Letterboxd Reviews: August 2013

My Letterboxd account documents what films I am watching, usually films for the first time but occasionally a film I haven’t logged before.

Here’s a summary of the films I have watched this month, including a rating and short review for each.

This August I have watched 56 films:

Here’s what I thought of them:

Smashed

“Smashed may not break the over-used mould when it comes to exploring addiction, but it is a strong drama with engaging characters. Although the subject matter is quite momentous, the film itself is almost light-hearted in the way that it deals with it, but that works well to reflect the film’s indie qualities. Subtle with a slight humour, Smashed doesn’t constantly throw consequences at you, but it instead follows a character coming to terms with her problem and life in general. Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives an incredible performance and she makes a fantastic lead to follow, and without such a focus on her character it wouldn’t nearly have been as effective.”

Dirty Girl

“Juno Temple suits the ‘girl with daddy issues’ role perfectly, and I’m yet to get tired of her common, rebellious, teenage girl stereotype. She really does know how the make the most of the often dry scripts that are given to her. Dirty Girl is one of the better roles she has adopted, following a genuine, unique, comical at times and cute at others, coming-of-age story, but Temple still brings the same colour, spirit, and emotional determination.”

Ghost World

“Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson take their turn at playing the unpopular girls at school, but I’d definitely be their friends. There are so many films about the uncool kids getting their own back, but it’s rarely done with a female lead. This sets Ghost World up brilliantly, as it takes a unique approach to the genre straight away. Even so, it deals with its genre better than most. The characters are likeable, even if unlikeable at times, and I even found myself feeling sorry for Steve Buscemi’s character. Aside from these great performances however, Ghost World is funny, relatable, and unintentionally even a little sad at times.”

The Change-Up

“After the first ten minutes of this film I was really prepared to give up. Cringe after cringe, I put up with it as it had promise to get better. It did improve somewhat, but it never reached the level of being ‘good’. I guess it has its own spin on the ‘change up’ premise, but this comedy is definitely not anything new. Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds have a great chemistry but their combination could have been so great if they had a better script to work with. An extra half a star for a naked Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde (though both actresses should have definitely picked a much better film for their boobs to make a first appearance in!).”

The Heat

“The Heat is funny, entertaining, and much better than I expected. There are quite a few inappropriate jokes but Feig is known for going that little bit further, and McCarthy is known for her crude but hilarious insults. Together their comedy might be on the border of racist, sexist, and albino-ist (or whatever the phrase may be), but without taking it too seriously you will find yourself caught up in all of its hysterical moments. McCarthy and Bullock (a great twist on the typically male buddy-cop genre) are perfect in their roles and have a great chemistry together. McCarthy really seems to bring the best out of Bullock here, showing an enjoyable side to her acting, and together the duo keep you laughing consistently throughout. McCarthy is horribly stuck in her new stereotype though, but like her role in this year’s comedy Identity Thief she does have the chance to show some emotional range with a few scenes of tears. The Heat certainly isn’t for everybody, but if you’re up for a laugh then there’s definitely one to be had.”

Dark Shadows

“Far from what I was expecting from the film’s promotion, Dark Shadows is also much better than the condemned reviews have made it out to be. It’s far from a Tim Burton masterpiece, but maybe that’s just because we’ve seen his gothic style so often that we’re just not overwhelmed by it any more. I still thought there was something unique about this film, though. Its look feels similar, the cast is predictable, but I enjoyed the combination of dark comedy and fantasy. Burton has done a lot worse lately, whilst this is definitely a film I would watch again.”

Ponyo

“With more stunning animation from the talent that is Hayao Miyazaki, complete with hand-drawn backgrounds, Ponyo is beautiful and bitterly sweet. Similar to Spirited Away in that it follows a child’s adventure absent from his/her parents, the story creative, fascinating, and overwhelmingly charming to watch develop.”

