The Films I've Watched This Year #13

Film If this list looks short, it's because it's been an odd week for one reason of another and I'm writing this a day early and before the evening's entertainment, Drinking Buddies, which I presume I'll talk about next time if it's any good. Film related news this week is that the long awaited update has been made to the Amazon Instant Lovefilm Video stream UK on the Sony BD player to something which ignores the rubbishy onboard software and offers something which is more akin to Netflix of the iPlayer. The picture quality has improved too; it's not as clear as Netflix or even the iPlayer but still a hell of a lot better than the S-VHS quality of the previous incarnation. Missing from this week's list is Creative Process: Norman McLaren, a documentary about the Scottish-Canadian filmmaker which I left about an hour in because it somehow managed to make a fascinating subject boring through a lack of coherence and poor structuring.

Inside Llewyn Davis
Still Crazy
Breath In
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
The Call
Warm Bodies

Where to begin. At the top, I suppose, with my film of the week for a change. Inside Llewyn Davis is a bit of an atypical Coen brothers film in that sight unseen I'm not sure you could finger the Coens for it. Perhaps because they're utilising a different cinematographer than usual, Bruno Delbonnel in for Roger Deakins, there's less of a sense of artifice, greater reality, which is odd, because Delbonnel's CV which includes working with Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Tim Burton is all about artifice.  But in capturing the folk scene in 1961 New York, in the gap between Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan, there's a very rich sense of place, of everything being lived in, importantly of the film almost having fallen through time having originated in the 1970s in the era of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Delbonnel's key image, the cover of Bob Dylan's The Freewheelin', sweats through every pour.

The Coens are the kind of directors for whom half of the job is done when selecting the cast.  But this is an occasion when a star emerges and there's Oscar Isaacs suddenly burning, after a string of relatively faceless supporting roles (with the possible exceptions of  in Robin Hood and Sucker Punch) hoofing around with the charm of the young Pacinos, Goulds and Hoffmans, owning the screen, out compelling even John Goodman in the scenes when Goodman should be in ascendancy.  Not only can he sing, but his adeptness in physical comedy has elements of Tati, especially in the cat scenes.  Seriously, this is one of those occasions, like Renner in The Hurt Locker when we're in the presence of a star of the old school and want to see everything else they do.  Presumably Kevin Feige already has him on speed dial to play Steve Strange.  Actually, that would be *amazing*.

But the whole thing is delightful.  There's Justin Timberlake who's also fast become an acting favourite happy to fade into the background as the more successful mirror to Isaac's character's hopelessness.  Carey Mulligan sings!  Notice how she and Michelle Williams are quite neatly both managing to have a career in roles which they must both surely be considered for, though it's true that Mulligan just has the edge at the moment.  Hopefully they can continue and unlike Renee Zellwegger and Joey Lauren Adams they don't end up cancelling each other out.  Plus the music is glorious and it's well worth tracking down the Inside Inside Llewyn Davis documentary for the footage of the pre-recording sessions which look like they were a collaborative hoot (though the music in the film was recorded live).  About the only criticism is that it ends.

Monday night brought a Felicity Jones double bill, Like Crazy then Breathe In both in collaboration with Drake Doremus.  The first, a long distance romance drama co-starring Anton Yelchin is lovely as lovers try to stay connected with the Atlantic ocean and immigration rules standing between them.  Doremus's unpredictable, visually poetic style and editing which seems like its throwing together all of cinema histories techniques fits with the story, in which couple isn't ever sure when and if they'll see each other or if they'll ever properly be together, snatching moments when they can get them.  Like Inside Llewyn Davis it just finishes perhaps unresolved, but it's at a point when the outcome couldn't really be anything else.  It's also a bit of an artifact because it has J-Law a year on from Winter's Bone but just on the cusp of fame as the other women, something which threatens to retrospectively unbalance the thing because like Oscar Isaacs she's so utterly charming.

Everything that's right with Like Crazy is horribly wrong in Breathe In.  The tricks with the mis-en-scene are very, very similar, as is the golden colour pallette and the performances are just as improvisational but in seeking to obviously produce something more mechanically mainstream accessible, Doremus gets lost in the material and as the film heads into the second half its as embarrassingly cliched as a daytime soap opera.  This time Jones plays a visiting exchange student in music teacher Guy Pearce's midlife crisis and troubled household and from the moment he claps eyes on her Chopin rehearsal pieces we know that it's not the only thing he's going to be clapping his eyes on.  From then on, every beat of the ensuing affair is guessable, the logical narrative agency goes bankrupt and if the writer/director's intention is to show the repetitious blandness of these things then he succeeds, even if the film's almost impossible to watch because of it.

The Call has had universally poor reviews and enjoys a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 43% but plenty of those reviews seem to be about offering an opinion on what the film doesn't do, rather what it does, of not fulfilling expectations.  Pre-publicity, trailers and the like, suggest this is a thriller in which Halle Berry's 9/11 call handler will save a girl from abduction from the safety of her desk in the "hive", and although that's the central set piece, because just showing that would be filmed theatre, the whole story is opened out to show the world beyond the desk and so the main criticisms of the piece which also ignores the central psychological through line of Berry's character bare little scrutiny.  I enjoyed this a lot, though I will agree that final half hour probably only really makes sense if you've spent the past week or so watching BBC's Luther.  Especially the ending.  Wow.

I entirely missed the central conceit of Warm Bodies until Nicholas Hoult's zombie R was grunting under Teresa Palmer's human Julie's balcony.  A zomromcom which is unafraid to pay homage to its predecessors, especially Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, there are also also elements in the dream sequences which feel like the some of the Malick-lite noodling of Like Crazy, though obviously the middle class family there weren't under the threat of the apocalypse (though Alex River Song Kingston would have been more than capable obviously).  Part of me wishes the whole thing had stayed at the same pitch as the plane scene.  When this become an action film it's slightly less compelling though you can understand that like similar efforts it feels like it has various genre imperatives to fulfill.  But the ending is sweet and there's a welcome supporting role for Damsel in Distress's Analeigh Tipton.

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