Screenplay by Buck Henry based on To Die For by Joyce Maynard
Produced by Laura Ziskin
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Joaquin Phoenix, Matt Dillon, Casey Affleck, Dan Hedaya,
Cinematography Eric Alan Edwards
Edited by Curtiss Clayton
For the record, for me, an under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus satisfy the following criteria:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
To Die For (1995) is a bona fide under-rated classic and I am surprised it received no Academy Award nominations, especially as Nicole Kidman was nominated for a BAFTA, and won a Golden Globe Award. Kidman is sensational in arguably her greatest performance as narcissistic and ambitious sociopath, Suzanne Stone. Indeed, Stone as the driven, media-hungry manipulator is one of the most glamorous monsters ever seen in cinema.
Told in mockumentary style, To Die For (1995) is deftly directed by Gus Van Sant in a somewhat punchier and more comedic tone than usual. Stone strives for fame as a TV newscaster but eventually becomes a weathergirl on a local TV station. Marrying local boy Tony Maretto (Matt Dillon) does not stop Stone’s ambition. In striving for hard-hitting new stories, she meets a group of young drop outs, featuring early roles for Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix. The delusional Stone turns seductress and arch-conspirator as her husband becomes a victim of her venal plotting.
Both funny and tragic, To Die For (1995), has an almost perfect screenplay. There isn’t a wasted scene, with its use of direct address, media clips and interviews forming a rich tapestry of comedic scenes and character moments. The fact that Stone uses the teenagers to commit murder is so tragic as her husband, Tony, is a decent bloke who loves her so much. Such is her blind desire for fame, that while one is admirable of her forceful qualities, one questions her evil intent. Ultimately, To Die For (1995), is a film which has stood the test of time, especially in these days of rampant self-obsession on social media. Lastly, Kidman has never been better as a character who even up to her icy end thought her name would be up in TV lights.
Cast: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh, etc.
Cinematography: Ruben Impens
*** THE WHOLE FILM IS A SPOILER ***
The difficult second album syndrome applies with Julie Decournau’s incredibly horrific, illogical and over-rated, Titane (2021). How the film won the Palm D’or at the Cannes Festival is beyond me. Maybe the jury were on the same acid as the ultra-talented writer-director when she created the script. Or, maybe the jury were belatedly rewarding her for the amazing contemporary horror film, Raw (2016).
Raw (2016) works on so many distinct levels with themes covered including: veganism, peer pressure, initiation, fitting in, animal cruelty, sexuality. lesbianism, same-sex attraction, animalism, sisterhood, hedonism, nature versus nurture, cannibalism, family, etc. It crosses genres effortlessly and has one of the greatest and disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time. Raw (2016) is a shocking, intelligent and astounding modern-day masterpiece. Titane (2021) unfortunately is not.
Before I say why I did not enjoy Titane (2021), I must say that I constantly seek out challenging cinema that pushes boundaries. I love horror and want to be shocked, but also emotionally involved with the characters at the same time. Moreover, I am well prepared to commit to dream logic and surreal narratives, however, the filmmaker must also try not to over-indulge their artistic excesses, and respect the audience too. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I don’t feel Julie Decournau had a clear story path and rather went hell bent into delivering a variety of different ideas, none of which created a fulfilling emotional journey for the main protagonist, Alexia (Agatha Rouselle).
Rouselle, as the malevolent and tragic conduit of Ducournau’s twisted vision, does give a spectacularly brave performance. But her character is given so many complex set-ups at the beginning, I quickly gave up caring what happened to her. As a child she is badly injured in a car crash. This gives her a titanium plate in the skull. Alexia grows up and is an exotic dancer who either dreams of, or actually fucks cars. Oh, she is also a serial killer who violently kills for no apparent reason. Several gruesome set-pieces result in the goriest deaths ever seen in a Palm D’or winner. Indeed, by the time Alexia goes on the run and smashes her face into a sink to alter her features I was numbed by it all.
