Few Movies of Many Weeks #43-46 (2018)

I come forth from the abyss and present to you the meager scrapings from the netherworld.

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Alternative sci-fi:

  • Sorry to Bother You (2018): The trailer to StBY is intriguing, but it’s greatest achievement lies in saying something while withholding the movie’s essence. What starts out as a corporate ladder climb dipped in racial observations, becomes a full blown social dissection by the end. It’s a no holds barred kind of experience – nothing’s off limits. Which also means that it might not be everyone’s cup of hot tea, but it felt pretty good to me. So as not to spoil anything, just go ahead and give it a try. 8/10

When your dreams turn into romcom nightmares:

  • Juliet, Naked (2018): This is one of the lighter movies of the week, starring Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and Chris O’Dowd, in a story about relationships and obsession that doesn’t pan out exactly how you’d expect. I won’t go any deeper into the plot, because that would already be saying too much about it. In a way, it’s a movie about love by proxy, life opening doors you never thought existed and then taking you somewhere completely different. Well, maybe I’m overhyping all this unexpectedness, thirty minutes in you’ll probably guess how this ends, but I’m ruminating on the wider implications of the scenario within. Just take it as it is. 7/10

Parenthood part x+1

  • Thunder Road (2018): The similarities to 2015’s Krisha are stark – writer/director (plus lead in this case) takes on family themes in a short movie, before expanding it to a full fledged story about a functionally dysfunctional parent. It doesn’t carry the dramatic heft of Krisha, but TR provides several twists and turns while balancing a difficult central character. I’m not sure who would rate this as a comedy, unless awkwardness is what triggers your giggles (hah!), but if you get over this misleading set-up, you might just end up surprised and weirdly fascinated by what’s going on. Not that it’s an easy, relaxing watch, yet it proves rewarding by the end. So that’s me not telling you anything about what’s really unfolding in Thunder Road. Deal with it. 8/10

Parenthood part x+2

  • Leave No Trace (2018): From the visionary director of Winter’s Bone (2010), wherein Jennifer Lawrence had her breakthrough performance, comes another tale of surviving in the wilderness. A father-daughter couple (didn’t we leave on this note all those weeks back?) survive together in a wildlife park near Portland in a rugged woman’s take on Captain Fantastic (2016). But this is no Captain Fantastic – no lush fairytale of happy hippies. It’s the story of a troubled war veteran who cannot adapt to society any more and now faces his daughter’s longing for a community. Thomasin McKenzie’s piercing glare will stay with you long after the movie is over, in a narratively austere, yet emotionally rich adventure into anti-modern America. Unlike Captain Fantastic’s bohemian pandering, Leave No Trace is a testament both for and against modern society, a taut and uncompromising coming of age story like few others. Have I used all the right buzzwords? 9/10

Snacking

  • The Night Eats the World (2018): I so want to tell you next to nothing about this, but chances are you already know what the gist of it is. We’re going postapocalyptic in a quiet, slow-paced zombie flick. By far the most remarkable thing about TNEtW is that it stars three actors who have played in some memorable movies: Anders Danielsen Lie (Reprise, 2006), Golshifteh Farahani (About Elly, 2009) and Denis Lavant (Holy Motors, 2012). Beyond this, the thing takes a contemplative route about zombies and solitude, with its lack of urgency troubling me at times. You’ll come across some debatable narrative choices, but beyond it, TNEtW amounts to a slightly reheated, yet pleasant meal of rotting brains. 6/10

Movies of the Weeks #39 #40 (2018)

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When the cinema screen wept

  • When Nietzsche Wept (2007): While reading Irving D. Yalom’s book, I have to admit, it grew on me. The more ponderous discussions between his doctor Breuer and professor Nietzsche have actual weight to them, true introspection. Some of that is retained in this terribly flimsy piece of film-making, crippled by bad screenwriting, poor editing and an unconvincing cast. Bar for Armand Assante, whose performance anchors all that is good about the movie, the remaining actors are somewhere between tolerable and appalling. That being said, I recommend a glance at the book and you can just skip the opening fifty to a hundred pages. 4/10

