Films of September 2014

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October is finally here. Haven’t watch as many great stuff as last month, but I finished the satisfying and thrilling Breaking Bad. Hopefully this month I will do something with the Blind Spot series because I am way behind on it. David Lynch’s Eraserhead is this month’s Blind Spot. A horror for horror month.

This month I will review Gone Girl which I just saw yesterday after waiting for it for a year. Also in a couple of weeks, on the 13th, my 23rd Birthday, I will post a new version of Favorite 100 Films list as well as a list of my favorite TV shows the previous day. Hope you’ll like my list and enjoy reading it.

First Time Viewings:

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)

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I view this film more as an actor’s film with the director creating the best and most appropriate conditions for the actor to present the desired version of the character portrayed. The director obviously had a great part in making this film what it is, but Mickey Rourke and his Randy Robinson are the anchor of the film. And what a tremendous performance from Rourke. I couldn’t have seen a better actor in the role than him. Proof are the physical hardships that he went through, It’s also an emotionally demanding role seen in the tragedy in Randy’s life, from his poverty and strained relationship with his daughter.

What I also liked about The Wrestler is how rooted in realism it is. His character as well as Marisa Tomei’s, who plays a stripper, live hard lives and have to make sacrifices for their loves ones but outside of their images brought up by their jobs they are just as normal as we are. The behind-the-scenes parts of the wrestling matches were something new for me and it opened my eyes about a field I had no idea about. The cold weather and the small town setting help in creating the brutally realistic life of these people. It’s a tragic film that had its moments of hope but the open-ended finale leaves a mark on you. A

The Normal Heart (Ryan Murphy, 2014)

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This powerful adaptation of the play of the same name is an extremely emotional film. I haven’t seen many films or any at all that depict the AIDS crisis, a subject I wasn’t very knowledgeable about. The acting helps a lot in showing us the gravity of the crisis. The roles are meaty enough to be considered strong parts especially by the amount of strong arguments and emotional final speeches in the last part of the film. Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons and Julia Roberts along with the supporting cast all shine and do wonderful work. After August: Osage County and this film, I’m finally warming up to Julia Roberts’ acting.

It’s also a film that angers you because of the way gay men were treated back then but also because of the gay men themselves and how badly they handled the situation from the beginning despite the doctor’s recommendations. This is also one of the films I wept at. There is a scene involving the death of the boyfriend of one of the main characters whose body is treated like trash in front of his own mother. It’s the emotional highpoint of the film when you realize how tough it was. It’s heartbreaking and cruel. I would make a joke comparing it to the brutality of a Michael Haneke film, be it emotional or physical, but I would cross a line. A-

Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, 2014)

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I finally saw this beloved indie romantic comedy named after a Paul Simon song which features in the film. It stars Jenny Slate as a comedian who gets pregnant after a one-night stand and depicts her reactions and decision to have an abortion. And of course many viewers became angered despite the film not having a strong and definite message about the issue.

Even though it’s a comedy, the abortion part is treated without laughs but not in an extremely serious manner either. It’s a rather simple film in terms of story. While it follows the path of a typical romantic comedy, the humor, the charm of the main character and sweet romance between her and Jake Lacy’s character and the depiction of abortion without making a big statement about it, make Obvious Child a fresh romantic comedy. It’s funny how at the end, Jenny Slate’s character says how she hates romantic comedies even though the film itself is not far away from that genre.  I really enjoyed this film and Slate’s breakout performance. A-

Little Women (Gillian Armstrong, 2014)

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Even though I haven’t read the book I can tell that this is a great adaptation. Starring Winona Ryder in an Oscar-nominated performance along a fantastic cast of future or already established stars at that time including Susan Sarandon, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Christian Bale and Gabriel Byrne, this adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott novel is a sweet and touching drama powered by the performances of the great cast.

I was deeply impressed with the script and the production design and costumes but the film’s strongest asset is its cast and their chemistry. Winona Ryder carried the film but I felt she still had that tomboy identity I always see in her films in the character of Jo. She still looked like a child to me. But that’s not necessarily a fault in her work, more an observation. Another performance I was impressed with was Claire Danes’ who plays Beth, the quiet sister who gets scarlet fever, an illness that weakens her more and more. It’s the saddest character in the film but Danes doesn’t make her a tragic figure, even though that speech at the end was heartbreaking. An honorable mention is little Kirsten Dunst’s work as little Amy who showed signs of greatness from the beginning of her career. You should see it on Christmas as it puts a lot of emphasis on that holiday. A-

The Fabulous Baker Boys (Steve Kloves, 1989)

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The Bridges brothers, Beau and Jeff, play a group of lounge singers and their struggle in the business as well as their rise after they hire a singer, Suzie Diamond, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, resulting in great popularity. Beau plays the responsible brother while Jeff is the one who still fools around with women and doesn’t seem preoccupied with the future while Suzie Diamond represents an eccentric addition to the group. Writer/director Steve Kloves was heavily influenced by film noir as it is visible in his main characters. Suzie is clearly the femme fatale, Beau is the normal guy, nor hero nor villain, and Jeff is the cool detective.

