The Up-to-Date Monthly Update for November 2016

The penultimate monthly update for 2016 has a higher-than-usual compliment of films from 2016. How up-to-date of me.


#172 Bridesmaids (2011)
#173 Love & Friendship (2016)
#174 Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)
#175 The Pianist (2002)
#176 Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
#177 Swiss Army Man (2016)
#178 Suicide Squad (2016)
#179 Arrival (2016)
#180 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
#181 The Deer Hunter (1978)
#182 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
#183 Star Trek Beyond (2016)
#184 Napoleon (1927), aka Napoléon vu par Abel Gance
#185 Jason Bourne (2016)
Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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  • I watched 14 new films again this month (same as last). That makes this my 30th consecutive month with 10 or more new films.
  • As I mentioned, there were quite a few films from 2016. The total is ten, to be precise, or 71.4% of this month’s viewing. I’ll rate them when I review them, but scroll down to the Arbies for more about which I liked and disliked.
  • I spent three nights watching the 5½ hours of Abel Gance’s Napoleon, which made its hotly-anticipated Blu-ray debut this month. Still only counts as one film, though.
  • Making up for last month, I found time for two WDYMYHS films. Both are excoriating depictions of wartime: Roman Polanski’s story of life in the Warsaw ghettoes during World War 2, The Pianist; and Michael Cimino’s controversial take on the Vietnam war and its effect on (American) combatants, The Deer Hunter.



The 18th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Quite a few enjoyable films this month, particularly among all those 2016 ones, but the one of the highest quality was definitely Denis Villeneuve’s venture into science-fiction drama, Arrival.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, the weakest film this month also comes from 2016. I wanted to find the critics were wrong and side with the audiences who boosted it into the top 75 highest grossing films of all time, but no, Suicide Squad is a disappointing mess.

Longest Film of the Year (So Far)
I watched the ’59 Ben-Hur back in September, a film whose notoriously epic running time — 222 minutes, or 3¾ hours — would, most years, stand as unlikely to be surpassed. Thanks to the BFI, however, it has: Abel Gance’s silent epic Napoleon is a full 111 minutes longer at 333 minutes, aka 5½ hours.

Most Consistent Use of a Song
They’re back again: after 14 years and five films, Jason Bourne still ends with Moby’s Extreme Ways, just like every other film in the series. Never may it end.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
I confess to being slightly surprised by this month’s most-seen post. Besting several new releases (Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders was 2nd) and all-time favourites (Star Wars was 3rd), this month’s victor was my review of Denis Villeneuve’s arty psychological thriller Enemy.



Films that broke new ground rub shoulders with ones that settled into comfortable grooves, with everything from children’s movies about toys to adult movies about puppets.


As regular readers may have ascertained from the occasional reference I’ve made, I’m going to be away for a chunk of December. It’s not actually some big secret, it just wasn’t especially pertinent ’til now. We’re off on a family holiday to Hogwarts… in sunny Orlando, Florida. And all the other stuff, like Disney World and the Kennedy Space Center, all that jazz; but it was inspired by, as grown-up adult human beings, wanting to go to the Harry Potter theme parks. Something something for all ages, something something young at heart, etc.

So as this is posted, I’m currently… sat at home in the UK, because we fly tomorrow. Anyway, that means this blog will be quieter than normal for a bit — and as I’m away for 72% of the time it would cover, no advent calendar this year. I know I’m severely damaging your enjoyment of the holiday season, but it can’t be helped. Sorry. I’d love to tell you that I nonetheless have a mass of reviews scheduled to post so it’ll be like I’m not even gone, but I don’t. However, my 100 Favourites will continue as advertised (next up: #95 on Sunday), and there will be a couple of other reviews scattered in between, too. I may check in on comments from time to time as well, what with the connectivity of our modern world — so don’t be a stranger, y’hear?

It’ll undoubtedly have an effect on how many films I watch, though — will December destroy the 30-month run of 10+ films?!

Enemy (2013)

2016 #136
Denis Villeneuve | 87 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Canada & Spain / English | 15 / R

EnemyBetween his popular English-language debut Prisoners and his apparently-not-quite-as-popular-but-definitely-better-in-my-opinion drugs thriller Sicario (its IMDb score is a whole 0.5 points lower, which is more than it sounds), French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve made this less-widely-seen psychological thriller. I think it may’ve struggled to find distribution (here in the UK it definitely went either straight to digital or was a day-and-date cinema-and-digital release), which, once you’ve seen it, is unsurprising: it’s considerably less accessible than any of Villeneuve’s other English-language features.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam, a discontented university lecturer, who one day spots a bit player in a movie, Daniel St. Claire, who looks exactly like him. Discovering the actor’s real name is Anthony, Adam tracks him down and discovers… well, that’s getting into spoiler territory. Let’s just say things get more than a bit weird at times.

