February Film Diary, Part 1

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February so far, anyway. A quick roundup of everything else I saw in the past few weeks. 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). Art house “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western” filmed in California, slow, moody, funny, engrossing, expressionist teen-culture horror shot in beautiful black and white, centred on a lonely female vampire in a chador stalking the unsuspecting in corrupt and lawless oil town “Bad City.”

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Autómata (2014). Antonio Banderas, Robert Forster, Melanie Griffith, Dylan McDermott drew me, great looking but messy, dreary investigation into a mystery figure reprogramming a few self-aware rogues out of an army of helper robots. 

The Water Diviner (2014). Russell Crowe directed, grieving father’s search for all three sons killed at Gallipoli. Wants to be many things, is a valuable history lesson and postcard pretty classic adventure tale, which makes it less effective as a critique of war and heroism.

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The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976 & 2014). The first version is a gripping slasher done in procedural docudrama style, dead serious and grisly with hick/bumbling deputy comic relief that fits into the 40s period of the story because it felt like a B movie from that era. Andrew Prine and Ben Johnson class it up and poor Dawn Wells wishes she was back on the island! The ‘14 take starts out as a fairly clever “meta” combo of the true story of Texarkana’s Phantom Killer with the town that dreaded the annual drive-in screening of the ‘76 film, but it’s hurt a bit when it rips off Scream.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Gorgeous and monstrous like unsanitized children’s fairy tales, rich myth and political allegory in WW2 Fascist Spain, as an endangered little girl losing everything she loves, imagines herself a fairy tale hero ready to prove herself and make big sacrifices to save something of value.

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Kingdom of Heaven (2005). Fantastic Ridley Scott epic with my only (but big) complaint being that it needed a sturdier lead than blah Orlando Bloom to take us through his huge journey from blacksmith to great principled leader, especially next to people like Liam Neeson, Martin Csokas, Jeremy Irons, Eva Green, Ed Norton, etc. Loved the battle scenes.

…and that made me want to revisit a favourite, Gladiator (2000).

It was interesting to see Oliver Reed in that one, his last movie, right before I rewatched him so young in Paranoiac (1963), for an upcoming podcast appearance, stay tuned for that.

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Appaloosa (2008). The more modern westerns the better, the genre never gets old and is fertile ground for all kinds of issues and plots. This is a nice unreconstructed one with buddy gunfighters hired to clean up a town and while there they get royally duped by a rich widow. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are great, Renée Zellweger almost ruins it.

Manglehorn (2014). Al Pacino, aging locksmith seeking the key to his happiness (see what the movie did there?) except: his beloved cat ate it, he hates people, his kids hate him, and he ruins his date with Holly Hunter by pining over a long lost love. Weak story but Pacino’s performance, just his face, in this is worth it.

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Phone Booth (2002). I think it’s brilliant. Simple, short, single-location thriller where nebulous but terrifying voice Kiefer Sutherland breaks Colin Farrell down from world class jerk to sympathetic loser.

RoboCop (2014). Bland and forgettable but much better than I expected, second time Joel Kinnaman has impressed me as a sensitive action hero (see: Run All Night). Nowhere near the satirical fun of the ‘87 version, but hits the current politics, corporate targets and family man values it aims for.

Furious 7 (2015). There are so many dumb, cliched things in this movie but it delivers what people really watch these for: a diverse band forged into a likable family whose idea of fun all those insane and impossible car stunts. Liked how it pulled in Tokyo Drift, and watching the Rock shooting at a helicopter is bound to make me happy. 

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District 9 (2009). After watching Chappie, returned to Neill Blomkamp’s much better picture, where aliens are refugees stuck in a Johannesburg camp and, like E.T., just want to go home. Amazing how much memorable character and image can be spun out of a high concept and very low budget.

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015). Dull and not the least bit scary. 

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Ex Machina (2015). Clinical, minimalist Kubrickian Twilight Zone story of underestimated lady droid using an underestimated nebbish to get revenge on the rich reclusive nut/genius who created her. Dark and creepy ending, fantastic acting, dazzling visuals.  

TV:  DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. Time master Rip Hunter assembles a team of D listers to drag across time to fight immortal supervillain Vandal Savage. Fresh ego-deflating twist is that they were all recruited because they don’t matter or register in history. It’s a joy to see Victor Garber, Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell (I’ll watch him in anything) ham it up, Brandon Routh is a better Clark Kent type (as Atom) here than he got to be in Superman Returns. Still clunky and flawed but the cheesy action and pulpy fun appeal to me, and so far they’ve had a giallo episode in the 70s, Soviet gulag break in the 80s, and promise to work in many DC faves like Golden Age Sandman, Hourman, Sgt. Rock and Jonah Hex, which warms my fangirl heart.

Also watched the first episode of HBO’s Vinyl, 70s music biz soap and creation of Terence Winter, Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, love Bobby Cannavale and he gets a meaty role as a guy who just wants to bring great music to the masses but is worn down by record company politics and dirty deals, Ray Romano also good. Scorsese directed the first one, tons of music and some Goodfellas violence. Interesting but not impressive yet.

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9 thoughts on “February Film Diary, Part 1”

  1. Totally agree about APPALOOSA. Really liked it, the guys were great, but Zellweger is miscast and just odd in the role.

    Have collected the FURIOUS movies, mostly inexpensive used copies, look forward to checking out. Sometimes silly fun is just what I want, like the Rock’s SAN ANDREAS.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    1. I like the Furiouses, because good or bad they built a family out of that bunch and most of all I love the car craziness which reaches jaw dropping levels in this one. When you watch them all in a row they feel like a TV series or soap, especially with the added emotional aspect in 7. I don’t know if you watch Jason Statham movies but having him and the Rock here was a blast.

  2. So we can all agree that Rene almost destroyed Appaloosa. But Harris, Viggo and Lance hold up there end. Pan’s Labrynthe was great and nice to see you checked out a Ben Johnson flick. Such a natural on screen charmer. I dare you trying to catch him acting once he got past his early roles.

    1. Yes, I can think of a number of actresses who’d have been way better in that movie.

      Loved the bit in Town where Johnson buys the cigars, nice little natural character moment. As you can see I didn’t get around to doing a post just on the 2 Towns, I’m watching more movies that I can post on! Fun problem to have.

    1. Yes this was a really good run, Phone Booth is so much fun, goes to show short and tight you can make a movie, some of them now are so bloated they could use the lesson.

    2. on a tangent, as much as I didn’t love Chappie, I keep hearing Sharlto Copley’s Chappie voice, all the time and it kind of amuses me.

  3. First viewing of PHONE BOOTH? The situation is powerful enough that an imitative film, featuring a woman character as target (I’m blanking on the actor’s name and the film’s title) was able to wring a little more juice from it with a few years after its release.

    1. Yes, first time, and that’s interesting, I’ll have to search that second one out and see how it is. Thanks for stopping by

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