The Fabulous Baker Boys is beyond the entertainment industry set story, is a film about choices, where life takes us and how we should react to the changes that are put in front of us. It’s also a sexy film, mostly because of Pfeiffer’s sensuality, Jeff Bridges’ coolness and, of course, the famous piano scene that inspired a lot of films and television series. B+

Jodorowsky’s Dune (Frank Pavich, 2013)

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The film that could have been. I like these kind of stories and this documentary about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt at making an ambitious adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel Dune back in the 1970’s is an interesting and detailed breakdown of the whole affair. It starts with presenting Jodorowsky’s work up to the point when he started pre-production on the film. I didn’t know he was that successful financially given the type of films he makes. Then it continues with presenting the story and characters of Dune and what kind of film he wanted to make. And the latter part is dedicated to the reasons why the film didn’t get made. From what they said it appeared like they gave up too easily and counted on American investors too much. Also Jodorowsky was so full of ideas and excited about the project that he wounded up scaring the studio executives. He has part of the blame.

However, the film is very interesting, especially for a film buff like myself. What the director tells us about the project and how everything looked so perfect and how he gathered the perfect team really makes you think about what this could have been. That book he and his cartoonist made about the project is the closest thing to seeing Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune. Personally I think it would have been a campy film and a financial failure and eventually a cult film. Still, this documentary proves to be an interesting presentation of an interesting project that sadly got caught up in the studio system. Film fans will enjoy this doc. B+

Maps To The Stars (David Cronenberg, 2014)

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I haven’t seen many Cronenberg films but I know what to expect from one. Maps To The Stars is definitely something he would do because of the darkness of the subject. The film follows Havana Segrand, played by Julianne Moore, an eccentric and drug-addicted actress who lived in her mother’s shadow all her life even after she died in a fire decades ago. Her mother was also a famous actress and a remake of one of her best films is in production in Hollywood, it being one of the most sought-after roles in the industry at the moment and Havana thinks she is the right actress for the job. The other story focuses on a child actor, Benjie Weiss, who has had drug problems as he starts production on another installment of a famous comedy franchise, Bad Babysitter. He is very spoiled and hard to handle even by his parents who tolerate his behavior. Besides the fact that Havana and Benjie have the same agent, the main link between the two is Agatha, played by Mia Wasikowska, a badly burned young woman coming from Florida who is Havana’s new personal assistant and Benjie’s sister who returns to L.A. after a terrible incident in their childhood.

Thank God this is a satire and that things aren’t as disturbing as they appear to be. This film is crazy and very twisted. These people have serious problems. I think despite being a satire of Hollywood, with things slightly exaggerated, Maps To The Stars still offers an accurate portrayal of drug addiction and how badly things can go. There are some scary hauntings happening in this film.

The acting is fantastic. What a great cast! Julianne Moore received the Best Actress award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for he role as Havana. It’s one hell of a part and Moore does wonders on screen. Mia Wasikowska shows her sweet side at the beginning but we know something’s up with her. She handles this part very well. The child actor who plays Benjie, Evan Bird in a first role in a film after a part in the TV show The Killing, does a really great job in this unusual role for a teenager. His parents are played by John Cusack and Olivia Williams who even though they don’t have meaty roles like Moore’s or Wasikowska’s they do great work with what they have. I haven’t seen Williams so upset in a movie before. Another player is Robert Pattinson, the lead in Cronenberg’s previous film Cosmopolis, as a limousine driver and aspiring actor and screenwriter who is a love interest for Agatha. Another great performance comes from Sarah Gadon who is really making a name for herself in the business. She plays Havana’s mother, haunting her in her visions. She is both a sexy and creepy vision.

