Movies of the Week #48 #49 (2019)

Doubles Vies (2018): Pretentious movies stick to me like flies to…cake, so it’s no wonder this talky French flick about books, technology and relationships tickled my fancy. I quite enjoyed Assayas’s previous two movies, Personal Shopper (2016) and Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), but Double Vies is a different adventure altogether. Fast paced, cerebral, yet not particularly contrarian, its punches land against protective gear – no splash of literal or metaphoric blood, so you’re either in it for the deluge of conversation topics it offers, or you’re not. With so many things up for debate, there are few comprehensive answers in store, just chunk-sized bites of our modern world, with firm and flashy judgments. Once I got into its rhythm, I became at ease with the movie, fully engaged, which is the most you could ask of Doubles Vies. My favourite form Assayas until now. 8/10

Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019): I would describe the movie as 5% funny, 25% preachy, 25% sappy and 45% horror – which is not as bad as it sounds. Brittany is an overweight, irresponsible, mean-spirited, defensive mess and she turns it around in the span of one hundred minutes and almost two years. Legit. The movie feels real a lot of the time, which also makes it awkward and uncomfortable, unlike with the trailer might want you to believe. That’s not a problem per se, but it lays it on too heavily in the last third, for an underwhelming and thoroughly predictable conclusion. That being said, Jillian Bell, whom I’d recently seen in Sword of Trust, offers an intense performance, with a lot of variety, making for an additional argument in favour of seeing Brittany. 7/10

Pontypool (2009): I’ve seen my share of zombie movies and I never thought there could be a variation on the theme left untouched. Alas, there was, with Pontypool a sometimes confusing, often meta, but definitely innovative take on “infection” and “disease”. A less than cheerful host of a morning radio broadcast, Mazzy, goes into work on a seemingly innocuous winter’s day, that proves to be anything but. Together with only his producer and his technician (I think?), Sydney and Laurel-Ann, they try to make sense of what’s happening outside, in a world gone crazy that they have no eyes on. What’s real, what’s fake, what’s it all about? With a phenomenally meta climax and conclusion, this zombie movie turns out to be a creative take on the way that language conditions our lives. For a movie that came out more than ten years ago, it feels eerily prescient of things to come. If it wasn’t for a few pacing issues and certain scenes that could have done with sharper writing, this could have been an actual must-see for genre fans. As it stands, it’s still something pretty special. 8/10

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019): PBF proposes a light and easily likable story about Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down Syndrome who escapes from an assisted facility to follow his dream of becoming a wrestler. Along the way, he gets entangled with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a good-for-nothing drifter with a big heart, and they set upon their adventure to find the “Salt Water Redneck”, a legendary wrestler of old. I’m not sure why wrestling is so “in” these years, but it sure suits Zak’s pursuits and makes for an engaging, humanistic story, if nothing more. 7/10

Tale of Tales (2015): It feels like I’ve postponed watching this one for way more than four years. Alas, in spite of a colourful set of stories, beautifully shot and boldly structured, Tale of Tales never really got going for me. Perhaps the issue lies with the structure, because the movie leaves it to the viewer to make out where something begins and where it ends, which means you never have time to settle and warm up to the plethora of characters and their peculiar fates. 6/10

Movie of the Week #47 (2019)

Life (2017): I reviewed Life when it was released two and half years ago, but have been mysteriously drawn to it ever since, in spite of my harsh rating at the time (5/10). For the most part, I stand by my first impression, that the movie is a missed opportunity, in spite of it’s good looks and solid cast. What really causes it to fail is a lack of attention to detail that, too often, is required to make the plot work – which, of course, is why so many things just feel out of place. What stands out, though, is the scene where excrement gets real, a scene that completely terrified me, even in spite of its physical and logical inaccuracies. As far as tension and subliminal gore go, it’s probably one of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve ever seen in a horror movie. Given this, and the fact that Life is, ultimately, a competent (and expensive) B movie, I have to adjust my initial rating, bumping it up a grade – i.e. recommended for genre enthusiasts. 6/10

