Best thing: The obvious choice would be Timothy Spall. At one point someone shoves on a tape of one of David Irving’s events and it took me a while to realise that it wasn't real life footage. So fully had Spall immersed me in his character that I genuinely now saw him as that figure and had completely suspended belief. But I think my favourite thing might be the conflict for Rachel Weisz when she ends up feeling compelled to tell a holocaust survivor they can speak at the trial. This might not seem controversial but within the context of the film it's a key moment that provides some real depth.
Worst thing: For an academic Rachel Weisz's character seems oddly unable to maintain distance from the subject matter. I don't really have a problem with her getting offended when they are visiting the holocaust, but I did get a little irritated in a later scene where she finally realises, "Oh I see now! You were gathering facts for the trial!" Still I think this still raises interesting questions about her character: her feelings of mistrust and that she should be more fully in control of proceedings. Also her feelings of personal responsibility for the outcome of the trial.
British historian David Irving sues American historian Deborah E. Lipstadt for libel because she called him a holocaust denier. The result is a situation where it seems that the historical truth of the holocaust is on trial.
The performances are wonderful and I found the whole premise incredibly interesting. There's an analogy to be made with internet trolls and what is now called the "alt right". David Irving is an example of a figure who courted extremist sentiments by being a bit of a showman. He says what they want to hear, over-eggs the extent of his evidence and is seen as legitimising bigoted historical revisionist positions.
The protagonist finds herself in an odd position. It's strange enough to find the UK legal system requires her to shoulder the burden of proof when she is sued for libel. (She has to prove that her writing is not libellous.) But her situation becomes even odder when she is told that she should not speak at the trial. That holocaust survivors must not be brought forward. The trial strategy is essentially: "Do not feed the troll."
Naturally a trial is a very specific context and on the internet "don't feed the troll" isn't always the best advice, but David Irving’s approach is nevertheless very much that of an internet troll. I'm also reminded of "The Intruder" where William Shatner plays a figure who riles up bigoted sentiments. Social media today seems to help such figures find and unite the niche groups with specific extreme views.
Denial is a film championing those who call out the progenitors of misinformation. It is a film about free speech: the dangers when it is abused, but also the overall necessity of that principle of free speech. It also features an array of great performances and engaging characters. Awesome!
ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
Best thing: For me, by far the best segment (and I so wish the rest of the film was this good) was "W is for Wish". It's like an advert for He-Man toys turned into a horror movie. It's pretty amazing.
Worst thing: The big chubby guy going nuts is perhaps not the worst thing in the film. But that segment is a good example of the film's problems. It's hard to enjoy the majority of this short film because it's not clear what is happening. In the end the explanation is a cheap gag. The result of this is that even the good aspects of the film are wasted because of the format.
I've been meaning to review this for a while. None of the films are as bad as they get in the first movie, but then none of them are as good as those apart from (in my opinion) Steven Kostanski's "W is for Wish" segment. (I really feel like I ought to see Manborg now.)
My favourites from the first were "L is for Libido" (from the director of the VHS segment "Safe Haven") and "T is for Toilet" (from youtube Claymation sensation Lee Hardcastle). Nothing in this sequel has that level of creativity and certainly none of the films seem to be allowed the amount of time that made that segment work. But I've got to admit that we also don't get anything as pathetic as Ti West's "M for Miscarriage" from the last film either.
The war crimes tribunal by semi-cured zombies against surviving humans was a lot of fun. I actually wish that segment had been longer so it could do something more interesting with the concept.
Frankly ABCs of Death is fine, but it quickly becomes tiresome. There are generally no real standouts here and anything that is good feels cut short too soon (while for some of those less impressive efforts sometimes even the shorter runtime feels overlong). Watching this film is generally a pretty unrewarding experience.
Midnight Special (2016)
Best thing: The spectacular visuals at the finale are awesome. And unlike Spielberg's Close Encounters the film doesn't try to insist that we should necessarily be overjoyed in spite of the darker elements seen in the film.
Worst thing: I don't really get much of a feel for the characters. They aren't written or played badly. The scenario just remains at such a level that they don't really get much opportunity for little individual personality quirks.
