Movies of the Week #50 #51 #52 (2017)

End of the year bonanza!

Movie of the weeks

bulworth

Bulworth (1998): It might sound silly, but I haven’t had such a good time with a movie I had no expectations of in many, many months! Bulworth is pretty despised in some corners of the internet, even considered a cinematic abomination, but that all went beyond me. The movie takes on the ‘politician-gone-mad-before-reelection’ spin and provides a racially charged debate on the issues of segregation, big business and social disparity within the US in the mid-nineties. All to the tune and rhythm of a stereotypical white man’s idea of rap. Yeah. It might not be completely convincing in its arguments, but the verve Warren Beatty brings to the experience is something else. More so, this probably ranks as my favourite Halle performance, even ahead of her award-winning performance in Monster’s Ball (2001) and I’m not even kidding. That’s not to say that her part in Bulworth has more depth, but still. So yeah, quite the crazy joy ride! 8/10

The Spirit of Christmas (2015): Is there even such a thing as a good movie with ‘Christmas’ in the title? I tried my luck again after last week’s A Christmas Prince (2017), but it didn’t help. In this approach, a know-it-all-except-how-to-love lawyer lady is sent to ensure the appraisal of a ‘haunted’ inn, where she finds a damned handsome ghost to keep her company. As she tries to help me figure out why he’s stuck there for, presumably, all eternity, the two grow fond of each other and nothing exciting happens. The end. There’s little to recommend this movie for, with the best thing I can write about it being that it feels competent enough. What’s definitely lacking is any and all Christmas charm. 4/10

The Battle of the Sexes (2017): This wannabe underdog story lacks the emotional punch to be truly satisfying, but manages to emphasize the right things along the way. It’s all about the show, American style, and if there’s a cause behind it, well that’s just an unexpected benefit. Emma Stone (as Billie Jean King) and Steve Carell (as Bobby Riggs) inhabit a couple of lackluster characters that happen to have a lot of nuance to them – even too much, at times, for the scope of the movie. With so many things going on, side characters really get tossed aside as soon as they’ve played some narrative purpose, the old and the conventional is villainized stereotypically, and there’s just not enough time to flesh out a riveting story. At least the tennis looked fine. 6/10

Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark (2017): Trevor Noah is a talented enough comedian to hold an audience for one hour without being original or very funny. I never took to him as the The Daily Show host, but I didn’t give him much of a chance either. In this stand up not much of the material made me rethink my lack of patience towards ‘the new guy’. Noah’s accents are amusing, but by themselves they offer little in terms of entertainment. A cluster of uninspiring anecdotes, littered with the odd, heavy handed reflective moment, amount to this show barely getting a passing grade. 5/10

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012): For whatever obscure reason, I ended up watching this, without even having seen the ‘original’. I’m quite certain I did not miss much, with Journey 2 building up to a tame, uninteresting CGI fest, with truly obnoxious and stereotypical characters. Not even Dwayne Johnson manages to ‘bring it’. Perhaps that’s why I ended up watching J2, was that I thought it to be connected with The Rock’s previous jungle movie, The Rundown (2003). Silly me. Which is not to say that Jumanji 2 (2017)or Rampage (2018) (the latter also directed by this pic’s helmer, Brad Peyton) might not all form a miraculous Rock-niverse with unspoken connections. 4/10

Viceroy’s House (2017): An interesting movie about the British departure from India and the country’s split with Pakistan is watered down by a godawful romance melodrama that defies belief, no matter how much it’s inspired from a true story. I realized how ignorant I am of the historical context concering almost any non-European country during the last century, which, I guess, means I should be watching some documentaries, not dramatizations. For what it’s worth, the movies kept my attention and had it not been let down by Gurinder Chadha choices in regards to the script and the directorial focus, it could have really been worth recommending. 6/10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): One can never repeat enough that he/she is not a Star Wars fan before critiquing the movies, just like those disclaimers advertisers have to use when promoting pharmaceuticals. That being said, it’s hard to understand the critical adulation of an okay, but unimpressive story which simply evades anything that seems unsafe. When it’s not pushing hard to cater to the new generation of fans, the occasionally ruinous dialogue or the abomination of a plot keep the whole thing from really engaging beyond the showmanship. And, heck, the showmanship is good, I felt my heart racing at times, but on each occasion that the thing could’ve left a mark, it veered away into the inconsequential. This plethora of universe building movies, be it the makings of Star Wars, Marvel’s Avengers, DC’s Justice League, etc. is just tiresome. At their best, the movies are a spectacle and The Last Jedi scores highly on this scale. At their worst, they are underdeveloped and overcooked, another scale on which TLS rests near the unwelcome top. 6/10