Titane (2021) at the midpoint then delivers one of the most dumb and insulting plot shifts I have seen in recent years. Yes-yes it’s an arthouse film and an expression of Julie Decournau’s vision of humanity, but I DID NOT CARE!! Not only did we get Alexia’s horrific behaviour, we are then introduced to another plot turn when she hides out with a bereaved and emotionally scarred firefighter, Vincent (Vincent Lindon). By this time I was actually laughing at certain scenes, finding it all tiresome and frankly embarrassing. I got the symbolism of human beings as machines and exploitation of females and that family represents death and blah-blah-blah! Yet, and I’m likely to be in the minority, Titane (2021) is one of the most narratively, emotionally and visually exhausting films I have seen in some time. Watch at your peril!
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #13 – STAR TREK – THE NEXT GENERATION FILMS!
I have to admit I started getting Star Trek fatigue having watched seven seasons of The Next Generation, the original series, and films over the last couple of years. Thus, I had a bit of a break. But now am ready to visit the many series of Deep Space Nine.
What of the The Next Generation feature films though? The creative danger of adapting television series into feature films is that they often fall into the trap of being two episodes stuck together without the texture , scope or feeling of a cinematic presentation. Not that the studio executives will care ultimately, because their films will likely make money due to the desirous power of the show’s fanbase. How successful were the TNG film releases in avoiding the pitfalls of small to big screen adaptations? Let us see.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Generationssees Captain Kirk (Shatner) and Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) meet across the time-streams in a giddy mix of philosophy and temporal variance. Malcolm McDowell as an obsessive scientist, Soran, plays a good baddie. However, this is more a collection of fascinating concepts conjoined unevenly to get Picard and Kirk on screen together. What it lacks in proper cinematic drama and suspense, it serves the fans well with a fun mix of the original and Next Generation series actors. Who doesn’t love seeing Patrick Stewart and William Shatner inhabit their characters with gusto trapped in the mind-bending realm of the Nexus?
Mark: 7 out of 11
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
In First Contact, Picard and crew fight the formidable Borg with the former flexing both his verbal and physical muscles. This is great and easily one of the best Star Trek films. Patrick Stewart is always brilliant, but you can see his Picard is driven, Captain Ahab-like, to pursue revenge against the Borg, even ignoring Starfleet orders along the way. Alice Krige as the Borg Queen is particularly memorable too. Time travel is integral again to an involving plot. Senior crew members led by Riker (Jonathan Frakes) go back in time to when warp was invented by unlikely legend, Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell). With two strong narrative strands combining to create superb drama and conflict, First Contact, is both entertaining and moving, standing as a fine tribute to thirty years of Star Trek.
Mark 8.5 out of 11
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
With a title suggesting uprising and revolution, Insurrectionrather slows the pace down when compared to the dynamic, First Contact. Moreover, in the “fountain of youth” themed plot, Captain Picard falls in love, with Patrick Stewart flexing his romantic muscles here. I actually enjoyed Insurrection with the crew of the Enterprise endeavouring to protect a peace-loving community called the Ba’ha from several surprising foes. I am aware the script went through a number of drafts and iterations, so the narrative holds up surprisingly well. The thematic exploration of the prime directive, vanity and mortality provide emotional depth. Although the biblical metaphors of Picard leading the natives to the “promised land” is a bit much. Still, F. Murray Abraham is brilliant as antagonist, Ru’afo, even under all the prosthetics. Overall, Insurrection, while a mixed bag of ideas and story strands, is certainly very entertaining.
