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Film: January 2011’s Films

I’ve decided to resurrect the old monthly review posts that I tried briefly last year (the earliest three entries with the monthly review tag), but doing them more in the style of the 2010 in review posts. Having only just decided to do it means I’m going to have to sort out January’s now then almost immediately jump into February’s, but going forward there should actually be a month between them. This second post covers film viewing, and there will also be posts for television , books and gaming.

 

Fitting in all seven was a bit of a squeeze.

Image sources: Sara, Randy, Raul, Nick, Borat, Bower and Lotso.

As with the television post I’ll use this opening paragraph to discuss when I watch films. With just three hours of free time on a work day (during which I also have to get ready) it’s not particularly practical to watch a film as most push two hours in length and would just consume the majority of available time. I like the routine of getting out of bed and watching an episode of a TV programme so I don’t particularly want to shunt that aside for a film anyway. That leaves my four days off, which is a pretty substantial amount of time during which it should be easy to find time to watch a couple of films each ‘week’.

After looking back at the entirety of 2010’s film viewing it emerged that starting work resulted in the time I set aside for films dropping down to ridiculous levels, with just eight films watched in the last four months of the year, and I declared that I needed to make more of an effort to find time for films. So let’s see how I did (this post won’t contain any spoilers):

Falling.

January 8th - Requiem for a Dream (DVD)

Click the image for a link to the source.

I adore The Fountain (and have already said so here on the blog), flawed though it probably is. Requiem for a Dream is from the same director, Darren Aronofsky, focusing on the lives of four drug addicts as they struggle with their addictions. I mentioned back when I watched Candy that the arc the characters went through was a fairly typical one for a story about addicts, despite being based on a true story, but what I hadn’t realised back then was that Aronosfsky had already made what may be the ultimate film about addiction.

The film doesn’t shy away from showing just how destructive addiction can be, having its characters hitting rock bottom and not resorting to wrapping everything up happily by the end. It’s a powerful film and I loved it.

Soaring.

January 9th - The Wrestler (DVD)

Click the image for a link to the source.

This is another Aronofsky film, the one that started to get him critical acclaim and which was nominated for the big awards (both Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei were nominated for Oscars for their performances in this). Rourke is Randy “The Ram” Rombinson, a wrestler long past his glory days but still performing in small venues and trying to boost his income with autograph signings and shifting merchandise. A health scare puts what’s left of his career in jeopardy and he starts to realise just how little else there is in his life, with an estranged daughter being his only family and a friendly stripper providing the closest thing he has to a relationship.

It’s absolutely a good film but a lot more traditional than either of Aronofsky’s previous two (and likely his first film, pi, which I’ve not seen). Once the pieces are in place you can predict where the story is likely to head, something which couldn’t be said for The Fountain or Requiem for a Dream. It’s all done very well though and Rourke and Tomei really do give great performances, which certainly helps elevate it. It just seems a little odd that the film of Aronofsky’s that enjoyed the most success and critical acclaim is ultimately the one I liked the least.

A side note: I was given the above two films for Christmas and my plan was to watch both of those and, assuming I enjoyed them, buy pi, re-watch The Fountain and then go to the cinema to see Aronofsky’s new film, Black Swan, but in the end the latter parts of the plan fell victim to procrastination and I never did get around to them.

Drinking.

January 10th - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (DVD)

It wasn’t much of a surprise to discover that pairing Terry Gilliam (a director with a habit of making unique, unusual films) with Johnny Depp (an actor with a fondness for unique, memorable characters) in a film about drugs results in something that’s pretty weird. Depp is Raoul Duke, a journalist who travels to Las Vegas to cover a race but ultimately spends the whole time high on various drugs and experiences an assortment of strange events, some real and some not.

My ultimate response to the film was simply, “That was weird.” It’s hard to follow at points (probably deliberately) but Depp is never less than entertaining and I think the film succeeds primarily on his performance, as even at its weirdest it’s never less than entertaining.

Charging.

January 11th - Hot Fuzz (DVD)

I enjoyed Sean of the Dead, the previous film from the trio of Edgar Wright (director), Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (actors), but not quite as much as everybody else seemed to. It’s possible it was just the weight of expectation that hurt it for me as I’ve not watched it since then to judge it on its own merits, something which I do intend to do. I think I’d ended up avoiding Hot Fuzz because of that, and it was only when it was on TV at work – the break room TV is normally permanently on music channels but occasionally somebody switches to films – and I caught the opening fifteen minutes that I decided it was something I wanted to watch.

I’m glad I made the effort because it’s a fun film. Pegg is a police officer who is so good that he makes everybody else look bad, causing his superiors to transfer him out of the city and into a small village community, where he is teamed up with a simple local officer (Frost) and tries to apply his brand of overzealous policing to a little village where there are no serious crimes. There’s a healthy amount of decent British actors filling out the cast, there are plenty of good jokes and it’s just a lot of fun.

Strolling.

January 16th - Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (DVD)

Click the image for a link to the source.

