Pick 'n' Mix 2014

Rounding up a few films that I couldn't be arsed I didn't have time to review in earnest. 

The Way (Emilio Estevez, 2010) is an earnest family affair, with Estevez inspired to make it after his son and father (Martin Sheen, who stars here) travelled the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail in northern Spain. Sheen plays a father who travels from the US to collect his son's body after he dies in an accident whilst preparing to trek El Camino. Upon arrival, he is inspired to complete the pilgrimage himself, although he is somewhat reluctant to engage with fellow walkers on the trail. However, he gradually comes to realize that a little human contact might be just what he needs to help comes to terms with his grief. Filmed along the trail, it's an authentic depiction of the Camino experience, although this means it runs dangerously close to being little more than a promotional video, with much of the film taken up with shots of people walking against a picturesque backdrop. The drama is low-key and whilst the film commendably steers clear of easy sentimentality, it's a bit overlong, with a couple of 'actorly' monologues which feel a little artificial. Still, it's hard to begrudge a film that strives to celebrate the importance of stepping out of one's comfort zone now and again, and to take time to enjoy the kindness of strangers. A bit long-winded, then, but we can all benefit from a little rambling now and then.

A quick horror triple-bill now. The Conjuring (James Wan, 2013) is an old-skool and competent haunted house film, clearly possessed by the spirit of Amityville, Poltergeist, The Haunting and others. Naturally, once it actually shows the ghosts, it's much less effective, but there's still a couple of well-fashioned creepy moments early on.

Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) is generally regarded as one of the first slasher films and it's a pretty decent one, if a bit rough around the edges. Set in a sorority house during Christmas, it has a couple of good POV moments, and the demented rantings of the killer during the phone calls are genuinely a bit eerie. I also liked the alternate title "Silent Night, Evil Night".

In Magic (Richard Attenborough, 1978) Anthony Hopkins turns in a nicely edgy performance as the ventriloquist who is a little too attached to his dummy - listen out for shades on Hannibal Lecter's voice in certain scenes. However, despite a big reputation, it's never that eerie or scary, and it has a rather odd final line. A bit disappointing overall, to be honest.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Mikio Naruse, 1960) is a delicate melodrama with an elegant central performance from Hideko Takamine as a widow struggling to make her away in an unforgiving, male-dominated society. Much revered by critics, it's a good starting point for anyone looking to explore the traditional role(s) of women in Japanese culture, and the pictures of Naruse. A rather slow and deliberately paced film, but a perceptive insight into the Melancholies of a Geisha.

The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010), adapted from Jim Thompson's tough novel, features a suitably dead-eyed performance from Casey Affleck as Lou, the murderous sheriff of a small Texan town, hiding his sociopathic tendencies behind a respectable facade. Apart from his performance, however, it's not really that arresting, wasting a good supporting cast (Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Ned Beatty, Bill Pullman) in a rather unsatisfactory noir plot. In particular, it doesn't really get inside any of the characters, and there's a distinct lack of tension as the net closes around Lou. Then there's the issue of sexual violence, which always proves troublesome - is it exploitative or necessary to show this stuff? There's room for debate on either side, but I wasn't sure it served any real purpose here. Also, was there something wrong with the noses of those people in the room at the end? Because I'd have thought at least one of them would have noticed a particularly strong smell in the house.

Under-the-radar indie thriller Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier, 2014) got a lot of praise this year and the first third of it is very good indeed. With a minimum of dialogue we are introduced to the homeless Dwight (an impressive Macon Blair), as he shakes off his shabby existence and hatches an ill-conceived plan to take revenge on a released prisoner who did him wrong in the past. It's intriguing stuff, particularly since Dwight is no-one's idea of an avenging angel. Instead, he is a weak, frightened character, with a somewhat inept approach to his plan, which is a refreshingly realistic contrast to the assured, implacable anti-heroes we often see in these kind of revenge thrillers. However, the film falters a little after that strong opening, seemingly unsure of what it is trying to say and it doesn't really come together as a coherent commentary on the consequences of violence, gun control or revenge. A pity, because there are some well-fashioned, tense sequences and it's trying to challenge the genre conventions, even if it doesn't entirely succeed.

That's that. Onwards now to 2015 with my big list o' films to watch, which I'll watch from my treadmill as I lose weight and get fit. What do you say, Willy?

No comments:

Post a Comment