With the fourth entry in his continuing year in review series, Owen casts a glance over the films he’s been watching throughout April 2015. As with each of the previous articles in the series, Owen will be breaking down the month by week, providing a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Oh boy. This is getting a bit embarrassing. I think I better just stop promising to catch up on my Werner Herzog films because yet another month has passed where I’m still so far behind on them. In fact, I’m so far behind on a huge pile of movies that it’s getting a bit ridiculous. I’m not even going to make excuses this time (Daredevil) as to the reasons why so many days (Daredevil) listed below indicate that I’ve seen “absolutely nothing” (Daredevil) on them. There’s no (Daredevil) point. I just haven’t seen anything (Daredevil) on those days. I’m sorry. (Daredevil) That’s how it is. The website itself has been a bit manic, as you can probably tell if you’ve been on here over the past 4 weeks. I doubt we’ve ever published so many podcasts in such a short period of time before!
What I did end up watching last month doesn’t seem to follow any rhyme nor reason. A lot of them were classic films I watched because I felt like I had to after Amazon kept posting them to me and I had little else important to do or things I’d rather be watching. I did squeeze in another couple of Albert Pyun movies during April, which I’m quite proud of. A shame that neither were exactly good; they certainly weren’t better than March’s Heatseeker, Cyborg or Adrenalin even. But there weren’t any specific themes I was chasing. No science fiction binges, no run through of a studios output. Just an assortment of stuff.
Anyway, enough waffling. On with the reviews…
Week 1 – Wednesday 1 – Sunday 5 April 2015
Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Opera (1987); Friday – Little Norse Prince (1968); Saturday – MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO (1988); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]
I haven’t always been the biggest Studio Ghibli fan. It took a long time before I came around to their work. The fantasy movies they produce, whilst spectacular to look at, just don’t hit me emotionally. Visually they’re unbelievably impressive pieces of art that absolutely deserve the admiration they get. However, there’s only so much that pretty pictures can do for a film to stop it from being boring. If the story isn’t all that great, then that’s where these films have faltered for me in the past. Their films such as Whisper of the Heart, Ocean Waves, Only Yesterday and Grave of the Fireflies, those that are more tightly based in reality, or playing on nostalgia, these are the films of theirs that I enjoy most. There are a few exceptions, such as Miyazaki’s story of two young sisters who find their new forest home has some unusual neighbours. The message of the film is to respect nature and look after your family, not forgetting where you come from, and as such the whole movie is just nice and fuzzy. It’s a sweet little story; at times sad, tense and perilous, but so sweet and fun. You can’t help but like every single character, from the two sisters, to their father, the dustbunnys and the cat bus, and of course the eponymous Totoro. It’s the first time I’ve watched it since learning of the supposed reality behind the story (seriously, do not click this link if you don’t want to ruin My Neighbour Totoro for yourself forever) which did have an overwhelmingly depressing effect on the movie, but it was still just as good as it was the last few times I’ve watched it.
Week 2 – Monday 6 – Sunday 12 April 2015
Monday – Splash (1984), The Dark Crystal (1982); Tuesday – JOHN WICK (2015); Wednesday – Captain America (1990); Thursday – The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Callum actually wrote a really good review of John Wick for the site about why you should watch this film, and we did talk about it on the podcast earlier in April. But I feel like even that hasn’t given the film enough exposure, so I’m going to talk about it again here! John Wick is the least-American American-thriller I’ve seen for a long time. It’s clearly an action film heavily influenced by the ultra violent brilliance coming out of Asia in films such as The Raid, The Chaser, The Man From Nowhere, Drug War, etc more so than it is by anything Liam Neeson has done of late. When I say that John Wick is brutal – watching Keanu Reeves play an ex-hitman getting revenge on the idiot son of a mob boss who was stupid enough to steal his car and kill his puppy – then I mean it is brutal. Even though here in the UK it’s rated a fairly tame 15, do not be alarmed. It is hardly Taken 3 levels of softened, jump-cutting guff. It has a strong cast (Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki, Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, etc) all led by Keanu having something of a Reevesival (consider that term well and truly coined). I really enjoyed Man of Tai Chi, which was his directorial debut, but it’s good to see him doing well again in something like this. It’s a very entertaining, completely over the top, full throttle thriller. Again, as I said on the podcast and on Twitter shortly after watching it, John Wick bullseyed every target it aimed at. A thoroughly enjoyable wince-inducing actioner.
