October 2015 Film Diary

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Short thoughts on all the other/newer movies I watched last month.

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The Captive (2014). Disappointing Atom Egoyan movie about a girl abducted and used in an internet porn ring. Ryan Reynolds plays the father who spends eight years hated by his wife (Mireille Enos) for carelessly “losing” his daughter when there’s little he could have done to prevent it, and strongly suspected as guilty by detectives Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman, who don’t really do much useful investigating until Dawson gets abducted by the same cartoonish pervert Kevin Durand. Instead of a daring, insightful thriller, this feels underdeveloped and inauthentic, with little attention given to the effects on the girl who seems to keep her wits after so much time as a psycho’s prisoner.

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Inherent Vice (2014). Paul Thomas Anderson’s nutty and seedy adaptation of Thomas Pynchon 70s counterculture detective novel. Joaquin Phoenix plays stoner hippie private eye on the case of a missing developer who might have been committed to a nuthouse by his promiscuous wife, or something. It’s not that the plot’s difficult to follow, it just doesn’t amount to much or even matter compared to the colourful characters created to populate it, and the vivid depiction of an L.A. recently shaken out of hippie-dippy dreams by the Manson family murders. Phoenix gapes and does double takes at the absurd and horrifying weirdness, gets mired in the perversion and addiction, has a love-hate relationship with a terrific Josh Brolin as a crewcut, hippie-hating LAPD detective, milks his D.A. connection Reese Witherspoon and tries to keep track of ex Katherine Waterston (daughter of Sam). Memorable weirdos and lowlifes have Dickensian names like Japonica, Tubeside, Leeway, Blatnoyd and Borderline, and Martin Short does wonders with a tiny part as a junkie dentist and key player in a drug ring. Not for everyone, not even sure if it was for me but I laughed in all the right places and was as agog at the insanity and depravity as Phoenix.

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Whiplash (2014). Ambitious young drummer Miles Teller wants to be The Best, so he submits to punishing criticism by his terrifying and esteemed conductor J.K. Simmons, and drives himself with brutal practice sessions. The desire, the blood, sweat and tears make Teller a better drummer, and as Simmons’ character Fletcher states, is meant to separate the genius from the poser and weakling, but at what cost to student and teacher? This is as gripping, stylishly minimalist and powerful a movie as I’ve seen in ages, astonishing despite its questionable and wicked teaching methods and incorrect jazz history. It makes greatness in any endeavour seem like all that matters and something that will destroy your life. Fletcher may be abusive but he’s the perfect personification of the demanding, driving voice inside the head of any perfectionist, and a valuable warning against entitlement and complacency in efforts creative or otherwise, while the stubborn Neiman’s determination is inspirational.

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The Railway Man (2013). WW2 veteran and railway enthusiast Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman (last seen at this blog together in Before I Go to Sleep) fall in love so adorably and quickly that you know something is too good to be true. The complication comes when their new marriage is nearly wrecked by Firth’s PTSD and relentless flashbacks to his time as Japanese POW in a labour camp working on Thai/Burma Death Railway. Fellow survivor Stellan Skarsgard commits suicide after finding that their chief tormentor (Hiroyuki Sanada, The Wolverine, 47 Ronin) is now a tour guide at the war museum. Firth returns to the site of their misery fully intending to murder Sanada, at which point both men face past and future, try to forgive and atone. Fascinating story based on the Eric Lomax autobiography, with excellent acting by Firth and, in extensive flashbacks, Jeremy Irvine as young Lomax, but despite the inspirational and dramatic potential, this feels ordinary and unaffecting.

The Woman In Black: The Angel of Death

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014). I liked Jeremy Irvine so much in Railway Man that I followed him into this picture, where he plays WW2 RAF pilot watching over his new crush, melancholy young teacher Phoebe Fox, her stern steely headmistress Helen McCrory (last seen here in Penny Dreadful) and their class of Blitz evacuees and orphan kids. Of all the places to choose to keep the kids safe from war, they’ve come to this creepy decrepit mansion that’s encircled by moors, cut off by the tide waters every night and, as we saw in the first WIB, haunted by the evil ghost of a bereaved mother. The apparition manages to kill some of these poor kids, and torments Fox, who lost her own child. Lots of atmosphere and some frightening images but plodding, dull and never scary.

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Shutter Island (2010). U.S. marshal Leonardo DiCaprio’s case takes him to an island Civil War fort turned asylum for the criminally insane, where they might be conducting disturbing experiments, where the missing patient might be a skeptical doctor who needs to be silenced, and where DiCaprio himself might be a patient imagining all of this after losing his children, wife and sanity. This Martin Scorsese adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel (Lehane material was also adapted into the great The Drop) presents beautiful and harrowing visuals, whether depicting the inescapable island during a hurricane, its forbidding cliffs and mysterious lighthouse, flashbacks to DiCaprio’s WW2 presence at a Nazi death camp, or hallucinations of his dead wife Michelle Williams who taunts and helps him in equal measure and leads to the crumbling of his false memories. Evokes classic noir with its 1954 wardrobe, existential darkness and a compelling but damaged and practically amnesiac veteran involved in a twisted mystery.

October full review posts:

total: 24 movies.

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9 thoughts on “October 2015 Film Diary”

  1. I tried to watch Railway Man but just couldn’t get into it. I thought I would love this film…but…I decided to make a batch of brownies instead.

    I liked the Shutter Island script, even though it wasn’t perfect (what is?), and LOVED the cinematography. Really interesting premise.

    The rest of the films will be added to my To Be Seen List. Thanks!

    1. Yes, Railway Man, on paper and with that casting, seems Oscar-ready but it just never takes off into something as emotionally involving as it should have. Felt more like an underdeveloped TV movie. I will add about that Egoyan movie, even though I didn’t like it, sure was accurate depiction of Canadian winters (it’s set in Niagara region).

  2. I totally agree on Inherent Vice. “Out there” to be sure but really like the characters. Brolin just continues to impress me with so many of his roles and no different here. I also need to get to Whiplash to see for myself if all the hype is warranted.

    1. Brolin does some things that make you wonder how much was in the script and ad libbed. Whatever you end up thinking of Whiplash I bet you’ll be blown away by the great acting.

  3. Hi Kristina! Discovered your blog through the Criterion podcast and am enjoying beginning to start digging through the archives. I just launched my blog today and will be entering into the process of joining the blogosphere community you guys discussed on the show that up until now I’ve only admired from afar. Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi and thanks so much for the kind words! Glad you dropped by to say you enjoyed the discussion and were inspired to join the blogosphere, that’s great to hear. New blogs are always welcome in my reading rounds so I’ll be following. 🙂

  4. This post is my tempo! Even though I love your classic film posts, you have a knack for posting films I haven’t seen, so I enjoy these wrap-up posts. Inherent Vice probably requires two watches and I haven’t bothered with it again. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like, but yeah, out there.

    1. Same, I’m not likely to go back to it and I’m not sure what I got out of it frankly, other than some weird entertainment, glad I looked at it though. I wish I had more time, I would do more full reviews of the newer movies.

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