Recently Beheld: July 7-13th, 2014

Nothing about the promotion of Earth to Echo gave me much hope until a friend recommended that I (a found footage connoisseur) give it a shot. I'm glad I did as this is one of the best films my childhood never had. It's remarkably clever, especially amongst its faux documentary peers, and turns from the cynicism and edginess that other "films for tweens" resort to. There's much in common here with Super 8 and I'd say it's nearly as good!


Shiri (1999)

Ascribed as one the progenitors of the glorious Korean New Wave that we're still riding high, Shiri has caught my eye for some time. Finally seeing it filled me with comprehension while still being a bit of a let down. It features all-star cast (Choi Min-sik, Song Kang-ho and Kim Yunjin) for its pertinent narrative of the divided Korea and the spies that bind them, but feels instantly dated due to its '80s action film sensibilities. The choppy editing during all the excitement feels completely at odds with the true aims of the film. 


The Proposition (2005)

Revisiting John Hillcoat's Aussie Western after some years away was like seeing it for the first time. I hope that this time around I will maintain how brilliant yet utterly barbarous this film is. Australia may be second only to the American West for my favorite of the genre's stage. The Proposition proves the encounters with the aborigines can be just as thematically rich as with the Native Americans. This tale of brothers and the lawman who must judge betwixt them is appropriately muddled and merciless. Oh, and how many other times has the person responsible for the script provided the soundtrack? It's hard to tell what came first, but Nick Cave's work here is masterful.


Honeymoon (2014)

A pair of newlyweds celebrate their honeymoon at a cabin in the woods and nothing could possibly go wrong... When the wife disappears in the middle of the night and the husband finds her standing in a nearby thicket, completely naked and in a daze, the cause for concern begins and never lets up. Honeymoon relies on the strengths of Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway, I was held in perpetual suspense up until its final gross-out scenes. The locations and characters are few and I feel like this should adapted to the stage.


Begin Again (2014)

Alongside many who fell for Once at once, I've been eagerly awaiting its spiritual follow-up from writer/director John Carney. There's much more fat on the bones here than in his (extremely) indie debut, but Carney manages to bring much of the heart we felt and heard nearly a decade ago. The film boasts a larger cast with recognizable names, including a head-turning performance by Maroon 5's Adam Levine. It often feels like we're just waiting for the next song to play, but there are magical moments throughout.


Wolf Creek (2005)

When two female tourists and a hunk from Sydney find themselves stranded in the Outback, we know exactly where the film is heading when an eccentric bushman stops by in the middle of the night to help them out. For all its predictability and familiarity (at least for any aware of decades-worth of slasher flicks), Wolf Creek held my attention with the believable performances of the three friends and the naturalistic filmmaking Greg Mclean adhered to. When the victims become screen-screaming dunces I was able to transfer my investment upon John Jarratt's performance as Mick Taylor. He's like Freddy Krueger rolled into Crocodile Dundee sprinkled with a Rowan Atkinson-like goofiness. Lesser films would not be able to withstand such shifts and give the audience adequate reason to root for both sides. Take this with its great use of the Down Under and you have a genre film worth any horror junkie's time. It's one I certianly need to add to my library.

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

I don't know if I have ever seen a sequel as improved and superior as this one. That's less a dismissal of the solid Rise of the Planet of the Apes and more of a celebration of what we have here. Visual storytelling has not been this strong in a Hollywood blockbuster since Spielberg was in his heyday. Caesar and his ape army are what the long and somewhat dated paths of CGI characters have been working towards. Rekindle your hope in big-budget filmmaking and seek this out at a nearby theater, stat!

 

Jigoku (1960)

Few films depict the "after life," fewer film drag you straight down to Hell. After committing a hit-and-run, Shiro is filled with undying guilt. The first half of the film depicts him and the "sinners" around him etching out the borders of their mortality, each coming to an untimely demise. The final chapters are terrific visualizations of the torture awaiting them below. This is a beautifully brutal cautionary tale that has all the eeriness of its contemporary Japanese ghost stories and the striking (far from realistic) style that ensures the imagery will be filed away in our minds, whether we like it or not.


Layover (2014)

Joshua Caldwell's feature-length directorial debut is the first in the promised "LAX trilogy" and follows a Parisian woman during her 12-hour layover period in Los Angeles. For me, the film captured a familiar city anew through the eyes of a foreigner, with some of the best realistic depictions of nighttime Los Angeles this side of Collateral. Nathalie Fay and Karl E. Landler emerge as alluring and charismatic stars. Along with Caldwell, it is clear from Layover that all three are "going places" as they say.


In Summation: 

Since seeing The Rover (my #1 film of the year thus far, though Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is in serious consideration), I've been drawn to further explore Australian cinema, one of my countless blind spots. Wolf Creek and The Proposition are just the (admittedly recent) foot of the mountain. It's amazing how such a massive and demanding landmass has managed to elude my cinematic studies for the most part. I feel I am not alone. It seems that this is also due to the relatively few number of films from/made there.

This week's bunch is a testament to how acting can make or break a film. And in a rare case of events, each film here was significantly aided by some remarkable onscreen talent. We'll see if any from Earth to Echo escape child stardom, but I'm confident we'll be seeing more of the young leads from Honeymoon and Layover. Andy Serkis' work as Caesar in DOTPOTA is already sparking conversation and debate about his eligibility for Best Actor awards. The same thing happened in 2011. I'm not sure what is "right," but his work (and the work of many others on computers) has crafted a character for the ages. As I told my wife during the closing credits, "I would die for Caesar."


For more Recently Beheld, check out last week's serving.

Also, check out my Letterboxd Diary for all the films I've seen this year.

Share your thoughts on any of these films or what you watched last week in the comments below!