Mark: 7.5 out of 11
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
More interesting for the casting choices rather than the strength of the screenplay, plot and themes, Nemesis (2002) was unfortunately a box office failure. It isn’t surprising though as Stuart Baird was arguably not the right director for the franchise, as the film is helmed like a generic action film without the essence of true Next Generation style. Having said that I quite liked the concept of Picard facing Shinzon (Tom Hardy), an enigmatic character who knows a lot about the Enterprise captain. Despite some energetic set-pieces Nemesis (2002) doesn’t quite catch fire dramatically, but Stewart pitting his acting chops against a very young, Tom Hardy, provides some frisson of excitement. Mostly though this could be any bog-standard sci-fi story and is a disappointing final TNG cinematic salvo.
Produced by: Sara Murphy, Adam Somner, Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie etc.
Cinematography: Michael Bauman and Paul Thomas Anderson
Edited by Andy Jurgensen
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Any film from Paul Thomas Anderson will certainly receive high critical praise and Licorice Pizza (2021) is certainly no different. Not only do I think this is his most over-rated film. I don’t even think it is a good one. Not for any technical reasons. Because as usual Anderson’s filmic skills as a director, the scintillating cinematographic style, the evocative rendition of early 1970’s Californian suburbs, plus two star-making turns within a formidable cast, ensure Licorice Pizza (2021) is deservedly going to win many plaudits. But I just did not get the story about pretty much nothing and did not connect with the lead romance.
Set in 1973, Licorice Pizza (2021), is part slice-of-life period drama and part character comedy, with a spine consisting of an odd romance between entrepreneurial fifteen-year-old, Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and twenty-five-year-old, Alana Kane (Alana Haim). While containing many brilliantly directed scenes, the film is a hot mess of indulgent rooting through Paul Thomas Anderson’s historical research and anecdotal events inspired by real-life film producer, Gary Goetzman.
Being asked to root for a relationship which is dubious on the surface and extremely complex to say the least is not beyond me. But Licorice Pizza (2021) doesn’t address the age difference, aside from a couple of moments in the script. I know Cooper Valentine is an old head on young shoulders, but why Alana doesn’t hang out with people her own age was weird for me. I’m not being politically correct or a prude, but is Anderson asking for us to root for what could end up being statutory rape. Am I over-thinking this? Well, all I can say is it impacted my emotions of a major aspect of the story.
Licorice Pizza‘s (2021) worst crime is it’s virtually plotless and I could not identify with the characters. I liked Gary to a certain extent as he ducks and dives to make a living, but what was at stake? Nothing really. Yeah, I get it is art but I found Anderson’s vision boring. Sure, the actors are great, especially the effervescent Alana Haim. Virtual cameos from Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper and Tom Waits failed for me though, with Cooper’s coke-addled and womanising impression of Jon Peters about as funny as an enema. Of course, the cinematography, period design, soundtrack and costumes are exquisitely presented, but they exist in an emotional vacuum. Finally, Licorice Pizza (2021) made me want to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous 1970s masterpiece, Boogie Nights (1997). Now, that film deserved all the critical praise that came its way.
THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS: 10 FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2021!
Following on from the extremely tricky global issues of 2020, the cinema saw further transitions amidst lockdowns and the rise of even more streaming platforms. Traditional timetables for film releases remain all over the place due to the effects of the pandemic on our culture. Plus, big budget productions are now going straight to the living room more often than not. Especially if the proposed cinema release date is postponed on several occasions. What studios lose in terms of cinema release profits, they are now looking to claw back with reduced marketing budgets and subscriptions to their own respective channels.
In the past my favourite film of the year lists were all films I saw at the cinema. Now they are a mixture of cinema and online releases. There is some overlap too in the given year when I watched such films due to the scheduling changes. I’m really not a fan of this as I don’t like change to routine as a rule. But if it means I still get to see my favourite films online or at the cinema then it’s hardly a trial or major issue to adjust.
There are LOADS of films I have NOT SEEN! Please comment below MUST-SEE films not on the list.
The Bond film is not on here. It was fantastic entertainment, but NOT a good Bond movie.
There are no MARVEL/DC films on the list as I have not watched them all. Plus, I have superhero film formula fatigue.
