Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Year In Film

Top 5 (in no particular order)

Killing Them Softly

This guy wants to tell me we're living in a community? Don't make me laugh. I'm living in America, and in America you're on your own. America's not a country. It's just a business. Now f***** pay me.

Seeing this film was not always a pleasant experience. There were moments of awkward squirming, and one particular scene when the violence was too much to take in - brutal, remorseless, prolonged. But the film left an impression on me that has been hard to shake off since.

Killing Them Softly is interspersed with audio clips from the 2008 presidential race in the States, which is a not-so-subtle way of letting us know that it has a message. Repeat: it has a message. But this obviousness is contrasted by reasonable subtlety in the dialogue, the above quote being a glaring exception to the rule.

It is a tragic work, a tragedy embodied in James Gandolfini's despicable and pitiable character. But it is not without its funny moments (the sawn-off shotgun bit), and it has a heist scene that is as good as any out there - full of the kind of tension that makes you unable to breathe or blink.

This was, in short, a classic cinematic experience.

The Hunter

I wonder if she's the last one. Alone. Just hunting and killing. Waiting to die.

I've seen this film three times since August, which is as much a compliment I can pay to it. For a story that spends a significant amount of time following a lone hunter around the Tasmanian wild it packs an emotional punch that I didn't expect. Of course it doesn't hurt that I'm big fan of Willem Dafoe, and have been known to waste away hours studying the lines and contours of his face. Indeed this film attaches a story to that face which is probably more believable than the real story. Willem Dafoe is -- I mean, really is -- the hunter. It just makes sense.

There is nothing ground breaking about the film. It has no outstanding feature that sets it apart, save for the Tasmanian landscape. What it does have is a simple story told without fuss. It is the story of a human's journey towards humanness, which, like it or not, must involve other humans...and virtually extinct animals, but mainly humans And with that sentence, I have made it sound like the biggest pile of crap since Friends With Benefits (see below). Perhaps this clip (which, admittedly, will make little sense without any context attached, but which still has Bruce Springsteen playing over it) can redeem things:


This is what happens when you take a big, expensive camera to Asia and start filming things. Is it pretentious? Postmodernly racist? Possibly, but it is also, at times, stunningly beautiful. It's probably not worth watching this at home, but over the course of 100 minutes I began to realise why God invented the cinema. There are no words in this film. Just images and music to to tickle your aesthetic sensibilities. If Arsene Wenger (at least Wenger circa 2008) were to make a film, it would probably look something like this. Make of that what you will.

Margin Call

John Tuld: You're one of the luckiest guys in the world, Sam. You could have been digging ditches all these years. 
Sam Rogers: That's true. And if I had, at least there'd be some holes in the ground to show for it.

From a film without any words to a film full of them. This isn't so much a movie as it is a re-enactment complete with retrospective analysis. How did the financial crisis happen? Who were the kinds of people that were involved? How did they attempt to get out of the mess? These are some of the questions for which the film provides answers.

What it really provides, however, is a a forum for Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany and Jeremy Irons to strut their considerable stuff. And strut it they do in a film that flew under the radar but which is now available on Netflix America if you download a program to change your i.p. address sure to come to Netflix Ireland in the coming years.


Hello James, welcome. Do you like the island? My grandmother had an island when I was a boy. Nothing to boast of. You could walk along it in an hour. But for us it was paradise. One summer, we came for a visit and discovered the whole place had become infested with rats. They came on a fishing boat and gorged on the coconut. So how do you get rats off an island? My grandmother showed me. You put an oil drum in a pit and hinge open the lid. Then you coat the lid in the coconut. The rats come for the coconut and plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, plink; they fall into the trap. Then what do you do? Throw it in the ocean? Burn it? No. You just leave it. And then one by one...They start eating each other until there are only two left. The two survivors. Then what do you do? Kill them? No. You release them into the trees. But they will not eat coconut anymore. Now they will only eat rat. You have changed their nature. The two survivors, this is what she made us.

Cool bad guy: check
Attractive bond girl (who was killed off disappointingly early): check
Puns and quips: check
Q: check
Deadly opening sequence and credits: check

This is a Bond film not without its problems, but it is the best one I've seen since GoldenEye. It is -- as opposed to the previous one -- unashamedly Bond most of the time. Indeed it seems that one of the film's purposes was to restore what was lost to the franchise in Quantum of Solace; a sort of setting Bond back on track. This it did, and it did so while thoroughly entertaining me for over two hours. I grew up watching the 'Bond season' on Network 2 on Tuesday nights (when there was no Champions League), so I've always had a soft spot for the Don Juan-ism of James Bond. This film, while at times skating dangerously close to explaining away that Don Juan-ism, restored my fondness for the series and has made me look forward to the next instalment.

Bottom 5


This was a mess of a movie. That it starred Shia LaBoeuf should be evidence enough to convict it, but even a young Robert DeNiro in his place couldn't have rescued Lawless from being anything but terrible. As I said before, there is a scene with a Mennonite pastor chasing Shia LaBoeuf with a burning stick. That tells you everything you need to know about the levels of thought that went into the making of this.

Avengers Assemble

Billions of people enjoyed this film. They're all wrong.

To make me bored during a comic book film is no easy feat, but that's exactly how I felt about a third of the way through this cash cow. Right now I have lost my faith in comic book films, with The Dark Knight being the shining exception that proves the rule. Next year's Man of Steel can either confirm me in my apostasy or cause me to repent in sackcloth and ashes.

Friends With Kids

One of the taglines for this film went as follows:

Love, Happiness, Kids: pick two.

Don't you just hate when your children get in the way of either your love or your happiness?

This film aims -- in a quirky, clever, funny-but-serious way -- to explore that stage in life when children interrupt pre-existing relationships. I'm not quite at that stage yet, but I'm going to assume that it exists. Children do indeed make a difference, after all. This film, however, tries to get around that difference. The main couple (who are two friends with absolutely no feelings for each other whatsoever) decide to have a child together, but also to allow themselves to have relationships with other people. That way they get to have love, happiness and kids. Will it work? It's hard to say. Did I care? Not a jot. Did I laugh? Maybe once, but it was a laugh ridden with guilt.

This was like an extended episode of How I Met Your Mother, except worse. Yes. Worse. Far worse. I know.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I had no love for this film when I first saw it. I haven't seen it since, but I imagine I would be a little kinder after second viewing. It was bad, but it wasn't boring. Still, it was bad, not least of all when judged by Hitchcock's dictum the better the villain, the better the film.

J. Edgar

The pre-film meal and company couldn't save this from being a thorough disappointment. Rotten Tomatoes has this at 44%, which sounds about right to me. What should have been a fascinating insight into a key figure in recent American history was anything but fascinating. It was instead shapeless, unsure of what story it was trying to tell. John Puccio says it best:

Hoover may have been the sweetest, kindest, gentlest man in the world, or he may have been a ruthless bastard; we wouldn't know from Eastwood's cautious portrayal of him.


  1. I would probably agree with you regarding avengers assemble. I suppose a good question to ask is: Why did billions enjoy it then? Are people easily pleased - throw in some good CGI and explosive action and you're onto a winner? Or, do theme's in the film reveal a deeper spiritual need or longing perhaps?

  2. Well, there is our spiritual need to do more violence to our enemies than they do to us. There's a need with endless appeal!