My November ’15 in Review

The time for to binge catch up with the deluge of awards contenders is upon us. I’ve yet to embark upon this unwieldy endeavor myself, what with other preoccupations detracting enough from my viewing habits to pose a potential problem. I’ll be hunkering down in the year’s remaining weeks, if only to produce my annual year-end list in a timely enough fashion. Here’s to the fruitful twilight of a year that’s passed by quicker than I hoped it would, if only due to a lack of desirable warmth in a region where seasonal depression tends to reek havoc on yours truly.



Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015)

On paper, Creed seemed like another wave-riding dose of nostalgia meant to reboot the nearly forty-year-old Rocky franchise. It merely places the lovable underdog in the role of mentor to his rival-turned-friend Apollo’s son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), the latter of whom is unaware of his biological link to this legacy. As he consciously pushes toward establishing himself as a credible fighter without the help of his surname, the touching codependency between Adonis and Rocky yields something more substantial than athletic superstardom alone.

As with Fruitvale Station, Coogler forgoes narrative contrivances in favor of human authenticity and corresponding themes. Creed uses its accessibility to its utmost advantage to epitomize its importance as a truly affecting piece of cinema, from Adonis’ troubled humble beginnings to his tackling his aspirations head-on. The familiarity of his desire to pave his own way notwithstanding, Jordan and Stallone’s chemistry pair wonderfully with the film’s organically evolving, moreover entirely involving trajectory along Adonis’ climb to the top.

You either will or won’t fall victim to the film’s more rudimentary charms as an entirely emotional experience, but Creed‘s merits extend beyond its wonderfully realized characters to a staggering uniqueness of presentation. The oft-discussed single-take fight sequence comes to mind, of which is brilliantly staged on account of this conceit and the physical commitment put forth by Jordan’s Adonis and his opponents. Rarely has boxing looked this good onscreen, not to mention how Coogler’s touch bolsters a climactic sequence characteristic of this sporting niche, elevating the bout above predecessors’ frequently rote finales.

Creed is above all an emotionally resonant revival of the canon Stallone attempted to close out with 2006’s agreeably entertaining Rocky Balboa. It coasts amiably along thanks to the superb chemistry on display that’s often the crutch on which a uncomplicated narrative rests. Adonis and Rocky’s joint journey upward, although nostalgic on account of the latter’s association, doesn’t lean too heavily on nods to the franchise’s past to instead establish a singularly functional branch of Stallone’s brainchild.

My July ’13 in Review

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!

The Conjuring 2The Conjuring (James Wan, 2013)

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.

SmashedSmashed (James Ponsoldt, 2012)

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.

The BoxerThe Boxer (Jim Sheridan, 1997)

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.

Confessions of a Dangerous MindConfessions of a Dangerous Mind (George Clooney, 2002)

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.

Fruitvale Station 2Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler, 2013)

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.

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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)


Looper (Johnson, ’12)

Total number of films watched: 12

Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler, 2013)

Earnestly recreating the final day in the life of one Oscar Grant, Fruitvale Station is an immediately and relentlessly stirring portrait of said individual, offering us an unbiased glimpse behind the curtain as he bounces around attempting to get a jump-start on his New Year’s resolution. Having spent time in prison one year prior, Oscar’s vow to himself and his loved ones to turn over a new leaf rings authentic, the film remaining admirably unbiased as the tragic immediacy of life is simultaneously chronicled.

What with the obviousness of a civil rights scandal staring us dead in the face at frequent intervals, Coogler’s deft ability to sidestep favoritism helps paint Oscar as uniquely affected individual – a 22-year-old product of his environment, dealing drugs to make a quick buck if only to support his girlfriend and young daughter. Splicing the troubled aspects of his life together with the good, Fruitvale Station is an astonishingly well-rounded character drama that rings frighteningly bittersweet as images of impending tragedy linger perpetually in our minds.

While it’s easy to shrug the film off as ordinary given its topical if exceedingly emotional simplicity, Fruitvale Station is anything but as Michael B. Jordan’s passionate turn remains above and beyond the year’s absolute best. Alternately deprecating tragic violence and celebrating the memory of the all-too-young central subject, Ryan Coogler’s feature-length debut is fiercely atypical in its depiction of true events. Evoking a level of crushing distress within me I’ve rarely felt while watching anything, Fruitvale Station is an artfully constructed cinematic triumph that’s worthy of every inch of praise.