In a brand new series, Owen will be taking a look at the films he’s seen during each month of 2015. The format will follow the same pattern as his A Horrorble Month article last year, breaking down the month by week, providing a review on one arbitrarily chosen film seen during that period.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Welcome to my new series! I think I better start as I mean to go on, by apologising. I’m aware that this seems like a rather self-indulgent project. There probably isn’t actually even an audience for this sort of thing. I mean, who really gives a shit what I’ve been watching over the past 31 days?
However, at the start of 2015, our most prolific writer, Callum Petch, went on a short break which prompted me to start writing a bit more often for the main site. It made me remember that as well as reading about films, talking about films and of course watching films, I also used to enjoy writing about them too before I got so lazy and left all the heavy-lifting to Callum. So, basically, you can consider this an exercise in egotism. Read it if you desire, but I’m writing this series for no better reason than because I want to!
Exactly as I began 2014, so had it also ended with me watching a boat-load of South Korean movies. In between the fantasy films, extended edition Lord of the Rings films and Hobbit preparation, I’d managed to squeeze in a few Kim Ki-duk’s and one or two other Korean movies into December. I fully expected to carry on along the same trajectory during January 2015, given that the final film of the year that I watched was Hong Sang-soo’s In Another Country.
For one simple reason, that didn’t actually happen. Instead, partly because I decided early on in the year to re-watch Bruce Lee’s films for a retrospective I was planning on writing, I spent most of last month catching up on various martial arts flicks. Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan, one or two others; I accidentally became hooked on their films, nostalgia and Cantonese films in general. Add to that the fact I also ended up on an A.I. / sci-fi binge, and the flood of new releases I was actually interested in seeing at the cinema, there simply wasn’t time for any Korean films, sadly.
Anyway! I’m sure you’ll see for yourselves how my month turned out. On with the reviews…
Week 1: Thursday 1 – Sunday 4 January 2015
Thursday – Pinocchio (1940), AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (1997); Friday – Birdman (2015), Becket (1964); Saturday – Rapture (1965), Predator (1987); Sunday – I’m All Right Jack (1959), Big Hero 6 (2015)
OK, I’m aware none of those listed above could in any way be classed as martial arts movies. My year actually started with a Disney movie and a film I haven’t seen for years as I recovered from a New Year’s party hangover. Clearly, Mike Myers’ spy-spoof from the 90’s is not the best film listed there. Yet his puerile and immature sense of humour was exactly what I was looking for on New Year’s Day. It may not have aged particularly well; there’s a debate to be made over how good it ever was in the first place, I suppose! However, there’s no case to be made for how clever the film is, or how intelligent the jokes are, because it’s nothing more than one throwaway gag after another. Playing both the cryogenically frozen shagadelic British spy from the swingin’ 60’s awoken 30 years later in the hip 90’s, as well as his arch nemesis Dr Evil hell bent on holding the Earth to ransom for the princely sum of one million dollars, Myers is just very fun to watch. I used to love the Austin Powers films. Back in secondary school, me and my mates must’ve watched it and its sequel on VHS about a hundred times over and it never seemed to get any worse. I can look at it now with slightly more objective eyes, but it was still a hoot and it was somewhat surprising how it frequently had me laughing like an idiot as if watching it for the first time all over again.
Week 2: Monday 5 – Sunday 11 January 2015
Monday – Exodus: Gods and Kings (2015); Tuesday – Passport to Pimlico (1949), Unbroken (2015), The Theory of Everything (2015); Wednesday – The Collector (1965), Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013), The Big Boss (1971); Thursday – Taken 3 (2015), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972), Enter The Dragon (1973), Game of Death (1978); Friday – Alpha Papa (2013), The House of Usher (1960), Gremlins (1984); Saturday – Lost in Space (1998), The History Boys (2006); Sunday – PROJECT A: PART II (1987)
Obviously then, as you can see from the above, this is when my month really began. Having watched five Bruce Lee movies (six if you count the 40 minutes of the original Game of Death footage, or four if you discount GoD altogether) in little under two days during my final week off work over the Christmas period, I soon moved on to Jackie Chan’s back catalogue. Specifically a DVD I purchased for £2 on a whim back in December, Project A: Part II, Jackie’s follow up to his 1984 film. As well as being the star of this kung-fu comedy, he both wrote and directed it, and the influence of his idols like the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy and so on are all over it. Just like they were doing for audiences 60 or 70 years before him, JC’s stunts here are both hilarious and genuinely thrilling. Like, in a similar way to Chaplin roller skating whilst blind-folded near a ledge in Modern Times, or Harold Lloyd dangling off a clock face in Safety Last, only with the danger and ingenuity increased ten-fold. Fighting off two men on a rickety construction, swinging off one bit whilst performing some amazing acrobatics off another bit, after swallowing a mouthful of chilli peppers, it is both excruciating to watch him put his life on the line for these stunts, and immensely entertaining. The plot to Project A: Part II is all over the place, the support characters are bland and the message (if it has one) is muddled, to say the least. But if it isn’t one of the best examples of Jackie’s talent at shooting comedic action sequences, then I don’t know what is.
