This has been a rather hectic week by my more recent standards, but I have to say that I quite enjoyed myself. I got through a hefty amount of films from 2011, and I suspect that one or two more weeks like this one and I will finally be able to attend to my list of the best films of the year. Better late than never, eh?
The Inbetweeners Movie (2011) - 3/10
I thought it would be a good idea to check out The Inbetweeners Movie, a film which many see as Britain’s attempt to compete with the likes of the American Pie series and similar teen comedies from across the Atlantic. While I don’t normally seek out these kinds of movies—certainly not as I would have done back when I was still part of the target demographic—the reception for The Inbetweeners Movie was positive enough that the film couldn’t be brushed off as just another entry in the ever-expanding list of uninspired genre exercises. And so I like to think that I went into this promising teen comedy with an open mind, hoping that it would turn out to be something a worthwhile experience. I was proven bitterly wrong. The Inbetweeners Movie is an absolute cesspool of a film—easily one of the worst things I have seen in a very long time. I am completely baffled that some people actually derived enough pleasure from this to consider it anything close to a good movie. Aside from one or two exceptions, the humour is stupendously immature and downright moronic, the characters are little more than caricatures of the most contemptible kind, and the plot is ridden with clichés and predictable from start to finish. As if all that wasn’t enough, the film reeks of racism and homophobia, and is marked by a sort of casual sexism that is simply beyond the pale in this day and age. If it wasn’t for its budget, which provides the film with competent cinematography, and the cast who seem to be desperately trying to salvage whatever they can from the one-dimensional characters they’ve been assigned to, The Inbetweeners Movie would be an absolutely worthless and trite piece of filmmaking.
The Skin I Live In (2011) - 7/10 The Skin I Live In is a film I put off watching time and time again. Perhaps I had done so instinctively, having pieced together from what little I heard of it that it would not be an easy watch. As I have finally come around to watching it, I can attest that The Skin I Live In is indeed the kind of movie that does not make life easy for its viewer. Brilliantly directed by old-timer Pedro Almodovar and skilfully put together thanks to outstanding editing and well-placed flashbacks, The Skin I Live In hides its darkness behind an impressive façade. It is an incredibly disturbing film, the full extent of which is only revealed well into its running time. Antonio Banderas plays against type here, delivering an utterly chilling performance in the leading role, but the support from Elena Anaya and Jan Cornet is also noteworthy. Cornet struck me as most exceptional, his beautifully nuanced performance leaving a lasting impression on me. The Skin I Live In tells a frightening tale of obsession, sexuality, and lust, and will not be soon forgotten by anyone who partakes in its unfolding. Still, I found myself longing for a more conclusive finale, and wished Almodovar would have done away with the subplot involving a certain man dressed in a tiger outfit.
A Better Life (2011) - 7/10
Despite the positive reception that this film has received, I was a little worried going into A Better Life; the reason being that it marks Chris Weitz’s first directorial effort since The Twilight Saga: New Moon—and we all know how that one turned out. Thankfully, A Better Life did indeed prove to be significantly better than the last time Weitz had a go in the director’s chair. There is a moving tale at the heart of A Better Life, and it’s told in a gripping fashion through the relationship between a father and a son. Demian Bichir and Jose Julian fulfil these roles, respectively, and while Julian performs admirably for his age, it is Bichir who steals the show with a rare performance of Oscar-worthy calibre. Los Angeles takes on a melancholy aspect as the film showcases its ugly side and the consequences of illegal immigration. Still, there is something of a jovial facet to A Better Life as father and son wander the streets of L.A. on an adventurous quest, all the while taking in both the good and the bad of what the city has to offer. The film has plenty of heart, even when the writing is lacking, and Bichir manages to elevate the material to something quite special.
Perfect Sense (2011) - 6/10
There is an undeniably fascinating what-if scenario at the core of Perfect Sense. The end of world is brought on by people gradually losing each of their senses, in this case. It’s a rather unique approach to the apocalypse in a time when every other film attempts to prophesy the demise of humanity in some way or another. That’s only half of what Perfect Sense is about, though, and therein lies its ultimate fault. Romance is brought into the mix, dominating the plot and reducing the unfolding tragedy to something of a twisted decorum. Ewan McGregor and Eva Green star as the lovers, and while they perform competently and make for a convincing couple, it’s all a bit silly as chaos looms over the streets and people succumb to the mysterious epidemic. Based and shot in and around Glasgow, the locations are well-selected and the photography is occasionally stunning, particularly towards the end when scenes of urban anarchy dominate the screen. There is voice-over narration which tends to devolve into lyrical mumbo jumbo, and is as often heartfelt as it is overbearing. Still, the film ends on a strong note, tugging at the heartstrings as the inevitable finale kicks in. Everything before that is adequate and at times inspired, even, but it’s not enough to turn Perfect Sense into something truly memorable.
