Movies of the Week #52 (2016)

Without too much purpose, the last week of the year turned out one of the best, if not perfectly diverse, weeks in a recent while. Three blockbusters head it, alongside several slightly smaller movies, all mainstream with one exception. I’ll let you guess which one it is.

Movie of the Week:

La La Land (2016)

lalaland

Monday

  • Busanhaeng/Train to Busan (2016): Transitioning smoothly from one scary movie to another (The Autopsy of Jane Doe being Sunday’s choice, if you didn’t laser burn that into your memory), the Korean zombie hit could have just as well borne the campy title of Zombies on a Train, or Train of the Dead. Plotline-wise, there’s a faulty father and an ignored daughter, a half-forgotten birthday and a train ride to, you guessed it, Busan. Well, it was not quite the target, but as a zombie pandemic breaks out, the whole place goes haywire, with 28 Days Later running-leaping-marauding zombies making for a violent turn of events. The train might not be the safest place to be, but it sure beats some of the alternatives, and so we look on as father breaks out a sweat and learns a lesson about being human (these financial traders, really!). What I really liked was the paranoia that ensued between the survivors, a suitable parallel to some of the things happening throughout the world nowadays – as some have pointed out. Ultimately though, a zombie movie is a zombie movie, no matter how much cinephiles like to draw on the social allegories, all pretty stale meanwhile. And this is a fun zombie movie, with proper effects and a lot of action. 7/10

Tuesday

  • Soul Kitchen (2009): First things first – shame on me for this being the first Fatih Akin movie I’ve seen! But soon, Gegen die Wand, I promise. As for Soul Kitchen, it’s an enjoyable tale of food and hipster Hamburg, but towards the end, the sense that it had started to drift became apparent. Just as apparent as the fact that I keep watching food-themed movies every week. In short, Zinos has a run down bar/bistro, on the verge of going broke, and a brother in prison who’s looking for ways to stay there as little as possible, which includes being hired to ‘work’ at Zinos’ place. Through a stroke of luck, things improve suddenly as the identity of the bistro changes, but the pressure is still on for Zinos to balance work with his (very) long distance relationship. So yeah, the plot isn’t spectacular, but it works well enough to keep you entertained, as do the characters. 7/10

Wednesday

  • Deepwater Horizon (2016): I’m starting to realize that a bunch of these movies are plot-thin. Deepwater Horizon is probably at the top of the list, as it reenacts the tragedy of the oil platform/drilling rig, focusing on the spectacular failure caused by something as simple as BP’s greed. The organizational backtracking the movie does makes it a worthwhile case study in corporate management, while Peter Berg proves extremely adept in directing big drama entertainingly. Anchored by the performances of equally proficient actors – Kurt Russel, John Malkovich and, oh-lord-I’m-writing it, Mark Whalberg – there’s nothing wrong about Deepwater Horizon for what it is, a based on real events blockbuster. Just do a back-to-back with Sully, strike them off your 2009/2010 disasters list. 7/10

Thursday

  • Rogue One (2016): I’ve never been a Star Wars fan and nothing that happened in the last twenty years has helped (except for Knights of the Old Republic, hah!). As a matter of fact, I hold the controversial opinion that there’s not much referentially wrong with the prequels, because only The Empire Strikes Back is a good movie of the original trilogy. Last year’s Force Awakens was a good entry to the series, but Rogue One is little more than a piece of a puzzle. Tucked neatly between episodes three and four, it looks at the story behind the Empire’s Death Star and the Rebel Alliance’s plans to thwart it. Held together by some likable secondary characters, the movie comes undone every time Felicity Jones’s grumpy face comes on screen. I’ve actually followed Jones for years now, but her project picks never really work with me – well, I liked Chalet Girl (2011), so, erm, maybe I should decline any further competence in the matter? The strong finale is a saving grace for an otherwise underwhelming experience, that felt a lot of the time like watching someone else play a video game. 6/10

Friday

  • La La Land (2016): Isn’t it just awesome when a new filmmaker doesn’t prove to be a flash in the pan? After the excellent Whiplash (2014)Damien Chazelle follows up with a romantic and melancholy musical about the forlorn search for success in Los Angeles. There are many parallels to be drawn between the two movies, but, most importantly, each is its own experience. With Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone building on the chemistry they proved to have in Crazy, Stupid Love, what’s amazing is how easy it is to connect to the music. A lot of talk is about jazz, but this isn’t a jazz musical. It’s not even one of those musicals where characters break out into song for no particular reason (mostly, mostly!). While some of the sad husbands who joined their beloveds would surely disagree with me, as they made gruntingly clear at each musical moment, La La Land  puts together a musical narrative that’s at least as impressive as the accomplished aesthetic of the movie. Not that they would likely care about the aesthetic either, to be honest. Anyway, add to that the Casablanca throwback and you’ve got yourself one of the best romantic movies in a long time. And there I was, last week, wondering aloud whether I’m a romantic! 9/10

Saturday

  • The Fits (2015): In her directorial debut (kinda), Anna Rose Holmer works with great skill and assurance to tell a story of very few words. Set at the Lincoln Community Center, we follow Latonia (Toni), an outsider in the strongest sense of the word, in her attempt to belong. While she spends most of her time at the boxing gym, with her brother and other boys, there’s a palpable urge to be more like the dancer girls, part of the school’s successful dance group Lionesses. When just these popular girls start having bizarre fits/convulsions, everyone starts to worry and wonder. The movie provides no explanation as to what’s happening or why, slowly and silently accompanying Toni as she experiences the events. Even though it is rather slow and lacks an obvious payoff, I got on board towards the end and really savoured my takeaway. The social dynamics and anathema attached to being/not being part of a group, without so much focus on the usual teenage angst, gets a special treatment here. Special different, special good. Also, made me discover something like the dancing plague apparently occurred! 8/10

Sunday

  • Little Voice (1998): Ending a full week on a cute note is always helpful, be it in a grumpy, slightly abusive British manner. The almost twenty year old movie is headlined by three of the best known UK actors of recent years – Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor -, alongside the always excellent Brend Blethyn (Secrets & Lies, yum) and the lovely Jane Horrocks. Appreciation of the acting quality was shown throughout the awards season, with one Golden Globes win for Michael Caine, nominations for Horrocks and Blethyn, as well as an Academy Awards nomination for the latter. The movie plays as an anti-abuse, anti-bullying piece, an ode to the hidden beauties of silence with some lovely singing performances by Horrocks. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much else, which left me a wanting more than the occasional chuckle. 7/10