Paterson (2016): Jim Jarmusch may not be the most consistent filmmaker of his generation, but his desire for exploration is something to be admired, leading to more hits than misses. In Paterson, he finds the every-man, the non-hero more defining of us all than most leading men and women in cinema. Wrapped within a poem, with a very particular rhythm to it, the movie benefits of layered performances, as Adam Driver really captures the nuances, often left implied, of the titular character’s feelings, drive and desires. As you would expect, it’s a slow burner, but it definitely burns. In a world so demanding of attention and drama, Paterson really is the anti-movie. 8/10

Blinded by the Light (2019): It’s rare that a musical really finds the right tune and tone when using popular songs – in this case, Bruce Springsteen’s. Blinded by the Light does a great job at this, with the music emphasizing the story and elevating the whole gig. It’s a bit of a shame that said story relies on a lot of cliches, with the central conflict between a strict father and his angsty teenage son feeling all too familiar. If you can take it as it is, BbtL has enough to offer, with a strong feel-good vibe keeping it afloat. 7/10

I Kill Giants (2017): In the way that Hwood produces very similar movies within twelve month periods, I Kill Giants takes on the same theme as 2016s A Monster Calls – a young teen coping with the imminent death of a parent. This one is a bit more down to earth, with Barbara’s struggles to integrate within the crowd at school and come to terms with the injustice that has struck her life framed by the difficulties of those around her as well. It dares to get really dark with its main character, a kind of darkness that’s not just reserved to family members. However, its attempt to ‘cover’ the metaphor in various layers of fantasy, only to then unveil it all in a tired last act, does the movie a disfavour. This inability to stay true to itself is why I ultimately consider IKG is the lesser movie. 6/10

A Monster Calls (2016): It turns out, I forgot to review this one, although I saw it just about a month ago. If you’re going to watch just one of the two, AMC has more going for itself – a more consistent story, a befitting allegory and stronger visuals. Other than that, the two movies are really very similar, with different family troubles, similar bullying struggles and two justifiably angry kids at their centers. AMC may not be a perfect movie, because it also goes for a bunch of tired tropes, yet overall it just felt like the superior take on the matter at hand. 7/10

Movies of the Week #46 (2019)

Parasite (2019): It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film with the impact of Parasite. Joon-ho Bong’s latest is a layered, visually striking and emotionally jarring piece of work, filled with social commentary. I don’t even want to go into much detail regarding the plot, other than to say that it all starts with Ki-taek, whose whole family is unemployed, getting a tutoring job at a rich employer and then scheming to get his sister and parents positions within the household. What begins as a comedy proves to be very…genre-fluid, switching tonality with impressive ease. The questions it so artfully poses about social structure and the hierarchy of life will probably hit home regardless of culture. By the end, with a finale reminiscent of 25th Hour, Parasite left me in quite a mood, brimming with anxiety, which is enough to excuse some of its Bong-esque ideological excesses . That’s quite the feat. 9/10

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019): For a franchise that has been consistently disappointing for the last 16 years, Dark Fate can definitely be considered a step in the right direction. The fact that James Cameron wills himself to believe that all sequels since Judgement Day didn’t happen would be worth something, if DF were, indeed, a return to form. Alas, it’s just barely good enough to warrant its existence. With a paper thin plot and less than creative SJW discourse, the newest Terminator relies wholly on its action sequences and the charisma of its characters. The action is enjoyable for the most part and it would have been even more impressive, had most major set-pieces not been spoiled in the trailer. The characters, however, are a very mixed bag. Discount-Michelle Rodriguez (sorry, that’s just very mean from me) is bland and uninteresting, Sarah Connor turns out to be a grumpy grandma, with Mackenzie Davis left to do all the heavy lifting. She gets support from a nostalgic and amusing Schwarzenneger, the only solid source of comic reliev in the movie, and the other “robot” in the game, Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9. Luna brings some serious swagger and danger to the table, making for a strong villain, even if the movie generally lacks a sense of ‘greater purpose’ beyond keeping the itsy-bitsy Dani (Natalia Reyes) safe. This should be the end of the Terminator series, which could have done way more with the complex evolution of AI in the 21st century, but was content to retread the same territory…over and over again. 6/10