I first discovered Sacha Baron Chen’s brand of humour back on a UK TV programme, The Eleven O’Clock Show. He was doing similar things back then to what he does in this film, playing a character (wannabe gangster Ali G then, Kazakhstan celebrity Borat here) who interviews people who have no idea that he’s playing a role, asking deliberately stupid or offensive questions to get the funniest answers. In this film there’s a story around it as well, with Borat filming a documentary for his home country to help his people achieve some of America’s greatness, so at times the lines between fiction and reality get pretty blurred.

The good thing is that both elements are funny. I recall the film receiving some criticism for Cohen’s portrayal of Kazakhstan and the misguided/offensive things Borat believes, but having watched the film it seems less like he’s making fun of people from Kazakhstan as much as he’s making fun of the people he meets who think there are really people like Borat in the world. They nod along happily as he gets increasingly ridiculous and offensive, saying things to agree with him, until finally he reaches a point where they suddenly get uncomfortable. At times it really was hilarious.

Flight.

January 17th - Pandorum (DVD)

Click the image for a link to the source.

I forget exactly how it was I learned of this film’s existence. I was watching something online (Nostalgia Critic, maybe, or Red Letter Media‘s takedown of Avatar) that was talking about bad sci-fi, then when they talked about there being recent sci-fi more deserving of praise Pandorum was one of the films that flashed up on screen. I hadn’t heard about it before so I stuck it on an Amazon wishlist and somebody got it for me for Christmas. Whoever it was who said it was a good film turned out to be correct.

It’s set on a colony ship heading for a far off planet, full of people in hyper-sleep looking for a better life, with a skeleton crew working in shifts to keep the ship on course and running smoothly. The film kicks off as one shift (its members played by Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster) wakes up to discover something is wrong: there’s nobody there to meet them and things aren’t in as good working order as they should be. They set out to find out what’s happening and how they can get things back to normal, but naturally it’s not anywhere near as simple as that.

My fondness for films about isolated crews on spaceships or space stations (Alien, Solaris, Moon, Silent Running, Sunshine, 2001: A Space Odyssey) means I was already predisposed to enjoy this, though a lot of the time it’s more of an action film than a quieter, reflective one. Foster’s particularly good (in fact I can think of a few good performances he’s given) and there are some interesting ideas in the film, though I did see part of the ending coming long before the film reached that point. Some of the locations on the ship were a little off, with there being several areas of the ship that were huge, cavernous spaces that didn’t seem practical. They would not have been particularly efficient to build (greatly increasing the size of the ship) or maintain (both in terms of general repairing and simply having to keep them filled with air and sufficient warmth). It’s not a big issue but did pull me out of the film slightly each time.

Sunnyside's up!

January 18th - Toy Story 3 (DVD)

Click the image for a link to the source (hosted here as the original was on a piracy site)

I came very close to seeing this at the cinema last year because Pixar’s films are almost always worth making the effort (I don’t think I would have been pleased if I’d seen Cars there, which is possibly the only exception). When I was on holiday at the start of September there was a cinema right near where we were staying and I actually intended to see Toy Story 3 some time during the week, but just never managed to muster up the effort. My nephew received this DVD for Christmas so I was eager to watch it but the nature of the film meant that we decided to make viewing it a family event, and finding a point in our schedules where everybody was both available and interested in watching it took a while, which is why I didn’t see it until the 18th.

It was worth the wait because it’s excellent, dealing with what all toys inevitably have to face: the time when a child is all grown up and is ready to put away childish things. The gang face the possibility of being separated, stored in the attic or even thrown away, but a series of events ultimately brings them to Sunnyside Daycare, where they meet new toys and discover that there may be a different sort of life for them after Andy. As has become standard for Pixar the film finds a way to tug at the heartstrings of adult viewers and appeal to them on a different level to younger viewers, securing its place in the fond memories of children and adults alike.

*****

January Verdict

Quality – All the films I watched were good ones, which is always nice.

Quantity – There were seven in total, which as I mentioned at the start of this post is almost as many as I managed to watch in the entire final four months of the year, which does at least mean I’m doing much better at finding time to watch films. It’s still a far cry from last January when I watched one film every day, but that was an anomaly and something that would be almost impossible for me to replicate now I’m in full-time employment.

Timeliness – I also managed to watch one 2010 film, which is a lot more timely than I usually manage, but none of the films I watched were actually released this year (with Black Swan being the closest I came, had I actually managed to make myself go and see it).

Newness – Every film was one I hadn’t seen before, primiarly because I got a bunch of DVDs for Christmas so had plenty to choose from (though in truth my collection of unwatched DVDs is already pretty substantial).

Goals – Had this post been written a month ago I would have said that seven films seems like an easy amount to repeat or even beat next month, but as I’m writing this on February 28th I can tell you that I definitely failed at that. I would have failed at any potential goals I could have come up with, be it to go out and watch an actual 2011 release, to simply watch more films, or to only watch new films rather than fall back on familiar ones. I guess those will have to wait for next month’s goals.

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