Week 3 – Monday 13 – Sunday 19 April 2015
Monday – SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – The House by the Cemetery (1981); Friday – Cœur fidèle (aka The Faithful Heart) (1923); Saturday – Lost River (2015); Sunday – Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
I think I’ll avoid the wrath of Steve by not talking about Star Wars (which is still not very good, sorry!), nor repeat myself by sighing over Lost River, and will instead pick F.W. Murnau’s very highly rated silent classic, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. It’s only my second ever watch of this film, although it was my first time watching my recently acquired shiny new Eureka ‘Masters of Cinema’ Blu-ray. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Sunrise is still an excellent film. Whilst previously I’ve always thought very highly of this, I always remembered the middle part of the film being substantially weaker than its opening and closing thirds. I doubt I could tell you why exactly now, as I feel like I’ve not only enjoyed the film overall much more on this second viewing, but I think I might even appreciate its structure more. The build up to the collapse of Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien’s marriage was fantastically well constructed in the earlier part of the film, right before O’Brien succumbs to the alluring Margaret Livingston and her promises of taking him to the city, if he can murder his wife and make it look like an accident. The despair and kooky frolicking that follows the dark and grim first 30 minutes or so didn’t come across half as disjointed as the last time I saw it. Instead having the opposite effect of being almost tragic, knowing how close they were to ending it all. Murnau does a truly brilliant job at showing you that love between two people can be a magical, binding and unbreakable thing, particularly through its portrayal in the ending of the movie. But I won’t spoil it! Suffice to say, if you’ve ever put off watching this because it’s in that slightly pretentious looking Sight & Sound list, don’t hold out any longer. Take the risk! It’s definitely worth a chance.
Week 4 – Monday 20 – Sunday 26 April 2015
Monday – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930); Thursday – Master and Commander (2003), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – Gattaca (1997); Sunday – Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975), Infernal (2015), Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Probably most notable for being the first film to ever win both Outstanding Production and Best Director at the Academy Awards, no I’m not talking about Age of Ultron. Christ. God no. All Quiet on the Western Front finally made its way into my DVD player last month. Last year, I got hold of a pre-release copy of the restored documentary Forgotten Men, which was released three years after Lewis Milestone’s award laden movie, but dealt with a similar concept. Whereas All Quiet… follows a group of young German soldiers who enlist to help protect “the Fatherland” full of enthusiasm and naivety, but soon learn the harsh realities of war in the trenches, Forgotten Men featured interviews with veterans of the Great War. What both share in common is strong anti-war messages, as well as being genuinely upsetting at times. The tragic loss of life, the impact war had on the lives of ordinary people all for a cause they don’t fully understand, living ‘between the wars’ as we now know it to be, it makes for an unsettling and uncomfortable story. Nevertheless, the direction and cinematography of Milestone’s movie (originally released as a silent film before being re-released as a “talkie”) make it stand out as one of the most important war movies of all time as well as one of the best.
Week 5 – Monday 27 – Thursday 30 April 2015
Monday – Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015); Tuesday – The Sting (1971); Wednesday – STREET FIGHTER: ASSASSINS FIST (2014); Thursday – Maps to the Stars (2014), Rocking Cambodia: Rise of a Pop Diva (2015)
I think it must have been back in 2013 when randomly on Twitter I was followed by an account that apparently represented a new Street Fighter series that was in production. Being a fan of the video games in my youth, as well as the animated films and even the live-action movie (ahem, JCVD), I have to admit it did peak my interest and I gave their website and YouTube channel a butchers. One thing that struck me fairly quickly was the sheer attention to detail that had gone into every single martial arts fight that they were working on, as well as the attempt to really make this a focused look at the relationship between Ryu and Ken. Having now seen the final product after its release on Netflix, it’s even more clear how devoted to the project that Joey Ansah, who directs and features in the film itself as Akuma, certainly was at capturing a story first and a video game tie-in second. Whilst it’s not a flawless victory (apologies for throwing in a Mortal Kombat reference) with much of the films generous run time of 150+ minutes taken up by work-out sessions, montage moments and plenty of training, it does look very impressive. British actor Christian Howard plays Ken Masters, but also coordinated and choreographed a lot of the fight scenes in this film and that’s where the movie shines. It looks exactly how a Street Fighter film should, with some exceptionally well shot action. It’s probably a bit long and a bit slow for anyone who’s not a fan of the games to stick with right through to the end, but I enjoyed it and have my fingers crossed that they’ll continue the series in some form or another. Whether it’s as another webseries or even another film, I’ll be back for more.
And I’m pretty much done for this article and actually releasing it within a few days of the end of the month for a change. It’s also probably the first of these monthly articles that all four films I’ve chosen are ones I’ve enjoyed as opposed to having a bit of a rant about some. I’m not sure how that happened, but there you go. As always, I’m happy to discuss any of the above in more detail or argue why I liked each of them, or even have a conversation about any of the others I’ve seen and not reviewed! Just leave a comment in the box below or message me on Twitter at @ohughes86. See you in a month’s time!