Nomadland (2020), while good, was completely over-rated.
White Tiger (2021) would be on this list, but I only watched it yesterday. So, it qualifies for assessment in 2022.
For comparison here is my list of favourite films in 2020. A starter if you will, before the main cinematic course.
Happy New Year – have a great 2022!
TWELVE FAVOURITE FILMS of 2020!
1917 (2019) DARK WATERS (2019) DA 5 BLOODS (2020) I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020) THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) MANGROVE (2020) PARASITE (2019) PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019) SAINT MAUD (2019) TENET (2020) THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO SEVEN (2020) UNCUT GEMS (2019)
“… with Thomas Vinterberg’s expert direction, evocative natural cinematography, and Mads Mikkelsen giving yet another acting masterclass, the humorous narrative soon leaves the laughs behind to become a bittersweet, yet still uplifting, work of Nordic cinema.”
“… Edgar Wright has delivered one of the most thrilling and spectacularly energetic films of the year. The nostalgic and heavenly soundtrack is to die for, with so many songs I recall growing up listening to. Likewise, the cinematography and lighting design sparkle in hues of black, fluorescence, shadow and neon.”
“… Levee Green does not see the bigger picture and is sucked in by the promise of money, women and fame. He is blinded by the bright city lights and the closer he gets to them the easier it is for the record producers to pick his pocket. In such a tragic character August Wilson has created a memorably complex persona, perfectly rendered by the acting genius, Chadwick Boseman. R.I.P.”
“… the scenes where David antagonises his unconventional grandmother are hilarious. Youn Yuh-jung as the elderly matriarch is fantastic, deservedly winning a best supporting actress role at the Oscars. Moreover, Lee Isaac Chung gets a miraculous performance from child actor, Alan Kim.”
“… The loss of a child is never going to be an easy experience and it is something an individual will never get over. As I followed Martha’s journey intensely the smallest incremental shift in her personality is felt massively. Vanessa Kirby, in particular, is stunning as a woman cut-off from the world by this devastating grief.”
“… I’m not always a fan of poetic cinema, especially within a narrative presented as a quasi-Western. Mostly I like to be punched in the gut, not branded slowly from the inside out. Yet Jane Campion’s expert adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel, The Power of the Dog (2021), contains some bite. You just don’t see when and how it happens.”
“… I’ve seen some so-so reviews for The Rental (2020), but it’s the kind of tightly plotted suspense thriller I really thrive on. What starts as an idyllic getaway for two relatively wealthy couples is carefully unravelled by Dave Franco’s well-paced direction, complimented by Brie and Steven’s committed performances, has wonderful locations and a seriously proper killer ending.”
“… Sound of Metal (2019) beats along steadily but with incredible purpose and rhythm. It teaches us that losing a major sense need not be the end of one’s life, but rather the beginning of an altogether different one.”
“… Everything about the film screams colour, energy and movement. The dancing and editing and swinging beats take you on a breathless journey through the romance and street war. West Side Story (2021) keeps all the memorably catchy songs… and if there is a better directed, choreographed and edited set-piece all year in the Gee, Officer Krupke number then I haven’t seen it.“
Based on: West Side Story by Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents
Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Kevin McCollum
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, Rachel Zegler etc.
