Months in review: October & November films

In the last two months I’ve seen 26 films, but only a handful of which I would consider watching again. It was a particularly poor couple of months in terms of quality and quantity that I will hopefully begin to fix with the swarm of great films that have come out to theaters or that will be coming before the year is out. I can’t remember the last time I was as excited as I am today with the group of films that are hitting theaters within the next few weeks.

For now, here is a recap of the 26 films I managed to watch between October & November (in the order in which they were seen), while a great deal of my time was devoted to countless hours of catching up with Breaking Bad (finally got to the last season).

RUSH

RUSH (2013) [ 3.5/5 ]

A mostly thrilling and emotional film based on the rivalry between two Formula One drivers at the height of their careers.
Both the leads (Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl) are a lot of fun to watch, especially on the few occasions they confront each other off the track, or during exchanges with the press.
At times the film does feel a bit too formulaic in terms of characterization and story development. Still, Rush is Ron Howard’s best film since Frost/Nixon.

punch-drunk-love

PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002) [ 3/5 ]

A film that falls between intriguing and frustrating. Easily the best and more thought-provoking film Adam Sandler has been a part of since he left SNL. Kudos to Paul Thomas Anderson.
Find my full review here

Now You See Me

NOW YOU SEE ME (2013) [ 2/5 ]

One terribly contrived and uninspired film that started out very promisingly only to fall flat due a lack of good ideas. Some good actors were wasted on this. Just look at the awesome cast made up by the likes of Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eissenberg, and others. Probably looked a lot better on paper than on screen. A shame.

Gravity

GRAVITY (2013) [ 4.5/5 ]

♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦

The best technical displays of film making of 2013 by the talented director Alfonso Cuaron, is also one of the most fascinating theatrical experiences of my life. There is an incredible attention to detail and precision to every single shot that must be applauded and be made into an example to most aspiring directors and visual artists.
The story is not nearly as rewarding, but still effectively delivered by Sandra Bullock in the best role of her career (which certainly includes the overrated The Blind Side).

VHS 2

V/H/S/2 (2013) [ 1.5/5 ]

A step down from the first film, which was already pretty mediocre. Nearly every attempt at delivering horror ends up feeling cliché and rather comical (except for one segment). There was also a clear attempt to cater towards the zombie and vampire fascination of the last few years that has, in my opinion, overstayed its welcome.

Holy Motors

HOLY MOTORS (2012) [ 4/5 ]

An art piece that belongs in a museum rather than the theater. Beautiful even when it’s ugly, and nearly incomprehensible even when it is at its clearest.
Find my full review here

Zenith

ZENITH (2010) [ 2.5/5 ]

Interesting at times, but a bit absurd and kitsch in others. Zenith is one of those films where the idea was probably more interesting on paper than on the screen.
Some of the acting felt amateurish, as well as the film making, which is both the consequence of a limited budget and a general lack of execution.

Star Trek Into Darkness

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013) [ 3/5 ]

A step down for the re-imagined franchise. Having established the parameters of the core group of characters, the new film was more bombast than content, with some action scenes feeling overelaborate and almost comical. The scientific edge that has always been the hallmark of the franchise was a bit lost in the back and forth between good and evil.
Still entertaining and engaging enough to merit sligthly above average marks.

The-place-beyond-the-pines

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2013) [ 4/5 ]

♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦

At its core, the film is one of the most ambitious and emotionally powerful pieces of cinema of the last few years.
The Place Beyond the Pines explores ideas that are both tangible and intangible, arguing that all of the decisions we make as parents can have a great impact on the lives of our children. In doing so, the film tends to feel a bit too elaborate and far-fetched, perhaps arriving at its conclusion a bit too simplistically.
Great performances by the cast and a really fitting soundtrack places it among the best films of 2013 nonetheless.

the-bling-ring

THE BLING RING (2013) [ 3/5 ]

A Sofia Coppola film that is based on the true story of a group of adolescents that were somehow getting away with robbing celebrity homes around Hollywood.
The film is a social commentary of sorts on the excesses of capitalism, the cultural obsession with celebrities and the alienation of contemporary youth into thinking great clothes and money automatically make you into more interesting people.
The subject matter does not lend itself to great film making and, at times, the story felt stuck in an endless repetition, without devoting much time to the actual characters and their motivations.