While it's a strength that the film keeps its darkness and doesn't tell us what to think, that also results in characters who don't really force us to take sides. And it's interesting how nobody is demonised here either.
Spielberg-type alien films normally suggest or even openly state that the military is evil. But here the military are just out of their depth and while more powerful they seem to be less at fault than the protagonists overall.
Joel Edgerton is a complete chameleon. Once again hiding in plain site by simply acting in a slightly different way and yet somehow becoming completely unrecognisable as a result.
On the one hand it feels like this story takes place in the real world. But on the other hand these seem like fairly bland characters. There are cool ideas but the character interactions are rather less gripping, though certainly well-performed.
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Best thing: It's got to be the costume. Here we have a 50s movie centred around a guy in a rubber suit and yet even with the camera directed straight at the monster it still looks amazing. In fact we regularly see the creature swimming and it looks perfectly natural and perfectly convincing.
Worst thing: No surprises here I'm sure. The female character who comes along with the expedition randomly decides to go for a swim in the lagoon. Even other characters in the movie think she's daft doing so. And she's such a sensible and intelligent character that it just seems bizarre.
I love Creature From The Black Lagoon. The pacing lags a bit and the music is a bit cheesy at times, but the monster is such a wonderful design and every appearance is thrilling.
And I actually really like the music too. Sometimes the dramatic music doesn't seem to fit with the Creature creeping around the boat, but when we get some genuinely action-packed scenes the music fits much better and the music builds to crescendos that I found really quite impressive.
Like, Bride of Frankenstein, it has its problems, but Creature of the Black Lagoon is still one of the best Universal movies; even without the comedy elements other entries rely on to give them some extra charm.
As Above So Below (2014)
Best thing: The lead actress, Perdita Weeks, does manage to be convincing as the Indiana Jones/Da Vinci Code protagonist. Her character is very well formed as intelligent, passionate about her special subjects (such as the history of alchemy), but also willing to ditch people who get into trouble during her trips.
Worst thing: When a random guy who they find in the tunnels randomly attacks one of them and beats that person to death, I felt like the film had really lost its way. I was especially bored at that stage and the relentless attack at that moment by a man who should be severely outnumbered just confused me.
I'd heard from a number of places that As Above So Below was underrated. Now I've seen it, I'll have to disagree. The setup at the beginning is pretty cool and there are some pretty neat effects in places.
Perhaps my issues with ghost films come into play here since I felt that the supernatural forces seemed to be able to do anything and the protagonist generally only seemed to escape unscathed because the supernatural forces simply choose not to use their powers to kill her.
When one character is sucked into a magically conjured-up burning car by unseen forces, it becomes clear that nobody is safe from the magical unseen doohickeys and that whether any character lives or dies is purely coincidence (or 'because it's in the script').
A lot of time spent wandering around corridors doesn't end up making for a good film. (A similar problem as found in the second half of Ridley Scott's Alien, right? Oooh controversial!)
Joyeux Noel (2005)
Best thing: Daniel Bruhl is awesome as ever and I like his enigmatic, conflicted and somewhat untrustworthy character. He seems to have been given the character with the most depth.
Worst thing: I suppose the idea that someone would go back to the wrong trench at the end with plans to escape isn't unthinkable, but the way it happens in the films felt very contrived. There are a number of somewhat contrived moments or lines through the film but most of the time the performances are good enough to make up for it.
The film aims to capture the magic of the true life event where the various armies briefly held a truce at Christmas during the Great War.
And, to that extent, it succeeds. That the German army actually had Christmas trees placed all the way along the trenches at the front line is one of those things that is so ridiculous that it has to be true.
I don't want to under-value this film. It's a very well put together film and it has its moving moments and it earns all of them. The characters are engaging too.
But there's a less cinematic feel to the film. It felt more like a tv production and as a result the events very consistently came across as a dramatised version of events rather than really pulling me in. It was still clear that this dramatised version of the events is well-performed with solid dialogue but the direction and writing isn't exciting or compelling enough to provide the engrossing experience I'd have liked.