The Rugrats Movie

“I loved the Rugrats TV series and remember the films being just as enjoyable when I was the right age to be watching them. It doesn’t hold up nearly 15 years later, however. God that makes me feel old. My little brother and sister found it hilarious though, but that’s because it’s full of ‘goo-goo-ga-ga’ baby jokes.”

Whisper of the Heart

“The next film in Film4’s Studio Ghibli-thon, and my first from director Yoshifumi Kondô, Whisper of the Heart had me at the words ‘romance’ and ‘library’. Full of fantasy, romance, and inspiration, the film follows a heart-warming and humanly relatable character, Shizuku, who we dive into a world of adventure with as she begins to write her own story. An animation about the wonder of literature, Whisper of the Heart is a story you can easily find yourself dragged into itself.”

Tristan & Isolde

“At times feeling like an ITV period drama (not quite hitting that BBC standard), Tristan & Isolde is a clichéd romantic, historical drama based on the medieval romantic legend. The story is almost moving, as cheesey as it gets, but it’s no Robin Hood. Director Kevin Reynolds’ efforts just never reach far enough for it to be anything more than decent. James Franco stars in the lead, and it’s a nice early performance from him, though it isn’t anything special, and there’s some great supporting roles from the likes of Rufus Sewell, Mark Strong, Henry Cavill, and David O’Hara.”

Byzantium

“From the director of Interview With A Vampire, Neil Jordan, Byzantium is a brilliant return to the vampire genre. Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton play mother and daughter vampires in the modern world. Not only is it brilliant to see two females in the lead of this fantasy drama, but its interesting to see this unique exploration around the mythology. The story is this films strongest quality, and I’m surprised the screenplay hasn’t been adapted from a novel because of how in depth it is. It is dark and violent, which is expressed brilliantly through stunning visuals and gothic atmosphere. There is also a strong focus on the mother/daughter relationship though. Both Ronan and Arterton excel in their roles, and Caleb Landry Jones also has a lovely supporting role.”

Only God Forgives

“Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling reunite after working together on the incredible Drive. But the silent treatment didn’t work a second time around. Only God Forgives is a mixed bag of the good, the excellent, and the down-right boring. With top quality cinematography and performances, the bad comes from its emptiness.”

For a Good Time, Call…

“As funny as it is saucy, For A Good Time, Call… is an exhilarating study of female friendship. Refreshing and relatable, in part, the comedy is always set at the right tone to make this an amusing watch. Lauren Miller and Ari Graynor are both incredibly likeable and fun to follow, as the two work excellently alongside each other. This is the first time I have enjoyed a role from Graynor, but then again it’s the first decent role she’s been given that doesn’t consist of her being drunk for her whole ten minutes of screen time. Justin Long is also hilarious as he plays their gay best friend.”

The Cat Returns

“The first Hiroyuki Morita film in my Studio Ghibli-thon. The Cat Returns isn’t quite on the same level as the other Japanese animations I have seen so far; not in adventure, story, emotion, or animation, but it is still pretty excellent. It’s hard not to be consistently entertained by these films, they have such a charm about them no matter what flaws may arise.”

The Last Mimzy

“I can’t even imagine how a younger audience would enjoy this. I saw no adventure or fantasy, it was just strange and confusing in what it was trying to achieve.”

Celeste & Jesse Forever

“For me, the best romantic dramas always have a hint of anti-romance. Celeste & Jesse Forever has the perfect balance. Brilliantly and intelligently written, it knows how to make an impact. Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg play two very real characters who are both struggling to deal with the end of their relationship. Co-written by Jones, both of their characters are flawed but honest, making it easy to relate to each of them. It’s surprising that Samberg gives such a good performance, but it’s obvious that how well the characters were written for them, resulting in an amazing chemistry. This is also the first time I have been able to stand Elijah Wood, outside of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy that is. I found his character hilarious.”

The Men Who Stare at Goats

“Not a lot really happens, does it? The film spent so much time filling you in on the background that it forgot to actually get back into the present. As interesting and funny as the flashbacks were, it just didn’t go anywhere. Some great roles for the likes of s: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Bridges, though.”

