what was to come. The late Anton Yelchin is also great, and his premature death at 27 adds another layer of sadness. The early stages of the pair’s relationship is amazingly realistic, with no little bit of connection between them considered too small to show on screen. Really good movie, but you’ll have to be in a certain mood.

Grade: B+

The Red Turtle (2016)

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My first foray into SBS On Demand, this strange little animated co-production between the German Wild Bunch and famed Japanese Studio Gibli, directed by Dutchman Michaël Dudok de Wit, has a story as varied as its production. Though very well-received at the time, and even Oscar-nominated, I had never heard of the film. Featuring almost no dialogue (there are a few shouts of “hey”) and a romance the likes of which you’ll never see, this is a strange, captivating piece of work. The visuals are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and help to make this a compelling and hugely enjoyable experience.

Grade: A

Tangerine (2015)

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This is the fifth feature of young director Sean Baker, whose 2017 film The Florida Project I loved. Following two transgender sex workers, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), as Sin-Dee searches for her cheating boyfriend and Alexandra gets ready for her musical performance, this is obviously a fairly unique story. Filmed using iPhones, Tangerine feels at once very modern and an old-fashioned girlfriends’ tale. Rodriguez and Taylor, neither having acted prior to this, are both fantastic, giving their characters and the film spark and life. It should be noted that this is a comedy, and while not filled with laugh-out-loud moments, it is hugely enjoyable from go to woah.

Grade: B+

The Half of It (2020)

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Fifteen years after her debut Saving Face, director Alice Wu brings to Netflix her follow-up, a modern take on Cyrano de Bergerac. I really enjoyed this one. There’s a really nice balance of humour and heart and it never goes exactly where you are certain it will. The three young actors involved in the main story- Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, and Alexxis Lemire -are all great, with Lewis especially bringing real depth to the performance and looking like a real star of the future. It’s not something you’ve never seen before in some way, but it’s a really well made little dramedy and well worth a watch.

Grade: B+

The Godfather I & II (1972, 1974)

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Perfection.

Grade: A+ x2

All About Eve (1950)

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It’s been a long time since I first watch this classic, which probably worked in my favour here. I remembered most of it but little bits here and there felt fresh and I had a great time revisiting it. My fourth Best Picture Oscar winner for the month (following Amadeus and the two Godfathers), All About Eve was obviously a huge crowd pleaser at the time and it’s not hard to see why. Featuring Bette Davis at possibly her peak, Anne Baxter nailing the ingenue Eve character, a 24 year old Marilyn Monroe owning her few moments on screen, and George Sanders playing one of cinema’s greatest snakes, it truly is as good as cinema gets.

Grade: A+

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