The Heat

THE HEAT (2013) [ 3/5 ]

When they share the screen, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are a comedy duo made in heaven. Both play to their strengths, and although the film feels ad-hoc and forces us to take more than a few leaps of faith (intentional and not), their chemistry is genuine and effective. It is also a film that heavily relies on improvisation, which hits the mark more often than not.

Salinger

SALINGER (2013) [ 2/5 ]

Talk about a severely misguided and poorly conceived documentary. The sequencing is odd (not to say all over the place), while the interviewees talk about Salinger as some sort of demi-God, which gets tiring really quick.
The film is really disappointing considering how much labor went into research.

The House of the Devil

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) [2.5/5]

A simple 1970s-80s throwback horror film that had the potential to be truly special. The creepy finale almost makes up for much of the nearly two uneventful hours of film.
There is one particular image from this film that will be hard to forget.

The Deer Hunter

IMDB TOP 250: THE DEER HUNTER (1978) [ 4/5 ]

♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦ 

One of the best war films ever. Its focus was to capture, as best it could, the psychological toll of war upon soldiers after the Vietnam War, and it did so rather well. Great performances by De Niro, John Savage and Christopher Walken in the best role of his career.
Find my full review here

The Purge

THE PURGE (2013) [ 1/5 ]

I do not really understand how a film as poorly made and conceived as The Purge gets made. What is even more troubling is how an actor like Ethan Hawke can subject himself to this joke of a film.
Here are some of the reasons why it is so goddamn awful: unsensical sequencing, poor acting, idiotic decision-making by the characters, really poor writing and a general lack of attention to detail. Must be avoided at all costs!

this_is_the-end

THIS IS THE END (2013) [ 3/5 ]

A comedy that is not shy about being campy that stars almost every imaginable young comedic actor that has had a part in some of the favorite comedies of the last few years.
The problem with This is the End is that it is not always funny, and can actually get to be quite annoying.
I do, however, appreciate the willingness of actors like James Franco, Seth Rogen or even Michael Cera to poke fun at their own expense.

LOVE

LOVE (2011) [ 2/5 ]

I have watched many disappointing sci-fi and fantasy films in the last few months and LOVE is no exception.
From the get-go I was bothered by the simple fact that there was an astronaut in the International Space Station that did not have to contend with zero gravity. Though it surely responded to budget constraints, the leap of faith was pretty hard to accept.
Beyond this, LOVE drags us along with a single astronaut that has lost all contact with Earth. Instead of feeling like a psychological study into the effects of complete isolation, LOVE was a mundane look at daily life inside a tin box floating around Earth.
The ending was especially disappointing, clearly borrowing (not to say plagiarizing) a page from Kubrick’s masterful 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Unbearable Lightness of Being

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING (1988) [ 2.5/5 ]

It’s a bit mind-blogging to think this film received such high marks by a good percentage of the top critics in the world when it was released in 1988. It is even more remarkable to see a young Daniel-Day Lewis be so mundane and unexciting in a film that was described as alternative and too racy for theaters.
Whatever the film appears to explore in terms of personal freedom, sexuality and monogamy is clearly lost in an often dull and overlong diatribe that should have never left the pages of the novel it is based on.

The Trip

THE TRIP (2010) [ 3.5/5 ]

A recommendation from fellow blogger Chris at moviesandsongs365, The Trip is “mockumentary” of sorts between two British actors who embark on a foodie tour in the north of England.
The film is excellently written, surprisingly entertaining, witty, and both an exasperating and enlightening character study of two friends. Rarely I’ve seen a movie this simple hit so many right notes.

Valhalla Rising

VALHALLA RISING (2009) [1/5]

The third film I get to see from director Nicholas Winding Refn and the second one that demonstrates his gift for entertainment and fluid storytelling resides exclusively in 2011′s Drive.
Valhalla Rising is, like Refn’s latest film Only God Forgives, a stimulating sensory experience through composition, color, gorgeous set locations and sleek over-the-top violence.
Hardly anything happens in Valhalla Rising, and whenever it does, it seems to be a pastiche of every idea ever tried to grasp the mood of Hell on Earth if it were ever to exist. I was counting the minutes for it to end almost from the very beginning. Mads Mikkelsen deserves better roles.

