Movies of the Week #25 (2017)

Movie of the Week:

The Babushkas of Chernobyl (2015)

babushkas

Monday

  • The Babushkas of Chernobyl (2015): It’s my not so hidden secret that I want to visit Chernobyl one of these days. In preparation for the event, I thought some lessons of wisdom from radiation ridden old ladies might do me good. Babushkas turned out to be quite the sensitive portrayal of resilience and sentimentality in the face of the man-made adversity. The women still living in the wider exclusion zone couldn’t bear leaving their homes as the reactor core melted in 1986 and in spite of their forced evacuation, they returned illegally to go on with their lives. Authorities deemed they would more likely be killed by old age than by the nuclear fallout (although the protagonists we see would have been in their early 50s back then), so they were permitted to stay. It’s fascinating to see how everything looks normal, as if the thing had been shot somewhere in rural Romania, instead of one of the most toxic places on earth. What has always given me a sense of the otherworldly are the images of nature reclaiming Pripyat, the kind of post-apocalyptic foreshadowing so many disaster movies try hard to fake. Living on the now impure land, as they had always done, the babushkas are a testament to the small joys of life, with an emphasis on the importance of being and belonging ahead of mere survival. 7/10

Wednesday

  • Kong: Skull Island (2017): In a way, I didn’t like much of what was going on in Kong:SI. The scriptwriting is frustrating and pompous, there are too many characters, the film has an overreliance on slow-mo and the monster fight is your usual WWF struggle. I mean, really, Hiddleston looks like he’s posing for GQ in almost all his shots! There’s a heavy visual influence of Apocalypse Now, which also spreads in varying ways across the characters, from John C. Reilly’s Crusoe-esque character, to Samuel L. Jackson’s blatant Colonel Kurtz impression. In spite of all this, though, I got taken in by the action, and managed to enjoy Kong, perhaps, more than I should have. It’s a mystery. 6/10

Sunday

  • Resident Evil: Vendetta (2017): I’m all in on anything Resident Evil, but it’s even hard for me to find anything worth recommending in RE: Vendetta. This animated movie sure looks a lot like the games (and, of course, the previous animated films), bringing in familiar characters like Chris, Leon and Rebecca. The bulk of the story, about another frustrated douchebag arms-dealer wanting a new start for the world, takes place in that weird chronological order that the Resident Evil universe exists in and is pathetic. Everything looking like a collage of previous locations, characters and plots, sometimes just textured differently, which nobody seems to find familiar. I won’t even complain about the off-key dramatic scenes or the by-the-numbers action moments, as I felt it more worrisome, that empathizing with anyone proved impossible. Plainly put, the writing on this is so awful, almost everything else goes with it. I never thought it would be possible to top or equal P.W.S. Anderson’s live-action movies as long as you stuck to core characters, but it seems I was naive and idealistic. Skip this, even more so if you care about Resident Evil. 3/10

Movies of the Week #24 (2017)

Please excuse my busy schedule this week, but a non-domestic travel arrangement severely hampered my movie-watching agenda. The couple of movies I did see are miles apart from one another.

Movie of the Week:

Alien Resurrection

alien_resurrection_ver1

Tuesday

  • Harvey (1950): Long festering on my watchlist, I gor around to watching this Jimmy Stewart showpiece by pure randomness. The night before the event, I endured my favourite football team squandering a gazillion chances to save their asses from a relegation play-off, which still happened later in the week, but the initial 2-1 home advantage was nightmare inducing. So when I awoke at 5 am and was bereft of any desire to rest any further, what else could have been more advised than checking out Stewart and his imaginary rabbit-friend? Well, it took some time getting used to the idea, but once that was achieved, I enjoyed Harvey. Its utterly optimistic approach to mental illness – to an almost frustrating degree – is more allegorical than rooted in practical nit-pickings and, of course, Stewart makes it work. Funnily, Josephine Hull, playing his irritating, conniving, selfish sister (but kind, oh-how-kind) ended up with an Oscar for her performance, in what was one of the only stand-out roles of her career. 7/10

Sunday

  • Alien Resurrection (1997): TBH, maybe I only watched two movies so that I could put an Alien on the MotW list. Wish I was this premeditated – I only saw AR because I plopped my ass on a couch and there it was, running on one of my underused TV cable channels.Resurrection has this bad rap of being somehow the worst Alien film of the quadrilogy. Alien 3 gets a hall pass because Fincher has proved to be such a great director and, supposedly,  the director’s cut sorts out all the damage done by studio interference on the original cinematic cut. I disagree – while 3 is watchable and coherent, it lacks personality. Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Resurrection is more of a wild bet, with Jeunet at the bottom of a long list of directors who refused the opportunity to work on the fourth Alien movie. As scriptwriter and nerd darling Joss Whedon disowned the execution of the film (“They said the lines but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong they could possibly do.”), it isn’t all too difficult to see shortcomings in AR. While I agree it could have been better and some scenes do come across ridiculously, I feel Resurrection is more enjoyable than Fincher’s third iteration of the series, primarily because you’ve got many memorable scenes, awesome one-liners and the final ‘boss’ battle has a weird, disturbing emotional heft to it. Sure, most of the casting doesn’t work very well (except for the ever-awesome Ron Perlman), the new Ripley is not particularly likable and it’s just plain lazy to set a movie 200 years into the future but keep it artificially identical in visual style to the original story. But AR is the last Alien movie that still felt like an Alien movie, which matters a great deal to me. 7/10

Movies of the Week #23 (2017)

In a week so full of tennis, there was little time and energy left for the movies. A few still managed to be squeezed in and they weren’t even half bad.

