I’ve been asked a few times why there hasn’t been an update to this site for a few months. Each time I’ve attempted to give a credible answer, however, I can admit that going on holiday or working too much are insufficient excuses. So here is a rundown of what I’ve enjoyed in the past few months, and I absolutely plan to start reviewing again (at least until the workload of the MA I’m starting this autumn at Durham becomes overwhelming). Followers of this site will already know of my love for Jafar Panahi and the Iranian cinema in general, so it is fairly straightforward that I would find Closed Curtain (Panahi, 2013) appealing in all of its postmodern, metatextual exuberance. It is a film which may seem unintelligible to audiences unaware of the director’s plight (under house arrest, banned from filmmaking for 20 years) but for those who support Panahi throughout his struggles with the Iranian government, the film is a minor masterpiece. Mistress America is Noah Baumbach’s second film to be released this year, after While We’re Young, and appears to be filmed straight from the The New Yorker’s fiction section. I definitely enjoyed this talkative, appealing film yet found it a little insignificant.
While Me, Earl and the Dying Girl’s (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon) trailer made the film look like a dispensable Young Adult Fiction adaptation, along the lines of John Green and The Fault in Our Stars, I was pleasantly surprised at its desire to avoid cliché, make use of an unreliable narrator and rework numerous masterpieces of classical and art cinema in an improvement on the sweded homages first seen in Be Kind and Rewind. Trainwreck (Judd Apatow) is a film that began interesting – a little daring one might say for a Hollywood romantic comedy – but quickly fell back into the patterns we have seen over and over again from mainstream American cinema. Whether this was due to the power struggle between Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer I am still unconvinced.
The nostalgic teen film is a genre any of us over a certain age (at 22 this is me included) can relate to and The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller) in its yearning and romanticism of 70s San Francisco and the complications of adolescence has its appeals. Again it is a film which I would consider worth a watch – and to discuss – but nothing too overwhelmingly important. The late Alexsei German’s Hard to be a God wins the prize for the most mad film I’ve seen in a long time, a medieval science fiction film with nods to the great figures of Russian cinema, and one which is dripping with blood, sludge and bodily fluids. Albert Maysles’ final documentary Iris on the eccentric fashion icon Iris Apfel, collector and model of haute couture and bargain bin regalia, is hilarious, perceptive and arguably too short. The Maysles brothers have always been skilled in their quest to track down bizarre and idiosyncratic characters and Iris is certainly up their with their best. Pixar thankfully return to form, ameliorating our worries about the Disney takeover until the next sequel, with Inside Out (Pete Doctor, Ronnie Del Carmen) their intelligent film set in the mind of a little girl, Riley. Brainy and engaging, a film for all ages.
One of my favourite films of the year – maybe because I am so biased in favour of the Italian cinema – is Alice Rohrwacher’s story of beekeeping and reality television The Wonders, themes that prove familiar and unfamiliar in equal ways. It is a film, similar to Matteo Garrone’s Reality (2012) in theme and critical reception, which I would argue has been somewhat underrated by audiences and critics despite winning second prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2014. Love and Mercy (Bill Pohlad) is that rare pleasure these days: the decent biopic. Perhaps its summer release was designed to distinguish itself from the sentimental, quasi-identical, dreary biopics ordinarily released as Oscar bait in the depths of winter. Yet even if this is true, it doesn’t matter as Bill Pohlad’s film distinguishes itself through its sheer quality.
A major hit at the cinema where I work, Asif Kapadia’s documentary collage Amy on the enigmatic Amy Winehouse is definitely worth a watch, however, it is up to you answer whether Kapadia has come to the correct conclusions. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (Alex Gibney) is a film which had me up all night researching the history and practices of the notorious and fascinating Church of Scientology established by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. The revelations of former members of this manipulative cult will shock and astound you, a must-see documentary. And finally, I really enjoyed John Maclean’s psychedelic, minimalist Western Slow West. I unfortunately missed a few films including P’tit Quinquin (Bruno Dumont), The Salt of the Earth (Wim Wenders) and Marshland (Alberto Rodríguez Librero) at the cinema but plan to see them as soon as possible. And at home I have enjoyed Il Divo (Paolo Sorrentino, 2008), We Have a Pope (Nanni Moretti, 2011), Tony Benn: Will and Testament (Skip Kite, 2013), Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985), Bigger than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956), Time Regained (Raúl Ruiz, 1999) and a whole host of Mike Leigh films, an oeuvre which I have been working my way through.