The King (2019): Not even Timothee Chalamet’s star power can give the bloated story of Henry a proper pulse. At almost two and a half hours, it’s a beautiful (if dark and muddy) film to look at, that strains a less than intriguing story of medieval warfare. It doesn’t dig deep into the era or its characters, being content with focusing on how Hal switches gears from a Tyrion Lannister into a warrior-king without batting an eyelash. Thankfully, Robert Pattinson shows up in a somewhat exotic, yet much needed splash of colour, that just about revitalizes the dry, dry wits of The King. And then, when a good ending might have somehow sold this whole historic venture, the movie introduces an emancipated-spouse-to-be that works solely as a narrative device to find closure for a subplot that never really took shape. So, yes, looks good, but brings very little of note to the table. 6/10

Little Shop of Horrors (1986): A horror-themed musical is rare to come by. One to survive the test of time is even rarer. That’s where the exception comes in, as LSoH proves to be a thoroughly weird and enjoyable movie with good visual effects, some catchy songs, surprising twists and a lot of room for interpretation. A couple of strong “character guest stars” in Steve Martin, Bill Murray and John Candy round out the more personas played by Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene (whose pitch is…an acquired tasted). I guess you could say it’s a reinterpretation of Faust in a bizarro-way, with a demonic plant running the show. Doesn’t this just sound jolly? 7/10

Official Secrets (2019): It may not be the most engrossing newsroom/whistleblower story, heck, but Official Secrets entertains. Gavin Hood’s latest follows the excellent Eye in the Sky, which may make this a bit of a disappointment by comparison. However, the excellent cast it relies on, with the likes of Keira Knightly, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith or Indira Varma to name a few, manages to get the most out of Katharine Gun’s “treasonous” story, asking the question of where you draw the line between wanting to protect your country and betraying it. There’s some timeliness to it as well, with the Trumps and Erdogan’s of this world deciding the wider geopolotical futures of the world according to political and financial interests, before social ones. So, all in all, not that bad. 7/10

Movies of the Week #44 #45 (2019)

Petulia (1968): George C. Scott led me to this little gem of the late 60s, a movie directed by Richard Lester, better known for A Hard Day’s Night (1964), The Three Musketeers (1973) and Superman II (1981). Petulia is a story about marriage and relationships, but it is really much more than that, a story about a particular time in history that ostentatiously lacks heart. It’s all concept, all status and all brutish, primal feelings, anchored by its excellent leads, Scott and Julie Christie. The movie really looks like the future of the 60s, clean and neat and nasty, with technology taking an ever-more-present place in the day-to-day. It creates a distance between the real and the artificial, which it captures thanks in no small part to Nicholas Roeg’s cinematography. Quite a treat. 8/10

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019): A perfectly workable sequel, ZDP doesn’t stray from the formula one bit and is content to recreate what worked in the original. This means it doesn’t stand out, but thanks to some inspired moments and its top-notch cast, Ruben Fleischer’s sequel is just about good enough for the fans. The plot only sees the gang roaming through the wasteland, after a short intermezzo at the White House, with everyone yearning to be free and independent. Well, everyone except Columbus. It’s a weak driving force behind the story and the movie is content with introducing a couple of cardboard characters, a Barbie played by Zoey Deutch, and an equally ridiculous hipster-type played by Avan Jogia, instead of digging deeper with its characters. So you’ll have to be content with Emma Stone’s grimaces, which are surely deserving of a feature film by themselves, and go a-pondering of how much things have changed since the first movie was released, ten years ago. 6/10

High Life (2018): In a year of fatherly bonding in space (see Prospect), High Life proves the more engrossing story, in spite of its appalling IMDb rating. I had not seen any of Claire Denis’s movies (there’s really a bunch of acclaimed efforts to pick from), but HL quite surprised me. Story: a bunch of criminals are sent into deep space and experimented upon, in an effort to achieve reproduction in the hostile extraterrestrial medium. Juggling a slightly demanding, yet engaging timeline, the movie is led by Robert Pattinson’s performance. Pattinson, just like his former co-star Kristen Stewart, has paid for the ‘sins’ of his vampiric youth with several excellent indie movies, but he still does sexual tension well, with it taking all sorts of shapes and form in HL. Sure, it will test your patience (the number one reason for low ratings of critically acclaimed movies), in the same way that letting good wine breathe tests your patience. 8/10