My faults with this film are its stories which I didn’t find original. I felt like the story had more potential and that it ended way too soon. The insanity is present. The worshiping of Hollywood is there too. I felt like I wanted it to be more darkly funny and not just family drama and celebrity intrigue. I could have taken more. B

May (Lucky McKee, 2002)

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“If you can’t find a friend, make one.”

Speaking of crazy films, May is a strange tale of loneliness and murder surrounding Angela Bettis’ titular character, a strange girl who wants to have a friend and goes overboard in trying to find one. It’s a small indie film that is gorgeously shot, having its own style. Bettis gives a creepy and dedicated performance, truly great work as May. It starts becoming a horror film only at the end but before that it’s just a psychological drama in which we get to know May and her sad story. It’s a unique film but I don’t wish to see it ever again. B

The Trip ( Michael Winterbottom, 2010)

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I missed this one when it was released back in 2010. It’s quite funny full of hilarious impressions, mostly of people I’ve heard of. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play fictional versions of themselves. I haven’t heard of Brydon before but he’s very funny in here. He’s much more happier in his life than Steve Coogan who is having problems with his girlfriend, isn’t getting the parts he wants in his career and has a strained relationship with his son. He is a pitiful version of the successful version of Steve Coogan we all know. The film leaves with a bittersweet feeling. After all the jokes and impressions we finish the film on a sad note. I feel a bit confused by the ending because I don’t know what the director wanted to prove with it, but the rest is an enjoyable hour and a half. B

The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson, 2014)

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The Brothers Bloom is a fun stylish little film about con artists. It’s fun and it looks great but I thought it got messy by the end trying to be smart. The actors are fine with Rinko Kikuchi’s Bang Bang being the coolest character. It looks like a hard film to make, with many locations, chase scenes and special effects. But I liked it’s style very much. The music, the costumes, the energy. It all works great. By the way, Penelope’s castle is in Romania and I’ve been there a few times. It was nice seeing it used in a film. B

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, 2014)

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I watched this one just to cross it off my list. I like how the director dealt with so many characters. The story is nothing to go crazy about but it’s decent. That Quicksilver slow motion scene is the best thing this movie can offer. It was nice seeing Ellen Page too and the old gang. For me it’s just another X-Men film. It’s well done and all, but I’m not that interested in them. B

The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones, 2014)

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Haven’t seen a western in a long time. The Homesman stars Hillary Swank as Mary Bee Cuddy, a strong woman who together with a claim jumper, played by Tommy Lee Jones, escorts three women, who live in the same community in Nebraska as Mary Bee, who have gone crazy and must be taken to a reverend’s home in Iowa for treatment. Meryl Streep and Hailee Steinfeld make cameos at the end of the film. I’m pleased to see Swank back in the game. This is a role for her, a role she embodies very well. Jones handles well the double responsibilities as director and actor.

This is a strange film to watch. As you watch it you don’t really know where it’s going on, if it’s an adventure story, or something cruel. An event that happens in the last part of the film completely disarms you as a viewer and leaves with nothing. Only after seeing the film I realized what was the point of this story. It’s Mary Bee’s story. She’s a strong woman who can keep a farm by herself but is unmarried. The film opens with her asking a man to marry her but she is rejected and called plain. Men are intimidated by her capabilities and prefer to marry a servile woman. The point is that strong women were not wanted back then. B-

Panic Room (David Fincher, 2002)

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They show this film way too many times on TV but I’m seeing it only now. It’s a thrilling film with a fine performance by Jodie Foster. However it’s too long of a film. You can feel how stretched the story is. It’s very well shot, I have nothing bad to say in this department. But I consider this to be along with Alien 3, David Fincher’s weakest work. It’s probably the script’s fault because he tried to make the best of the story. It’s an alright film, but way too long and some of the choices the character makes made me yell at the screen.

Nicole Kidman and Hayden Panettiere were supposed to star in the film. Kidman dropped out due to scheduling conflicts but the funny thing was that Fincher found Panettiere too annoying, so they cast Kristen Stewart instead. That is so funny. I felt like sharing it. B-

Charly (Ralph Nelson, 1968)

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So I’ve been watching The Twilight Zone, the original series and I’ve stumbled upon this great episode called The Dummy which stars Cliff Robertson as a ventriloquist who thinks his dummy can talk. It’s a thrilling episode and really scary with a very disturbing ending. So after watching this I felt like watching more of his work because I was impressed with his performance. He is known to modern audiences as Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films. The film I watched was Charly from 1968, a film for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. This is an adaptation of the novel Flowers for Algernon, about a retarded man who undergoes an experiment that makes him a genius. It’s a tricky performance to give. The retarded scenes are handled well but it’s the part when he starts to get smart and discover the world where I felt he does the best work. However, I don’t know if he deserved the award. I’ve heard Peter O’Toole was better in The Lion in Winter. It’s still a pretty great performance. Claire Bloom from The Haunting stars in the film too as a doctor and eventual love interest for Charly. She portrays smart, beautiful and intelligent women very well.

