Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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It's very easy to set up a dichotomy between the Palme d'Or and the Academy Award for Best Picture in that both are prestigious awards that are annually given to what the voting bodies of the respective organisations feel is quite simply the greatest film that the preceding year has yielded. Though the colloquialism "Oscar bait" and variations thereof have seeped into the wider cultural consciousness to describe films where the content seems cynically calculated in order to win Academy Awards, I wonder if this extends to there being such a thing as "Palme bait".
There is and it's called Pretentious Wank.
5-time MoFo Award winner.

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I never heard of Sicario until a couple days ago when I watched the trailer. It looked awesome and your review makes it sound awesome. I'm suddenly psyched to see it.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller was just an average experience for me, but from the moment I shut it off, ive had this urge to watch it again, as if I just had a bad day and I totally missed it. Your review may be the kick in the pants I need to get it done.
Sicario definitely seems like your kind of movie. I certainly liked it more than Prisoners, which was a bit too long for its own good. McCabe and Mrs. Miller is definitely the type of film that takes more than one viewing to fully appreciate but I can see how someone might just dislike it anyway.

There is and it's called Pretentious Wank.
Now, now, you know how I feel about calling things pretentious.
I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.

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#610 - The Martian
Ridley Scott, 2015

When a freak storm causes an astronaut to be presumed dead by his crew and stranded on Mars, he must improvise his own methods of staying alive until help arrives.

I observed a while back that there was something of a trend developing over the past few years where every year gets at least one big space-themed film that is treated as one of the year's most important cinematic events. Last year had Christopher Nolan's save-the-humans epic Interstellar, the year before that had Alfonso Cuarón's taut survival thriller Gravity, and the year before that one gave us Prometheus, Ridley Scott's return to the mythology of his break-through space-horror film Alien. My opinion of each film varies quite wildly, which meant that there wasn't really any telling how 2015's The Martian would pan out. One can pick out how much it not only follows this trend but also incorporates elements of each of those three films. In addition to being directed by Scott, it is like Gravity in that its plot revolves around a single astronaut (Matt Damon) being stranded in space and trying to survive the harsh environment by any means necessary. The most blatant similarity to Interstellar will be immediately obvious to anyone who's seen Nolan's film, but it also covers the complex series of problems that arise as the NASA staff and the other members of Damon's crew must try to deal with rescuing him. However, for better or worse, The Martian does an alright job at defining itself as a separate entity to any of those other films.

After quickly establishing its core premise within a handful of very turbulent minutes, the film then sets up Damon as he gets ready to use his expertise as a botanist in order to grow enough food to survive the four-year wait until the next scheduled mission to Mars. Meanwhile, his activities eventually draw NASA's attention as the staff try to figure out not only how to communicate with him but also how to rescue him - and that's without factoring in their quandary over whether or not to inform the other members of his crew (who still think he is dead and are in the middle of their months-long journey back to Earth). While Damon's early attempts to acclimatise to his situation (both figuratively and literally) are fairly fascinating in their own right, the story soon encounters quite the narrative paradox. On the one hand, there's only so much interest that Damon's isolated problem-solving can generate on its own even with the conflicts caused by malfunctioning equipment and other setbacks. On the other hand, the scenes that don't feature his character are admittedly necessary to the story but that doesn't stop them feeling way too utilitarian as a result. They may be buoyed by quite the collection of dependable actors, but that's only because, deep down, you know they have to be.

Given how much of the film ends up being a one-man show featuring Damon, you'd naturally expect him to pull some serious weight as he more or less has to carry several sequences on his own. To his credit, he does not do a bad job - at least his somewhat comical video-journal narration about his tasks and experiences provide a favourable enough reminder of his against-type work as an eccentric whistleblower in Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!. However, the humour level never quite manages to rise above mild amusement even as his experiments backfire explosively or as he tries to deal with the fact that the only available music is disco (and he hates disco). He's marginally better at selling dramatic moments, such as his steadily growing desperation and frustration in the face of some serious setbacks that leads him to think that, despite his many moments of progress, he still might not get out of his situation alive anyway.

