What I Saw in August

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A slight change in formula in my monthly posts of films I saw. I decided not to just stick with films, but I will also be adding television shows I may have watched over the month as well. I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that television and film have become closer in comparison more than ever. Television despite what some may say I believe can be just as cinematic if not more so than some films. I want to explore this further in maybe a later post, particularly maybe when I sometime revisit “Mad Men” which to me might be the best bit of narrative story telling in any medium within the last decade, but for now, I would like to start adding it to my list.

1. Suicide Squad (2016): If it weren’t for some performances I would deem more worthy than the film itself, and save for the one shot of Harley Quinn playing dead, only to jump back to life like a rag doll which gave me the only jolt of pleasure in this film, I would give “Suicide Squad” a big fat zero! The film was mostly an insult to an audience who the studio felt they couldn’t trust to get what “Suicide Squad” was all about. If this is indeed the cut of the film director David Ayer claimed he intended than he should be ashamed of himself. A director of his calibre should know better how to splice together cohesive action and emotional beats, choppy is too good a word for the deplorable editing done here, with a ridiculous intro to each character that made them seem more like players in a video game than in a live action movie, giving them stats, and their own theme song, and a painfully long opening scene with Viola Davis (Doing her best) explaining who each member is. I have seen very few films in my life where exposition is done in practically every scene, the cardinal sin of cinema of telling not showing. Though I was not a fan of “Batman v Superman” either, I will give that film credit for having a few interesting visual moments, “Suicide Squad” is studio film making done in the worst way. I weep for the audience, I weep for this cast, start banning these movies, I know you won’t but you all deserve better. 0.5 stars out of 4

2. Stranger Things Season 1 (2016): Could it be that the biggest blockbuster of the summer didn’t happen at your local multiplex, but in your own home? Well if the statistics are correct, than yes. “Stranger Things” will probably be the most memorable thing this summer had to offer and that’s not really a bad thing. Soaked in 80s film nostalgia taking cues from early Spielberg, Carpenter, Stephen King, and others, “Stranger Things” starts off with an intriguing premise, slowly growing its mystery and mythology but not losing focus of its story. The show has some pretty memorable set pieces and performances namely the young Mille Bobby Brown as the mysterious Eleven, she brings the right ounce of innocence, mystery, and pathos to her role that made this show really click for me. Other performances were great as well though I’m somewhat mystified by the whole cult following for the character of Barb who seemed to me like more or less a plot device who didn’t have much screen time or development; But I digress. I suppose my main gripe with this show is it’s main focus on story than character which I suppose is a choice. Most characters are given back stories that aren’t really explored in much meaningful ways (ie. the sheriff’s daughter which is a big motivation for him yet it’s only slightly touched upon near the end in the final episode), but I suppose that’s what serialized television is for, fleshing out its characters, although it was a satisfying conclusion, there was really no need for the open ending. I didn’t have an emotional payoff at the end unlike say in a Spielberg movie, this seems to be going more for a J.J. Abrams mystery box idea, not that there’s anything wrong with that, it in fact out-mystery boxes J.J.Abrams especially when it came to his own 80s cinema homage “8mm”. However this is a nice reminder of what summer blockbusters used to be. 3.5 stars out of 4

3. Cafe Society (2016) Woody Allen’s latest is something maybe I enjoyed more than I was supposed to, or maybe Woody Allen is just taken for granted sometimes, but I found this to be his best film since “Midnight in Paris”. The story involves Jesse Eisenberg as a young man moving from his Jewish family in New York to work for his agent to the stars Uncle (Steve Carrel) in Hollywood. He falls for his Uncle’s assistant (Kristen Stewart), but as in most Woody Allen romances complications arise, and being the writer/director that he is gives him the chance to explore his favorite subject,  the randomness of the universe, and a sort of Godless morality in the world. Allen’s Jewish humor and philosophy are apparent in many of the New York characters which made them very endearing to me. These are obviously themes he likes to come back to time and time again, I don’t see many people exploring them the way he does. The lighting of the film is a thing of beauty as it evokes old Hollywood, Kristen Stewart in particular has never looked more lovely in a film, and Allen is sometimes underrated as a director, but his staging of some scenes is masterfully done.  Also if Stewart and Eisenberg become the new Woody Allen/Diane Keaton pairing in film, that would make me very happy. 3.5 stars out of 4

