Monty Python’s Life of Brian
The Iron Lady
Message from Space
The Cabin in the Woods
God Bless America
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
This Island Earth
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
In the Loop
STATS (for month / for year)
Seen theatrically: 4 / 15
Seen at home: 10 / 46
New films: 9 / 39
Rewatches: 5 / 22
Best movie — The Cabin in the Woods
While Melancholia feels like the weightier, more important film, nothing I watched in April gave me more sheet filmgoing pleasure than The Cabin in the Woods. Like Galaxy Quest, it’s a film whose love for the subject matter comes through even as it’s poking fun at it. And it’s one of those rare films that starts off good, veers into greatness, and then somehow finds another gear beyond that into some nether realm of complete and total joy. It’s almost as if you can see the moment where co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard looked at each other and said, “What the hell, let’s do it.” And I’m so very glad they did.
Honorable mention: Melancholia
Worst movie — Message from Space
Sorry to bag on the Japanese two months in a row, but take a look at that line-up and find me a worse film than this Star Wars mash-up. The cast is certainly game — Sonny Chiba in particular — and the special effects are that typically quirky Japanese blend of wild imagination and practical limitation. But the plot is just a never-ending series of “And then they went here” vignettes, and it all builds to a climax that feels more obligatory than earned. For a piece of childhood nostalgia it was certainly fun, but as a piece of cinema, it just can’t stand up to the rest of the month.
Dishonorable mention: None. Really good month this time around.
Biggest surprise — Bronson
I liked Nicolas’ Winding Refn’s Drive just fine, if not as much as some people did. But I was completely blown away by his earlier film Bronson. Not so much a story as a tone poem of anger, it’s held together by a completely mesmerizing performance by Tom Hardy in the title role. Hardy is absolutely fearless here, willing to literally and figuratively bare himself as he gets completely immersed in a maelstrom of exuberant rage in the role of a man who seems to know he’s better off caged away from the rest of society. Bronson is brutal but vibrant, a film whose violence is simultaneously abhorrent yet exhilarating. Which, when you think about it, is at the core of why we’re both fascinated and repulsed by it.
Honorable mention: Submarine
Biggest disappointment — The Pirates! Band of Misfits
I’m reluctant to use the term “disappointment” here, because this is still miles better than a lot of the animated fare that tramps its way through multiplexes in a given year. Aardman couldn’t make a bad-looking film if they tried, and they’ve really outdone themselves here, from the animation to the character models to the insanely detailed backgrounds and miniature sets. On a technical level, this is a grand slam. I just wish the story had held up its end of the bargain. It’s certainly charming, but never quite reaches the dizzying heights of invention of Chicken Run‘s escape from the pie machine or Curse of the Were-Rabbit‘s King Kong homage of an ending. A grand finale is hinted at with the appearance of Queen Victoria’s steampunk nightmare of a ship, but the film ultimately resolves itself on a very small scale. Which is fine, I suppose, but when you’ve got pirates in your movie, I guess I expect a little more. And really, this is just a disappointment in comparison to the rest of the month.
Dishonorable mention: None. I need more cinematic Aprils in my year.
Speaking of Nicolas Winding Refn, I fired up Valhalla Rising on Netflix without remembering that he directed it as well. There’s a sparse, stark beauty to it, miles removed from the neon sheen of Drive, but there’s a sort of kinship between One-Eye and Driver, two men who are supremely good at what they do and who find themselves somewhat alone because of it. Refn certainly isn’t afraid to let his visuals speak for themselves, especially since the main character never speaks at all, but sometimes that leads to long, plodding shots of characters simply staring off in various directions that almost shout their attempted significance at you. Still, it’s a strong, uncompromising vision, particularly in how it depicts the mixture of wonder and terror that must have filled those who set foot in the New World for the first time.
Melancholia also has a languid pace, but it felt more in keeping with the film’s exploration of depression. Despite its premise — a rogue planet named Melancholia approaching Earth — I’m reluctant to call this a science fiction or disaster film, since its focus is much more on Kirsten Dunst’s character dealing with her emotions, with the planet more a physical representation of them than an actual threat. We’re even told at the beginning of the film that Earth bites it in the end, so rather than feeling tension over whether or not we survive, we instead feel a sense of impending dread and futility, which is a perfect evocation of depression. It’s a tough film, not for everyone, but certainly worth watching.
One day, I want to see Deadwood‘s Al Swearengen and In the Loop‘s Malcolm Tucker have an 8 Mile-style profanity battle. The results would be glorious to behold.
I didn’t see as much at the Florida Film Festival as I would have liked, only God Bless America and a free screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I had a ticket for a midnight screening of John Dies in the End, but by 11:00 that I knew I wouldn’t be able to give any film a fair chance that evening. Still, from my two experiences with it, the Enzian put on a great, well-organized event, one that I fully intend to dive deeper into next year.
You can all look forward to the end of my griping about not being able to see The Avengers, as it finally opens in the US this Friday. It’s been a monster in the foreign box office so far, and none of the reactions I’ve read lead me to believe it’ll disappoint here as well. The following week brings us Dark Shadows, which I’m strangely looking forward to much more than I thought. But the ramp up to Memorial Day weekend and the official start of the summer movie season seems kind of muted to me, with Battleship and MIB3 leading the way. But the actual holiday weekend sees the release of Snow White and the Hunstman, which seems like it has something for both sides of the gender divide, and which at the very least has an amazing visual style going for it. And Charlize Theron bathing in milk, which is always a plus.