Week 3: Monday 12 – Sunday 18 January 2015
Monday – Foxcatcher (2015), Wild (2015); Tuesday – The Ipcress File (1965); Wednesday – In Bruges (2008); Thursday – Whiplash (2015); Friday – 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) (Steven Soderbergh cut); Saturday – Armour of God (1986), Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990); Sunday – American Sniper (2015), The 36 Crazy Fists (1977), Once Upon A Time In China (1991)
I don’t think I’ve written or talked about any other film for Failed Critics as often as I have done with Stanley Kubrick’s pre-moon-landing science fiction feature, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Just last week I included HAL in my A.I. In Film article. The week before I reviewed this exact cut on the podcast. It even made its way onto my Into ‘Stellar piece last year, never mind the Stanley Kubrick: Corridor of Praise we recorded two years ago. And yet, I could talk about it even more. The thing about 2001:ASO is, there are dozens of ways to interpret what happens throughout the course of the movie. Every time you watch it, you notice something new that you missed out on last time. Whilst this is certainly what I’d consider a positive aspect, it’s also something that prevents you from truly knowing the film intimately. Well, it does for mere mortals like you and I. For someone like Soderbergh, he managed to get to know Kubrick’s magnum opus better than most as he took it upon himself to edit the film and present the footage how he sees it, available to watch for free (legally) on his website. Rather than taking a knife to the masterpiece and tarnishing it forever, creating something new, he merely trimmed some scenes down, re-arranged the score, re-ordered footage and shortened the overall run time to present a feature that still prominently displays one of its most integral themes, albeit in a more direct format. Like the original, it still naturally progresses the acquisition of knowledge, displaying how ‘knowledge’ is a primary driver in the progression of mankind from ape to, erm, gigantic floating space infant. Plus, it’s actually quite refreshing in a way to only have to dedicate one hour and fifty minutes to the film, rather than over two and a half hours, and not feel like you’ve seen a lesser film.
Week 4: Monday 19 – Sunday 25 January 2015
Monday – Gravity (2013); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – CINEMA PARADISO (1988); Thursday – The Machine (2013); Friday – The Twilight Samurai (2002); Saturday – Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010), Iceman (2014); Sunday – Ex Machina (2015), Warriors Two (1978)
I tweeted my ★★½ / ★★★★★ Letterboxd review of Cinema Paradiso not long after writing it and it was met with what might be considered “controversy”. On a small, completely irrelevant and non-life threatening scale, of course. Still, it seemed to irk a handful of people whilst an even smaller amount nodded in agreement. I don’t know what to tell you or how to explain myself. It wasn’t like the film was an awful, sloppy, intolerable mess. It just seemed to play very heavily on a nostalgic vibe, of which appeared to be on a separate wavelength to me. The saccharine tone and tosh profundity left me stony faced and unaffected, but I’ve since been told the director’s cut (which adds another hour onto the whopping 155 minutes run time) makes it less mawkish. I’m not sure I could stand to watch it again as is, never mind with an additional 60 minutes on top of that, but that would definitely be the first issue I’d address if I were to improve the film (as if I’d know how to improve a film). It wasn’t all sickly-sentimental. Occasionally, even I couldn’t prevent my lips from raising at the edges into something resembling a smile, particularly during the triumphant final scene. It also managed to make me laugh sporadically throughout, but it never quite touched me on an emotional level which as far as I could make out was the only thing Tornatore’s movie was trying to do. Ergo, ★★½. Sorry.
Week 5: Monday 26 – Saturday 31 January 2015
Monday – Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing again!]; Wednesday – The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012), Sabotage (2014); Thursday – THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER (1974); Friday – The Road (2009); Saturday – Chinese Zodiac (2012)
Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (literally “Every Man for Himself and God Against All”) or as we know it here in the UK, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, came close to becoming my favourite Werner Herzog film last week. I’d been recommended it a year or two ago, but noticed that Film4 were holding a Werner Herzog Season and jumped at the opportunity to watch this (supposedly) true story of the 19th century German foundling. I’m going to review it in more detail on the podcast due out this week (look out for that!) but suffice to say, it’s bloody excellent. It took a certain degree of effort, patience and perseverance to get into it, as do most of Herzog’s best films, but it was absolutely worth it in the end. From the outstanding performance of its enigmatic (see what I did there) lead actor, Bruno S. (as he was credited) to the simply astonishingly well plotted story, it’s just magnificent. You can expect to see Heart Of Glass, Fitzcarraldo and Stroszek in next month’s entry to this series.
Phew! That’s it. I’m done. I’m only half joking when I say that I’m only writing this for my own personal benefit. If you’ve got any comments on the above, or if you want to talk about any of the other films I’ve listed then please leave a comment below or talk to me on Twitter. Until the end of February, adiós!