Unfortunately, this does mean that the rest of the cast gets some short shrift as they are left to fill out some fairly archetypal roles, especially the other members of his crew. As the ship captain, Jessica Chastain adequately conveys her guilt over having left a presumably dead Damon behind, while everyone else in the crew gets extremely slim characterisation that is all tempered with the same slightly comic edge afforded to Damon. It is thin to the point where a romantic sub-plot between Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan really does seem to come out of nowhere. At least Michael Peña and Aksel Hennie do alright in their roles as the excitable pilot and deadpan chemist respectively. The people back on Earth gets some rote roles to fill out, with Jeff Daniels serving as the classic conflicted executive trying to pick the least horrible course of action while also clashing with Sean Bean's flight co-ordinator and Chiwetel Ejiofor's engineer. Ejiofor is always a solid actor, even though the fact that he's cast to play a presumably Indian character is definitely a bit of a distraction. Experienced comedic actors such as Kristen Wiig and Donald Glover get some minor yet significant roles that don't really pay off; this is especially true in the case of the latter as he offers the latest in a long line of variations on the eccentric genius stereotype, even though that amounts to little more than making me feel like I'm watching Troy do an impression of Abed.

Fortunately, with Scott behind the camera there is a strong chance that the resulting film will turn out to at least be technically and aesthetically solid. In the case of The Martian, the depictions of both Damon's adventures on the surface on Mars and his crew-mates' journey through space are captured with considerable aplomb. The detail involved in both settings being adequately reflected through the art direction and production design. The craggy red deserts of the planet surface are rendered well, as are the various artificial environments and the cold yet starry vacuum of space. This much extends to the exhaustive amounts of detail put into nearly every aspect of the film, especially when it comes to showing how Damon has to solve problems such as food, water, power, and communication. While the visuals are easily a strong point in the film's favour, this sadly does not extend to the soundtrack. Veteran composer Harry Gregson-Williams creates a sporadically solid score that can easily be ignored, though some of the film's licensed soundtrack choices are a bit questionable. Having Damon be stuck with nothing but disco tunes is amusing enough at first (look no further than the sequence where he attempts to groove along to Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff") but the film's decision to include a montage set to the tune of David Bowie's "Starman" is obviously a bit too on-the-nose and is enough to pull me out of the movie for a bit.

The Martian has an admittedly interesting premise, but it's hamstrung by the fact that it's a little on the long side and fails to provide interesting variations on some very familiar space-mission tropes. While the talent on display is enough to guarantee that the resulting film doesn't feel like an offensively terrible mess, it struggles to provide a film that's consistently strong on its own terms. Watching Damon go about his survival business on the planet surface is definitely engaging to watch, but cutting away from that to showcase NASA's side of the story does seem to drag things out as it follows an extremely standard narrative. A comical approach to the honestly terrifying concept of being stranded on a distant planet is a good direction to take (especially in opposition to the dour extinction narrative presented in Interstellar), but even having Drew Goddard of The Cabin in the Woods infamy adapt Andy Weir's source novel for the screen isn't enough to make for a wholly entertaining adventure. The jokes are passable, whether it's Damon making various snarky comments about his situation or the NASA staff reacting to some of his more outlandish actions. The comical approach doesn't even extend to the film indulging a lot of space-movie clichés, especially considering the fact that there are way too many scenes of people cheering in the mission control room. Such scenes were overused to the point where I was hoping that the film would try to play them for laughs as it did with so many other things. In trying to set itself apart from the overly serious films mentioned earlier in the review, The Martian sadly ends up being more or less the same despite its humourous bent.

I'll read your Martian review once I get around watching it.

Uncle Boonmee sounds extremely interesting, but I could easily see myself feeling the same as you, when a lot of the movie just doesn't live up the the visuals or overall style of the film.

Have you seen the latest Palme d'Or winner? I thought it sounded rather mediocre, so I'm interested in whether or not it would be worth checking out.

