A consistently rewarding 31 days, July marked the beginning of a much-needed film-watching resurgence, suitably prefacing my second trip to TIFF next month. This in mind, I plan on posting a pre-festival entry toward the end of August detailing my four-day, ten-film lineup, so stay tuned for that and the actual coverage to follow!
Despite being far from a horror connoisseur, I at least know a thing or two about the floundering state of the genre as a whole, witnessing on several occasions the trite, gore-splattered and lamebrained tropes that have steadily replaced that of the elegantly effective. Fortunately, James Wan returns with a predictably sleep-depriving account of a true-life paranormal investigative couple’s most malevolent case study to date. Employing the familiarly tense slow-build characteristic of the realm of the worthwhile, Wan’s assured technical flourishes and relentlessly perspicacious atmosphere compliment the script’s intelligence and emotionality wonderfully, the combination of which has produced one of the most genuinely terrifying and well-rounded genre entries to come about in quite a while. Full review here.
At first glance, Smashed is an age-old case of what you see is what you get – a high-functioning alcoholic schoolteacher (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) strives to better herself as her condition worsens, her husband’s (Aaron Paul) hard-drinking ways proving only to be a hindrance. Countless examples of identical topical relevance aside, Smashed is itself a powerfully acted and agreeably affecting portrait of this afflicted individual, the perils of secretive alcoholism and mostly indifferent loved ones rearing their ugly heads at frequent intervals along Kate’s road to recovery. It’s a simple pleasure, yes, however Ponsoldt’s sensitivity regarding the handling of the central subject is enough to warrant a recommendation for those fond of good ol’ fashioned human drama.
Jim Sheridan’s homeland-centric sense of pride has time and again reinforced the importance of niche filmmakers – those that excel in artfully creating or recreating scenarios specific to their country’s canon of historical significance. Focusing on one Danny Flynn (Daniel Day-Lewis), recently released from prison following his supposed involvement with the IRA, the young man struggles to re-assimilate himself into the local community via reconciling with a former flame and pursuing his undying pastime. Benchmarked by a sheer sense of unrest among all involved and the strained dynamic between key players, The Boxer is as much a tale of one man’s quest for redemption and love lost and regained as it is a gripping chronicle of IRA-induced civil and political turmoil at an important time in Ireland’s history.
Deeply resonating as a captivating, stylish debut for Clooney as a director, Confessions is based on the autobiography of one Chuck Barris – a man that found fame in spawning some of the most reviled but avidly viewed programming on television… all while moonlighting as a hitman for the CIA. An admittedly fascinating character, Barris – while brilliantly portrayed by Sam Rockwell – provides for an agreeably entertaining if idiosyncratic tale that’s immediately memorable. From resiliency resulting in achieved infamy within the industry he first broke into and troublesome womanizing to the conniving means of obtaining a second paycheck, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is filmmaking of its type done right – a fascinating character study regardless of the truth behind its more unbelievable aspects.
Thematically simplistic but hard-hitting all the same, Fruitvale Station is evocative almost to a fault, remaining consistently bittersweet as the hours leading up to Oscar Grant’s untimely death are lovingly retold. All things civil rights-related considered, Ryan Coogler’s feature debut is a consistently unbiased account of the fateful night in question, the film never ceasing to engage as the would-be reformed protagonist at its core is expertly portrayed, flaws and all. Full review here.
Other first-time viewings (in alphabetical order):
The Inbetweeners Movie (Palmer, ’11)
Only God Forgives (Refn, ’13)
Pacific Rim (Del Toro, ’13)
V/H/S/2 (Barrett, Eisener, Evans, Hale, Sánchez, Tjahjanto & Wingard, ’13)
The Way, Way Back (Faxon & Rash, ’13)
The Wolverine (Mangold, ’13)
Total number of films watched: 12