Sunday, January 12, 2014

RECENTLY BEHELD: JANUARY 1-5, 2014

In 2014, I’m working to - in the very least - highlight every film I see in these weekly Recently Beheld entries. I’d write full reviews for each if I could get around to it and if I have you’ll see them noted. In this digital age capsule review are all the rage. Some may just even look at the stars. Here’s what I beheld in the first week of the new year:

(2013)



I kicked off the New Year by re-watching Johnnie To’s recent (yet not most recent, he’s one of the most prolific directors working today) action de force, Drug War, which showcases the Chinese drug industry from both sides of the law. This film doesn’t miss a beat while juggling a cat-and-mouse routine in which the cat has the mouse in its clawed paws from the very beginning. Timely, thrilling and replete with choreography that probably has John Woo himself taking notes.

★★★★½

My full review
Curator’s Note: Currently streaming on Netflix

* * *

(2013)



One of the year’s most (surprisingly) critically acclaimed films feels like the forbidden love-child of David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Richard Linklater’s Slacker. What begins as a mockumentary - though it mysteriously sheds itself of that gimmick - covering a 1980s tournament of machine versus machine turns into a hotel hallway ecstasy of profound nerds and proselytizing hippies. Frequently hilarious, even more frequently delirious. This marks my first outing with writer/director Andrew Bujalski.

★★★★

Curator’s Note: Currently streaming on Netflix
* * *

(2013)



We’re now three in a row with some of the year’s more raved about films and this is the hardest for me to understand why. It may stand out as a rom-com about two divorced and middle-aged souls (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late, great James Gandolfini) but feels as contrived as any given episode these well-known TV stars may have been asked to act their way through. Unfortunately, these two have to sink to the level of the material, fortunately for the material it’s these two. Gandolfini, good as is he is here, actually has very little screentime. He works as a television archivist in the film, frequently talking about the “good ole days.” I see a commentary practically writing itself here.

★★★

* * *

(2013)



Peter Chan’s chronicle of three college friends who start their own commercialized class teaching Chinese students how to pass the TOEFL borrows more than the success story from David Fincher’s The Social Network. American Dreams in China also jumps chronologically to show their rise, the static “now” being an office-held attorney-present meeting. It has more angst than Fincher’s film, and more poor performances (especially the Americans ), but still manages to leave its own mark on pertinent contemporary cinema despite being entirely fictitious. It’s easy to see how this was box-office giant in China last year.

★★★

* * *

(2013)



This film on the other hand is impossible to see how it managed to attain $85 million in China during 2013. Loosely inspired (and even referenced by the character) by Sleepless in Seattle, Finding Mr. Right is the most predictable and head-shakingly banal of romantic comedies I’ve seen in some time. To be fair, I don’t see a lot. The worst part about it is the filmmaker’s unforgiving insistence on being two hours long. At least any unlucky viewers will get to look at Wei Tang in practically every single scene.


* * *

(2013)



At 71-years-young American legend Martin Scorsese has made his most ferocious film to date with The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s as feisty an indictment on the titular market as I’ve ever seen and he’s led there by his now five-time-star Leonardo DiCaprio playing the titular mammal. The moral implications are highly debatable, but the filmmaking is hardly in question. This is a mighty film that feels as instant a classic as Goodfellas must’ve in 1990.

★★★★★

Curator’s Note: Currently in theaters

* * *

Seen any of these films? What did you see last week? Please feel free to share your thoughts or your own recently beheld in the comments below!

Also, see what else I've seen this year in my Letterboxd diary.

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