Camp Rock

“I was forced to watch this today. I’m still getting over it. I actually kind of like the High School Musical films, but this wasn’t nearly on the same level. All of the character’s were annoying and self-centred, as were their songs.”

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

“Serving as Eli Craig’s feature film directorial debut, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a brilliant mix of comedy and horror. Although a horror spoof, mocking much of what we’ve seen before in the horror genre, the film feels very original. Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk play two fantastic characters and, as actors, they have a brilliant and equally hilarious chemistry together. These guys could be doing anything and they would be fun to watch.”

Capote

“‘ve never been as impressed with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting than I was with Capote. What an excellent performance he gives, fully inhabiting his role. Based on a true story, Capote is an outstanding bopic with flawless performances that fill this story with intensity and almost compassion, drawing us in more and more as it goes on.”

The Croods

“The Croods tells the story of a prehistoric family, which allowed the writers and animators to really go along with their imagination. This was one of the most enjoyable aspects for me, seeing all the different creatures and use of colours along with the impressive animation, as this is what an animated family adventure should be about. I found it constantly funny, and watching it with my little sister we had a good time watching and enjoying it. Plus, I love sloths so it was great to see one as the animal sidekick for a change.”

The Mummy

“A fantastic adventure and one that scared me senseless when I was younger; I had to leave the room whenever them bugs came on screen! Brendan Fraser is funny, Rachel Weisz is obviously having a lot of fun, and John Hannah completes the trio perfectly. They’re great characters to be on this adventure with, perfectly balancing the mix of comedy, horror, action, and fantasy. It shouldn’t work but it really does.”

Evil Dead

“I watched this, The Conjuring, and Mama in the same day. Evil Dead was the least original of the three. With some excellent gore, Evil Dead was more about the violence and blood than the scares. I enjoyed the drug addiction side-story at the beginning, which I thought was an original opening, but everything after this turned into one big horror horror cliché; one that didn’t want to end. Evil Dead is a good horror, it does what a horror is supposed to do, but it didn’t nearly live up to the hype that it has been given.”

The Conjuring

“I watched this, Evil Dead, and Mama in the same day. The Conjuring only exceeded in the fact that it was based on a true story, which adds a lot more scares straight away. There’s nothing really original about The Conjuring, apart from the first ten minutes which I was hoping to see more of, as the true story is a mixture of horror stories we have seen many times before, but this is an exorcism horror done right. It’s creepy, tense, and entertaining at the same time, with solid performances from Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and Lily Taylor.”

Mama

“I watched this, Evil Dead, and The Conjuring in the same day. Mama is the film that’s keeping me up at night. It’s hard to make big distinctions between horror films as many of them rely on the same qualities. Mama is full of the typical horror clichés, but it has an original (ish) story at its core. The use of children always makes for a creepy watch, but I rarely enjoy a film led by them. With decent performances from the young actresses and with support from Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, however, it was one I quite enjoyed. The only real flaw for me, albeit a massive one, was the appearance of Mama herself. Before seeing her in detail I was terrified, and the fact she was creeping out of bedroom corners is what has been preventing me from sleeping in the dark. But in truth, I laughed when we got to see her face up close. If better effects were used this might have been a great horror rather than just a good one. With its use poor effects, though, it all came across as slightly mocking by the end, even if I did feel like I should have felt sad for Mama.”

The Internship

“From the stars of Wedding Crashers, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, their latest comedy isn’t even closely on par. There are a few feel-good moments and there are a few giggles to be had, but that was really about it. Vaughn and Wilson aren’t bad actors. Vaughn has the odd good role now and then and Wilson is often enjoyable, but they need a much better script to work with for them to have fully enjoyable characters.”

The Guilt Trip

“I loved the relationship between Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen, which felt very genuine. They were therefore likeable and seemingly fun to go on a ‘road trip’ with, but not nearly enough happened.”

Adaptation.

