Movies of the Week #51 (2016)

And a Merry Christmas to you too! Proud to say this week was productive, especially for one so filled to the brim with festivities. It might have started a bit dodgily (Bob Dogi-ly, haha), but it ended up including all the things that make up the holidays: food, music, angels and just a fresh autopsy…of your dreams and desires.

Movie of the Week:

Der Himmel über Berlin/Wings of Desire (1987)

himmel

Monday

  • Other People (2016): This is what happens when you don’t read a synopsis properly. I did glance at the first line of it, which said something about a struggling comedy writer and a break up, to which you can add the comedy tag on imdb, and I thought I knew what I was getting into. I didn’t. Damn you, movie people masquerading dramas under a razer thin veneer of comedy and then advertising them as the latter! But going beyond this bit of deception/failure on my part to document properly, Other People felt like an honest portrayal of illness and family grief. Jesse Plemons’ character in particular has enough depth and personality to help the movie stand out, which is what probably made it worthwhile for me. 7/10

Wednesday

  • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987): Having seen little of Wenders along the years (with his recent documentaries The Salt of the Earth (2014) and Pina (2011) waiting patiently for a while now), I was excited. Der Himmel über Berlin is a classic and justifiably so, as it paints a beautiful, if occasionally pedantic picture of humanity in general and a divided, suffering place like the Berlin of the late 80s in particular. As we follow Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), two angels roaming the streets, offices and libraries of the city, we get a sense of the people who live there, their joys, their anguishes, their lives. While both angels have the ability to listen and to share their aura, it’s Damiel who wants to bridge the gap of infinity and become human, feel the world that he only knows through others – a suitable parallel to the tear at the heart of East/West Berlin. Of course, there’s also a love interest involved, an utterly romantic if strongly intellectualized conception of becoming whole. Wenders’ aesthetic is daunting and spellbinding, more so in black and white than in colour, and it trumps the sometimes heavy handed characters and their individual pursuits. It might take a while to get into the rhythm of the movie, as it lacks a strong narrative arc, but once this hurdle is passed, you’re in it for the long run (except if you’re my mother, ailing on a couch and cursing my movie selection for the evening). What struck me most was its serenity in the midst of apparent waywardness, a strong existential imprint moving the characters in their quest of self-actualization. Ultimately, the actualization comes as much through the self, as it does through others, and that’s just fine. 9/10

Saturday

  • King Georges (2016): A documentary about the creator of Le Bec Fin, a renowned Philadelphia restaurant of the French persuasion, King Georges is a solid entry in the pantheon of foodie movies. Georges Perrier is a not-so-likable chef, considering whether to close his establishment in the face of how the restaurant scene has changed in Philadelphia over the last decade or so. His side-kick, the young and not-really-more-likable chef Nicholas Elmi is hoping to get a piece of the action, while working hard to manage his boss’s tantrums. Poor Hillary, one of their foot soldiers in the kitchen, is the only person that helped me emote with someone in this movie. Petty dislikes aside, it’s a fun trip in the mad business of running a restaurant and not liking a character is rarely reason enough to not enjoy the show. Hell, who would I be if I had to work in such an environment? 7/10

Sunday

  • Sing Street (2016): I had seen Sing Street several months ago, as the quote pertaining to it proves. With the family gathered around a proverbial Christmas tree, it seemed like a comfortable choice for everyone involved on a 25th of December. On first viewing, the movie left a strong impression on me, although it lacks the authenticity of Once (2009), John Carney’s seminal unexpectedly-not-debut feature. With the soundtrack on repeat for months in my playlist, I am currently capable of singing along all the pieces, whether actual 80s hits or those introduced in Sing Street. That covers one important variable that dictates whether you are bound to enjoy it or not. The second is the story of young love, a pure, unadulterated experience of wish-fulfillment, that I can’t begrudge its naiveté or the feeling that events unfold in a very controlled manner – i.e. the opposite of Once, somehow even more blatant than in Begin Again (2012). Having asked myself recently whether I am a romantic or not, the sense I get from watching almost any of Carney’s movies, but in particular Sing Street, is that there’s no denying it. Too bad it’s more of a philosophical thing, than an applied one. 8/10
  • The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016): Christmas is about a guy who later comes back to life, so I thought why not just fast forward to something that might pertain to this revival? In all honesty, things were going so well, that I just needed to wash them down with a bit of horror. Luckily enough, The Autopsy was at hand, a beautifully old school scary movie featuring two reputable leads in Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch. Playing a couple of pathologists, father and son, their day turns for the worst when Lord Bolton (Michael McElhatton) brings in an unidentified victim and they dig in, so to speak. Being old school to a fault, you’ll see the tropes coming, yet the tension director Øvredal conjures and sustains, elevates the movie beyond a series of scares and gorey pictures. Well, for me the most squeamish moments were the scraping of dirt from under Jane Doe’s fingernails, not so much the skull cutting or the organ splicing – whatever that might say about my state of mind. It’s just a shame that certain things are over-explained, instead of leaving more to the imagination or even sheer common sense, because whenever I am taken aside and lectured by a screenwriter, it also breaks the atmosphere.  Overall, a recommendation for those with a penchant, but not the faint of heart. 7/10