Commando (1985): aka the original Taken (2008) on steroids. The absolute Schwarzenegger vehicle in which the man not only saves his kidnapped daughter, but also manages to kill an army-sized militia single handedly while charming the pants off a stewardess he kindly abducts early on in the story. All within twelve hours. Not a bad day’s work. It’s silly as hell, sure, but, damn it, wasn’t Arnie a lot of fun back in the day? Like that final fight, where he takes on a former comrade and it looks like Schwarzenegger is in the best commando shape of his life, while the other guy seems to have taken up a career as an oversized Freddie Mercury impersonator? And all those one-liners? Just good, good 80s fun! 7/10

Movies of the Week #49 (2017)

I don’t know what I’m doing, I haven’t seen a really good movie in a while and it’s all due to my very conscious selection patterns. Once again, this week’s top choice is more commendable for the attempt, not the result. Ah well.

Movie of the Week

The Wizard of Lies (2017)

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A Christmas Prince (2017): It’s hard to find many redeeming qualities to this heavily cliched Christmas flick, boasting wedding-level cinematography and Sunday-theater acting. The story – a journalist gets her big break when she is sent to cover the story of a coronation ceremony, then mischievously stays on as a tutor for the impaired princess – is riddled with the expected and encumbered by spectacularly lazy screen-writing. If there are some things working in its favour, it starts with the lavishly beautiful Peles Castle, which is one of my preferred Romanian places to visit. Ben Lamb provides a convincing prince, Honor Kneafsey manages to score some likability points, but  I was not taken with Rose McIver, playing the lead. It’s a shame, really, because I enjoyed McIver in iZombie; alas, there’s next to no chemistry between her and Lamb. So, yeah, hard to recommend, even for the Christmas fanatics amongst y’all. 4/10

Victoria & Abdul (2017): Heeey, here’s my weekly non-Indian movie portraying Indians in a one-dimensional way. Unfortunately, Stephen Frears really disappoints with this one, a bland story about Queen Victoria’s relationship with a Muslim Indian servant, which simply fails to find a compelling focus. There’s more to life than being constantly reminded what jerks those guys in the British Empire were. 5/10

Stronger (2017): This renewed take on the Boston marathon bombings proves to be a fairly by the numbers, yet emotional representation of an everyday hero’s tale. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany, two actors in top form, the movie provides some grisly visuals, although it works best when focusing on the pain of its protagonists. What it also does well is that it keeps its lead hero real, to show that life-changing injuries are not guaranteed to perfect one’s imperfections as a human being. All in all, Stronger is a slight improvement on last year’s Patriot’s Day (2016). 7/10

The Wizard of Lies (2017): I am still constantly impressed by the caliber of TV movies nowadays. This HBO production about Ponzi scheme ‘artist’ Bernard Madoff stars Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alessandro Nivola and Nathan Darrow and feels very familiar. A bit of Margin Call (2011)a bit of The Big Short (2015), a bit of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) in an exposition style narrative about Madoff’s downfall. It’s a fine movie, but it tries very hard to be more than just that, failing in the process. At almost 135 minutes runtime, you get an idea of the complexities under the surface, but the team behind this pic never dig deep enough to really flesh out all the characters. As a consequences, the tale of the two brothers feels more like a tag-on working towards discrediting Madoff as a family man and never really gels. Factually, little light is shed on how the guy managed to rip off so many big players in the financial markets, what was really going on with the money and why we should care. I mean sure, there’s a lot of the latter going on, with impassioned pleas of the non-millionaires who got ripped off in the process, but that feels like pandering, more than anything. The film never really ‘bites’, although it tries to, only to ultimately err on the side of caution and treat Madoff with gentility. A shame, because it felt at times that it could really have been something special. 7/10

Movies of the Week #48 (2017)

A very light week once again, with some foodies, some romcomies, some biopicies…that got out of hand quickly. Hard to pick a stand-out, but I’ll go with nostalgia and feel-good, seeing how Christmas is just around the corner.