Who wouldn’t want to watch a film subititled: “FROM THE CREATOR OF BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, COMES THE STORY ABOUT THE CREATOR OF BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. It’s just a shame it was led by Nicolas Cage which is the reason I have been putting this off for so long, especially when there turned out to be two of him. Urgh, the thought of two Cage’s in the world makes my stomach churn. The thought of one of these Cage’s then having sex with Meryl Streep makes me even more nauseous. But let’s get away from that. Adaptation is a semi-autobiographical story and it’s quite obvious where the lines between reality and fiction lie, with the last third of the film being complete fiction and the events of the book being dramatised in parallel. For me, this is the perfect example of describing a film as ‘art’, intertwining a number of stories each evolving around both truth and imagination successfully. Cage gives a good performance to say that he is an actor that I can’t stand, and there are some great supporting roles too, especially from Chris Cooper.”

Mud

“You would think this is all about Matthew McConaughey, who gives a good performance, but it is Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland who hold the film up. These two young actors are excellent and the coming-of-age story centred around them is what makes this drama so engaging. Their characters are developed incredibly and a number of relationships are explored around them, making this heartfelt and honest, yet completely original and authentic in its delivery.”

Barton Fink

“Great to see a young John Turturro and John Goodman gives a great performance. The story is interesting and it’s a brilliantly complex yet simple story from the Coen Brothers. Something about it reminds me of Brazil, I guess it was all the surrealism, symbolism and references that get into your head whilst at the same time you’re thinking that not a lot is happening.”

Beginners

“I have been looking forward to this for years, and I’m not sure why I haven’t watch it sooner. Whilst the film was far from what I expected it to be it, it still told the heartbreaking story I was hoping for. Whilst there was more potential to be taken advantage of, the characters are all likeable and their stories are moving and engaging. Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent have little chemistry but they each give good performances nonetheless. Christopher Plummer was fantastic though, and I only wish there was more focus and humour based around his character.”

Princess Mononoke

“Some animes scare me and have the ability to make my stomach churn. These Japanese animations are brilliant in the sense that they can fill you with fantastical dreams about magical creatures but with horrible nightmares at the same time. But Princess Mononoke focused more on the latter, which meant I couldn’t enjoy the adventure as much as I have with the rest of Studio Ghibli’s films I have been watching lately. The story is brilliant and is one with a lot of meaning that I think needs to be told, but there was too much violence and conflict for me to enjoy it fully.”

My Neighbor Totoro

“Studio Ghibli films are at their best when their full of magic, spirits, creativity, mysterious creatures, and family adventure. This is everything that Totoro captures. It is warm, charming, cute, and more child-friendly than any of the other animations, and is most like Ponyo in that sense, but it is so magnificent and full of imagination that it holds up as one of the better films in the collection.”

The Secret World of Arrietty

“Already knowing “The Borrowers” story, I couldn’t wait to see this Studio Ghibli film. Filled with more magic, imagination, and wonder that I love about these animations, Arrietty tells the story better than it has ever been told before. It started off as one of my favourite animations, but then it just came to a halt. The ending was very disappointing, as it needed to be concluded in a much more heartfelt way with some real ending being given; I genuinely had to go back and make sure I didn’t miss something. It does fall a little short in comparison, but I adore it just the same, and it is just as beautiful and heartfelt nonetheless.”

The Secret of NIMH

“I think you have to see animations such as this one when you’re a child to really appreciate them as an adult (For example, Watership Down is one of my favourite films). I’ve seen many reviews of users saying this was one of their childhood favourites, but I just found it terrifying and dark, rather than adventurous and exciting; not hat I wanted from a Disney-type film (from ex-Disney creators, at least).”

Treasure Planet

“Fun and funny, Treasure Planet is a modern animated Disney adventure for all ages to enjoy. With some great action, fantasy, and set of characters, it isn’t on par with many of Disney’s recent animations but it sure isn’t boring. I also love that Joseph Gordon-Levitt voices the lead character.”