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Have you seen the latest Palme d'Or winner? I thought it sounded rather mediocre, so I'm interested in whether or not it would be worth checking out.
Dheepan? I have not. I don't usually get to see Palme d'Or winners, if only because a lot of the foreign-language ones are a bit hard to get a hold of.

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#613 - The Avengers
Jeremiah Chechik, 1998

An English gentleman spy joins forces with a scientist when a wealthy megalomaniac plans to hold the world to ransom.

There is a scene in 2014's Kingsman: The Secret Service where Colin Firth's umbrella-wielding gentleman spy remarks that the most recent crop of spy movies have gotten too serious for his liking and that he'd prefer over-the-top theatricality any day. I wonder what he'd make of The Avengers, the big-screen Hollywood remake of the cult British TV series about a gentleman spy and his female assistant who get into all sorts of adventures. The film retains this much of its premise at least, with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman playing the spy and assistant respectively. They are made to team up when Thurman is accused of conducting corporate espionage on the top-secret project she's working on. This turns out to be part of an elaborate master plan being conducted by a retired spy (Sean Connery), who plans to use the project to hold the world to ransom. From there, Fiennes and Thurman must confront any number of threats not just from Connery and his henchmen but also from potential moles within their agency.

The Avengers is pretty much exactly the sort of trainwreck that its incredibly dire reputation made it out to be. Fiennes and Thurman have a glaring lack of chemistry with one another that makes every single scene they share an endurance test. Casting Connery as a supervillain is an admirable bit of stunt-casting that also ends up being the sole redeeming quality of this film as you get to see him chew scenery in many ridiculous situations. The most memorable of these is the token "evil council" scene (complete with quitters who are promptly murdered) where everyone preserves their anonymity by...dressing up as rainbow-coloured teddy bears. Yes, really. I had to put in an extra picture because that extremely bizarre visual is also one of the only remarkable things about this movie and I feel that you all need to see it.

Of course, that and other moments of fantastic weirdness are not nearly enough to redeem this complete mess of a film. It's mercifully short but that means it has signs of being chopped up pretty severely in the editing room. The film's more fantastic moments of fiction are not only rendered with horribly dated effects work but fail to amuse even on those grounds. The writing is awful, whether it's turning Thurman into a Strong Female Character to contend with stuffy British sexism (who also embodies a minor cliché in that the reason she is a capable fighter is because her father wanted a son), besides which she channels the same seductive purring that actually worked better when she was playing Poison Ivy. The action lacks any genuine thrills and the attempts to temper a 1960s setting with 1990s edge results in a painful clash of sensibilities. While there is the odd unintentionally amusing moment, The Avengers is still quite the cinematic travesty. Despite its outlandish tale of spy fiction complete with weather-controlling machines and evil clones, it's a frequently dull excuse for a film and you really are better off not watching it.

28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
I loved the book The Martian, so I'm hoping the film is HALF as good.
"A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it's the only weapon we have."

Suspect's Reviews

While The Avengers is awful, fans of the lovely Uma should watch it. Especially as she's a red head in it.

And the clothing is quite fun, too.

While The Avengers is awful, fans of the lovely Uma should watch it. Especially as she's a red head in it.

And the clothing is quite fun, too.

Why watch it when one could just search for snapshots on the Internet.

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Bah, just realised that I missed out on films #611 and #612, probably due to the fact that they were re-watches of films that I've already reviewed. In any case...

#611 - Yojimbo - Review

#612 - A Fistful of Dollars
- Review

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#614 - Rio Bravo
Howard Hawks, 1959

The sheriff in a small frontier town arrests a man for murder but soon has to contend with the man's brother planning to break him out.