Movie of the Week

Definitely Maybe (2008)

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The original before the remake

  • Mostly Martha (2001): The original to the Zeta-Jones/Eckhart remake, No Reservations (2007), is a cute little thing. A workaholic chef, Martha, is faced with an unexpected challenge in her stifled life and has to find answers to questions she seems to never have asked. The foodie-pic boasts some gorgeous desert talk and a relatable lead, but I felt it was let down by a rushed ending. Additionally, the version I watched had dubbed the co-protagonist, Mario, because Sergio Castellitto, who played the part, wasn’t fluent enough in German – a major charisma turn-off. Not sure if there is a version without dubbing, but if it exists, it’s worth the effort to get the most out of MM. 6/10

500 Days of Maybe

  • Definitely, Maybe (2008): Rewatching DM proved quite the sweet, nostalgic experience. Suddenly, with hindsight, I realize how much it’s just a movie version of How I Met Your Mother (2005), as well as the influence it had on 500 Days of Summer (2009) – down to the names! Anyway, as far as sappy romcoms are concerned, it’s rarely the set-up that matters, but more the chemistry between the star-crossed lovers, who are well and on their way if they’re aided and abetted by decent dialogue from time to time. Ryan Reynolds, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Brooks and Rachel Weisz are all quite awesome, so much that disbelief is duly suspended to validate this modern fairy tale ignited by Bill Clinton. 7/10

Mathematics meets spiritualism

  • The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015): It’s hard to take a movie about sciences seriously when one of its characters, a professor at Cambridge moreover, claims that Newton ‘invented gravity’. Yet, this is just one of the smaller faults of TMWKI, a formulaic and trite attempt at telling a story about mathematics by reducing it to a duality of faith and proofs. The story of Ramanujan and Hardy, littered with a couple of other significant Cambridge lecturers who only serve as narrative tools, isn’t all bad, in spite of bathing neck deep in the cliched stereotype of the mystical Indian. In truth, that’s pretty much what Ramanujan claimed to be and faith played an important part in who he was not only as a human being, but also as a mathematician. What the movie failed at is to really flesh out his character, to make it at least as interesting as cab number 1729 (inside joke there). Perhaps a more experienced director/writer than Matthew Brown could’ve milked more than just sentimentality out of TMWKI. 5/10

In preparation for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

  • The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005): An in-form Julianne Moore just about keeps this piece of film-making afloat. Set in the American 1960s, the unusual story of the forlorn, yet stoic housewife gets a twist thanks to the game shows that used to run on TV all the time and challenge people at home, with prizes up for grabs. Basically, Moore’s character here is a copywriter before there really was a market for copywriters and her obvious talent for words is only surpassed by her ability to keep a good-willing attitude towards her atrocious husband. It’s an unusual anti-feminist push by an otherwise pro-feminist movie and it feels out of place as a mere side-story, the marital abuse. This degree of tolerance disquieted me somehow, in spite of a story that’s generally agreeable. 6/10

When people bring more than wine to a party

  • The Party (2017): Theatre-esque movie setups, very heavy on dialogue, can be quite exhilarating. I thoroughly enjoyed Polanski’s Carnage (2011), which bears some familiarity to Sally Potter’s The Party. Unfortunately, this newer effort feels mostly strung out and the bunch of characters grouped together for a mere seventy minutes don’t work up the chemistry to blow the lid, as they do, towards the end. In spite of some agreeable performances and the odd chuckle, this dinner party never amounts to anything beyond some vague allegorical hint as to our striving for some miraculous ideal of self-validation and self-absorption. 6/10