The Adventures of Tintin

“Technically brilliant and visually stunning, this was just an average adventure aside from the outstanding animated efforts that went into making this film, and the overall style it achieved. My younger brother and sister laughed a lot and Tintin is a story that many will enjoy, but I felt that it lacked a lot of interest and intrigue.”

Pain & Gain

“The fact that this is a true story is what will make you love it. There are so many scenes that would normally think, “This is so far from reality that it is ridiculous,” but knowing it actually happens leaves you shell-shocked in absolute awe. It’s dumb but completely hilarious, and because it’s so hard to take seriously it’s so fun to watch. Sometimes, as with Bernie, it puts me off that we are made to favour the criminals at the heart of the story, but by the end you can’t feel sorry for these characters when they went about everything so completely wrong. Sure, they deserve what they got for the awful things they did, but these are a set of characters I could watch over and over. Mark Wahlberg is perfect in his role and I enjoy his more comical roles to ones we are expected to take seriously, something I find hard to do lately although I must admit I do enjoy quite a lot of his work. I didn’t expect to like Dwayne Johnson, however, but for the first time ever I felt that he really was made for acting. His character suited him brilliantly and it was his role that made me laugh so much. I really can’t express how funny this film was, nor how shocked I am that it was directed by Michael Bay.”

Unbreakable

“A really interesting and original concept but I found this, for the best part, dull.”

Blow

“The film reminded me a lot of Goodfellas, but that’s because they’re both true stories about one man’s entire life, and the consequences they are faced with after entering the world of drugs. Both share many of the same qualities, especially the perfect pacing as so much happens and is constantly happening that the long run-time doesn’t ever feel dragged out or become tedious. This is definitely one of Johnny Depp’s best performances and it’s a shame that he doesn’t star in such serious dramas these days as he is a wonder to watch.”

A Few Good Men

“A great court room drama. The performances aren’t exactly impressive – Tom Cruise and Demi Moore are okay, whilst Jack Nicholson and Kevin Bacon are both very good – but the story is solid and interesting.”

I’m So Excited!

“Directed by Almodavar, one of the first directors to enter mainstream cinema as openly gay, I’m So Excited is as camp as you can get. Full of secrets, lies, and sex, the film combines drama really with the playful comedy its promotional material has focused on. Crazy and melodramatic, I’m So Excited is far from reality but it’s certainly proud in its silliness, and there’s enough going on in between the singing and dancing around to make the characters and each of their stories effective at the same time. The films only major stars are Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas who make small cameo appearances, but the rest of the cast are fantastic in their roles. The three main actors who play the stewards – Raúl Arévalo, Javier Cámara, and Carlos Areces – are hilarious and work together really well. The original Spanish title, Los amantes pasajeros, means both “the fleeting lovers” and “the passenger lovers” which works well for the many sub-plots going on in the film, but the English title comes from Pointer Sisters’ 1982 hit song that the stewards perform for the crew. It was this clip that made me want to see the film in the first place, so I’d recommend giving this a watch to know what you’re in for.”

Cast Away

“I love the idea and story but found the film itself quite hard work. Obviously I didn’t expect an awful lot to happen, but it felt too empty. I wasn’t moved by it nor did I care for Hank’s character, so in the end the outcome didn’t really effect me.”

Minority Report

“A brilliant concept full of intrigue and intelligence. The dystopian world is set up brilliant and is complex enough to have you believing in it. Also, it feature one of few likeable roles from Tom Cruise.”

Starsky & Hutch

“Who ever thought this was going to be anything more than terrible? I certainly didn’t. I like a Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson combination, but I think it was knowing this was a remake of something decent that put me off so much.”

Anger Management

“How the hell did they rope Jack Nicholson into this one? I usually like Adam Sandler but his over-the-top bullshit gets too much sometimes. Nicholson’s performance makes it a little easier to go along with but it just gets worse and worse.”