Arctic (2018): One-man survival movies also take a toll on your patience, with Arctic a mostly engaging and realistic looking attempt at storytelling. Poor, old Mads Mikkelsen is stuck in what appears to be the middle of the arctic, with only vicious polar bears keeping him company while he ice-fishes. It’s a good a way as any to pass the time, but this blissful existence is disturbed when a helicopter crashes amidst the gusts of wind and snow and our adequately named Overgard suddenly has to make some tough choices. Ultimately, it’s these tough choices that speak volumes about the humanity of Arctic, a stoic testament to what mankind can be, in stark contrast with what it currently feels like. This is what confers personality to an otherwise beautiful, but narratively stingy adventure in the snow. 7/10

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018): The days when Harry Potter was truly magical have faded since the book series and the canonical movies have come to their conclusion(s). I haven’t read any of JK Rowling’s additions to the universe, but it’s quite clear that Fantastic Beasts just…doesn’t…work. A tired rehash of themes covered better in Harry Potter, with less interesting characters and a thin plot that resembles the twists and turns of the series it precedes is all we’ve been getting in the first two flicks of the series. With three more supposedly to follow, there’s little hope things will suddenly change pace and become engaging. There’s really little else to say, with the HP-nostalgia the only pleasurable side-effect of this uninspired story. It all feels like a heartless churn. 5/10

Movies of the Week #43 (2019)

Diego Maradona (2019): Asif Kapadia is cornering the market on documentaries about celebrity tragedies. After the impressive Senna and Amy biographies, comes this complex story about a fallen god of football who has the…misfortune of being still alive today. For the dramatic purposes of the movie. Maradona’s story lacks the morale shattering life-cut-short variable, although one could argue that surviving and falling as low as he’s done should be tragedy enough. With the movie focusing mostly on the Argentine’s period in Napoli, we get a beautiful arc of rebirth-omnipotence-downfall, but don’t really get the sense of what followed, with a quick and shocking wrap-up-scene meant to provide closure. Kapadia’s usual hagiography is just as present when it comes to Maradona’s life choices and it lessens the movie to some degree, by treading the same territory as with Amy – Maradona being exonerated, the inhumane pressures of being a football deity (media pressure, local culture, public expectations) indicted. Even so, the movie is entertaining to watch, as Maradona’s years in Napoli were especially colorful and reminiscent of an age pre-dating the personality-ostracized PR world of modern athletes. 8/10

Demoni (1985): If you’re looking for a gory 80’s Italian zombie flick, look no more. In this cult movie set in Berlin (!), random people are invited to watch a mysterious movie. Turns out, the movie comes to life and a sort of zombie infestation manifests itself. The special effects stand out in a an otherwise thin narrative, with some amusing bits and pieces (the blind man going to the cinema? his caretaker ditching him to make out with a random guy?) and not much in terms of scares. Drawing the line, Demons has enough character to withstand the test of time and proves a decent entry particularly for genre enthusiasts. 6/10

Der Rosenkavalier (1925): “But TS, how did you stray in pre-WWII cinema? And such an obscure movie, to boot!”

Well, the local philharmonic with the German Cultural Institute of Timisoara organized this screening/concert of Robert Wiene’s Rosenkavalier and it’s been a while since I last saw a silent movie. Wiene is known for his Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920), which I have yet to see, but RK is something quite different. An adaptation of Richard Strauss’s 1910 opera, Strauss himself conducted the orchestra on the film’s debut in Dresden. The story is your usual comedy mess of mixed lovers, masks and inheritances, so if you’ve seen any romantic operas, you’ll know where it goes pretty quickly. I can’t say I was enthralled with the movie, but some clever scenes surprised me and the orchestra’s accompaniment made the experience worthwhile. As an aside, I learned (by reading an IMDb review) that silent movies were generally not silent in the 1920s, as only the reputable theaters provided an orchestra. Medium venues played popular songs on the piano, whereas in smaller ones “coughing or marital discussions together with children howling were the music accompaniment “. A good little bit of trivia. 6/10

