Recently Beheld: July 14-20th, 2014

The Road (2009)

John Hillcoat's adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel left me a bit dissatisfied the first time around. It is very hard to step up to such greatness after all. Without as stringent a comparison to the text on my second viewing, I was better able to appreciate it as its own work of story and art, a methodology I trumpet to any who will hear. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee become ghastly apocalypse survivors progressing through an ashen world that dies a little more each day. Apart from an occasional unconvincing backdrop, the world is enveloping, but that this father son are each the other's world entire is enough to shift our focus onto the human story we find ourselves with after "humanity" has been torn apart and eaten away from the inside. The Road is a different kind of horror film, one where the worst a father will let happen is to have his only boy put a bullet in his own mouth.


Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (2014)

This engrossing crime documentary follows the trial of the notorious Whitey Bulger in 2013 while filling us in on his rise and reign over South Boston in the '70s. Buldger was the real-life inspiration for Frank Costello, Jack Nicholson's character, in The Departed. Before Whitey is over you'll find connections to GoodfellasJ. EdgarThe Wire and even last year's American Hustle. So much of the heinous acts we are thankful are just "in the movies" are pulled straight from real-life. The United States emerges as just as big, if not bigger, a public enemy as Whitey. Corruption in the FBI and the state attorney's office will leave you scratching and shaking your head. The documentary allows both the prosecution and the defense to weigh in and the audience is essentially the jury. An overuse of the same stock photographs and footage is the only repetitive part of a film that moves along at a whirlwind pace, informing and intriguing every minute of the way.


Third Person (2014)

Writer/director Paul Haggis returns with another Crash-like mosaic of characters, each dealing with grief and its heavy process in some way. At the center of Third Person is Liam Neeson playing a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who is in Paris seeking inspiration and hiding an affair. As with most converging stories (Crash included), the storytelling is messily structured, but the moments of clarity and alignment make up for it. Third Person ultimately becomes the crusade of a writer, but is it the one onscreen or Haggis himself?


The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

This is a vastly improved sequel to last year's successful horror thriller about the one night a year where all crime is legal. Writer/director James DeMonaco spares us the children and gives us several characters we can actually stand behind. Sure, several make bonehead decisions to begin with, but Anarchy nicely expands the concept and world.


Closed Curtain (2014)

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Jafar Panahi's follow-up to This is Not a Film  is even more creative, anguished and pompous, all important characteristics of any auteur's work. This scripted housebound fantasy unfurls itself unpredictably. It is beyond motivational to those aspiring to pick up a pen or a camera.


The NeverEnding Story (1984)

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Wolfgang Peterson's adaptation of the fantasy world and the contemporary boy who would enter it is practically timeless. It needed a pacemaker in 1984 and still needs one. I suppose the title was meant as a disclaimer because it feels like the screenwriter hadn't a clue in the world as to how to conclude it. I may have to seek out the sequels now. The practical sets and the creatures that occupy them are wondrous. Full Review


Sinister (2012)

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Ethan Hawke plays a true-crime novelist and moves his family to a murder site when taking on a new project. There's countless other decisions he makes that I'm confident nobody else would, but Sinister gives us enough content to chew on to distract us from those issues. The best parts of the film are these 8mm "home movies" he stumbles upon with some of the most grisly images in the history of mainstream horror. I'm comfortable calling this Scott Derrickson's best film unless his remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (if I ever bother) really wows me. It makes this year's Deliver Us From Evil even more disappointing knowing he previously made something so good.

 

UHF (1989)

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This "Weird Al" vehicle is merely an excuse to tape a bunch of gags and spoofs and call it a movie. It was a favorite of my youth, and retains its cult status, but it has serious problems as a feature film. Iconic, memorable, quotable, but definitely not for everyone. Full Review


In Summation:

A through-line amongst last week's viewings is an examination of writers: Those adapting books to the screen (The Road and The NeverEnding Story) and those about writers (Third PersonSinister and to a lesser extent, UHF)Panahi is a writer in a cage and yet he still strives to create. DeMonaco and Derrickson looked back on previous efforts and made calculation for improvement. The writing process itself is vital to the beginning and ending of any given film, from a screenplay (blueprint) to a review (inspection).  


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!