Out of all the John Wayne movies I've seen, I'd say that Rio Bravo is probably the most out-and-out fun to watch. I'd still say that The Searchers is the best (and The Shootist is surprisingly great as well), but while those films are good, they tend to be largely dramatic affairs where any comic elements serve to provide the levity necessary to preventing the films in question becoming too dark and miserable. Rio Bravo deftly avoids this, though it's not without its fair share of weight underneath its simple narrative. Wayne plays the sheriff of a Texas town who arrests a man (Claude Akins) for murder in the film's opening sequence. The plan is to hold * in the town's jail and wait for the U.S. marshals to cart him off to prison. Unfortunately, it turns out that the man's brother (John Russell) is the unfortunate combination of vindictive and wealthy; he has a plan to spring his brother from jail and, while he's not quite willing to outright murder Wayne, he's still willing to try every trick in the book to get his brother back. Wayne's attempts to maintain the peace in the face of this conflict are complicated by the fact that he has only two deputies, an old man with a limp (Walter Brennan) and the town drunk (Dean Martin). This provides enough conflict on its own, but where Rio Bravo excels is in is filling its considerable running time (roughly two hours and twenty minutes) with anything and everything that can help the film rise above its basic premise.

One of the most memorable things I've heard about Rio Bravo came from superfan Quentin Tarantino, who praised it as one of his favourite films because of how the strength of its characterisation created a film that proved endlessly rewatchable as a result. While actors as famous as Wayne or Martin don't exactly disappear into their characters, that doesn't make them any less watchable. Wayne provides an appropriate mix of taciturn authority and comical camaraderie underneath his trademark mannerisms, while Martin makes for one of the film's stand-out performances as the alcoholic deputy who is struggling to overcome his personal demons in order to help out Wayne. This is a very believable character arc and Martin spends much of the film avoiding his charming Rat Pack persona as he plays a man who is convinced that he doesn't deserve a second chance even when he gets one. The other obvious stand-out is Brennan, who has the most overtly comical role as the grouchy old deputy whose slowness results in Wayne making him Akins' guard for pretty much the entire film. His high-pitched voice and garbled dialogue may be filling a familiar Western stereotype, but he does it to perfection and becomes the ideal comic relief with his fast-paced one-liners. Veteran character actor Ward Bond shows up as a wagon driver who is a close friend of Wayne's while pretty-boy singer-actor Ricky Nelson delivers a good performance as one of Bond's employees who turns out to be pretty good with a gun and joins Wayne's cause soon enough. In the middle of all this machismo, Angie Dickinson plays a resident of the local hotel who has a chequered past and naturally acts flirtatious towards Wayne despite the obvious age difference and Wayne's belligerent resistance to her advances. It could have been an unforgiving role but Dickinson makes it work rather well.

The characterisation is easily Rio Bravo's greatest strength, but that doesn't mean that the rest of it isn't solid as well. The writing is well-done, pacing out the action with various well-timed moments of interpersonal conflict. The dialogue in particular is cleverly crafted with every character being capable of shooting off snappy one-liners or heartfelt allusions to their inner complexities. Veteran director Hawks knows how to shoot scenes with an eye for what is necessary, be it sharp exchanges or suspenseful pursuits. The music is pretty standard given the genre and era, though it's a credit to this film that the inevitable singing sequence between Martin and Nelson comes off as natural and plot-relevant rather than a cheesy momentum-killing nod to the duo's most famous talents. Hawks doesn't skimp on the action, manufacturing careful moments of suspense (such as the scene where Wayne and Martin follow a murder suspect into the local bad-guy bar) and action (the film's very taut and explosive finale). The various elements combine to make Rio Bravo one of the most utterly charming old-school Westerns to ever exist where even the most dated or difficult elements (such as Wayne and Dickinson's romantic sub-plot or the film stopping dead to have not one but two songs) only add to what makes the film fun rather than make it seem hokey. Though I've had some issues with Wayne films in the past, this is a film that manages to not only avoid a lot of my usual problems with the man but also makes for a very watchable adventure in the process.

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#615 - Apache
Robert Aldrich, 1954

The last Apache native rejects the offer to live on a reservation with other natives and instead goes on his own journey that puts him outside the law.