Ready or Not (2019): After their failed feature length debut in 2014, Devil’s Due, directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett produced a thoroughly enjoyable flick this time around. The story: as Grace (Samara Weaving) marries into the Le Domas family (and gaming empire), she has to survive a game of life or death on her wedding night. If you want to go meta, you can call RoN a critique of the 1% and everything that comes with wealth, inheritance and traditions, but it never takes itself particularly serious. While this is a traditional (genre) movie in some ways, it packs enough flair, humor and, yes, gore to make it stand out, thanks also to its strong cast – Adam Brody, Henry Czerny and Andi MacDowell, to name a few aside from Weaving. 7/10

Under the Silver Lake (2018): After two great movies in The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010) and It Follows (2014), David Robert Mitchell goes all-out David Lynch with Silver Lake and…somewhat misfires. The movie follows Sam, a Hollywood-based pop-culture addict who is in the throes of despondency when he meets a mysterious girl who just as mysteriously vanishes. With a newfound purpose, he embarks on a cryptic search through that’s markedly bizarre and eclectic, unraveling his life’s meaning, in what you’d expect of Hwood excesses. You can’t fault the movie for being unambitious and, somehow, it finds a path by the end, although it feels like its climax is three quarters of the way through. Andrew Garfield’s character is representative of the lot and takes some getting used to, which is probably why it felt like UtSL came up short – it’s interesting conceptually, but none of the people inhabiting it draw you in. Still, with such a detail rich and ambiguous story, there’s enough to bite on to make me will it towards a 7/10

Movies of the Week #42 (2019)

Joker (2019): This will not be a popular opinion, but I thought that Todd Phillips’s Joker was, for the most part, a cliched, bombastic, pretentious and tired piece of film-making that’s bleak to fault. While it is a different, more engrossing and single-focused origin story thanks to Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, I found myself rarely engaged and never excited. In the same way that ultra-violent movies are accused of being torture porn, this is its own brand of torture porn, with the sadistic world Arthur Fleck inhabits. Of course, Gotham has always been dark, but that’s why you’ve got Batman, because you need contrast. The complete lack thereof, some predictable twists, the second rate philosophy ramblings, all limited my ability to emote over what was going on. As far as I can tell, everything the movie put forth – narrative, visuals, themes – has already been done before and better. And slow-mo as the main means of atmosphere building is cheap.
The one thing it’s got going beyond Phoenix, is the sheer visceral quality of some of its scenes. And as a side-note to Phoenix’s character, I found the depiction of mental illness to be well on point regarding the effects of poverty on treatment and care options, but so extreme that it became caricatured, with the potential of further stigmatizing against those who suffer of it.
I guess that’s a long short review for a movie I didn’t like, but when you piss against the wind, you gotta expect the wind to piss back at you.That being said, yes, Joker was a disappointment and that always counts for something when rating. It’s also why I give it the same rating as Zombeavers because, hey, Zombeavers knew what it was and made no false promises. 6/10

Little Monsters (2019): If there ever was an antidote to Joker, this could very well be it. In the saturated world of zombie movies, Little Monsters provides a somewhat new, somewhat diverting and totally endearing take on the genre – a bit of Shaun of the Dead, but with children. It’s all very on the nose and one could argue it could have had more bite to it, be more irreverent, or even be funnier (can’t say McGiggles did it for me), but I just came away from it with a feeling of satisfaction and a stupid smile plastered on my face. And yes, Lupita Nyong’o is amazing, as usual. 7/10

Fatal Attraction (1987): The 80s and 90s were a great time for sex-themed movies. The naughties, innit? Like real naughties, not fifty shades of naughties – Body Double, Basic Instinct, Body Heat (see ap attern there?), all culminating and kinda ending with Eyes Wide Shut. They were also two really good decades for Michael Douglas, but in Fatal Attraction it’s Glenn Close who does most of the heavy lifting (don’t shed a tear for Douglas, he did win an Oscar that year for Wall Street). The ‘crazy female’ template has its sexist qualities, but the movie is a fun/fine ride, until the less than imaginative finale. There’s probably a nostalgia factor to it as well for viewers of a certain age, which makes it that little bit more pleasurable. 7/10