However, the directing is terrible and drags the movie down. In the late 60’s, at the peak of the psychedelic era, a lot of scenes resembling the effects of using drugs were used in movies to attract the youth. There is a scene in the middle of the film which represents Charly’s sexual awakening that is one of the strangest scenes I’ve ever seen. It leaves you with a WTF feeling. Also, the director uses way too many techniques like split screen that are completely unnecessary. It stuffs the film with things it doesn’t need. I did like the soundtrack though by Ravi Shankar and thought it was an interesting choice for the music.

In conclusion, the acting is great and by far the strongest asset of the film, but the direction is terrible with some strange choices made by the director. You should watch for the actors, for the experience and for the heartbreaking ending. C+

The Purge: Anarchy (James DeMonaco, 2014)

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Anarchy is visibly a better installment in this new franchise than the ridiculous first film, The Purge, from last year. It takes us outside in the streets on Purge night which guarantees more thrills than the first one did. The film stars Frank Grillo, one of the bad guys from Captain America, as a man out to purge someone, who helps some people who find themselves out in the streets on purge night. Some of them have been taken out by force but the others got out because they didn’t get in time at home which is so stupid. The Purge: Anarchy is a good action film, but a manipulative one too. I got angrier and angrier watching this. They antagonize the black people and the rich, making them despicable. The story falls apart by the end. However, the ending offers us some great acting by the lead actor.

I was very bothered by the idiotic scenes with the African American youth and their stupid masks. Could they please stop doing that? It’s so annoying. Also, can we agree that The Purge is the dumbest thing ever? And it would be nice if they could show other crimes besides murder. All people want is to kill. C+

What If (Michael Dowse, 2013)

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I found this to be an average story bringing nothing new to the table. I wish it talked more about the friendzone theme and expanded on it. Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan have great chemistry, but he material is weak. It turns into a typical rom com. I did like the cinematography though. There were a lot of bright colors. WhenHarry Met Sally is still the better film to talk about the subject of friends becoming lovers. What If wasn’t even funny when it tried to be. The sweetness of the relationship is destroyed by the cliches. They really had something here, but they blew it. C

Serial Mom (John Waters, 1994)

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I know it’s a satire but it’s way exaggerated. Kathleen Turner stars as a suburban wife and mother who likes to kill people. She torments her neighbors with prank calls and murders those who wrong her and her family. The idea of such a person being secretly a serial killer is good for a black comedy but I don’t think it was well handled here. Its absurdity ruined my enjoyment of it. But Turner looks like she’s having a lot of fun, so that’s great. D+ 

The Longest Week (Peter Glanz, 2014)

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A terrible Wes Anderson wannabe romantic comedy with a set of horrible characters as the focus. It looks nice, too nice for its own good. I did a full review of the film which you can read here.

Second or Multiple Viewings:

Inglorious Bastards (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

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Haven’t seen this one since its release in 2009. I almost didn’t remember anything at all. It’s such a fun and tense story. The writing is awesome and the acting is top notch. I don’t know what more I can say. A-

American Pie (Paul Weitz, 1999)

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Watched it with some friends. It’s not a great film, or a great teen film. It’s more a piece of nostalgia for me for when the film was more popular. I guess it has its charms and many fans, I’m just not one of them. It’s not a terrible film, it’s low-brow comedy, a normal teen sex comedy. I still don’t get that part with the pie and why he did it. C+

TV Viewing:

Breaking Bad: Seasons 2-5 (2009-2013)

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Well, I finally got this off my chest. Breaking Bad is such an exciting show I had to finish it fast. It always has something to make you come back. I believe that in terms of narrative,  it is a faultless show. The writers did such a  great job of not jumping the shark and keeping the show grounded in reality. Also, the cast was fantastic. What a role Bryan Cranston had. Such a rich role! And Aaron Paul was phenomenal, especially in the last season. This role could have been so one-dimensional, but the writers and Paul brought out the best version of Jesse Pinkman. I have a lot of praise also for Anna Gunn, who got a lot of hate for playing Skyler White. I think she was great and acted like most of us would do. The supporting cast was wonderful too. Hank and Marie were sometimes the comic relief, sometimes the main drama of the show. Lovely characters. All these people are flawed and that’s what made it so real. They start out like a normal family. And then everything falls apart. The villains were great too. I never really hated the villains or Walt, who eventually becomes one, only until the very end. Gus was a frightening figure but we had reasons to both hate and sympathize with him. Lydia was such a different kind of villain. Recently I watched Michael Clayton and Tilda Swinton’s character reminded me of her. Lydia still makes ruthless decisions even though she is scared and vulnerable all the time just like Karen Crowder. But Todd is the worst. I hated that guy.

