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9 stars

Les Misèrables

Les Miserables

Don't suffer the little children: save them
from the Sacha Baron Cohens and Helena
Bonham Carters of this world

dir: Tom Hooper

This might shock you, or anyone else, but I thought Les Misèrables was glorious.

What, I’m not allowed to like a musical? You, of all people, are going to cast aspersions on my sexuality?

Fah, well, obviously I’m not totally comfortable with going out on a limb and praising a hellishly successful film based on a hellishly successful West End/Broadway musical based on a book no-one finishes reading, but I’m a rebel like that. It’s just my way.

I’ve never seen nor heard anything from the musical my entire adult life. If I did (which is probably the case; it’s been impossible to ignore at certain times), then it slid off my brain like lube off a duck’s back, being a topic I never had interest in. 1980s musicals all come down to a horrible agglomeration of Cats / Evita / Starlight Express / Phantom of the Opera, none of which ever sparked any aspect of my curiousity, and I probably know more about rugby than I know about those kinds of icky musicals.

Rating:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Perks of Being a Wallflower

If only for one night, at least for
one moment,
we
are
infinite

dir: Steven Chbosky

I’m a romantic, but I’m also fairly cynical. I watch a lot of movies, a hell of a lot, as you can probably see from just scrolling down a bit. Most movies don’t move me. Most movies provoke little more than mild interest while their playing, and I sometimes get that curious sensation of walking out of a cinema or pressing stop on the Blu-Ray player or switching cable channels, and being unable to remember, for the life of me, what I just watched.

Few movies move me. The Perks of Being a Wallflower moved me, a lot.

Why do they keep making films and television shows about high school, about coming of age? Because those of us who survive it remember it our whole lives, and we’re always hoping for some way to go back and get it right.

My heart was breaking for Charlie (Logan Lerman) within minutes of the film starting, and then, for the rest of its duration, it kept rebuilding that heart meticulously before smashing it again and again. I felt so much for this character that I started finding it absurd that I was so moved by it.

I’m not so easily moved to tears, but some elements of the human condition appeal to me endlessly, and always will, I hope. Charlie is about to start high school in Pittsburgh, I think, in the early 90s, and he’s dreading it. He has a number of reasons, the main one being that he’s a wallflower, someone who feels they are perpetually on the outside, looking in.

Rating:

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Where the Southern Wild Things Are

dir: Benh Zeitlin

It’ll come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that I don’t always understand the films I watch. I watch a lot of films, but that doesn’t mean I’m any better at deciphering them than anyone else, including and especially you.

Often that lack of understanding infuriates me, and makes me think less of the flick and the people involved, because I blame them for it. Other times it’s just a reason to be bored, which negates any effort to expend any brain power nutting it out because it doesn’t seem worthy of such labours.

Other times that confusion, if that’s what it is, doesn’t matter, and is of a piece with what I’m watching, and instead of causing me to pull away because of it, it allows me to let go, at least a little bit, of the nagging, querulous critic in my head, and just be embraced by the film. Some of my favourite films defy logical, precise, plodding explanation as to everything that happens in it, what it all means, how it happened or why.

I’m not saying that Beasts of the Southern Wild is now one of my favourite films of all time (it’s a pretty long and potentially embarrassing list), but it manages to capture some of the elements that provoke deep feeling in me, or at least it provoked in me some of the feelings that I mentioned previously.

Rating:

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Andolu'da)

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a whole bunch of people
didn't live happily ever after

dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

This is a remarkable film, a very long film, in which very little happens. It's about something fairly important, in that three car loads of gentlemen for most of the film's length are driving around the bleak landscape of Central Anatolia for an important reason, but that reason seems to be out of proportion with the journey they endure.

In essence it becomes less about a murder investigation and more about the men involved, even though we get the barest amount of information about them. And then they drive on and on.

As the film opens, there are three men we observe behind a window, chatting about stuff and laughing, and then one of them gets up and looks out the window. This takes a fair amount of time.

The next we see, after the titles, is a barren landscape in fading light, as a bunch of cars drive across, looking for something. It will be a long time for us and them before they find anything. More so for us.

What follows is a very naturalistic, very mundane police procedural, but don't for a second confuse it with a CSI: Turkey. It's not a forensic investigation or even an investigation. These chaps know who committed the crime, and the guilty are there with them as they drive around in their cars. In fact, there's not a scintilla of mystery to the proceedings. There's just cold hard reality.

Rating:

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

I don't think this will end well for anybody

dir: Christopher Nolan

The Dark Knight Rises is a very good film, let’s just get that out of the way right from the start. It was like nothing I expected, and exceeded what were insanely high expectations right from the beginning and especially at the end. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s the best Batman flick we’re ever going to have access to in this universe.

In that other parallel universe, they’ll keep making great Batman flicks, Heath Ledger’s still alive, and the law of diminishing returns doesn’t apply. We, on the other hand, are stuck here in this sucky one for the duration.

Eh, it’s not too bad. After all, we have two great Batman films, at least.

I didn’t like Batman Begins that much, and I had a couple of issues with the second one too (over-edited, visually incoherent at times), but this third one not only gets everything right, but it is entrenched within the story told by the first two movies. It doesn’t stand entirely alone, and is the better for it.

It’s interwoven with the other two, with actions and decisions made in the first two films coming back to haunt all the main characters. Within that is a lot of stuff, to put it mildly. It doesn’t feel overstuffed, but it does feel like they’re trying to encompass every single level of seriousness and complexity anyone ever aspired to have in a superhero movie but was too afraid to ask for.

