Confession of Murder Dallas Buyers Club

November in Reviews

December 16, 2013Ben Mk


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Even though it's already mid-December, and I'm having fun / going mad keeping up with reviews, I don't want to abandon the monthly wrap-up segment that I started last month. So I'm back today with the November edition of The Month in Reviews. Last month was an extremely busy month, kicking off with a powerful biopic and concluding with a controversial remake, with almost every conceivable type of film in between. So without further ado ...

Dallas Buyers Club  (Reviewed on November 1st)
Review Score: ★★★★
At a time when so many films seem to be biopics, Québec director Jean-Marc Vallée's film about the AIDS crisis is as memorable as they come. It's smart, poignant and funny -- but what really makes it stand out are the eye-opening performances by two of its main stars. As I wrote in my review: [The film] offers a stirring look at the AIDS crisis from the front lines -- from the perspectives of those with the most at stake -- and reveals an angle to the story that few may be aware of. Add to that the engrossing performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, and the result is a film that draws you into its characters' plights from the get-go and doesn't let go until the closing credits roll. Highly recommended.
Thor: The Dark World  (Reviewed on November 8th)
Review Score: ★★★★
Following in the wake of Iron Man 3, the second Thor film took another big step forward for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, delivering everything that comic fans could hope for. With a bigger scope and even bigger stakes, it still managed not to forget the most important thing: fun. As I wrote in my review: [The film] is a rousing and fun entry in the canon that is Marvel's Cinematic Universe ... It has an energy and a momentum that keeps it deliriously entertaining through and through. And, like any good Marvel film, it deepens the lore of the franchise, leaving audiences anxious to find out where the next film will take them. Highly recommended.
Tales from the Dark Part 1  (Reviewed on November 15th)
Review Score: ★★★½
This trio of horror stories -- which also premiered at many Hong Kong and asian film festivals this year -- was the first of two films I reviewed for the Reel Asian film festival. I was pretty psyched to see it, and although it didn't deliver on the extreme scares I was expecting, it was still a lot of fun to watch. As I wrote in my review: [The film] has something for horror fans and Hong Kong cinephiles alike, maintaining the flavor of the latter while serving up an entertaining milieu of the former. Although all of its segments are not created equal, it's worth the price of admission for A Word in the Palm alone. You may even forget to be scared because it's so much fun to watch. Recommended.
Confession Of Murder  (Reviewed on November 16th)
Review Score: ★★★½
This 2012 South Korean film was the second film I reviewed for the Reel Asian film festival. Knowing very little about it going in, other than the basic premise, I was pleasantly suprised by how first-time feature director Jeong Byeong-gil was able to take the simple set-up and weave such a compelling tale. And the twist -- I definitely did not see it coming! As I wrote in my review: [The film] takes an otherwise basic premise -- of cop vs. killer -- wraps it around an interesting hook and winds it up with intrigue and action. If you have a penchant for crime thrillers and like your revenge served cold and with a twist, this deserves a spot on your list of films to see. Recommended.
Hawking (2013)  (Reviewed on November 19th)
Review Score: ★★★½
Not to be confused with the 2004 biopic of the same name (starring none other than Benedict Cumberbatch), Stephen Finnigan's documentary is more keen on taking viewers through the day-to-day life of the famed professor than dramatizing his life story. Although it does feature some reenactments of pivotal moments in Hawking's life, where it makes an impact is in showing viewers a side of the man that few are privy to seeing. As I wrote in my review: [The Film] is a condensed look at the man and the myth, told with a wry sense of humor in his own words and those of the people closest to him ... But regardless of one's familiarity with the name, it's simply an inspirational tale of courage and genius. Recommended.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire  (Reviewed on November 22nd)
Review Score: ★★★★
The month really kicked into high-gear for me with this impressive second chapter in The Hunger Games series. Although it was structurally similar to the first film, this film really succeeded on building on that film's themes and channeling them into something big, brooding and epic. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn't get a strong The Empire Strikes Back vibe from it. As I wrote in my review: [The film] is the next logical step in the direction of the franchise: a film that doesn't just widen the scope of the original effort but also adds new layers to the story. In some ways, it's more of the same, but in others it's so much more. Highly recommended.
Nebraska  (Reviewed on November 22nd)
Review Score: ★★★½
From big budget epics to films that feel intensely personal -- at the opposite end of the spectrum was this small, quiet film from the director of The Descendants, Sideways and Election. Look beyond its leisurely pacing and low-key characteristics, and what you'll find in this is a film governed by strong performances -- especially from Bruce Dern, June Squibb and Will Forte -- and a sharp sense of wit. As I wrote in my review: At its heart, it's not just about finding out where we belong and finding out how we got there, but discovering that family is more than just blood; it's the bonds we forge along the way. Recommended.
Homefront  (Reviewed on November 25th)
Review Score: ★★★
I was back in the mood for action when I caught this latest Jason Statham vehicle, which pits Statham against the always-fun-to-watch James Franco. The film also introduces movie audiences to author Chuck Logan's franchise hero, Phil Broker. With a script penned by Statham's Expendables cohort, Sylvester Stallone, it features solid (if not somewhat generic) action. As I wrote in my review: [The film]'s certainly a serviceable entry in the action genre that should please those looking for a big screen brawl; but it doesn't pack enough firepower to differentiate itself from the competition. Having said that, if you're a fan of the Phil Broker books, you may still want to check it out. Worth a rental.
Out of the Furnace  (Reviewed on November 26th)
Review Score: ★★★½
With the end of the month fast approaching, I checked out Christian Bale's latest drama, which is just as somber as the trailer makes it out to be. If you didn't already know the backstory, you might not even realize the story's roots in real life American tragedy -- but once you do, the film takes on a deeper meaning. As I wrote in my review: With the shadow of real life tragedy looming large in the background, [the film] paints a grim portrait of small town life in America's Heartland. But born out of the injustice and inequality against which it is set is a story of the true meaning of family. It's a film that shows that sometimes there are no happy endings ... but for the few that are brave enough to seek it out, there can at least be closure. Recommended.
Oldboy (2013)  (Reviewed on November 27th)
Review Score: ★★★
I put a capper on the month by taking a look at Spike Lee's remake of the South Korean film, Oldboy. Being a fan of the original, it's hard for me to score this film objectively; but for someone coming to the tale fresh, it has the potential to be just as shocking as the original. As I wrote in my review: Despite hitting some of the same beats along the way, it carves out its own niche and doesn't feel like the same film at its core. It certainly tries to honor the intentions of the original while trying something different, but how audiences respond to it may depend on how much the first one has endeared itself to them. Worth a rental.

It's very difficult to choose a favorite film this month, but my pick for best film of November 2013 is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Pound for pound, that was the film that impressed me the most -- with all-around fantastic acting, action, visual effects and story. Thanks again for reading, and I'll be back with another recap in January!



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