Movie of the Week

20th Century Women (2016)

20th century women

Some day last week:

  • Airplane (1980): I somehow forgot to write about this – which is understandable, considering I caught it just after Saturday lunch, a pleasant no-memories-get-stored period of my week. It wasn’t the first time I saw Airplane either and I’m quite the fan of the early work done by Abrahams and Zucker, especially the TV series Police Squad and its associated movie The Naked Gun (1988). Their particular brand of deadpan, literal humour has found a second coming in a recent series, Angie Tribeca, which does a good job in carrying the torch, but lacks some freshness. It all really got off with Airplane, one of the cornerstone parodies to have graced cinema screens, which does a balanced job in being ironic and amusing without feeling like a bunch of reels stuck together of the various movies it pokes at. A fun fact I just came across is that the Airplane is a sort of remake based on Zero Hour! (1957), as they share the same plot: food poisoning on a commercial flight wreaks havoc. Not much else in common as far as style is concerned, though. Long story short, if you’re interested in a different kind of comedy, give it a shot. All goes well – you have some material to go through and laugh yourselves silly. 7/10

Monday

  • 20th Century Women (2016): For whatever reason, it took me a while to get into 20thCW. The first part of the movie felt slow and a tad pretentious, as a complex assortment of characters drifts into the frame, led by Annette Benning’s Dorothea Fields, a single mother worried about providing a rounded character-building youth to her son, Jamie. As the story progressed, or rather the personal intricacies deepened, I felt myself being taken in by a what proved to be a touching tale of motherhood, of womanhood, that manages to stay away from the obvious, the inauthentic, the political. There’s this beautiful, nuanced subtlety to 20thCW, in how it explores its themes, and that’s priceless. 8/10

Tuesday

  • The Young Zlatan (2015): My fascination with football biopics is a fact, as exhibited in the reviews on another couple of similar movies, Messi’s disappointing re-enactment and C. Ronaldo’s flamboyant, narcissistic ride. One would expect a player of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s stature, coming from a complex immigrant background in Sweden, to have an interesting story on its own merits, which indeed is the case. Constructed from archival footage, a surprising amount of it, we get some insight into Ibrahomvic’s move from Malmö FF to Ajax Amsterdam and the age-old struggle to fit in, rise to the occasion of being more than just a big fish in a small pond. Although he appears in most scenes, sometimes even unguarded, it’s hard to see beyond the cocky boy that Zlatan seemed to amount to in those days and get an understanding of the man. Nonetheless, I would argue this docu works well as a sort of cautionary tale towards talented youth anywhere, but particularly in sports, of how even someone who would end up being one of the best at his craft needs to overcome this particular type of adversity, show resilience and a willingness to endure. Also, you can see Zlatan playing some old-school Hitman, which is always fun. 7/10

Thursday

  • Baywatch (2017): For whatever reason, I thought the first Baywatch trailer was fun and nostalgic – not that I had ever followed the series, but just as an afterthought to a bygone age. While the next couple of trailers seemed less inspired, I stuck to my initial gut feeling and went to check out this Dwayne Johnson – Zac Efron bonanza – hey, I had already seen and not totally hated Dirty Grandpa (2016), so how bad could it be? Truth is: it’s not all that bad. You get what you expect – manly men, generically beautiful female characters with no personality, absurd concerns of seeming politically correct in spite of this, a TV-level plot, somewhat surprisingly TV level special effects, and a wallop of good banter between Johnson and Efron. I guess you can see the shortcomings right there. I did, however, have the occasional laugh and in spite of an almost ungodly two hour runtime, didn’t get bored. Just cerebrally anesthetized, which can be a healthy thing. 5/10 (P.S. You just know most of the special effects budget went into making Pamela Anderson look like she was forty again) 

Friday

  • Hidden Figures (2016): I like to thing I’m reasonably sized on most things NASA, so even delaying to watch HF for so long was shameful. The story conveying the importance of African-American women in the space-race of the 60s, a double whammy for the segregated American society of the day, is pretty much by the numbers. What elevates it into something pleasurable are the performances, especially those of the three female leads ( Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe), while even Kevin Costner’s phoned-in good guy part makes you feel at home. Other than that, HF is the opposite of 20th CW in regards to how it flaunts its socio-political convictions, with little nuance and focusing on the absurd situations arising from a dysfunctional society. Pretty much your template Oscar movie, for better or worse. 7/10

Movies of the week #22 (2017)

Not the best week quality-wise, but we’re good on quantity. And you know what they say, the more you do it, the better human being you are. I was bemused by the Netflix ratings system, which seems confused due to the fact that both I and my mother sometimes use it. Consequently, although we like some similar films, we get horrible recommendations – stuff like ¿Qué Culpa Tiene el Niño? (2016) gets five stars and Anvil: The Story of Anvil! (2008) gets two. Shame.