Ender's Game

ENDER’S GAME (2013) [ 2.5/5 ]

Based on the 1980s classic novel by Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game is an uneven futuristic sci-fi film about children being brainwashed and used indiscriminately to wage war against a fearsome Alien race that threatens the existence of the human race.
I was not entirely convinced by the cast, even in the case of Harrison Ford, who chose to overact in almost every scene he was on.
In addition, the film felt rushed, often falling victim to Hollywood conventions, while the action scenes felt dry and without much excitement.
A big dissappointment.

Stoker

STOKER (2013) [ 2.5/5 ]

Is there a weird film out there that does not peak the interest of Nicole Kidman? Stoker is a gorgeously shot film about psychopaths, self-destructive families and molestation. Yes. It’s about all of those things, together and at the same time.
The film is as dull as it is upsetting, often taking the option to shock rather than surprise. The construction was also a bit messy for me, with some questionable acting on display (including Ms. Kidman too). It was even hard to tell for most of the running time whether this was a period piece or not.

For those who have seen this, I found Charles’ modus operandi particularly contrived, and borderline comical.

Mary and Max

IMDB TOP 250: MARY AND MAX (2009) [ 4.5/5 ]

♦♦ Official inclusion to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦♦ 

An excellent film. One of the most moving animated pieces I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. A full review coming soon!

Red 2

RED 2 (2013) [ 2/5 ]

Not nearly as fun to watch as the first one. The film sorely missed Morgan Freeman, while John Malkovich was not nearly as crazily entertaining. It could have used a bit more action.
Wish there had been a little more Helen Mirren too.

The Hangover III

THE HANGOVER PART III (2013) [2.5/5]

The tamest and least funny of the trilogy proves (yet again) that sequels in Hollywood tend to be worse than their predecessors.
The only reason to make this film was to cash in on the brand of the franchise, and there was not even a hangover the characters had to recover themselves from!

Movie 43

MOVIE 43 (2013) [1/5]

What the hell?! How did all this people sign up to do this? I really did not get it.
Satire and improvisation gone mad. It was like watching SNL on an off-night (which are most) and without censorship. I only found one “sketch” funny.

THE BEST FILMS

1. Mary and Max

2. Gravity

3. The Place Beyond the Pines

4. The Deer Hunter

5. Holy Motors

N

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3 thoughts on “Months in review: October & November films

  1. Good stuff, Niels! I’m digging the variety in your list. Some random thoughts:

    I really enjoyed Gravity, but I wish the story was fleshed out a bit more. Sure glad I saw it in the theater though.

    V/H/S/2 is even worse, eh? Considering how much I despised the first one, I will likely be skipping this.

    The Place Beyond the Pines is one of my favorite films this year as well. It could have easily went off the rails after the intense first act, but it managed to maintain my interest even with the ever-changing storyline.

    I had a similar reaction to the House of the Devil, although I despised the ending, too.

    The Purge is garbage. Naturally, it’s getting a sequel.

    I wasn’t a fan of Valhalla Rising either. For Refn, I do recommend checking out Bronson though. That is a great film right there, and it may still be on Netflix.

    It seems I really need to see Mary and Max!

    I made it through three skits in Movie 43 before shutting it off. Just awful.

  2. Glad you enjoyed The Place Beyond the Pines, as you know from that list I shared, it’s among my favorites of the decade. I also gave Gravity 4.5/5 (or 9/10), and both will feature on my year-end top 10.
    I didn’t find Stoker dull at all, we’ll have to agree to disagree.
    Happy you liked The Trip, that’s a fun little movie, and I find myself rewatching the impersonations once in a while on youtube. I’m told they are working on “The Trip to Italy” (no release date yet)
    Ender’ Game the book was a lot better, I just didn’t care about the characters in the same way in the movie.

  3. WOW you actually watched Movie 43?? Even with that stellar cast, I knew it’d be terrible. Hey, cool that you have the same scores for GRAVITY & HOLY MOTORS as mine, though I like STOKER more than you. Great list here Niels!

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