There’s no denying that Enemy is atmospheric, but the actual story was a bit too elliptical for my taste. It was all going fairly swimmingly until it suddenly stopped just before it appeared to be going to offer answers. That naturally suggests you need to go back and reconsider/deconstruct what you’ve already seen, but it nonetheless makes it feel a bit frustrating, at least initially, and makes reading theories online a virtual necessity for deciphering the movie’s meaning (unless you want to try to work it all out by yourself, of course). I’ve read a few of those theories, and I’m not sure any have won me over 100%, but they did enhance my understanding. Nonetheless, I find myself sticking with my initial assessment.

I wish I knew how to quit my boring jobWhile looking up those various explanations, I read at least one review that asserted it’s a good thing that the film doesn’t provide a clear answer at the end. Well, I think that’s a debatable point. I mean, there is an answer — Villeneuve & co clearly know what they’re doing, to the point where they made the actors sign contracts that forbade them from revealing too much to the press. So why is it “a good thing” that they choose to not explain that answer in the film? This isn’t just a point about Enemy, it’s one we can apply more widely. There’s a certain kind of film critic/fan who seems to look down on any movie that ends with an explanation for all the mysteries you’ve seen, but if you give them a movie where those mysteries do have a definite answer but it’s not actually provided as part of the film, they’re in seventh heaven. (And no one likes a movie where there are mysteries but no one has an answer for them, do they? That’d just be being mysterious for precisely no purpose.) But why is this a good thing? Why is it good for there to be answers but not to give them, and bad for there to be answers and to provide them too? If the answers the filmmakers intended are too simplistic or too pat or too well-worn or too familiar, then they’re poor for that reason, and surely they’re still just as poor if you don’t readily provide them? I rather like films that have mysteries and also give me the answers to those mysteries. Is that laziness on my part? Could be. But I come back to this: if, as a filmmaker (or novelist or whatever) you have an answer for your mystery and you don’t give it in the text itself, what is your reason for not giving it in the text? Because I think perhaps you need one.

Could be pregnant, could be a third scatter cushionFortunately, Enemy has much to commend aside from its confounding plot. Gyllenhaal’s dual performance is great, making Adam and Anthony distinct in more ways than just their clothing (which is a help for the viewer, but not for the whole film), and conveying the pair’s mental unease really well. It would seem he errs towards this kind of role, from his name-making turn in Donnie Darko on out, which does make it all the odder that he once did Prince of Persia and was very nearly almost Spider-Man. I guess everyone likes money, right? As Anthony’s wife, Sarah Gadon also gets to offer a lot of generally very subtle acting. Her character’s evolving thoughts and feelings are not to be found in her minimal dialogue, but are clearly conveyed through her expressions and actions. On the other hand, Mélanie Laurent feels wasted, her role as Adam’s girlfriend requiring little more than being an object of desire — a part she’s completely qualified for, but also one she’s overqualified for.

Some find Nicolas Bolduc’s yellow-soaked cinematography too much, but I thought it was highly effective. Especially when mixed with the location of Toronto, a city we’re not so familiar with seeing on screen (or I’m not, anyway), it lends the setting a foreign, alien, unfamiliar feel, which is at once modern, even futuristic, but also dated, or rundown. The dystopian sensation is only emphasised by the distant yellow smog that seems to permanently hang over the city. It’s pleasantly creepy, but not the creepiest thing: the use of spiders is scary as fuck. I’m not properly arachnophobic, but I don’t like the buggers, and some of their surprise appearances are more effective at delivering chills (and potentially nightmares) than many a dedicated horror movie. (Incidentally, there’s a bit in Object of desireArrival that instantly called this to mind. I don’t know if it was a deliberate self-reference or just Villeneuve recycling techniques.)

For a certain kind of film fan, I imagine Enemy is Villeneuve’s masterpiece (at least among his English language features; I’m not au fait with his earlier work). For the rest of us, I’d guess it slips in behind his other movies as an interesting but frustratingly arty also-ran.

3 out of 5