Cinematography: Janusz Kamiński
Choreography: Justin Peck
Music by: Leonard Bernstein
*INEVITABLE SPOILERS WITH THIS STORY*
Well, if you removed all the songs and added more dialogue to West Side Story (2021), then I guarantee it would make an amazing stage play. Oh, it has already. I thought it felt extremely familiar. Silly jokes aside, one often hears the decrying of originality in Hollywood cinema. Sequels, prequels, remakes, adaptations and reboots are plentiful as big business. Known quantities are a better bet to executives than original never-heard-of speculative screenplays. And not everyone is averse to re-doing fully developed properties. Thus, one of the most talented filmmakers of a generation, Steven Spielberg, has delivered a stunning remake of a film adaptation of a stage musical that was developed from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
You know the story. If you don’t, stop reading. Young star-crossed lovers fall in love against their families wishes. Their romance explodes into unbridled passion as war escalates between the two rival factions. As the lovers attempt to find a way to be together the conflict brings about eventual tragedy. Shakespeare was a genius and knew how to structure and spin a yarn. No surprise his works have been adapted infinitely to much success. One of the greatest was the musical West Side Story (1961). Exchanging Verona for New York and pitting the Puerto Rican Sharks against the local firm, the Jets, the play and film contain some of the most incredible numbers ever sang and danced to. The original play won awards and broke box-office records. The film West Side Story (1961) deservedly won many Oscars. It is considered almost a perfect musical. How could it be improved?
West Side Story (2021) cannot possibly be classed as better than the original because Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurent, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, plus their incredible team, had already done all of the challenging work crafting the production. But with this new version Steven Spielberg has once again proved he is one of the great genre directors. Assembling an ultra-talented team including Josh Peck as choreographer, Tony Kushner as screenwriter, Janusz Kaminski as cinematographer and an effervescently wonderful cast.
Everything about the film screams colour, energy and movement. The dancing and editing and swinging beats take you on a breathless journey through the romance and street war. Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria’s (Rachel Zegler) love story is bounced effortlessly between the expertly devised gang battles. Moreover, West Side Story (2021) keeps all the memorably catchy songs such as: Maria, Tonight, America, Cool, and Somewhere, capturing the heart and imagination in equal measure. If there is a better directed, choreographed and edited set-piece all year in the Gee, Officer Krupke number then I haven’t seen it.
The cast are uniformly excellent with Ansel Elgort, while lacking slightly in the vocal department, more than making up for it with his magnetic screen presence. Rachel Zegler is charming if bland as Maria, but Ariana DeBose absolutely steals the scenes with her all-round performance as fiery Anita. The cast all deliver Tony Kushner’s excellent dialogue and the iconic songs with aplomb. Lastly, West Side Story (2021) is an absolute tour-de-force as cinematic entertainment. However, there is a sense that it is a missed opportunity for Steven Spielberg and his team to perhaps update the themes for the modern day. Kushner’s script hints at some analysis of racism that ultimately only scratches the surface. Spielberg is satisfied emulating a classic adaptation of a classic play, remaining trapped in a shiny post-modern time-warp full to the brim with powerful nostalgia.
Produced by: Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, Roger Frappier, Jane Campion, Tanya Seghatchian
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie, Genevieve Lemon, Keith Carradine, Frances Conroy etc.
Cinematography: Ari Wegner
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Set in 1925 amidst the spectacular terrain of Montana, The Power of the Dog (2021), centres around a ranching family’s everyday relationships, romances, hatreds and choices. Two brothers run the Burbank ranch, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons). George is the kinder man who leans more toward progress and business. Phil is more of the land and the traditional cowboy. However, he is incredibly intelligent and could have made more of his education. Instead, he is driven to follow in his hero and mentor, Bronco Henry’s wake, work the ranch and command men.
While hiding a deep secret, Phil is absorbed by the cowboy lifestyle and thrives on controlling those around him. But when George meets Rose (Kirsten Dunst) at a cattle drive inn, he falls for her. Soon they marry and George agrees to provide for Rose and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Phil immediately becomes upset by the intruder to the family equilibrium. Soon Rose and Peter fall foul of his bullying and superiority complex. Thus, begins a series of subtle and ambiguous clashes where Phil and Rose clash, before the bright, androgynous Peter manoeuvres to protect his beloved mother.