Movies of the Week #50 (2016)

This has been a really lazy week, film-wise. With Rectify coming to a close, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday were dedicated to the show, and episode after episode I felt weirdly overwhelmed by tenderness. Here goes for the rest, though.

Movie of the week:

Rectify (2013-2016)

rectify

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday

  • Rectify (season 4, episodes 6,7,8): The last three episodes of the series, ending after four seasons, emphasized what set it apart from so many of the other good shows on TV nowadays: any of the characters could have been the lead and I was equally invested in their fates. Created by Ray McKinnon (known for his acting roles in Deadwood or Sons of Anarchy), Rectify really makes you feel like everyone matters, as the ripples of our decisions leave all sorts of marks. Its subdued nature conveys the sense of meandering through life and as the realization struck that only a few months had passed in the show during the almost four years it took to air, I was left thinking of how rich the show and its characters were to make so little seem like so much. A real time warp if I ever felt one. So yeah, maybe take the time and Zen out.

Thursday

  • Goodnight Mommy (2014): This Austrian scary movie is not so much a piece of horror, as it is an exploratory look at a very particular affliction. I had no idea that something like this existed and being any more specific would spoil the plot, but do look into it post factum, if you do happen to watch Ich Seh ich seh, as it stands in the original title. The synopsis would claim that after some facial reconstruction surgery, the mother of two returns to her isolated home, where her children react with serious doubts over whether the woman now in the house really is their Mutter. Twists and turns can play out predictably, but the inner tension of the movie works well, with some brutal gorey scenes to boot. So if that’s your thing, don’t miss it. 7/10

Friday

  • Florence Foster Jenkins (2016): Based on real events, this light comedy about the eponymous lead character portrays the early 20th century socialite with a lot of affection. Florence wishes herself to be an opera singer, but her inability to perform even tolerably well is obscured by those surrounding her – from the more leechy elements only craving financial backing, to those whose only desire is for her to feel validated and complete. Meryl Streep churns out another exemplary performance, but she’s in good stead with Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg completing a strong ensemble cast. It’s a shame, perhaps, that the movie is so light in the end, making away with any real-life starkness. Then again, that’s what it’s about. 7/10

Saturday

  • Io sono l’amore (2009):  I’ve had this one on my watchlist for at least a year now. Starring Tilda Swinton in a non-English speaking role and set in the early 2000s, the movie portrays a rich family of Northern Italy at a point of generational crossover. Symbolically, it stakes the claim that the fathers of those years have sold out the future of younger generations to come, a somewhat prescient observation considering how things are in Italy nowadays. Then again, they weren’t all that different seven years ago and what really makes Io sono l’amore stand out is the artful strokes of this societal fresca, imbued with so much stifled emotion. 7/10

 

Movies of the Week #49 (2016)

This turned out to be quite the indie week for me, although unpremeditated. Additionally, I’ve reembarked on my quest to watch some of the countless classic films I’m lagging on, but time will tell whether I’ll ever actually come around to doing it. The feeling that, somehow, it represents this great commitment, emotionally and intellectually, is goddamn daunting.

In the spirit of new things, this time around I have a bold choice for ‘movie’ of the week:

Black Mirror: San Junipero

Black Mirror

Monday

Tuesday

  • Slash (2016): Here we go, back to my home turf: a coming of age/high-school movie about a couple of kids who are deeply steeped in the fascination of slash (urban dictionary explains: “Genre of fanfiction involving pairing two male or female characters together; characters are commonly shown with a slash in between”). So there’s a bit of sex, or rather insinuations thereof, straight and gay, playfully integrated in the wider story of teenage angst and self-discovery. Slash might only be changing the angle, without covering a lot of new ground, but it does so with disarming honesty and an endearing lead. Might be a genre recommendation, but I’ll make it any way. 7/10

Wednesday

  • Blue Jay (2016)The other thing I’m quite the fan of, beyond high-school movies about comic book fanfiction exploring sexual fantasies, is movies about missed opportunities for ‘the big love’. While on the fence over its real world existence, I’m still philosophically inclined to ascribe to such aspirations. So in a very Mark Duplass movie (think The One I Love, Safety Not Guaranteed, Your Sister’s Sister), Mr. I’m-the-coolest-brooding-happy-sad-male-lover-you’ve-once-had returns to his hometown, where he meets a former romantic partner in a supermarket. They spend the day together, emotions happen. The End. But really, I liked it, a cup of unfulfilled love is what gets me up in the morning, seeing how I don’t partake in the caffeine rituals of this world. Hey, no judging, to each his/her vices! 7/10

Thursday

  • No movies #shame. but i was part of a mannequin challenge, that’s gotta count for something, right? Like, my list of capital sins when judgment will be upon us.

