The Films I've Watched This Year #40

Film  You'll notice from the list I finally saw Gravity in 3D this week, albeit on a fifty inch television domestically and once again my heart was in my stomach for much the duration.  Unlike Hugo, which is the only other film I've seen in the format and which suffered from the old Viewmaster problem of flat figures in a three dimensional space, or at least it did on the big screen, this is totally immersive and despite this being my third viewing felt like a completely different film.  Finally I understood the awe of the moment when the tear floats away, or how it feels to be with Sandra Bullock inside the space suit as she spins out of control and the sheer ingenuity of only having filmed their faces and recreating the rest in the computer and souring over the uncanny valley.  Like the very best films, even having seen all of the special features, had the magic explained to me, my suspension of disbelief was entirely intact.

Liberal Arts
Gravity 3D

Beauty and the Beast

Two of the films don't deserve longer than half a paragraph each.  Divergent is disappointing, derivative, dull, dumb, diarrhoea.  Cresting on the YA wave, as every review has noted it has not a single original idea to its credit and fails at the first hurdle by offering an apocalyptic world which doesn't make a seed of sense.  Having Kate Winslet play the antagonist is an interesting idea.  Shame they couldn't have given her a more interesting character to play.  Based on a true story, Lawless is nevertheless a tired, generic gangster film with two-dimensional hats which if produced at the time its set, the 1930s, would have easily covered the same material in three-quarters of the duration.  Instead this stretches on for two hours which seriously meander because it can't decide on a protagonist in the way which often happens when there's at least two or three potential leads.

Liberal Arts is wonderful, but also an incredibly difficult for someone who has a liberal arts degree and finds himself mired in the same out in the world difficulties as the protagonist or would do if he'd had inclination for teaching or the ability and so instead is even worse off.  A post-mumblecore romantic drama about a college professor returning to his old alma mater and suddenly having to deal the fact he isn't as young as he feels, it's written and directed by and stars Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother (which I haven't seen), Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins in yet another of his sad man roles (I notice they're making a musical version of The Visitor which should be hilarious) and Allison Janney giving fair treatment to one of those inspiring lecturers you have good memories of crushing on even though you secretly suspected they were a total bore.

Thematically it's somewhat High Fidelity at a safe distance in relation to letting people like what they like and also Wonder Boys and its ilk, not to mention most of Woody Allen's career in terms of embarrassing the viewer for not being as literate as its characters.  Is it possible for people read this much?  One of the reasons I haven't read worked through my inferiority complex about the bigger books, genius authors is reading seems to take so damn long for me whereas in these films its almost as though they're knocking off an Austen in a week.  Which isn't to say there isn't one particularly good sequence about the longevity of reading to create some balance.  The film also features one of the best sequences I've seen about what it's like to discover classical music.  Not since Guardians of the Galaxy have I'm been quite so obsessed with a Spotify playlist.  All hundred hours of it are available here.

As you know I'm a bit obsessed with watching the Toronto Film Festival industry videos in which the heads or at least marketiers from Vod companies of various stripes wrestle with what the future will be.  Always but always two films are cited as the canaries, Margin Call and Bachelorette which has sat in my Netflix queue for months.  Released primarily as a video on demand product, it's become the by-word for how the kinds of mid-range commercial films which have been squeezed out of cinema other than for short runs to get them noticed by the press to help promote the Vod release can still attract relatively big stars and generally break out of the kind of stigma which made direct to vhs or dvd difficult to sell.  For more on this, see the discussion about day-and-date release models and sigh with pride as it becomes apparent that the UK is best at this (thanks to Curzon and the like) and France lags behind due it actually being illegal there.

Is Bachelorette any good?  It's fine.  Written and directed by Leslye Headland based on her play, it is a straight down the line commercial comedy, which would be easily dismissed as the Asylum equivalent of Bridesmaids, where it not for the main cast of Dunst, Fisher, Caplan and Wilson and that it's an old school stoner odyssey which just happens to be primarily be about women.  Bits of it are horrible and it's never entirely clear the extent to which we're supposed to be laughing at or with the protagonists or just plain hate them, which on reflection is pretty realistic.  It's also surprisingly problematic gender wise when the best man and his friends enter the narrative and whip the agency right from under the bridesmades to some extent shaming their behaviour in the process, teaching them lessons like a team of Petruccios (not that they're entirely successful).  Luckily, the My So-Called Life conversation in the middle saves everything.

Apologies if this is you, but there's an entirely incorrect review of Maleficent in SFX Magazine this month which gives it three stars, hates the fact she doesn't turn into a dragon and that she's the only fleshed out character while all the others gain nothing on the original cartoon.  Each in turn.  It's a five star film if ever there was one on the strength of Anglina's cheekbones alone.  Given that they monocapped and realistically recreated the faces of Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple such that I thought they'd Hobbited them and dangled them from wires against a green screen, I think they would have transformed Angelina into a dragon if they'd wanted to but since the point of the piece was to underscore how fairy tales are at their core folk tales and so will be told in different ways they decided to not.  I didn't miss it.  Plus why simply recreate the cartoon in live action?  The films at its least interesting when it's doing exactly that.

But the third charge is just bizarre.  The point of the film is to flesh out Maleficent as a character, to make her three dimensional, flipping the usual structure of a fairy tale film on its head where its the heroes who fight against two dimensional villains whose motives are simply that they're bad.  Whilst its also true that it means we're watching Darth Vader's six film story arc compressed into 90 mins, it's a solid attempt to give this fairy tale depth and nuance.  I really do miss Angelina as a screen presence.  Apart from the Panda films, this is her first screen role since Salt and The Tourist in 2010 which is too long.  I notice her directing debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey still hasn't had a UK release.  There's a Netherlands R2 release available on Amazon but it's strange that no one has picked it up.  Anyone have a clue as to why?

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