Father-daughter experience nr. 1

  • Hearts Beat Loud (2018): Do you want a High Fidelity with fewer neuroses and a father-daughter couple at its core? Then HBL is the movie for you. Within this fine little story about lost chances and recognizing what’s worth a bet in life and what isn’t, Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons make the movie work and matter. Single parent families have become a popular set-up in current day cinema and, most of the time, these movies capture the sentiment endearingly. Need I mention that this flick not a hetero-normative affair? Where HBL comes short is in its subplots and secondary characters, by not making the best out of its excellent character actors – Toni Collette, Blythe Danner, Ted Danson. 7/10

Bad couples

  • Permission (2018): Here’s another one carried mostly by its cast (Dan Stevens and Rebecca Hall), that just about survives with its unlikely premise – a couple decides to explore other sexual orifices before getting married, for…fear of missing out? Needless to say, things don’t go very well, and director/writer Brian Cano doesn’t quite manage to put it all together in an engaging manner. He does get the feeling right though, so expect an uncomfortable hour or so. I would argue that dividing our attention between two couples instead of focusing on one undermines what could have been an intimate, self-destructive experience to really stay with you for weeks, months, even years afterwards. Alas…6/10

When superhero movies fail

  • Venom (2018): The latest Tom Hardy super(anti)hero bonanza has been panned by critics for good reason. It might be easy on the eyes and go by quickly, but there’s not much there for the senses. You know something’s not right when your main takeaway after hours is that ‘it didn’t feel like two hours’. Neither does playing Candy Crush, which is not an endorsement. The sub-average plot isn’t saved by run-of-the-mill action sequences, the only redeeming aspect of the whole thing being some good banter between Hardy’s two-sided character. And you know what? It actually felt long, especially in the painstaking minutes before Venom first engulfs the screen. So no points for that, either! 4/10

Father-daughter experience nr. 2

  • Eighth Grade (2018): To say that Bo Burnham’s directorial debut has been showered with praise would almost be an understatement. Heart-felt, with a great lead in Elsie Fisher, the movie totally captures the sense of teenage angst it’s going for. Moreso, in spite of being steeped in American school culture, it goes beyond it and feels truly universal. Should I mention we’re going with another single parent family here? Once more, painted in the best way possible, as our father figure feels like an awkward, clueless mess at times, while really caring. I was left with the relief that I didn’t have a smartphone growing up and found my own spirals to be engulfed by. 8/10

 

Movies of the Week #38 (2018)

A suboptimal week, with hardly any movie really standing out. But the people demand a winner, so they shall have one!

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AKA The Pre-dater

  • The Predator (2018): For a franchise as iconic as this, Predator has been plagued by very average sequels. Although, to me, ‘the’ predator movie will aways be Predator 2, which I watched many times as a child from a VHS tape, dubbed in Romanian, the only ones with some critical acclaim are the original and the 2010-try, Predators. Funny enough, I didn’t enjoy Predators much, whereas The Predator actually proved quite a bit of fun. The plot, screenplay and some characters are quite atrocious, but the banter is great and borderline offensive. Which, I guess, is why it’s great. Going for a larger dose of comic relief worked for me. So if you can ignore some of the silliness – or just get on board with it, chances are you might also enjoy this. 6/10

When you need to go beyond watching dogs react to their owners ‘vanishing’

  • Alpha (2018): One of the bigger movies of this early autumn, Alpha is a slightly unusual mainstream affair, in that it’s silent a lot of the time and when it isn’t silent, the characters speak a fictional language. Unfortunately, it’s tired, predictable and slow, with fewer emotional hijackings than suspected – and this is a bad thing because I failed to really get into it and didn’t care much for the hut-dwelling characters fueled mostly by their survival instincts and an overly structured sense of familial belonging. Not my cup of tea. 5/10

…people said Brexit and Trump were impossible.