Rating:

A Separation

A Separation

You've got to keep them separated

dir: Asghar Farhadi

Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) are seeking a separation, a divorce, in other words. They plead their respective cases to the judge. The judge, in this case, is the camera. For five minutes they argue at each other through the ‘judge’, who keeps admonishing them for whatever they are trying or not trying to do.

They make their plaintive statements, in Nader’s case fairly passive-aggressive statements, to us, pleading for us to understand which one is in the right. The thing is, though, they are trying to use the law to get what they want: Simin doesn’t really want a divorce, she wants the whole family to leave Iran, so she wants custody of their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), to make Nader come with them to places unknown, but far away from here.

The judge’s voice says, with hidden menace, “What’s wrong with living here?” The question is left unanswered, because this is the place where answering honestly can fuck up far more than just your day. Especially for Iranian women.

This is Iran, and I can’t imagine the scenario in which a court grants a woman anything there, including an uncontested divorce. Nader won’t let go of Termeh, because he knows his wife will never leave Iran as long as Termeh stays with him. And Simin might as well be talking to statues, regardless of her determination, regardless of how right or wrong she may be.

Rating:

The Grey

The Grey

Gaze into those eyes and try to avoid the unavoidable truth:
that we are all worthless compared to Liam Neeson

dir: Joe Carnahan

Bleak, brutal, beautiful.

But enough about my previous relationship…

The Grey is one of the bleakest things I’ve seen since The Road, which was that horrifying post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy adaptation, which was the bleakest thing I’d read since Blood Meridian, which was the bleakest thing since my previous relationship. Plus, it’s got wolves, just like my previously relationship.

Yes, enough about ruthless predators that won't be satisfied until your bones are scattered, torn limb from limb, strewn across a desolate landscape…

But how could there ever be enough? The Grey is not really the film that it seems to be, at least, the film that they are marketing it as.

Yes, it seems similar to films like Alive (where a Uruguayan rugby team survive a plane crash in the Andes Mountains, get over their squeamishness and learn to love cannibalism), or Flight of the Phoenix (bunch of guys survive a plane crash in the desert, only to face death from the sun and guys on horses with guns). No, this is totally different.

In The Grey, a bunch of guys crash in Alaska, and face harsh conditions and wolves, and struggle to survive in a place where survival is unlikely.

Completely different.

Rating:

Hugo

Hugo

Here's Time Itself, making fools of us all, especially Hugo

dir: Martin Scorsese

With delight, I watched this, with great delight in my heart.

If you’re reading this review, you know that I watch a lot of films, and a lot of them I even review. Those reviews, you would know, are to my benefit and to your detriment as a reader. I’m sorry about that. Really, I am. I wish I were a better reviewer; someone who could encapsulate succinctly and with wit what is great and what is less great about certain movies in this artistic medium I prize the most, after literature, puppetry and the accordion, of course. And I wish I could say it all without having to resort to the boring bullshit a billion other (paid) bunglers routinely trot out to justify their verbosity.

No, honestly, I wish I were a better reviewer, so that I could credibly explain why I loved Hugo so much, so that you, too, could feel the joy that I felt, and get a glimpse of how it felt to watch it. Yes, even cynical old me feels joy whilst watching a film, very rarely, but it happens. Aiming that high dooms any enterprise to failure, no doubt, but it should be perfectly obvious that failing at something doesn’t stop me from doing it. Au contraire, to get into the vernacular of it, au contraire, mes amis.

Rating:

13 Assassins

13 Assassins

Is it blasphemous to say this this might even be greater
than the film that inspired it? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

(Jusannin no Shikaku)
dir: Takashi Miike

2010

Whenever I hear that Takashi Miike has a new film out, I wonder out loud to myself, especially when I’m on public transport, “Well, what new piece of fucked-upedness has he come up with now?” I mean, after all, this is the demented Japanese director responsible for, in a criminal sense, films like Audition, Ichi the Killer, the yakuza Dead or Alive trilogy, Visitor Q and a whole host of other flicks so vicious I don’t even want to quote scenes from them, because it’s too traumatic to remember.

Suffice to say, there’s never, apparently, been a moment where he’s thought of depicting something on screen that is vile, horrifying, obscene or demented and thought, “Nah, that’s too fucked up, even for me.”

Whatever depravity he’s previously been responsible for, he still remains a completely flexible director with the ability to make any kind of Japanese flick in any kind of Japanese genre, which, to use an overused phrase, ranges from the sublime to the truly, hideously ridiculous.

Instead of spending time talking about the truly horrifying and nightmare-inducing stuff I’ve seen in all his other films, which is tempting in the extreme, I’ll just talk about this film, which is surprisingly solid.

Rating:

The Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Everything... Everything... Everything... Everything... Everything

dir: Terrence Malick

It’s a beautiful film, trying to encompass in its scope, the entire world, the entire human experience, the entire universe. With such mighty ambitions, how can Malick not fall short? How could any of us not fall short?

The fact that the scope of his reach and the magnitude of his grasp are so close to each other means that when one exceeds the other, it doesn’t represent the failure that it would for other filmmakers. There are very few filmmakers (with money) like Malick, and his films are their own genre. As such they’re only really comparable to each other, not as much with other films.

You can only really know if you can enjoy a Malick film by having watched a few, and having immersed yourself in them, know what to expect. They are not conventional, they don’t follow a pattern, they don’t unfold in a conventional manner, and, mostly, they’re overflowing with beautiful cinematography, and the vast majority of the thoughts and intentions of the characters are delivered through internal monologues (voiceover).

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