The stunning cinematography and vistas of, The Power of the Dog (2021), are more luminous dressing when compared to the compelling characterisation and incredible performances delivered via Jane Campion’s confident direction. Indeed, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee are so good you could have set the story on an empty soundstage (like Dogville (2003) and the searing properties of the drama would have been carried just as potently. Cumberbatch is exceptional. This is an Oscar winning performance. His bitter and envious alpha male broods and hides behind violence and biting words. Every now and then he threatens to burst, but is pulled back. Phil wants to love but is so trapped by social expectations and prejudices that he is trapped tragically by the era. The sensitive Peter doesn’t care what people think and that sadly makes him a victim. But still waters run very deep. Peter has a plan.
This film will give you heartburn. It’s subtle and bubbles like acid, reaches the throat before scarring the pit of your stomach. Now, I’m not always a fan of oblique and poetic cinema, especially within a narrative presented as a quasi-Western. Mostly I like to be punched in the gut, not branded slowly from the inside out. Yet Jane Campion’s expert adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel, The Power of the Dog (2021), contains some bite. You just don’t see when and how it happens. Expect awards galore for this fine drama.
Produced by: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh
Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton, etc.
Cinematography: Lachlan Milne
Music by: Emile Messeri
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
I missed Minari (2020) at the cinema. Which is a shame because out of all the Oscar-nominated films from earlier in the year it is now my favourite. Further, it should certainly have won the best film award. (Note: I have yet to see The Father (2020).) It has the heart and warmth and realistic hope that eventual winner, Nomadland (2020) lacked. Chloe Zhao’s powerful character study was arguably too meditative and glacially paced, without any real diversion from the plodding repetition of monotonous existence. I love slice-of-life and character-driven work, but I want some drama too. While Minari (2020) has certain meditative qualities, writer-director Lee Isaac Chung has crafted a supeb cinematic memoir of tender power and emotion.
Set in 1983, Minari (2020), centres around the Yi family. They had been working in California, but have moved to Arkansas to farm the land. The father, Jacob (Steven Yuen) dreams of growing produce to sell to fellow Korean businesses. However, the farm and static caravan he has purchased is remote with no guarantee of water to ripen the fruits and vegetables. Jacob must either pay exorbitant prices from the water company or find a natural spring underground. Alas, rain rarely threatens the Arkansas plains.
Jacob’s wife, Monica (Han Ye-ri) hates the caravan and does not share his farming dream. This marital conflict drives the much of the narrative as the two argue constantly. Monica is especially angry that her young son, David (Alan Kim) is so far from a hospital. The boy has a heart condition and like any good mother she consistently worries. Their teenage daughter, Anne (Noel Kate Cho) is too young to be a full-time caregiver to David while Jacob and Monica support themselves working at a local chicken factory. To placate Monica, Jacob brings grandmother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) to the farm for support. Here a beautiful and funny parallel plot begins as David and his grandmother’s relationship comes to the fore.
I watched Minari (2020) on a Sunday morning at home, relaxed and cosy, filled with breakfast and coffee. I loved experiencing the film. The music wondrously supports the beautiful photography that illuminates the green and wheats that fill the lens’ gorgeous palette. Like the masterpiece, Parasite (2019), Minari (2020) represents a working-class family striving to stay together and survive in difficult times. The main difference though is the Yi family were doing it with honest hard graft rather that grifting, ducking and diving. The Yi’s connect with nature and the land rather than skimming the city and the rich. I really rooted for the Yi’s. Jacob’s desires and battles to find water reminded me of the equally moving French classic,Jean De Florette (1986).
Minari (2020) doesn’t take the obvious route of making the Arkansas locals racists who rail against the Yi’s. While there are some scenes involving cultural clashes, much of the drama and humour derives from the families interactions with each other. Indeed, the scenes where David antagonises his unconventional grandmother are hilarious. Youn Yuh-jung as the elderly matriarch is fantastic, deservedly winning a best supporting actress role at the Oscars. Moreover, Lee Isaac Chung gets a miraculous performance from child actor, Alan Kim. Special mention for a busy, but nuanced portrayal of a troubled but helpful worker, Paul, by Will Patton. His deeply pious character could have easily been made an antagonist, but Chung ensures he is another relatable human being in a film full of them.