  • The First Purge (2018): Although I’ve seen all the four movies now, I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan. That being said, the Purge is not the worst franchise around. It’s one of the few that finds ways to stay pertinent. If you know what this thing is all about (a night a year when all laws are suspended and people can kill/steal/etc. without the legal repercussions), you don’t need a schematic to know where this one’s going. Heck, just reading this phrase should be enough. While there are plenty stereotypes going about, the essence of the movie is about the power political figureheads have in amplifying social rifts and creating self-fulfilling prophecies of doom to support their ‘platforms’. I want to believe people have a propensity for good, even at the worst of times, and that the strain we are being put under to undermine and despise one another is gnawing at the fabric of our existence. Well, I don’t really want to believe the latter part, but that’s what it feels like a lot of the time – a feeling that The First Purge does an excellent job of capturing. And to feed the meta-irony, I was looking at the suspicious recent reviews the movie has on IMDb, with people lambasting it with harsh one liners a la ‘worst film I’ve ever seen’. A lot of those reviews come from users who had never commented on anything else before, sometimes newly registered, other times (most bizarrely) with five-ten year old accounts, who have finally deemed to write their first IMDb contribution, i.e. said one-liner for this flick. Did the the jibe about the Russians really hurt that much? 7/10

At least it left me craving some pizza

  • Little Italy (2018): I’m all for unambitious romcoms that parade ethnic stereotypes and sell fortune-cookie level wisdoms, but Little Italy really does a job here! Thankfully, the old, tired cheese and the stale gags are made tolerable by a functional cast, with quite a few character actors and a decent leading couple – Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen. Let me say it: he’s definitely gone to the dark side with this one (haha, sorry). Long gone are the days of Shattered Glass, Life as a House or even Factory Girl for the Star Wars star. Now any role in third rate movies goes. There were maybe a couple of lines that made me chuckle, and then I chuckled harder at some of the horrendous scenes laid out in the movie. Yet, somehow, it didn’t make me want to end my life or pick up a book. 4/10

Movies of the Week #37 (2018)

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Why are horses so resplendent?

  • The Rider (2017): What a glorious, heartfelt movie about passion and struggling against the odds! The Rider treads the thin-red-line between reality and fiction to paint this stern, yet touching story about Brady, a cowboy who suffers a head injury that impairs him from doing what he’s best at – riding and taming (breaking in) wild horses. You can sense the potential for metaphors and drama right there, and director Chloé Zhao manages to milk it to the very last drop without ever becoming melo. Great cinematography helps in creating the setting, while perfect pacing makes for one of the best Western-themed movies I’ve seen in a while. 8/10

There’s a resplendent horse here too!

  • One and a Half Prince (2018): Although I saw this and The Rider a few weeks apart (#fakechronology), it’s funny how they are both semi-documentarian movies, talking about loss. The results, however, are very different, with One and a Half Prince failing in eliciting revelatory emotions. Or almost any other kind of emotions. More in the review. 5/10

No horses that I can recall.

  • RBG (2018): I was writing about this last week, in reference to the similarities it shares with Won’t You Be My Neighbour (2018). While RBG is still a fairly interesting movie, it feels more like a hagiography (God, I love this word) and focuses a fair bit on political overtones, rather than soulful subthemes. In what ultimately is a more old-fashioned documentary, the life of supreme court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg is distinctive enough to merit the treatment, but I never felt it went beyond itself to create something special. Or maybe that’s just me being pretentious. 7/10

Horse don’t associate with losers.

  • Sierra Burgess Is a Loser (2018): Another tame Netflix production about teenagers being teenagers and faking relationships (all that big data is really paying off!) proves to be an enjoyable ride for an uneventful night in. Even sharing the same object of desire like the other Netflix teen-pic, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Noah Centineo, it’s a bit hard to set them apart. For whatever reason, I did feel All the Boys was less formulaic than Sierra Burgess and the two leads had a less absurd love-story that you could actually get behind of. This does not mean Sierra Burgess doesn’t provide it’s share of positive characters and some moments of truth, just not that many. 6/10

P.S. And if you think that big data ain’t doing stuff – Noah Centineo is number six on the IMDb starmeter, after peaking at number one a week ago. Fear the aggregated data, guys and girls, fear the aggregated data.

Nobody can afford a horse in this one.

