The Films I've Watched This Year #5

Film What a long week. For various reasons this has been a very long week, mostly due to contracting the man flu late on Wednesday which left things a bit blotto for a few days (which is why I missed Ignite Liverpool the other night) and which I'm still sniffing through.

Blood Glacier
Sunset Strip
Annie Oakley
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Dirty War
Cool World
Beautiful Creatures

Also a bit of a messy week film wise. About the only item on that list I'd unreservedly recommend was tonight's entertainment, Beautiful Creatures, which is an unabashed tribute to 90s supernatural teen films like The Craft wearing Tim Burton's coat and pretending to be for the Twilight crowd but with a far funnier script, hilariously arch and undeniably sexy performance from Emma Thompson and a relatively unexpected bit of experimentation in terms of how it deals with its protagonists which might leave some people unsatisfied in ways that they can't quite put their finger on or people like me who use phrases like "narrative agency" utterly thrilled.  Rotten Tomatoes isn't sure about it, having averaged out at 46%.  But the comments, as is so often the case with films on that site which hover around 50%, are roughly split between people who get it and those who've completely missed the point or already decided whether they'd like the film before they'd seen it.

The second most fun I had this week was with Annie Oakley, the mid-30s biopic-cum-western with Barbara Stanwyck in the title role of the backwoods small game hunter who joined and toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show.  Turner Classic Movies has decent appreciation of the film which enunciates its importance within the Stanwyck canon, just two years before her breakout in Stella Dallas.  Although it has a relatively (relatively?) dated approach to race and animal rights, I enjoyed its simplicity and seeing something from the period when directors and cinematographers like George Stevens whose careers began in the silent era were still getting used to sound and the new camera technologies and their relative strengths and weaknesses - here the shows themselves are shot almost like live events and are intercut with relatively stagey character scenes.  We're currently undergoing a similar period of change as celluloid is replaced with digital and similar strengths and weaknesses are equally becoming apparent.

As for everything else?  11.6 is the story of a security man who stole the largest haul in French history only to give most of it back which drags terribly in places but remains watchable thanks to Fran├žois Cluzet's mesmerising eyes.  Blood Glacier is a German Lovecraftian monster hunt with a few decent scares.  Sunset Strip takes a impressionistic approach to documenting the history of the mile-and-a-half stretch of Sunset Boulevard that passes through West Hollywood via archive footage and staccato interviews with a galaxy of stars (and Stephen Dorff).  Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within isn't as graphically dated as I'd expected but the script is utter wash.  Filth tries to be an Irvine Welsh adaptation which isn't Trainspotting and ends up being an Irvine Welsh adaptation which is an inferior version of Trainspotting.  Elysium and Cool World offer roughly the same story in various ways and Dirty War is Adam Curtis's The Power of Nightmares narrated and reported in the style of This American Life.

If the list looks a bit short it's because I spent most (all) of yesterday ploughing through the second series of House of Cards, but it seems a bit premature for a length review especially since most of you have lives or work on days like Fridays and don't have the time or are just wanting to savour the thing.  I think I'm a bit of a fair weather friend.  Sections of both series are touched with genius and offer some peerless pieces of television in acting, writing and directing terms, and that's especially true of the episode in the middle of this series written by series creator/adaptor Beau Willimon and directed by Jodie Foster.  It's also gratifyingly determined not to stagnate in a particular format, but that can have the effect of creating a certain smushiness in its storytelling across the series, inconsistency in characterisation and tonal uncertainty as its not sure if its supposed to be straight satire ala the UK version or The West Wing with teeth (though its true that The West Wing was often very toothsome).  I'll get back to you on this.

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