Sleepless Night (2011) - 8/10
I rounded off the week with a French action movie which I had heard of back in 2011 due to the buzz it garnered at the Toronto International Film Festival that year. The film slipped under the radar not too long after, and nowadays it almost seems to have been completely forgotten. Which is unfortunate, because Sleepless Night is without a doubt one of the best action movies I have seen in recent years. Taking place almost exclusively within the confines of a nightclub, Sleepless Night revolves around the sort of gimmick that many genre films of its kind tend to employ, but which more often than not ends up being nothing more than just that—a mere gimmick. Director Frederic Jardin knows how to put it to good use, however, and the fact that Sleepless Night is something of a single location movie is simply one of its many fascinating aspects rather than the film’s defining feature. The action is visceral, but it occurs in short yet spectacular bursts—Sleepless Night is as much a suspense-laden thriller as it is an exercise in action filmmaking. Twists and turns are abound here, with every new scene seeming to turn the plot on its head thanks to inventive writing. The geography of the film’s limited locations is very well established, and by the end of the movie I had a clear understanding of how the nightclub was structured. As for the characters, many of them display a remarkable complexity for the sort of film they find themselves in, with the protagonist standing out in particular due to his amoral tendencies. Tomer Sisley stars in the role and turns in a first-class performance, not missing a single beat of his character’s sensibilities and actions. I also found Julien Boisselier, Lizzie Brochere, and Samy Seghir noteworthy in their respective supporting roles. Sleepless Night is an excellent movie in so many regards and I feel very lucky to have been able to experience this impressive piece of filmmaking, especially now that a significant time has passed since its release.
My catching up with the year 2011 continues this week with three more films. While I enjoyed them all a good deal, I was sad to find that two of the films were brought down considerably by their shortcomings and as a result would likely not end up featuring in my top list as I had hoped.
Another Earth (2011) - 6/10
Every now and again a low-budget independent comes along and, against all odds, causes more of a stir amongst the film community at large than most high-calibre productions released in the same year. Such was the case with Another Earth in 2011, a film which, after making its rounds at numerous film festivals throughout most of the year, finally saw a wide release in several countries in autumn. It was a film which fascinated me a great deal at the time, having seen a trailer for it, and so I was sure that I would be seeing Another Earth not too long after. Three years later is when I eventually came around to doing so, and though it is unfortunate that it took me this long to watch the movie, I think that with the buzz quieted down I was able to judge it with a more unbiased perspective. Another Earth is indeed a very special film with a moving tale at its core and an unusual premise surrounding it. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and found it to be an extraordinary achievement considering its measly budget. That being said, the film is very much a product of its environment, so to speak. The camera work is lacking, the cinematography is unremarkable, and the acting is often pedestrian. It is not a visually striking film by any means, though impressive shots of the ‘other Earth’ manage to detract from this momentarily. Out of the minimal cast, William Mapother shines as the grief-stricken victim of an accident. Brit Marling is occasionally brilliant in the leading role, but is often overshadowed by the more experienced Mapother. The ending is heartfelt but problematic, but ultimately Another Earth accomplishes what it sets out to do. It is a worthwhile film, but budgetary constraints prevent it from truly excelling.
Submarine (2011) - 7/10
I had the pleasure of seeing Submarine this week, a quirky little coming-of-age film directed by The IT Crowd alumni Richard Ayoade. Not only did I have a fantastic time watching it, but the movie also turned out to be a very good piece of filmmaking. Populated with eccentric characters in bizarre situations, Submarine is the rare independent that doesn’t simply take its weirdness for granted, instead putting it to good use. It’s a film that’s filled to the brim with deadpan humour and is thoroughly well-written, resulting in an engaging experience with more than a handful of laughs. Craig Roberts is perfectly cast in the leading role and delivers an exceptional performance as the memorable Oliver. Yasmin Paige stars alongside Roberts as the capricious love interest, and plays the part well enough. Veterans Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, and Paddy Considine also show up in various supporting roles, with Considine being given an especially playful role. There’s a lot to like about Submarine, even if its second half doesn’t quite live up to the preceding comedic splendour. I’m of the opinion that the film concludes too abruptly and rather awkwardly, but the finale might well land better with others. Have at it and decide for yourselves.
The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) - 6/10
I knew very little about The Secret World of Arrietty going into it; so much so, in fact, that it came as a surprise to me when the Studio Ghibli logo popped up during the opening credits. Despite not having any particular expectations, or perhaps precisely because of that reason, the film captured me instantly with its soothing music and eye-catching animation. The Secret World of Arrietty had me in its grip right off the bat, and for the next half hour my eyes were filled with childlike wonder as the story comfortably unfolded and the visuals continued working their magic on me. Sadly, with the coming of its second act the film gave way to a number of different problems. For one, the pace is picked up considerably, and while that might not be a problem in and of itself, most of the worldbuilding is consequently dropped in order to move the plot along. Secondly, the film introduces its antagonist, an utterly one-dimensional villain who possesses the sort of moustache-twirling malice that is completely out of place in the context of the rest of the movie. Another issue is the developing friendship between the two leads, which feels unearned due to the film’s frantic pacing, and loses some of its emotional resonance as a result. The finale is heart-warming, but not to the extent it clearly could have been had the plot not felt like such a race to the finish line. A lot of films are criticised for being overlong, but in the case of The Secret World of Arrietty its running time of an hour and a half feels stupendously insufficient. Still, the animation is delightful and what little substance there is is put to good use.
