Recently Beheld: August 25-31st, 2014

Automata (2014)

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Antonio Banderas plays an insurance agent for a robotics company in this uninspired sci-fi thriller. There's some impressive world building afoot and visual effects to back it up, but the heavy-handed storytelling that dawdles in a desert for half of the film's running time is a chore to sit through. The only laws governing robots should be to keep them from ending up in such banal genre exercises.

 

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

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This sequel to the renowned sci-fi classic grabbed me at once with its faithful continued telling of astronauts who landed on a planet ruled by unwelcoming chimps. The plot thickens and the stakes are raised until we descend into a bewildering turn of events that I wanted no part of. The first film was like a wonderful feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone. For whatever reason the writers felt it would be better if there were another Twilight Zone episode within that!

 

Lust, Caution (2007)

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Ang Lee, the multi-Oscar-winning director of many genres, brings about a WWII era drama with breath-taking reconstructions. Parts espionage and romance, Lust, Caution pits a young woman (Wei Tang) against a dangerous politician (Tony Leung). And so Lee also put his trust in an unknown newcomer against a world-renowned actor. It's a steady effort that never dips its visual splendor, but the two leads build it to something marvelous.

 

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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Six years ago when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was so young and innocent it received one of its best entries and nobody is talking about it.The Incredible Hulk follows an unremarkable progression to an inevitable showdown, but the set-pieces along the way are as astounding as I've seen in a superhero film. This is a revered bow to the plot and patterns of its source, but a bold stride into creative blockbuster filmmaking.

 

Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)

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This is an epic three-hour video essay that explores the City of Angels as depicted in cinema as a backdrop, a character and a subject. I'd been wanting to see this documentary since I first learned of its existence and I'm happy to report that it is as valuable as it sounds. This should be required viewing for California residents and cinephiles alike, which should only tell you how meaningful it will be for someone who fits falls into both of those camps.


What to show the audience? Beneath the Planet of the Apes shows us several minutes worth from the first film. It's the rare sequel that picks up right where its predecessor left off and uses this as a way of overlap. Lust, Caution begins close to where it ultimately ends. Practically the entire film is a "flashback," but it makes much more sense to just call that first scene a "flash forward." I found this delivery to actually be at odds with the storytelling at times as it undercut what could have otherwise been some very tense sequences. The Incredible Hulk wisely forgoes a first act "origin story" that superhero filmmakers seem to think is mandatory. Instead, the opening credits serve as a brisk reminder that Bruce Banner has been seriously tampered with and has a serious problem as a result. Then there's Los Angeles Plays Itself, which shows us so very much over its three hour running time that you'll not only feel better acquainted with Los Angeles afterwards, but the landscape of cinema as well.


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!