  • Support the Girls (2018): I think director Andrew Bujalski is on to something here: he’s found the recipe for making critically acclaimed movies that people rate below 6.0 on IMDb. After Results (2015), which I found to be quite enjoyable, Support the Girls is an even more accomplished picture, that seems to hit people the wrong way. Starring Regina Hall and – the apparently unavoidable – Haley Lu Richardson, offers some insight into the day of Lisa, the manager of a “sports bar with curves”. At face value, it’s a trip with Lisa managing all the things that could possibly go wrong during a day’s work. I would argue that it’s actually a critique of modern America, of cutthroat competition and self-serving, misogynistic ownership that undermines the humanism rooted in the way of life we should aspire to. There are no quick fixes, no easy ways out, just a lot of taking crap and making it shine on a platter. It turns out, Support the Girls is a movie about being stoic and willfully obtuse in one’s desire to make the best of things. 8/10

 

Movies of the Weeks #35 #36 (2018)

To my credit, I have been watching movies. It’s just that I haven’t been writing about them! I deserve a GoT shaming for this.

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Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013): I had no particular interest in the world of music in general or backup singers in particular, but there was something so relatable about the idea of being ‘twenty feet from stardom’. Most people are about that distance from being ‘important’, being ‘fulfilled’, from being just ‘more’ of themselves. It’s particular to the arts that so many people dedicate themselves and, yet, only a speckle become famous. The case of backup singers is fascinating, because these (mostly) girls are exceptional talents, yet they find themselves in a career limbo that can quickly become the end of solo aspirations. There’s a lot to be gotten out of TFfS, so it gets a warm recommendation. 8/10

To All the Boys I’ve Loved (2018): This cheery little Netflix title is everything it could have ever been – which is no small feat. Starring a couple of likable leads, it offers a lot of familiar themes from the world of teenage rom-com movies, but still manages to make them feel fresh and honest. It doesn’t make a joke of itself, which is, again, something praiseworthy, while also defying certain gender-related expectations. Enough said. 7/10

When We First Met (2018): In stark contrast with it is this other Netflix rom-com, about a guy stuck in a borderline implausible ‘what could have been’ over Alexandra Daddario. Yes, we all contemplate that, but you have to make a real meal of it for something like this to stand out. WWFM doesn’t and feels like the opposite of All the Boys I’ve Loved, by creating contrived scenarios with one-note characters. It’s slight and easily digestible, but, c’mon, you have to try harder and invest a dime in your characters. Having a cool time-travel mechanic (which you then use for the most generic scenarios) isn’t enough. 4/10

Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018): There was a lot of buzz surrounding a couple of unexpected documentaries this summer – the one about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and this, starring Fred Rogers. It’s not only the unexpected characters leading them that embrethrens them, but also their approach to the wider theme of how we build society and foster particular ways of thinking. More on RBG next week, because Mr. Rogers deserves a LOT of attention. The documentary is, really, a great piece of filmmaking, which reconstructs a man and his singular vision of how television can be used to teach children about the complexities of life. It’s an intricate story with surprising emotional heft, stemming from director Morgan Neville’s ability to bring Rogers into your living room. It doesn’t matter if you agree with everything (and the movie does shy away from controversy), because the overall experience is such a wholesome, uplifting one, that it will, in the least, change your day. That’s not a simple feat from a movie about an awkward man playing around with puppets. 9/10

P.S. Can you believe I had no idea Morgan Neville also directed Twenty Feet From Stardom until writing this? Crazy, crazy world.

First Reformed (2018): It’s hard to make a relevant movie about spiritualism and radicalism without being totally political about it. Yet, Paul Schrader manages just that in a difficult movie, that ends up in totally unexpected places. Ethan Hawke plays Toller, a priest who is tormented by his own shortcomings. This leads to something else when he has to ‘consult’ with a young radical environmentalist, who just about ends up ‘infecting’ Toller with doubt and action. Torn between duty, carnality and desperation, Toller slowly winds himself up, while losing more and more control. A strong finale underpinned the forlorn feelings I was left with while the credits were rolling. It might be a tad slow, but it’s worth it. 8/10

One and a Half Prince (2018): Review

Incompleteness is an important theme to Ana Lungu’s feature, a ‘story’ about three friends cohabiting with one another, featuring a selection of scenes from their lives. The ever so slight narrative circles around Iris, who is dealing with the sudden death of her boyfriend and looking to fill the void.