Friday

  • Black Mirror: San Junipero (Season 3, Episode 4)I know this doesn’t really count as a movie, but of all the Black Mirror episodes I’ve seen (all standalone experiences), this comes closes to being one. At a whiff over an hour long, it could have been great with more time to develop the characters and flesh out the concept – one of the best the creators have put forward. For the uninitiated, Black Mirror tackles not-that-futuristic applications of almost-current-day technologies, usually in a dark and nihilistic fashion. But what makes San Junipero stand out, is that it takes a different way in and tells a captivating story set in humanity’s golden age: the 80s. I don’t want to spoil it, so all I’ll add is that its lead characters (played by Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are beautifully fleshed out and the 80s soundtrack picks are spot on. Just jump into it! 8/10

Saturday

  • Snowden (2016): It’s a by the numbers movie, competent in most regards, so I’ll keep this brief: just watch Citizenfour (2014) instead. And I say it with a heavy heart, because Snowden includes a severely underused Timothy Olyphant. 6/10

Sunday

  • Frank & Lola (2016): I was about to write ‘it’s got Michael Shannon in it, so it’s a no brainer’. Then I realized that’s pretty much my favourite line of recommending anything I like – just replace Michael Shannon with ‘high-school’, ‘unrequited love’, ‘chickens and eggs’, etc. Beyond the always enjoyable Shannon, F&L is a pretty old-school movie about two guys fighting over a girl, with jealousy, violence, and good food included on the menu. Had there been more of a build up to certain scenes, it could have made for an excellent thriller. As it stands, it’s just a good one, which left me with the peculiar feeling of having under-committed to its theme and its characters, i.e. there’s just placeholders where the meat of the drama, the intensity should be. Then again, with my penchant for MS, how can I complain? 7/10

 

Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglément! (2015): A Wall Apart

Trying out my new Netflix subscription (thanks dad! also, I really think VR has many useful business applications, you should  think about getting that as well), I ended up watching a little French romantic comedy last night. Full disclosure, 2016 hasn’t been a great romancing year for me, so I get easily irked by too much quirky stuff or unsubstantiated love kernels. And for the most part, easy-breezy romcoms tend to consist of a string of those. So it’s at least partly my fault that Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglément! (you know I can’t pronounce that, so let’s just go with the English title: Blind Date) didn’t stick.

blind-date

Then again, it felt like all the creators were working with was a concept and a final scene: the former bordering on the absurd, the latter more romantic than I was set up to expect, by the look of things. Everything else was filled in with a competent, but cloggy and predictable plot and endearingly cardboard-y characters.

OK, that’s harsh.

The leads have a tinge of something special about them, both reclusive introverts, passionate creatives – playfully nicknamed Machine and Machin. Separated by a thin and not at all soundproof wall, they get to organizing their lives around one another and ultimately fall for each other. The secret sauce lies in them not having seen each other and therefore being able to focus on the essence of what’s being conveyed. At times, the two even have enough personality to be more than cardboard cut-outs. Also, ‘Machine’ (Mélanie Bernier) is adorable.

Instead of spending more time with them, we’re served with two second-hand supporting characters, the adulterous sister (or was it friend?) of ‘Machine’ and the overly supportive friend of ‘Machin’. The problem with these two is that they bring nothing to the story. Instead, they are classic counter-points – the rebellious matron to the timid girl, the happy-go-lucky fellow to the misanthrope. This makes them superfluous, because no time is dedicated to truly fleshing them out enough for anything they do to even matter.

Coming back to our protagonists, their purpose is to free one another of what’s tying them down, while also coming together. For one, it’s a perfectionist obsession with the creation brain-teaser games; for the other, it’s a perfectionist obsession with playing the piano. It fits, we do like fixing in others what we can’t fix in ourselves. This takeaway, so common to romantic comedies, is the bane of my existence. To its defense, Blind Date tries to nuance the matter, as one might find motivation in another, but still needs to independently commit to change. There’s just an excessive amount of wish fulfillment about the movie, as too much is left unexplored to really make it worthwhile. Luckily, the bits of Chopin scattered throughout offer a helping hand.