4. Son of Saul (2015) Last year’s best foreign film Oscar winner is a power film, done in a purely unique way. “Son of Saul” is a holocaust film concerning a “Sonderkommondo”, which is a Jewish person hired by the Nazis to dispose of the bodies of other Jews who were killed in the gas chambers, after which they go through their clothes to collect valuables, they do this for a few weeks, and are killed off as well, these people I don’t think have been touched upon before mainly because there remains so little about them. Saul is one of these workers and we see his journey as he sees one victim of the gas chamber, a young boy who he believes is his son, and he will go to any cost to try and give him a proper Jewish burial, even if it means interrupting a rebellion by his fellow co-workers. Told completely through Saul’s point of view, we only see with his peripheral all the horrors surrounding him. This is a purely visceral film, and although the holocaust has been mined, and exploited for other films, this is one of the best, with an ending that is unforgettable, not to be missed. 4 stars out of 4

5. Chimes at Midnight (1965) Orson Welles’ long lost masterpiece, which, like most of his non-“Citizen Kane” films spent time in a cinematic purgatory has now seen the proper light of day thanks to a reissue from criterion. “Chimes at Midnight” is the story of Falstaff, a character who appeared in a number of Shakespeare plays, which Welles combined to make this poignant and unforgettable cinematic experience. Falstaff is seen as an overweight buffoon to most people but is loved by others mainly by Prince Hal, the son of King Henry IV. The two form a kinship despite the fact that Hal will soon be the new King of England. Welles weaves in Shakespeare’s plays effortlessly as if the Bard wrote this play himself, but it was Welles adapting and modifying it into an unforgettable love story between two men, and an act of betrayal by one them which leads to perhaps Welles’ most heartbreaking scene he has ever filmed. “Chimes at Midnight” was filmed with Welles’ usual small budget he had to work with, but it is a labor of love, it probably contains his finest performance as an actor, and for me it’s the best film experience I’ve had in a long time. Welles was certainly a master and for those who think he only made “Citizen Kane” best seek this out, it is a true treasure to behold. 4 stars out of 4

6.The Immortal Story (1968) Another lost Welles film brought to light by criterion, as you can see Christmas came early for me, even though it left me a little broke for the moment. “The Immortal Story” was a small film which was actually made for French television. Clocking in at only 58 minutes, it tells the story of a wealthy man (Welles) who is intent to create a story he heard once about a woman seduced by a sailor into his own perverse reality. He hires a woman (Jeanne Moreau) and a young sailor (Norman Eshley) to sleep together in his house. The story is bizarre to say the least, but it’s perfect for Welles’ avant guarde touches, and as the film went along, I found it gently moving and surreal. The love scene incidentally is beautifully shot and unlike anything I’ve seen before. It shows that Welles was never out of original ideas. 4 stars out of 4

7. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) An animated film to close out the summer for me. Produced by Laika studios who is probably best known for “Coraline”, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is probably the most visually impressive film I’ve seen all year. Taken from a Japanese folk tale, it’s the story of a young boy who sets off on a quest to find an armour that will protect him from his Grandfather who is a spiritual entity that wants to take away Kubo’s humanity, by plucking out his eyes.On his way Kubo is helped by a charmed monkey (Voiced by Charlise Theron) and a samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey). This is a very dark children’s tale that is really very blunt about the subject of death and the afterlife. It pulls no punches, it’s weird in that very good way Coraline was weird, with beautiful visuals that wash over you. This is a great animated film and a very mature children’s story. Summer may have been a disappointment for some, but along with this, “The BFG”, and very early on with “The Jungle Book”, I’d say it’s been great for children’s films that are just looking for an audience. 4 stars out of 4

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