December 2015 Film Diary

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Short reviews for all the other movies I watched last month.

MO_STILL_01.jpg FILM Mortdecai

Mortdecai (2015). Stupid comedy but I give Johnny Depp more credit for his fine Terry-Thomas turn than I see in most reviews. He’s a stuffy art expert asked to help find a stolen painting. His uppity wife Gwyneth Paltrow gags at the sight of his precious new moustache and she’s still attracted to old flame, Mi5 agent Ewan McGregor. Depp and his dim assistant Paul Bettany have a violence-prone relationship reminiscent of Clouseau and Cato, and the whole thing is dumb but good for a very few chuckles.

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Cronos (1993). Rewatch. Antiques dealer finds an ancient mechanical scarab whose “bite/sting” gives eternal life and as he wallows in his returning youth, he tries to keep it from a dying man and his crazy son Ron Perlman. Guillermo Del Toro’s original twist on vampirism and the fountain of youth has slow suspense and mostly low budget effects, but amazing detail in that creepy bug gadget.

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Bird (1988). After seeing Whiplash I revisited Clint Eastwood’s fine biopic of jazz great Charlie Parker who died at 34 looking twice that. It’s dark and bleak and Eastwood doesn’t make it sappily sympathetic or over-sentimental, but his respect for the subject and Forest Whitaker’s swings between desperation, cruelty and sensitivity, make this a compassionate and humanizing look at a genius’s tragic self-destruction.

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Phoenix (2014). Loved this WW2 drama and have been telling everyone to see it, especially classic film lovers, since it has a Hitchcock-noir style and hearkens back to movies like A Woman’s Face. Nina Hoss plays a concentration camp survivor whose disfigurement and plastic surgery makes her unrecognizable when she returns to her husband (Ronald Zehrfeld) in Berlin. Before she reveals her identity, he proposes an inheritance scam based on her slight resemblance to his “dead” wife. Hoss’ acting is magnificent and ending is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Fascinating parallels between the woman trying to reclaim her past life and learning horrible secrets about her spouse, and a nation rebuilding after the war while dealing with the effects of atrocities. Some will never heal, as represented by the tragedy of Hoss’ friend (Nina Kunzendorf). Must see.

thehunt

The Hunt (2012). Horrifying story with Mads Mikkelsen as a lovable teacher who briefly gets on a little girl’s bad side when he gently corrects her about inappropriate behaviour. In retaliation she repeats something naughty she overheard and inadvertently accuses Mikkelsen of molestation. Despite the girl’s denials and explanations, her statement snowballs, thanks to a social worker’s unprofessional leading questions, and school officials and parents jumping to conclusions. Mikkelsen becomes a pariah and punching bag with only his son and very few friends left to support him. It’s torture to watch him lose everything and wonder why people are so quick to hate when they should know him better, but he keeps his quiet dignity throughout. Incredible acting and a powerful warning about the danger of justice by lynch mob.

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Fort Bliss (2014). Decorated soldier Michelle Monaghan returns Stateside to find the battle at home is as tough as the one she just survived in the Middle East. Authentic picture of a woman struggling with PTSD, trying to compete with the men and desperate to rebuild a relationship with her child who’s forgotten her and thinks mommy is the ex-husband’s new girlfriend. Monaghan is such a talent and her tough but vulnerable turn makes this thin plot worth watching.

Being Canadian (2015). Fun, polite documentary seeking the nature and meaning of Canadian identity during a cross-country voyage and interviews with many Canadian celebrities. Asks the big questions, like what’s with that weather (snowing in Ottawa in June no less), what’s with The Beachcombers (Canada’s Gunsmoke) and what’s with that inferiority complex, sorry!

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It Follows (2014). Smart horror movie essentially about an STD monster; sex passes a curse between partners and the victim is pursued (slowly) by shapeshifting figures only they can see. Another good bit of acting from Maika Monroe, who was great in The Guest, which like this movie also had a nice 80s synth score. It Follows is much more than just a very scary film, since everything exists in some vague, undefinable era you could call nostalgia-land, where a makeup compact is an space age e-reader gadget, but all TVs are old tube units showing retro scifi, and pristine old cars share the road with new models. Every time the teen gang hides from the deadly followers they retreat to some old haunt with warm memories of safe and comfortable youth, trying to preserve an idyllic time that’s ruined by the rites and terrors of adulthood. I wish more modern horror was this meaningful and disturbing.

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The Homesman (2014). The movie that made me cry the most this year. Hilary Swank channels Olivia de Havilland in The Proud Rebel as a rancher and spinster too independent for any man to marry. She’s the only one with guts enough to transport three women, driven insane by pioneer life, to treatment in a faraway state. Early in her trek she saves loser Tommy Lee Jones from a hanging and hires him to help. Things get terribly bleak as the harsh weather, brutal terrain and hopelessness drive the seemingly indestructible Swank to despair, but the way Jones keeps his promise, guides the women and redeems himself is incredibly moving. Jones directed, and there are juicy roles for James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, John Lithgow, William Fichtner and Meryl Streep.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past- The Rogue Cut (2014). I’m a broken record about these movies: I’m a huge X-Men comics fan since childhood and always complain that the films aren’t half as great as they could be, but for all their faults I love them anyway, like a souvenir that reminds me of a fantastic vacation. This version of DOFP rearranges events, adds a subplot about retrieving Rogue (Anna Paquin), plus scenes to flesh out the time travel debate and relationship between Nic Hoult’s Beast and Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique (Lawrence’s emo only makes me miss Rebecca Romijn’s delightfully aggressive, naughty Mystique). The theatrical version was good and lean but I liked this cut much better for the full circle moments and call-backs with the older cast, more Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen is always welcome, future Charles watching the school get destroyed was a heartbreaking touch, and most of all I loved the parallel break-ins by old and young Magneto happening 50 years apart. The added footage actually makes the pace faster and strengthens the connections between past choices and future disaster. Very good and the version to watch, nice extra features on the blu too.

