Friday, February 03, 2012

My Movie Diary - January 2012

One of the things I've tried to do off and on over the years is keep track of the movies I watch. For a short while I tried to write up little one-paragraph reviews of everything I was watching. I blogged for awhile and kept that up for a couple of months, but then I petered out, because after awhile I found that I couldn't really force myself to think of anything to say about some movies that would be interesting or unique. What I've decided to do with the new year, along with my previously stated 'resolutions', is to simply keep track of the titles as I'm watching them, and then at the end of the month, or week, or whenever I feel like it, do a round-up of my viewing habits, along with whatever notes or observations I want to make(a similar round-up concerning films from 2011 will be coming closer to Oscar-time).

You'll see down below a simple list of the movies I watched in February, but before I start I want to go over the grading system I use. The system is pretty simple, but also intentionally vague. These are subjective grades, as I don't care at all about influencing someone's desire to watch a movie based on what score I give it. If you see that I've graded I Saw The Devil fairly highly, it doesn't mean you would enjoy it if you normally enjoy Nicholas Sparks romances. The numbers mean, basically, the following:

5- I loved it. It blew me away. Something I'll definitely be watching multiple times.
4- I really enjoyed it. This may one day be elevated to 5. The movie more or less achieved everything it set out to do.
3- I liked it well enough. I won't be recommending this to most people, but I don't have anything really negative to say.
2- A mild dislike. Almost neutral. I didn't outright dislike the movie but it didn't do anything for me.
1- Awful, not worth my time.

Now, since I generally feel that every movie I watch is 'worth my time', in that I feel it's instructive to see the chaff as well as the wheat if your seriously going to study films. So you'll notice that not many films have 2s and 1s, and actually quite a few have 3s and 4s. Probably more than you personally would rate. As I said earlier; it's subjective.

So here, in the order in which I watched them during the month, are all 29 of the films I saw in January. That number seems shockingly low to me, especially for a month so long and cold, but then I do have two jobs now, and it's getting harder to squeeze a movie in there. Plus, this list excludes television movies or series that I have seen over the last month. The titles in bold are films that I had previously seen.

Our Idiot Brother(2011) [4]
Bigger Than Life(1956) [5]
The Cave(2005) [1]
Quarantine 2(2011) [1]
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark(2011) [2]
Contagion(2011) [4]
Take Shelter(2011) [4]
Grave of the Fireflies(1988) [5]
Apollo 18(2011) [1]
Paradise Lost 2: Revelations(2000) [4]
Buckaroo Banzai(1984) [4]
Dark Star(1974) [4]
I Saw the Devil(2010) [4]
Fear[s] of the Dark(2007) [3]
Dead of Night(1945) [4]
Waking Sleeping Beauty(2009) [3]
The Tempest(2010) [2]
Shotgun Stories(2007) [4]
Grand Illusion(1937) [5]
Orca(1977) [3]
Rio Bravo(1959) [4]
The Thing(2011) [3]
Drive(2011) [5]
Dream House(2011) [2]

That's a pretty good cross-section of the types of movies I watch, while definitely leaning a bit more towards the current stuff than might be normal. That makes sense, though, since the big movies from last year are in the midst of trickling onto DVD. However, in that small list, you see a little bit of everything. Current blockbusters, documentaries, low budget indies, foreign classics, trashy horror films, fifties melodramas, comedies, Asian action films, a Shakespeare adaptation, and at least one animated film.

By far the movie I enjoyed most last month was Drive, which may end up being my favorite film of 2011. Tree of Life was a phenomenal experience, and a spiritual movie that, as an atheist, I found easy to empathize with. But as far as immediate, visceral movie-watching experiences go, nothing beat Drive last month(again, look for a 2011 roundup nearer the end of the month). From the opening monologue from Ryan Gosling(on a cellphone, talking to a client), to the incredibly fluid driving sequences and the throwback soundtrack, Drive struck a chord and sucked me in for it's entire running time.

Apollo 18, Quarantine 2, and The Cave were obviously the worst of what I saw last month, with Apollo 18 being particularly bad. I'm normally a moderate fan of found footage films-I'm not yet sick of the genre and love it when it's done well(Cloverfield!)- but Apollo 18 fails on just about every count. The film is edited to within an inch of it's life, with far too many cuts to maintain any sort of tension within a scene, and they cheat with the whole 'found footage' concept a few times. More than once the characters were in situations where it was established that only one camera existed, and the angle would change. Cameras that were stationary would pan to the side. It was a generally slipshod affair. The Cave and Quarantine 2 were similarly pretty awful, with Quarantine 2 deciding to go the route of Blair Witch 2 by turning a found footage zombie story into a more standard(and not surprisingly, less interesting) narrative. Found footage style horror films mask a lot of the budgetary restraints most horror films have, and without that distraction, the cheapness and shoddiness of Quarantine 2 were all too easy to spot.

Not nearly the worst film, but probably the most disappointing of the month was Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. It wasn't a bad film, and in fact if I had seen this film as a child I might have really dug it, but it wasn't a very scary film. Normally I wouldn't judge a film for not being what I expected, but I will in this case. The film is rated R, and yet there's no language, no nudity, and very little in the way of blood or violence. The MPAA says it's rated R for "pervasive scariness", and Guillermo Del Toro(who was the film's producer) frequently bragged about how terrifying it was. The film as it stands is something I'd feel completely comfortable allowing my 8 year old daughter to watch. Scariness aside, it's also not very unique or engaging, though to no fault of the cast, or the little girl at the center of the film.

The Tempest, Julie Taymor's latest mash-up of cinematic and theatrical styles, finds her returning to the works of William Shakespeare, which bodes well for any fans of her excellent adaptation of Titus Andronicus. Like everything Taymor has ever done, The Tempest is a mix of the incredibly awesome, and the incredibly silly, but it leans a little too much to the incredibly silly. Helen Mirren is as awesome as you'd think in the Prospero role(in the film it's Prospera, since the genders are switched in this role), and some of Taymor's usual eye-popping visual gimmickry is exceptional, but she remains a bit too slavish to Shakespeare's words, and when she can't come up with anything visually exciting to spruce things up the direction gets a little aimless and draggy. I'm not saying Shakespeare's words NEED sprucing up, just that against sight of Ben Wishaw(as Ariel) in Crow makeup, shouting at David Strathairn, Alan Cumming and Chris Cooper, the endless scenes of Russell Brand and Alfred Molina wandering and drinking start to seem pretty weak.

Two of the biggest surprises last month were the films Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, both from writer/director Jeff Nichols and star Michael Shannon. Of the two, Take Shelter is the more high concept and a little more technically adept in it's story of a husband and father who can't tell if his apocalyptic dreams are visions or the onset of the same mental illness that put his mother in the hospital. But Shotgun Stories, for it's roughness and budgetary restraints, cuts a bit closer to the bone with it's story of a blood feud between two groups of half-brothers following the death of their father. The unifying factor in both films is an attention to details in it's characters lives and homes, and a dedication to treating subject matter that could easily devolve into melodramatic histrionics with level headed, clear eyed simplicity. Both films showcase talents on the rise, both behind and in front of the camera.