SIX OF THE BEST #34 – AMAZING FILMS I DO NOT LIKE!
Are there box office hits, cinematic phenomena and damned fine films loved by critics which you DO NOT like? That isn’t to say they aren’t great films, but subjectively you just don’t enjoy them? I mean some people dislike much of Christopher Nolan’s work! What!? Okay, Interstellar (2014), was not his best, but hey that’s just my opinion. It’s all just opinions.
Now, I like to be positive on this blog and have critical balance when writing my reviews. In fact, some films I choose not to review because I don’t want to slag something off which is just not for me. I also generally avoid reviewing films I consider terrible because I prefer to avoid negativity.
Thus, this article is not about having a pop at classic films or saying they are over-rated for attention. The truth is – I AM IN THE WRONG HERE! But I think it’s interesting to examine why I don’t like these six excellent films. After all, many talented people have worked passionately on them, so in no way do I want to disrespect their craft. Which is why, I repeat, I am wrong!
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
James Cameron is one of the greatest genre filmmakers of all time. He is also a technological innovator and genius. In Avatar (2009), he truly topped himself in regard to creating not only the beautiful world and inhabitants of Pandora, but by using never-seen-before motion-capture cinematic techniques. Moreover, the film would go on to make over $2 billion at the box office, so I’m not worthy enough to criticise Avatar (2009). But the script is incredibly flat and derivative. The lead characters are mostly unlikable and I genuinely found the amount of blue on show irritating to the eye. Worst of all is the hypocrisy that a film this expensive, and with a carbon footprint this big, is critiquing capitalist corporations who destroy the natural world.
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
Yes, this horror film had one of the smartest and ingenious marketing campaigns of all time. Yes, I should be praising it because I love horror films and also get excited when indie filmmakers hit the big time with low budget films. But, The Blair Witch Project (1999) has no real story as it just a clever series of jump scare set-ups. More importantly, it has no characters you can root for as they are so stupid and obnoxious. Worst of all it wasn’t scary or suspenseful. That’s because I wanted the bickering trio to die. I mean, who throws away a map. They were morons! Plus, this expertly crafted movie committed the worst crime of all – bringing back the found footage film! Now, don’t get me started on THAT cinematically moribund subgenre!
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
What’s not to like about an award winning, box office smash directed by arguably the most brilliant director of a generation? Furthermore, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) also contains some of the most breath-taking and ground-breaking special effects. So, with the Oscar winning cinematography and majestic score, why don’t I enjoy this Steven Spielberg sci-fi masterpiece? In short, I cannot stand the choices Richard Dreyfus’ character makes. I did not believe his journey. Why would you want to go to space and connect with aliens? Why would you abandon your family and head off on some frantic search for something from the sky? Eat the mash potato! Don’t make mini-mountains out of it. I get that there is pseudo-religious metaphors going on, but why were we meant to care? Amazing spectacle, but devoid of emotional connection and an ending that didn’t make much logical sense to me.
THE MASTER (2012)
I really love films and documentaries about cults. Especially where religion is used to control human beings and make them do crazy things. What possesses another person to want to control others? They are often extremely charismatic and talented people too, so always fascinating to explore. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012), and while this has been denied, he studies the relationship between a lost soul drawn to a movement that may or may not be a reflection of Scientology. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a World War II veteran is pulled toward Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), a leader of a cult known as “The Cause”. But not much happens other than Quell having a series of breakdowns amidst post-traumatic stress and alcoholism. Anderson is one of the great humanist and existential filmmakers working today, but The Master (2012) was too impenetrable and alienating for me.
MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)
I am a massive fan of David Lynch’s oeuvre. He is one of the most incredibly idiosyncratic and original voices is cinema. Lynch is visually, aurally and cinematically able to deliver both coherent and surreal narratives that blow your mind and heart out. After bamboozling audiences with Lost Highway (1997) he delivered an emotionally moving road movie in The Straight Story (1999). After that I’m not sure what was in his damn fine coffee when Mulholland Drive (2001) was devised. My understanding was it was a rejected filmed pilot which transmuted into a feature film. Crossing many genres including thriller, detective, horror and romance, the narrative splinters via many characters in Hollywood, notably Naomi Watts portraying an actress experiencing a career and identity crisis. That’s just the tip of an extremely enigmatic iceberg and the bottom line was I just didn’t care. Critics love Mulholland Drive (2001) and it often tops best film lists. I have absolutely no idea why.
THE WITCH (2015)
My filmmaking and screenwriting career is more a hobbling hobby these days. Other than not getting on the right career train, or getting lost in the smoke of an overcrowded creative platform, one main reason I may not have succeeded is because I arguably don’t have an original vision. Maybe I am just too generic. One cannot say that about Robert Eggers. This is one truly talented filmmaker. His debut film The Witch (2015) was a low budget folk horror masterpiece which became a sleeper hit at the box office. Set in 1630s New England, it is an authentically designed and brilliantly acted period drama with Anya Taylor Joy standing out. But aside from the historical accuracy of the language, locations and costumes the story was SO slow. I realise The Witch (2015) is an arthouse classic, but I just did not connect with the characters and was bored all the way through. There are some occasional scares, but it’s more a film which draws horror from underlying dread and enigma rather than the classic horror style I prefer.
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, Bill Murray, Brian Cox, Seymour Cassel, Mason Gamble, etc.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
Having recently written positively about my favourite films of Wes Anderson I was spurred to revisit my favourite work of his, Rushmore (1998). It’s a smart, funny and poignant rites-of-passage narrative which spins off from the classic Hollywood teen films of John Hughes to deliver an esoterically beautiful set of empathetic characters. Like Hughes’ best work it is witty, warm and highly memorable.
At the heart of the story is Max Fischer (Jason Swartzman), a fifteen-year-old boy who attends Rushmore Academy. Like Ferris Bueller, he’s a maverick who drives his tutors up the wall with his rebellious behaviour. But Max is not all about looking cool, driving fast cars and singing to a crowded Chicago parade. He is far from the slacker that Ferris is, in fact he has started virtually all of the Rushmore clubs including: karate, fencing, French, and the ‘Max Fischer Players’. Their version of the film Serpico (1973), is absolutely hilarious. However, all such activities have impacted his grades causing Max to be placed on probation by the exasperated Principal, Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox).
Max is arrogant, confident, determined and forthright in his belief he is better than everyone, including the adults around him. But it’s a long-developed defence mechanism against one of the integral themes of Anderson’s film, grief. All the main characters including Max, Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) are grieving the loss of a loved one. Amidst the quirky comedy Anderson therefore gives the film an air of mournful pathos, bringing us ever closer to the characters. With the theme of loss in play the Oedipal love triangle which plays out in the middle act is all the more humorous and sadder.
Max is a flawed character, but so driven that one cannot help but find him appealing. He hides his socio-economic situation, perhaps not ashamed of his working class background, but more a projection of where he wants to be. His Dad (Seymour Cassel) is a barber, not the surgeon Max tells everyone he is. Yet, there is love and respect between the two as they have clearly suffered loss together. As with Williams and Murray, Cassel gives a wonderful supporting performance.
Over the course of Rushmore (1998), amidst Max’s unrequited love for Rosemary, vengeful attacks on Herman, crazy schemes, school expulsion and hilarious plays, Max matures slowly, makes friends and finds his place in the world. Max also forges relationships with teenagers his own age and slowly releases his shield of grief. Jason Schwartzman is perfect as Max, delivering a winning combination of pathos, intellectualism and deft humour. Incredible to think it was his film debut beating, according to IMDB, 1800 auditionees to the role.