Road House

“I can see why this film is a lot of people’s guilty pleasure. It is pretty bad, but that’s also what makes it good. Whilst there’s not a lot of story, there are some excellent fights! The only thing that really annoyed me was that they used the same song from Dirty Dancing in the sex scene, which I thought was rather silly.”

Troy

“I don’t know the source material too well but so I can’t comment on how the epic story has been reduced, as I seem to be reading quite often. But as a film based on Greek mythology, of sorts, I thought it was pretty strong. Troy doesn’t have everything that’s great about these Greek films – nothing about love, Gods, or magic, but there are some great battle scenes. Most of all, it looks fantastic. Brad Pitt and Eric Bana are excellent, but Orlando Bloom lets the team down somewhat.”

The Ladykillers

“I’m yet to see the original which I’m sure will alter my opinion of this remake, but I found The Ladykillers thoroughly enjoyable. The Coen brothers’ style works really well with the soundtrack and eccentric characters being some of the best qualities. I loved Tom Hanks’ role and the supporting cast was just as likeable, and found myself laughing quite a lot.”

Weird Science

“Ahh I love John Hughes, and Anthony Michael Hall is brilliant in his films. This is another great 80s film, and Hughes classic all wrapped up in one. My only problem was that I hated Kelly LeBrock’s character which was big a shame. I’m sure they wish they made someone better, as well, but I guess it all worked out in the end, with Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith being the only two characters that you needed to care about anyway. And they were brilliant! OH, and of course, Robert Downey Jr’s supporting role! Fantastic.”

Dial M for Murder

“I didn’t expect to like this, but surprisingly I did. You can’t beet a classic murder mystery. A problem I have with older films is the over-acting. I don’t know how they do it, but these actors manage to over-act every single movement. It didn’t particularly annoy me here, but what did was the line delivery. Characters were over-lapping each other in their speedy dialogue which came across as over-rehearsed rather than believable. Nevertheless, it still held that same classic Hitchcock suspense and it was constantly interesting to see where the story would go next.”

Balto

“A lovely story, some of which is based on truth, which is heart-breaking but heart-warming at the same time. It’s a sweet animation for families and has a decent voice cast including the likes of Kevin Bacon and Bob Hoskins.”

Training Day

“Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke both give excellent performances, but it was only really their acting that kept me engaged, otherwise this would have been a typical cop drama.”

Con Air

“Another Nicolas Cage film that I ended up really liking. But how can you not?! Con Air is badass. With great dialogue and 90’s action, Con Air and its power ballad soundtrack is thoroughly entertaining. The film’s best quality is its brilliant cast of villains, though, compromising of a great set of actors who all give excellent performances, especially John Malkovich. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I even found the ending ”

The Wolverine

“So it turns out that if you take Wolverine away from the rest of the X-Men team, I really don’t care about him. Following the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, there’s no denying that the film is a massive step up from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but that’s not to say that it’s any good. What I like about the X-Men franchise is the variation of mutants, the wide range of skills and abilities, and the different alliances. But The Wolverine had none of that. Very much forgetting about the mutant race in a wider context, it’s all about Logan himself. But he’s no fun after the events of The Last Stand. Maybe if you’re a fan of the comic books and of Wolverine’s character in general you will find this latest adaptation interesting, but I found it completely unengaging. Then again, it was only the story that I had a problem with. The Wolverine does have many great action scenes and it does benefit from probably Hugh Jackman’s best performance as Logan in the X-Men series so far, but in the end it’s definitely my least favourite superhero film of the year so far.”

Empire of the Sun

“Oh little Christian Bale. How incredible was he? And John Malkovich, the two together are just excellent. I’m currently making my way through Spielberg’s filmography and you can see a lot of his classic traits within this film. What I liked most, however, was that Empire Of The Sun is about a young child’s adventure after being abandoned by his parents, but it feels a lot more personal than his other work, and therefore its story is quite impacting and effectual. There’s a great little supporting role from Ben Stiller, too, which I thought was worth a mention.”

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