People seem to like the flick, so with my disclaimer in mind, take what you will out of this review. Yet I cannot help being disappointed, because while it does feel authentic at points, it predominantly appears trite. Maybe I should just lower my pretentious romcom bar a notch or two.

**

Movies of the Week #48 (2016)

Being bored on a Sunday evening such as the one unfolding right now, I decided to aim higher on the vanity punching bag and jot down some remarks about the movies I saw this week. It probably won’t stick, because #lazy, but who knows?

Movie of the week:

Ah-ga-ssi/The Handmaiden (2016)

handmaiden

Monday

  • Child’s Play (1988): what better way to start the week than sit in front of your television and surf all the way to one of the movies that ruined your childhood?  Geeze. Well, the thing that surprised me most was to find out that Brad Dourif played the voice of Chucky! Beyond this, the execution stands up reasonably well and I can see where one might get scared, but it was impossible to take the whole thing seriously. For the sake of old times though, a round. 6/10

Tuesday

  • Ah-ga-ssi (2016): [surprisingly, not a movie about tennis] Tuesday was go to the cinema in the middle of the day-day. And what a pleasure to see Cinema City do their best to promote an exceptional film by plugging it at 1.20 pm, alongside its equivalent NC-17 tag. There’s such a dire need for an art-house cinema, it almost makes me want to weep. But alas, watching brilliant movies in conditions equaling the level of privacy only your living room might otherwise bestow upon thee is up there in the list of amazing things one can do in life. And about the movie, such a classic runaround steeped in Chan-wook Park’s distinctive style – lavish and intimate and personal and just delightful! Do yourselves a favour and watch the trailer, at least. I’ve made sure to look at it every time I opened youtube this week. 9/10

Wednesday

  • Shotgun Stories (2007)Catching up on my Jeff Nichols/Michael Shannon collaborations, I finally watched the Stories this week. It’s not up there with my favourite of theirs, Take Shelter (2011), but it’s a solid tale of petty squabbles and revenge, inflamed by the backdrop of social displacement and personal drama the protagonists bring to the table. 7/10

Thursday

  • Barton Fink (1991): I can finally step into the light and claim to have seen all of the feature films directed by the Coen’s. Strangely, although fairly riveting and ripe with allegorical interpretations, while also boasting two in-form John’s (Turturro and Goodman), I did not love it. And I pretty much enjoyed Hail, Caesar! (2016), so…you know. Not quite sure what was missing. 7/10

Friday

  • Swiss Army Man (2016)By now, it has become apparent that this post is already too long for it to stay practical. And the weekend was just as prolific! Dan Radcliffe, playing a corpse for a lot of the time, and Paul Dano, doing his best attempt of looking like Leo Messi, carry this weird-ass movie about, essentially, mental illness? It’s one of those larger than life kind of situations, underpinned by more farts than usual, which ends up being more benign than initially expected. But it feels pretty honest and the leads work well together, to carry it (hah!) to its underwhelming conclusion. 7/10
  • Ghostbusters (2016): So much talk about such an average movie – sometimes the internet is crazy, who would have thought? The whole debacle about doing it with an all female cast is(n’t?) worth diddly squat, because that’s not the problem. The problem is the movie isn’t funny, its play against various tropes is dull (although I did appreciate a Hemsworth being used as an Ulla) and the only performance I enjoyed was Kate McKinnon’s. Shame. 5/10

Saturday

  • Sully (2016): It’s amazing to see Clint Eastwood is still at it, and in reasonable form to boot! But then again, it’s hard to go wrong with Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart, two very reliable actors capable of a wide range of performances. What the movie lacks to make it really stand out is thematic heft, as it stays focused (and enthralling) in the tense moments, but the away-from-the-plane conflicts are weak dramatically. 7/10

Sunday

  • War Dogs (2016): Clearly, I was low on ambition by the end of this week and just wanted to sign off with a light movie about mass murder, Todd Philips style, i.e. light and breezy. In all honesty, I have to confess enjoying Andrew Niccol’s  Lord of War (2005) which merely differs in nuances from War Dogs, while staying equally light and breezy. But, then again, not every movie has a Nicolas Cage and a Jared Leto. So yeah, I’m not quite sure about the casting of Miles Teller, while Jonah Hill’s character reminded me too much of his persona in the Wolf of Wall Street (2012). Heck, the whole movie reminded me of that, so it’s definitely got an identity problem. Ultimately, though, it’s still better than Ghostbusters, even if barely. 6/10