On the one hand, it's nice to see that even in 1954 Hollywood was willing to afford a degree of sympathy to the Native American population that was displaced by European settlers expanding throughout North America. On the other hand, one can't help but question the decision to cast Burt Lancaster as one such native. Even after taking into account the fact that Lancaster himself had a producing credit and was presumably instrumental in this film getting made, it's just a bit too difficult to truly buy him in the role for obvious reasons. It's a shame because it is pretty clear that Lancaster is trying to do the story justice through his steely-eyed depiction of Massai, the so-called last Apache who rebels after the surrender of chief Geronimo to the white man towards the end of the 19th century. Though Massai manages to break away from his captors, he struggles to cope with life as a dispossessed Native; he obviously can't trust the whites but there are plenty of instances where his attempts to reconnect with other natives prove just as difficult.

On a technical level, Apache is a pretty standard Western that does well to capture the period's details while also providing crisp shots of the various landscapes. The film is a lean one, which does work against it a bit, especially when so much time is given over to a romantic sub-plot unfolding between Massai and a native woman (Jean Peters) who he has kidnapped for complicated reasons. The implications of such a situation do make it difficult to appreciate said situation's development (especially during the finale). It's a pretty boring excuse for a Western at times, though it does make up for it with the occasional moment of action; if nothing else, the climax is handled fairly well. Apache isn't horrible, but it's not an easy film to enjoy despite the apparent dedication on display. Even if I were to leave aside the unfortunate implications of having the stories of Native Americans be told through the use of white actors buried under layers of bronzer or the romance having shades of Stockholm Syndrome, that still wouldn't redeem what is ultimately a mediocre Western despite its good intentions.

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#616 - Human Traffic
Justin Kerrigan, 1999

Five British friends get together in order to escape their dead-end jobs and party away the weekend.

Human Traffic is quite possibly one of the most polarising films I've ever watched. Writer-director Kerrigan was only twenty-five when he made this film, resulting in a film that is equally ingenious and insipid in its portrait of youth culture in '90s Britain. The film follows a group of five twenty-something friends as they put up with their largely unsatisfying day-to-day lives in anticipation of the weekend, where they are free to let loose and party. Each one gets a degree of development that serves to define them; the film's protagonist (John Simm) is preoccupied with his insecurities about failed relationships, while his easygoing best friend (Shaun Parkes) is dangerously jealous of his innocently flirtatious girlfriend (Nicola Reynolds). Rounding the core ensemble is a snarky student (Lorraine Pilkington) and a young drug dealer (Danny Dyer). They all come together on Friday evening in order to head through a weekend of drugs and music where they hit up pubs, clubs, and house parties in order to forget their many worries. It's a pretty basic plot but Kerrigan is able to round it out by having the members of this particularly cynical and alienated generation articulate their inner angst and dreams through an awareness of the cinematic medium, with multiple characters directly addressing the camera and seguing into various fantasy spots as a result.

The reason that I find Human Traffic so polarising is that its portrayal of youth culture (which is rooted in Kerrigan's own experiences as a member of Britain's 1990s rave scene) is so rooted in self-awareness that it constantly alternates between endearing and grating. Scenes where character have imaginary conversations play out do expose certain relatable insecurities (such as Simm's encounter with his ex-girlfriend), but they are just as likely to result in off-colour fantasy spots (including one where Simm imagines himself literally being raped by his boss). This extends to characters processing real-life events through understandable media such as one young character's understanding of the club scene playing out like a current-affairs program or the rigours involved in obtaining marijuana being framed like a game show. Sometimes, these moments get a little too indulgent for their own good; the most obvious instance of this is Simm leading an entire pub into singing an awfully on-the-nose lyrical parody of "God Save the Queen". It is a film that's almost entirely built on artifice with characters breaking the fourth wall constantly or blatantly unnatural motions serving to break any possible immersion. Sometimes that's in service to the film and its characters' cynical perception of reality, but that doesn't mean it doesn't look sophomoric as hell sometimes (such as Reynolds perceiving the co-workers at her fast food job as thoughtless automatons). While this does ironically make its portrait of alienated young people seem even more alienating in its own right, one can sort of tolerate it; then again, I'm currently the same age as Kerrigan was when he made this film and I can still see through its logistics so any depth on display is still pretty shallow). Attempts to reach some degree of transcendence (such as Simm's monologue about what it's like to be on ecstasy) still fall a bit flat, though.