And so we have boarded the DeLorean and have returned back to the future!
The Hidden Face (2011) - 6/10 The Hidden Face served as my introduction to Colombian cinema, which has been on the rise in the last couple of years. I was not actually aware that the film was a Colombian production going into it, thinking it would be another Spanish thriller in the style of the recent Julia’s Eyes and Sleep Tight. The resemblance seems to have been intentional as The Hidden Face plays very much like a Spanish thriller, at least for its first half hour. Afterwards is when it distinguishes itself from its Castilian cousins, transcending genres and generating an air of unpredictability as it does so. It’s a film that certainly kept me guessing, and its second-act turnaround came completely out of the blue. There’s suspense abound here, and the film is engaging and thoroughly entertaining as a result. Unfortunately, The Hidden Face lacks any real substance, which becomes increasingly obvious towards the end of its runtime as plotlines come to a close. The conclusion to the film is half-hearted at best, refusing to give everything that came beforehand any real significance or consequence. The Hidden Face decides to play it safe, delivering an effective but insubstantial experience. That might be more than enough for some, while others will find it utterly insufficient.
13 Assassins (2010) - 7/10
I have been meaning to get around to watching 13 Assassins ever since the film made its way to Western audiences back in 2011. Takashi Miike is a director who churns out quality productions at a pace few other filmmakers can keep up with, and 13 Assassins looked to be some of the most exciting work he’s done in a while. Having now seen it, I can attest that 13 Assassins is indeed a very good film, and certainly a breath of fresh air amidst the myriad of recycled action movies that Hollywood has put out in recent years. That’s not to say that 13 Assassins doesn’t occasionally suffer from similar clichés that plague action films from the other side of the globe. Quite the contrary; 13 Assassins is practically built on clichés, tropes, archetypes, and what have you. In this case, however, Miike makes them work to the film’s advantage (for the most part, that is), and that’s what makes it so special. The action scenes are ambitious, to say the least—the entirety of the film’s final hour consists of a single action setpiece. The violence is gruesome, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with Miike’s work. In terms of its storyline, 13 Assassins is predictable from start to finish, and yet that’s hardly to its detriment. Despite its conventional plot, Miike manages to inject some of his trademark weirdness into the film through allusions to the supernatural and one seemingly out-of-place character. Whether that ultimately works depends on the individual, but I found it fascinating and appropriately quirky. I wouldn’t call 13 Assassins remarkable bar for its hour-long action sequence, but it is nevertheless a great film in nearly every regard, and quite frankly that should be more than enough considering the meagre competition nowadays.
Here it is. The 100th edition of the Weekly Updates. I figured this would be a good time and place to announce some changes that will be coming to the Weekly Updates. It has been pretty obvious for a good while now that I have been lagging in getting these updates posted regularly, hence the reason this edition dates as far back as the winter of 2011. Last month, I attempted to improve the situation by adopting a more frequent posting cycle, and while that did help somewhat, it also made it clear to me that I was not going to catch up any time soon, no matter how fast I would get these updates out. So here is my solution: I am forcefully moving the Weekly Updates back to the present. In other words, the next update I will post will be for the first week of August, 2014. But what does that mean for all the past weeks which have not yet been covered, you may wonder? Not to worry, for I will also continue posting updates for those as well. Of course, the current weeks will take precedence, but whenever I am not writing content for those, I will be working towards closing that ever-elusive gap between past and present. Now that we have got all that out of the way, let us have one more look back at the past before these changes come into effect.
The Trip (2011) - 6/10
Having seen A Cock and Bull Story the other week, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I started craving some more of the Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan collaboration. And who else to unite the two British comedians than Michael Winterbottom? My only course of action, then, was to finally get around to watching The Trip, which I had been circling around—for no real reason, I should add—for a good while now, catching bits and pieces of it in the form of internet videos. And so I began making my way through the BBC miniseries over the past week. Once I was done with that, I turned my attention to the actual film, which ended up being little more than a best-of compilation of the series itself. Not that I minded going through the same content twice as it is absolutely hilarious, but I was surprised to find that the movie was simply an edited down version of what I had previously gone through. Now, to be fair, the miniseries did strike me as somewhat disjointed, bearing the occasional lows amidst its frequent highs, and that’s to be expected from a work which relies so heavily on improvisation. However, I ultimately don’t think that cutting the series down to a more manageable size helped at all. While the film does indeed rid itself of most of the parts which dragged in the series, it also sacrifices a lot of good content. The result is some two hours of brilliant comedy, but with little in the way of a discernable plot. In the end, I would say A Cock and Bull Story remains the superior film, even though The Trip is in fact funnier and the more entertaining of the two. Both films are worth the time investment, in any case, though my personal recommendation would be to cast The Trip aside and substitute it for the original BBC miniseries.