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What We Do in the Shadows (2014). Hilarious New Zealand mockumentary about vampires sharing a ramshackle mansion, arguing about who does the dishes and needs to get new clothes. Great gags on every aspect of vampire lore and film. The ancient Nosferatu roomie speaks volumes with shrieks and deadpan stares, their latest convert is an annoying club-hopping show-off who attracts a vampire hunter, they allow a meek and oblivious human to hang with them, cross paths with the local smelly werewolf pack, run into exes, mindwipe the police who drop in for a visit and forget to lay down tarps and towels for a bloodsucking that turns messy.

beyond

Beyond the Lights (2014). Average backstage melodrama about a stressed out pop star (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) whose suicide attempt is foiled by a handsome cop with political ambition (Nate Parker). He faces mockery for being seen as a boy toy when he most needs to build credibility, while she fights to to break free of industry pigeonholing and a domineering stage mother (Minnie Driver).

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Four Brothers (2005). Good urban western (inspired by The Sons of Katie Elder). Sweet Fionnula Flanagan is murdered in what looks like a messy corner store holdup but her four adopted sons soon learn the truth, which leads to a dirty cop and a wicked crime boss. Lots of gunfire and satisfying vigilante justice, and a great cast of brothers Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin and Garrett Hedlund, and police Terrence Howard and Josh Charles.

training

Training Day (2001). Finally got around to seeing this, a day on the streets with an idealistic, ambitious young cop Ethan Hawke who’s teamed with corrupt superior Denzel Washington. The shady veteran involves Hawke in so many unethical and criminal situations, the rookie keeps thinking it all must be some nightmarish test. The ending was a bit of a letdown but nothing takes away from Washington’s chilling performance. His terrifyingly charming villain makes cold-blooded pragmatism sound like perfect sense and raises the question of whether it’s necessary to stoop to the level of the criminal to beat them.

blackhat

Blackhat (2015). Wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d heard but not nearly as good as I expect from Michael Mann. Overlong and only mildly suspenseful thriller about code, circuits, spyware and bank accounts. Chris Hemsworth is a hacker let out of prison to help solve cybercrimes including a Chinese nuke reactor meltdown. He’s one of the most unrealistically perfect action genius philosopher hacker heroes ever, but since all the other good actors were underused, hunky Hemsworth and his MacGyver stunts were the only things that held my interest.

full December reviews:

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

Trading Places (1983)

Brewster’s Millions (1945)

Knockout (1941)

Man Bait (1952)

Caught (1949)

The Brasher Doubloon (1947)

Sunrise (1927)

Hard Times (1975)

Gun Crazy (1949)

The Blue Angel (1930)

Le silence de la mer (1949)

total 27 movies

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8 thoughts on “December 2015 Film Diary”

  1. I was really surprised you hadn’t seen Training Day previously. But then I just saw Collateral for the first time, Picked up The Homesman so that should be in my near future. The Hunt sounds powerful and I will have to see that one as well as Phoenix which you recently shared with me. Sounds like you watched some heavy weighted drama’s this month with a couple light farces to lighten the load.

    1. I like Denzel a lot but somehow missed that one all these years. Seeing him that evil was like watching Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West. Collateral is pretty good, I like that one, like Mann which is why Blackhat was a bit of a letdown. Really good dramas this time, Homesman is tragic but moving. Happy New Year!

  2. Sounds like I liked BEYOND THE LIGHTS more than you did. I really appreciated the relationship between GMR and Minnie Driver and the romantic aspect felt much less cliche than in most contemporary films of this kind.

    I don’t suppose Nightcrawler appears in the DOFP Rogue Cut, does he?

    1. I liked it well enough, it could so easily have gone into TV movie mode but stayed above that, mainly because of the good acting by everyone. You’re right it was not the cliche you’d expect.

      No Kurt sadly, we’ll have to see what they’ll do with him in Apocalypse, fingers crossed they get closer to the comics.

      Happy New Year 🙂

  3. Glad you finally saw Training Day. Excellent movie. And comparing the sight of Denzel as the bad guy to seeing Henry Fonda do the same is very accurate. That’s a great western, btw. Glad you also saw Four Brothers. Such a fun movie.

    Lots of other good stuff, here, too. Happy to see all the love for It Follows. Brilliant flick. I like Beyond the Lights better than you. I agree the story is average. The performances of Mbatha-Raw and Driver were so great they elevated the material a good deal for me.

    Great post. Happy New Year !!!

    1. Yeah I’m a little ashamed it took me so long for Training Day, he was fantastic in that! I got curious about 4 Brothers after you featured it on your blog, good recommend, really liked that.

      It Follows will get watched again soon, so I can pick up more details, and Beyond had fine acting for sure. Thanks and Happy New Year to you too! May it be a great one with all good movies and no duds.

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