The last three episodes were such a rush with the  family confrontation in Ozymandias episode and the final showdown in Felina being the most heated moments of a very tense show. I liked the ending. It was tidy. Who died had to die, who lived had to live. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now. A+

Archer: Season 5 (2014)

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In season 5, Archer got a reboot and changed its name to Archer Vice. Because of Mallory, ISIS is closed down by the government because she forgot to register the company. All they have left is a tonne of cocaine they have to get rid off. For the rest of the season we see them trying to get rid of it. Also, Lana is pregnant. Cheryl becomes a country singer named Cherlene. Cyril is still a wuss. Pam loses some weight due to her cocaine addiction. Archer does his stuff while his mother, Mallory, remains the same.

The show is still funny and the new concept is a welcome addition (they will return to the new format next season). They exaggerated with some parts like Pam’s addiction and surprisingly managed to make her even more disgusting. But Cherlene is still hilarious as well as Krieger’s hologram anime girlfriend. I am worried now that we have a baby in the cast that the show will suffer from it. Hopefully it will not. B+

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Also I watched more episodes of the Twilight Zone than in August. These were: The Dummy or the one with the ventriloquist, The Lonely or the one with the prisoner and his android woman, Perchance to Dream or the one with the the real-life nightmare, And When The Sky Was Opened or the one with the creepy vanishings, People Are Alike All Over or the one with the martians in Roman clothes, The Man in the Bottle or the one with the genie, The Howling Man or the one with the Brother Jerome and his prisoner, Nick of Time or the one with the fortune-telling machine or the one with young William Shatner being prettier than his wife, The Lateness of the Hour or the one with the android servants, The Invaders or the one with the giant woman, Twenty Two or the one with “Room for one more, honey”, The Odyssey of Flight 33 or the one with the speeding plane, A Hundred Yards Over The Rim or the one with the Lincoln hat, Shadow Play or the one with the neverending nightmare, Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up? or the one with the Venusian, The Mirror or the one with Peter Falk and the dictator, The Midnight Sun or the one with the heat, Five Characters in Search of an Exit or the one with the clown, the ballerina and the major, Person or Persons Unknown or the one with the unknown man, The New Exhibit or the one with the wax figures, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet or the one that needs no introduction, Number 12 Looks Just Like You or the one with the beauty models (the most relevant episode of today’s world) and Night Call or the one with the creepy Hello’s. Told you I saw many. I intend to make a list of the 15 Best episodes when I finish the show.

What did you watch last month? And what do you think of my list?

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4 comments

  1. You’ve seen a lot of movies again! New version of Favorite 100 Films, look forward to that.
    The Normal Heart: If you’re interested in films about the AIDS crisis, I’ve heard great things, but not seen, Angels in America.
    Little Women: I’ll add to my Christmas watchlist 🙂
    The Fabulous Baker Boys: I enjoyed the interactions between the characters. Been a long time, so I’ve actually forgotten the famous piano scene.
    May: Indeed a strange little horror film. Lingers in the mind and is quite thought-provoking. I sympathized with someone who does cruel things.
    Have you seen Twilight Zone – Time Enough at Last (1959)? I love that episode.

    Like

    1. I’ve heard good things about Angels in America too. I will see it sometime.
      The famous piano scene is when Michelle Pfeiffer sings on the piano. It’s pretty great.
      Yeah, May is one tricky little film.
      I’ve actually seen this episode. You recommended it to me about a year ago. I consider it to be among the four Twilight Zone essential episodes with the other ones being It’s A Good Life, To Serve Man and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

      Like

  2. Interesting set of films! I am looking forward for Obvious Child. Glad you loved Panic Room. I find nothing quite surprising in Days of Future Past as well. I haven’t watch many of Cronenberg’s as well, but from what I’ve seen the topic (of his movies) were quite brave.

    Like

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