Though it's easy to see through the incredibly basic treatise presented in Human Traffic (as well as some of the characters' more ridiculous qualities, such as Simm openly revering stand-up comedian Bill Hicks as a patron saint), I can't help but deny that there is something inherently solid about the film. It accurately captures the ways in which even assembling with your closest friends for a weekend of relentless hedonism is no guarantee against feelings of loneliness and insecurity. Making instant friends with strangers under the influence of some less-than-legal substances is also shown to not pan out as one would expect in the movies, especially when Dyer's attempts to interpret the original Star Wars trilogy through a stoner lens for a stranger's amusement putters out awfully quickly. Of course, this does mean that various conflicts are also resolved or dropped with relative ease, such as Parkes' jealousy or Simm's inadequacies, which is admittedly a concession to the fantasies that the characters indulge for themselves. The fantastic nature of things does get a little too ridiculous, such as the sequence where Simm bluffs his way into scoring free entry to an extremely exclusive club.

Human Traffic has a rather interesting visual style thanks to its director's relative inexperience, with shots tending towards the static with the occasional moment of flourish when it comes to camera movement of positioning. This also extends to the editing that quickly jumps between fantasies and non sequiturs, resulting in a rather patchy film as a result. As with any sub-culture film, considerable attention is paid to providing the best possible music and the film indulges a wide variety of electronically-based genres such as house, electro, jungle, gangsta rap, and more. The comedy varies quite wildly - Dyer's thickly-accented character steals the show quite easily ("Nice one, bruva!"), while the other characters vary pretty wildly in how interesting or likable they are. While I've seen it a few times now, I'm still not sure whether or not I truly enjoy it. The film is erratic and thus it might click with me one minute before proving obnoxious the next. As such, I can't quite give it a good rating but I think my feelings about it are too complex to adequately sum up in a numerical rating. One of the most ambivalent cinematic experiences I can think of.

I've had Gurren Lagann on my Netflix watchlist for a while now, but I did not know it was created by the same person who did Dead Leaves. Though I didn't give this film the most favourable rating, I still reckon I'd like to give it a chance. Not so sure about Kill La Kill, though.
Kill la Kill is widely regarded as being great, one of the best series of its year. I found it pretty amazing, not quote the level of awesomeness of Gurren Lagann which is frankly, impossible to match. Both are way above the level of Dead Leaves, which was more experimental stuff for Imaishi.

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#617 - The Counselor
Ridley Scott, 2013

A legal counselor becomes wrapped up in a complicated plot involving the Mexican drug cartel.

After having a few of his novels adapted into films (the most notable one naturally being the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men), Cormac McCarthy decided to take a stab at writing an original screenplay. The result is The Counselor, so named after its protagonist (Michael Fassbender) who is only ever referred to as "counselor". As the movie begins, he's in a good place - he's about to propose to his girlfriend (Penélope Cruz) and making good money as a lawyer. Even so, he decides to team up with an associate (Javier Bardem) on not only building and running a club together but also on joining Bardem in his drug-dealing activities. From there, Fassbender and the various other characters are caught up in a ruthless game as they play off against one another and try to avoid unwanted attention from the cartel, especially in the case of Bardem's girlfriend (Cameron Diaz) who soon launches some criminal schemes of her own. It's a convoluted excuse for a thriller that naturally indulges McCarthy's tendencies towards verbose cynicism and violent nihilism, but one wonders if that's enough to save the film.