Movie of the week:

High Fidelity (2000)

high-fidelity

Monday

  • High Fidelity (2000): Re-watching HF was something I wanted to do for a while now. It’s probably the third time seeing it, as I recall one occasion where I just couldn’t remember John Cuasck’s name until literally three seconds before it popped up on the end credits. I’ve read some of Hornby’s books and seen a lot of his stuff that’s been put to film, but HF is my favourite (yes, even ahead of About a Boy (2002) or An Education (2009)where he penned the screenplay; Brooklyn (2015) I have not yet seen). It’s this sketch of the frustrated, egotistical, clueless young male that got to me, a self-enlightened anti-hero who envisions himself playing both the persecuted and the persecutor. Yet, we sort of like him, a) because it’s John Cusack and b) because he’s trying and conscious about his shortcomings, if unconvincing in his attempts to improve. So yeah, it’s a solid rom-com with a lot of music and pop-culture. What else can you want? 8/10

Tuesday

  • War Machine (2017): The much touted Netflix production with Brad Pitt is an underwhelming, been-there, seen-that kind of affair. Being parodic about the bureaucracies of war and some inherent structural flaws in the conception of military leadership works for a while, but there’s usually no end game, just a bunch of familiar truths and platitudes. Ultimately, you are better off watching Lord of War (2005) or Buffalo Soldiers (2001)a pair of flawed movies also riding on the charm of their leading men, which have the simple advantage of having been there first. 6/10

Wednesday

  • ¿Qué Culpa Tiene el Niño? (2016): As I was intimating, Netflix fooled me here. This Mexican rom-com starring the gorgeously long-legged Karla Souza (How to Get Away with Murder) has its charms, but doesn’t quite deliver. You sort of know what kind of ride you’re going to get once the premise – a rich, talented woman in her late 20s gets pregnant after a one night stand with a hopeless guy in his early 20s – becomes apparent. The to and fro, the wannabe amusing side-characters, the I-can-provide-shtick, the spontaneous evolution, the odd surprise; nothing’s new here, but it’s reasonably well executed. Until the ending, that is, which felt completely off due to the, erm, moral implications of how it’s presented. I fought against my better judgment to let it slide and choose a simpler, if less logical, interpretation of events, which eases my cerebral suffering and replaced the ending with the kilobyte equivalent in images of Souza. But, really, come on people! What the heck. 6/10

Thursday

  • Table 19 (2017): Because I don’t know when to call it quits, I doubled down on rom-coms with the uninspiring Table 19. It’s weird that the movie doesn’t work, given the many agreeable actors gathered in front of the camera (Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, Stephen Merchant) and behind it (written by Mark & Jay Duplass, directed by Jeffrey Blitz, of Rocket Science (2007)). Alas, it doesn’t, probably because the characters are bland and do not gel together well, mayhaps due to some ill-advised casting decisions (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson together?). There’s also a bizarre moment with a potential alternative suitor for our leading lady, which is then left unresolved, as if it didn’t happen at all. And the conclusion, well, I really couldn’t care less. 5/10

Friday

  • Wonder Woman (2017): I have enough experience by now to know that superhero movies going in the 90% on Rottentomatoes, or even mid-high seventies on Metacritic, are guaranteed to be competently executed, yet distinctly un-riveting. The same goes for WW, which I initially didn’t even want to go watch, as Gal Gadot failed to impress my acute sensibilities in Batman v Superman (2016). Good reviews changed my mind, in spite of the knowledge I claimed to have gathered through experience, and, sure enough, I was entertained, but not excited. There is talk of the importance of having a strong female character, who happens to come from an exclusively matriarchal society, but what helps WW stand out is that it doesn’t try too hard to build you up for whatever new cross-franchise mash-up they’re going to release next year. There was even a moment, about three quarters of the movie in, that I felt something unexpected and insightful might be occurring, but it didn’t last long before the usual order of things was resumed and we moved on to a finale with big pow-wow effects. Which was all fine and good, if it’s what you want. 7/10

Satuday

  • Their Finest (2016): It made sense to stick to the feminist movies, this time with a more overtly feminist one in TF. Starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Calflin and Bill Nighy (the latter, as himself – well, not really, but haha), it tracks back to the second world war and the integration/acceptance of women in scriptwriting. So, yeah, there’s this trend now that’s being ridden, emphasizing the involvement of women in as-of-then out-of-bounds domains, with the likes of Hidden Figures (2016) and even The Imitation Game (2014) offering similar insights. I’m not good at liking movies with such socio-political agendas, but what really undoes TF is its slow pace. Other than that, the movie is both sensitive and sensible, with the one big flaw of not having caught much of my interest and attention. 6/10