Nevertheless, Joyeux Noel is still very enjoyable and well-performed and it certainly has its moments.
The Imposter (2012)
Best thing: I love how the central imposter tells the story and manages to continue to avoid being recognised as a con artist even when it feels utterly ludicrous.
Worst thing: An attempt to leave the audience in suspense at the end annoyed me. If there's no new information, just say so.
I don't watch all that many documentaries and I dislike rating them. A bad documentary can be incredibly dull but what might seem like a good documentary can turn out to be very misleading. Also if a documentary has important subject matter (and they often do) then lower marks seem like disrespect to the subject matter rather than simply to the filmmaker.
But The Imposter in many ways feels like a story rather than an enquiry into a particular topic. The really weird thing is that the story's main villain is essentially the narrator for much of the film. He tells us exactly how he managed to manipulate the system in order to be incorrectly identified as blonde haired blue eyed American boy despite being a brown-eyed dark-haired young adult frenchman.
It's a good story well-told. If this were a normal film I'd criticise the ending, but since this is all real life I guess you can't fabricate a conclusion. (That being said, the attempt to tease the audience with a possible conclusion annoyed me.)
This is a solid documentary and very enjoyable. I recommend it.
Movies I Couldn’t Finish: The Lobster (2015), Life After Beth (2014), Love And Friendship (2016) and Anomalisa (2015)
The Lobster (2015)
I did not appreciate the bored-sounding yet cynical voiceover. Also it became increasingly clear that the film was intending to be funny the longer it spent not making me laugh.
I'm all for weird sci-fi scenarios and I'm often quite fond of black comedy, but frankly The Lobster was no fun whatsoever. This director doesn't key in to my sense of fun at all. I didn't find Dogtooth fun, I didn't find The Lobster fun and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't find Alps fun either. Ugh!
Life After Beth (2014)
I could barely even tell that the opening scene was supposed to be a funeral. It didn't feel like any funeral I've ever seen. I could forgive that. I'm sure there's an explanation anyway.
But I gave up on this film pretty early. None of the jokes were landing for me. When we not only get the protagonist masturbating with his dead girlfriend's scarf AND his arsehole brother catching him and berating him for it, I decided I'd never get on board with this film. Neither a guy masturbating nor a brother giving him hell for it is funny. Perhaps this film picks up later, but frankly I'd seen enough.
Love And Friendship (2016)
This seemed like a very awkward adaptation. We have a quickfire introduction to several different characters through title cards, which is a great way to confuse me since I'm far better with faces than names.
Since the original book consists in letters to a friend, there are scenes which feature nothing but gossip about people who aren't there and those scenes require you to be fully faniliar with everyone's name and how they relate to one another. I was lost.
Then there's the attempts at humour with the awkward character because he's an idiot. It just wasn't working for me.
Kate Beckinsale is great and if this were a film that makes better use of the visual medium, I would have enjoyed this a lot more. But here I found myself losing interest.
I'm willing to admit a possible failing in myself here. If I'm struggling to keep up with the characters and very possibly some of the language too, then that perhaps indicates a problem with me rather than the film. But it wasn't so long ago that I rewatched Sense and Sensibility and I found that absolutely delightful. At very least, Love And Friendship doesn't seem to take proper advantage of the visual medium in this adaptation.
I couldn't finish this film.
Seriously, when is Charlie Kaufman going to let someone else direct his scripts? Or are his scripts all so bad now that nobody wants to touch them? I have no idea what anybody liked about this film.
The animated puppets look kinda cool I guess, but the protagonist just seems like a complete dick and by giving everyone Tom Noonan’s voice the film pulls me into the protagonist's misanthropic viewpoint. (And just to make it even worse, he decides to escape from the noise of the airport by listening to a bunch of Tom Noonans failing to sing a beautiful classical piece. I definitely didn’t find it as soothing as the protagonist seemed to.)
Charlie, I understand that you don’t want to compromise on your “vision”, but frankly you are still supposed to be making a piece of entertainment. When Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and George Clooney took on your scripts they knew that. You seem to think making something entertaining is selling out.
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