In short, it's really not. Despite the talent on display, it's mostly wasted. In my experience McCarthy protagonists are typically supposed to be passive and reactive to their increasingly dangerous crises and they are never the most important part of the story, but that's taken a bit too far with Fassbender turning out a pretty unremarkable performance, as does Cruz as his love interest. At the other end of the spectrum there are Bardem and Diaz, who take their characters in vastly different directions to equally unimpressive effect. At least Bardem has enough talent to sell his character, a fashion-victim criminal who is a cocky yet paranoid playboy that is far removed from his iconic No Country contract killer. He is paired with Diaz, who is the weak link in the main cast as she delivers a rather underwhelming performance even when it extends to the infamous scene where she gets extremely physical with a car windshield. Rounding out the top billing is Brad Pitt as an associate of Bardem's who actually makes for a fairly decent vessel for McCarthy's portentous ruminations between his sleazy drawling and all-white cowboy outfit. Other recognisable actors are peppered throughout but they don't get much of note to do beyond serve as glorified cameos.

One does wonder if McCarthy was deliberately trying to exaggerate the most distinctive qualities of his writing for the sake of cinema, but the results are extremely inconsistent in terms of actually being entertaining. When the film's not indulging some absurd moments of sex and violence (aside from Diaz's car "ride", there's an instance of a hitman setting up a lethal trap straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon), it's featuring characters interacting with one another through such quasi-philosophical exchanges that fluctuate between gripping and boring. Despite some more darkly comical moments, it's a fundamentally grim affair in such a way that doesn't translate to consistently compelling entertainment. The film tries to make its strength out of the fatalistic examination of the criminal underworld and the people that either live in it or are simply passing through, but that's often shown up by the more graphically straightforward scenes (such as one scene involving a hitman's horrific contraption that is distinctive in a way that suggests it's aiming to stand out for its unorthodox nature like the cattle-gun from No Country). Respectable journeyman Scott goes about filming the proceedings in an extremely straightforward way with no real distinctions in terms of style, though he does lend the requisite energy to what I suppose could be considered action sequences. The Counselor is a very difficult film to like and I do have to wonder if it was by design (even though it probably wasn't). It's always a little disappointing to see an artist create a work that seems like self-parody or a fan's misguided homage, but the talent on display is just good enough to stop it from being a total disaster.

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#618 - Enemy
Denis Villeneuve, 2013

A college professor discovers that he has an identical double who works as a small-time actor.

It's interesting to see a director follow up their fairly accessible mainstream breakthrough with a film that seems deliberately engineer to alienate any newfound fans. Just as Nicolas Winding Refn followed up his slick crime thriller Drive with the incredibly difficult Only God Forgives, so too does Denis Villeneuve follow up the respectable ensemble drama of Prisoners with a weird little film called Enemy. The premise seems slightly familiar; college professor Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is leading a fairly boring life where the only issue is his emotionally distant relationship with his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent). While watching a film recommended to him by a stranger, Adam notices that one of the background extras looks exactly like him. He soon discovers that the extra (Gyllenhaal again) is a small-time actor named Anthony, who lives in the same city with his pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon). Adam becomes a bit obsessed with the implications of Anthony's existence, struggling to think about how to handle the situation - meanwhile, when Anthony learns of the same thing he also starts to change...

I give Enemy credit for trying to offer an unorthodox mystery film that's built on an extremely minimal cast and script. There's also a lot to be said for the sickly colour scheme that only ever seems to consist of different shades of yellow (occasionally veering into light orange or light green), plus some significant use of light-dark contrast that evokes Roger Deakins' style even without his presence. Gyllenhaal pulls some strong double-duty as the vastly different doppelgangers, though he arguably works better as the neurotic Adam more so than the confident Anthony. Both performances are decent enough to compensate for a lack of other characters, though Laurent and Gadon do well enough in comparatively small roles as Adam and Anthony's respective partners. There's even a bit part for Isabella Rosselini as Adam's mother, which she naturally does well despite having a couple of minutes on-screen. Of course, thanks to the inherent vagueness of the central identity-crisis plot it struggles to be consistently compelling or intriguing across its extremely brief running time. Enemy does throw in the odd surprise here and there but it is ultimately a pretty standard excuse for an experimental thriller.