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:
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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