Câini (2016): A lauded Romanian No Country for Old Men (as it was labelled/self-labelled), Câini aka Dogs is a great movie to look at that’s in rather short supply of fascinating characters. Which, of course, means that it differs from NCfOM in a key way and it’s the reason for Bogdan Mirica’s movie feeling flat at times. Story in short: city dude inherits his criminally-inclined father’s estate in the countryside and gets tangled in more than he can handle. It’s not the most gripping of stories, but it’s beautifully shot and has an atmosphere akin to the Coen brothers masterpiece, which proves just about enough. 7/10

Wild Rose (2018): Half Mike Leigh, half Richard Curtis, half John Carney (hah, see what I did there?), this lass-wannabe-country-singer story felt truly endearing by the end. Featuring Chernobyl’s (and Beast’s) Jessie Buckley, it takes a bit of warming up to, because our lead, Rose-Lynn, is a morally bankrupt mother of two, with a total disregard for her responsibilities. But it’s not hard to feel for her, because she’s not the first, nor the last one to be a very young mother, whose dreams are in stark contrast with what her priorities should be. Heck, the question of how we should reconcile parenthood with a career is one of the biggest questions of our current society. With me being a bit of a country music fan (four seasons of Nashville, I must be a fan, right?), it all came together quite nicely as an exploration of our humanity, even in spite of its super-mushy ending. 8/10

Movies of the Week #40 #41 (2019)

Hail Satan ? (2018): To get things straight right out of the gate – this is most likely not the movie you think it is. You won’t get a bunch of people playing dress up and hailing an ungodly demon. Instead, HS proposes a debate about the role of anti-establishment movements (i.e. The Satanic Temple) and the importance of civilized and fair challenges to the status quo. Sure, it’s bombastic at times, while at other times you wonder if it’s not just all an elaborate prank, but it doesn’t even really matter, in the same way it doesn’t matter whether Borat is real. Because the world he/they choose to inhabit reacts with authenticity – and that’s a world in which “nontheistic religions” are a thing. How can that not be fascinating? 8/10

Anna (2019): The days of Luc Besson being relevant seem to be behind us. In Anna, a cliched action-spy-thriller, bogged down by timeline yo-yo-ing, there are few things worth remembering. Model-turned-actress Sasha Luss leads some proper actors (Cillian Murphy and Helen Mirren, to name the more notable ones), but isn’t the most convincing lead. Heck, I didn’t much like Atomic Blonde, and that one starred Charlize Theron, so it’s no surprise Anna didn’t grow on me. So unless this is your genre, stay away. 4/10

Beast (2017): Director Michael Pearce picked up a BAFTA on his debut picture – this one. Starting from a simple premise (shy, innocent, girl falls for dangerous man), it paints a beautiful role-reversal by slowly revealing the true nature of its characters. Unlike how a Korean movie might go about this, i.e. swashbucklingly, Beast is subtle and restrained for the most part. The experience is lessened by a lack of urgency in critical moments and the over-the-top ending Pearce goes for, but movie has merit. 7/10

Despre oameni și melci (2012): In a Romanian interpretation of The Full Monty, Of Snails and Men proposes an all-together familiar story: state-owned factory run by corrupt management is taken over by private investors and thousands of people lose their jobs. Said people try to work out a way to do something about it and come across a sperm donation scheme, paying 50 USD per scoop of semen. It doesn’t quite all come together, because, really, who wants to artificially inseminate the sperm of some factory worker with no higher education? In spite of the potential for powerful social commentary, Tudor Giurgiu’s movie feels slight and lacks both focus and subtlety. What it does do well, is capture “the times” and some of the people, but without creating truly interesting characters. Shame, really. 6/10

Tall Girl (2019): A Netflix production that’s about as bland and uninteresting as they come, while also going against rule nr. 1 of rom-coms – we need to root for the couple! In this tragic tale of a (gorgeous) tall girl being shunned in school for being different, we are supposed to believe that the sheer goodness of a geeky, friend-zoned dork wins the day and the girl. I’ll admit that there are times where it just looks like there might be more to this movie, a few scenes that click or a relevant piece of social commentary, but they fade into a puddle of boring irrelevance due to the unagreeable story put forth. The appalling ending was just too much to bear in the end, which is why I really can’t recommend TG. 4/10