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The boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred by the fact that the actors play themselves as characters. This generates a certain ‘meta’ feeling, particularly when it is actually discussed within the movie, but abstractly. A lot of the script plays as improvised, with unpolished dialogue and awkward silence abounding.

Unfortunately, this loose approach didn’t work too well for me. The air of detachment surrounding Iris, the lead and also co-writer of the movie, sets her character somewhere in the distance, too far to be touched and emoted with. As a result, the movie failed to pull me in, playing as an almost random sequence of events with neutral people talking as people often do, boasting an aimless sense of philosophical enrichment. It might capture the particular joys and tribulations of actors, featuring nods and references to the likes of Mike Leigh and Daphne du Maurier, but what it succeeds at is framing them as people, in all their/our mundane glory.

The beautiful cinematography partly makes up for the lack of thrills or the incisiveness of its introspections. It is, however, not enough to make for a recommendation.

**

Movies of the Week #33 #34 (2018)

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Games for mice and men

  • Tag (2018): All major movie themes of any given year come in twos – this time, it’s about adult people playing games. After the excellent Game Night (2018)it’s tag’s turn to make a resurgence. The movie, starring a bunch of high caliber actors like Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner, tells of a group of men whose friendship has survived thanks to their annual game of tag. It’s mostly a fun romp, but for me it failed in its tonal inconsistencies and the manner in which it completely underused most of the female cast in trite subplots. What’s the point of having Rashida Jones if all you want of her is to be an object of desire…erm, well, you know, with no personality and just as an excuse for male rivalry. Not that the part of Annabelle Wallis is any better. And that blatant effort to pander at the end by including the women in the game does nobody any favours. 6/10

Sometimes I think about not watching a movie if its title doesn’t fit on the weekly graphic 

  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018): It’s not just a mouthful of a title, but also a mouthful of a movie. At over two hours, this (novel-based) story of how a tiny literary society came to be in Guernsey during the Nazi occupation is sometimes sweet, but often tiresome. Although Lily James is a good fit for her part, both her love interests are unconvincing, which isn’t where you want to be if you’re going for romance. Getting past this stumbling block proved difficult for me, and the lackluster story of Nazi resistance didn’t help much either. The historical context, though, caught my interest and got me through the movie, as it did a proper job of capturing the residual pain of loss even as WW2 had ended. Scrapes by with a small recommendation, although people in general seemed to have liked it. 6/10

Tomorrow is today

  • Upgrade (2018): From the mind of Leigh Whannell, creator of Saw, comes a movie set in a blue-tinted cyber future, that borrows heavily from all sorts of similarly themed films, yet manages to put forward an enjoyable ride that feels fresh enough to matter. If you just ignore the ultra-obvious plot (hey, at least it twists in the end), you’ll be sucked into the dim world of tomorrow, where computers can do almost everything, society is harshly segregated and the police are still terribly ineffectual at fighting crime. In this life-inspiring setting, an old-school mechanic will be transformed in an uber-mensch and will struggle to discover who the bad guys are. With the help of a microchip, he will be faster, smarter, better than most people, in a slight Deus-Ex scenario. So if that’s your thing, enjoy. 7/10

Plethora of size jokes incoming

  • Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018): If you thought the first Ant-Man was average, be ready to relive the same feelings as you go through its follow-up. Featuring the same cast, its comic relief and the occasional set-piece make the movie tolerable, but most of it just feels rehashed. Unlike with Upgrade, I don’t feel the need to sympathize with it, because it bears no ambitions. A good-bad-guy is cool enough once, but when he/she starts showing up in all your movies Marvel, then something’s wrong. The only truly exciting moment comes in the first after-credits scene, so judge that as you will. 6/10

For that rainy night when you feel lonesome

  • Columbus (2017): Talk about beautiful, lush and introspective cinema! Kogonada’s feature length debut is an ode to the marvels of design, small-town life and a-harmonious families. It’s a joy to watch and feel, even though its trailer seems uninspiring – perhaps because the narrative isn’t quite memorable, nor are the actors inhabiting the two leads, but there’s just enough there to hold the movie’s inner life together. It has a scent of Lost in Translation, thanks to its quiet admiration for people and places grown out of solitude, something that should feel familiar and blue in an instant. Delicious. 8/10

Movies of the Week #32 (2018)

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I can’t believe it, I’m losing to a rug

  • Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (2018): I just don’t trust people who feel nothing when watching Robin Williams. The man put everything in his performances, he was so committed that it hurt to think about what was going on inside, especially knowing the drug use of his younger days. This HBO docu is a joyous elegy to the man, and although it doesn’t tread far into the unknown, it still manages to paint a comprehensive portrait the funny man. His death, now four years away, still feels raw – as raw as any movie stars dying can feel. The documentary comes to emphasize the age-old-adage: that the truest tragedy lies within comedy. 8/10

Should you choose to accept it

  • Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018): Every time I see Tom Cruise and it dawns upon me that he’s only a couple of years younger than my dad, a shiver goes down my spine. Somehow, Cruise went beyond his scientology blemishes and still manages to rock some of the most hardcore action characters Hollywood has to offer. His ‘all-in’ mentality translates well on film, and the broken ankle he suffered while filming MI:F is a testament to the guy’s dedication. The movie itself is ‘adrenaline fueled’ as the kids like to say nowadays, about as good as a pure action flick can get. The set-pieces are incredible, with director McQuarrie capturing it all with flair. Strong co-stars bring appeal and levity to the leg banging. 8/10

Hey! I quoted this in my book.

  • On Chesil Beach (2017): When you finally read one of the many books you aimed to read come new-year, and you then find out they’re making a movie based on it, watching it becomes a must. Even if you didn’t quite enjoy the book to begin with. On Chesil Beach is the tragic love-story of two unfortunate and inexperienced newly weds, who are as foreign to love and love-making as can be. But that’s how we it used to be done back in those days – settle for the first man/woman that you’re socially compatible with. Unfortunately, the whole affair is slow and fails to capture the raw disgust that Florence felt when faced with sexual intimacy. That’s a big thing, because it was the most redeeming aspect of the book. You’re left with some greater social construct considerations to contemplate, but it’s at the end of an anguishing movie. At least I came out of it knowing how to pronounce Saoirse Ronan’s name, so that’s something. 5/10

Oh, perfect father-daughter relationship starring Kristen Bell, where hast thou gone?

  • Like Father (2018): This less pretentious Netflix movie starring Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer banks on the appeal of its leads and cashes in. Somewhat. Bell plays a workaholic who ruins her own wedding and then reconnects with her estranged father on what should have been the honeymoon of anyone’s dreams. It’s not an ambitious feature, yet it plays well enough to be enjoyable in its major parts. Don’t expect any surprises, just a mild morality tale about the life you never had. 6/10

A harrowing ‘tradition’

  • Tower (2016): To be fair, I did make some acclaimed choices this week. Tower is a partly animated documentary that retells the tragic hours that marked the university of Texas in 1966, when a sniper killed sixteen people who were just minding their own business. I’m not sure if this was the first of the many mass shootings that occurred in the US, but it sure shaped the public frame of mind. The movie patches together and reenacts recollections of the day from survivors (mostly), and although it starts out slowly, by the end you’re going to feel that emotional punch. The whole situation is everything the US and Texas is about, as vigilante gunman encircled the tower to take down the shooter – Charles Whitman, a former UoT student. Interestingly, a tumor was found inside Whitman’s brain at the autopsy (spoiler alert – he dies), and it has been suggested this might have been a contributing factor to his violent impulses. Maybe a movie for another day, as this one made no concessions at all for the state of the shooter, focusing rather on the manner in which the bystanders reacted to this unimaginable situation. 8/10