The first fluttering of weakness this week, as I’ve barely covered four lukewarm movies. It makes it that much harder to pick a standout. But here we go:
Movie of the Week
Only the Brave (2017)
When fire was extinguished by my unrelenting tears
- Only the Brave (2017): A true-story kind of affair, this movie centers on a fire-fighting squads handling wildfires. For the most part it’s (just) a well executed story, emphasizing the rigors, the passion and the dedication required for such a grueling job. Josh Brolin is cool, as always, and Jennifer Connelly shows her acting chops in a couple of difficult scenes, but for the most part, the characters are slimly developed. In spite of this, the latter part of the movie raises the stakes and proves to be a beautiful, if harrowing, emotional ride to the finish, making it worth recommending on its own. 7/10
Ben Stiller playing his favourite existential persona
- Brad’s Status (2017): This movie behind this completely uninspired title is, for the most part, a bitter exploration of self-perceived, post-middle age averageness. A father accompanies his son for the latter’s college applications. He’s often obnoxious and in a constant search for self-validation, the father, which makes Ben Stiller’s character hard to really like. It’s not the easiest of rides, but the guy has some redeeming qualities to make it worthwhile. The morality bits come across as heavy handed, yet in spite of all these shortcomings, I was left pondering at the end of it, which both shows my self-absorption and the sense that it wasn’t all time spent in vain. 7/10
Even bad guys need a break
- He Never Died (2015): I’ve had this one for a while now, a small film with a bit of The Man from Earth (2007) and Taken (2008) in its DNA, as well as a protagonist not too different from John Wick. So this Jack fellow, a grumpy, asocial type, is inconvenienced by the daughter he didn’t know he had and she soon gets taken by a bunch of lower league mobsters with whom our Jack got inadvertently mixed up with. The man’s dry wits and no-crap kind of attitude has its charms, but overall HND just isn’t exciting enough. 6/10
Original title “Ten Little Niggers” a tad racially insensitive, is it?
- And Then There Were None (2015): I have a vague recollection of reading Agatha Christie’s book, but that didn’t help me much in remembering the outcome of this adaptation. The three part mini-series sees ten individuals gather for a dinner party on an isolated island – which turns out to be a bit of a trap, as all of them are accused of various crimes they had supposedly committed. Duly, they start dropping like flies and people become understandably upset. I didn’t much enjoy the first two parts, which take their time to set-up a satisfying conclusion to the story. It’s never easy when all the characters are borderline loathsome, but ATTWN finds enough nuance to keep the mystery building and viewers engaged. It’s somewhere between a six and seven, but I’m grumpy today so I’ll go for the former. 6/10
Awards season is looming, which means a bunch of interesting stuff is about to hit the cinemas. One example thereof is this week’s…
Movie of the Week
The Disaster Artist (2017)
When you’re stuck on Netflix
- Two Weeks Notice (2002): This slushy little romcom of the early millenium, starring Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock at the heights of their romcom-y-ness, was not as bad as I feared it to be. There are enough witty moments and retorts to get you through the superficial and formulaic parts and even though Grant and Bullock are like two wooden planks on screen, they made an enjoyable clacking sound when struck against one another. So if you check out your brain at the beginning, you’ll be just fine. 6/10
Going back in time noir
- Laura (1944): I’ve never been a noir buff, so my appreciation for the genre is an inconsistent one. In Otto Preminger’s Laura, a ‘dame’ is found dead in her own apartment, which triggers an investigation lead by a detective McPherson. The persons of interest are the deceased’s fiancee, Shelby Carpenter, and her, let’s say, mentor, Waldo Lydecker. The movie’s witty repartee, spearheaded by Lydecker, is reminiscent of the sharp, idealized characters so popular in the American cinema of the 1940s. As far as the story goes, however, it feels rather far-fetched, particularly in its last third. This sense of pieces being moved with care and precision proves compelling though, thanks to the complex web of motivations driving each of the characters, as well as some clever twists. Not quite my kind of masterpiece, but an enjoyable picture nonetheless. 7/10
You’re tearing me apart!
- The Disaster Artist (2017): For something marketed as a comedy about one of the best so-bad-they’re-good movies of all time, I left the cinema feeling rather crushed. In a way it’s exactly what I expected of a good re-imagining of how such a bad movie would come to be. Told from the perspective of Greg Sestero, co-star in The Room (2003) and author of the book TDA is based on, it paints a sad image of Tommy Wiseau, the ‘auteur’ behind the original film. As mysterious as Wiseau is, actor/director James Franco managed to paint a believable image of the man, without indulging too much in the airbrushing jar – the guy just isn’t the cherry on top. You’ll be swaying between sympathizing with and loathing the man most of the time, which is presumably as it should be. The positive ending, an appropriate metaphor for how The Room (2003) has gained a following over the last fifteen years, alleviates some of the harsh reality off TDA, but the movie leaves you with sufficient questions about what success looks like and what it takes to get to it. 8/10
And the Nobel prize goes to…
- El ciudadano ilustre (2016): There’s always something fishy about movies trying to take apart art or the relationship between art/artist/society in a demonstrative way. It’s all too self-referential, constantly vying towards the ridiculously pompous. Like this phrase here. Luckily, The Distinguished Citizen finds a healthy balance. Its protagonist, a cynical, reserved Nobel prize winner, decides to return to his hometown where he is to be recognized for his success. There he is faced with the quaint closeness of small towns, as well as the ferocious antipathies that can run through them. What makes TDC a success is its veracity, how close to home it really feels and the manner in which such a coming together ostensibly forces you to reassess your principles. The naturalistic manner in which the movie is shot emphasized the social claustrophobia one might expect famous people having to deal with at times. 8/10
An average Linklater production
- Last Flying Flag (2017): It feels to me like I’ve written about this before and not too long ago, actually – doing fresh movies on any war phenomena related to the USA is terribly hard. In this one, Richard Linklater tells the story of three Vietnam veterans who are reunited when the the son of one of them is killed in Iraq many years later. The leading trio of Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburn and Steve Carell do a fine job in portraying grief and comradery. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t do them many favours, emphasizing familiar terrain – the absurdity of the early Afghanistan/Iraq and Vietnam wars, the melancholia over times gone by and the remorse for unforgiven sins. At a bit over two hours, the film drags more often than it should. Moreover, there’s this American obsession of treading very safely between critique of the war effort and unrelenting patriotism, something that I never felt plays off well outside the US. It’s just too middle of the road. 6/10
At my most prolific when the year begins, the second week of 2018 brings with itself a respectable crop, with the one non-2017 movie taking the laurels.
As you may or may not have noticed, I’m trying to keep the interest alive on facebook by posting some tid-bits immediately after watching something, with the full on take (or whatever this is) scheduled for the beginning of the following week. Hopefully this will help bring to your attention some viewing choices.
Movie of the Week
Howards End (1992)
A poker movie not about poker
- Molly’s Game (2017): Watching an Aaron Sorkin movie is like going to McDonald’s – you know what you’re getting and you’ll probably feel bad about it a day later. Sorkin, after achieving quite a reputation as a screenwriter, to the level of Charlie Kaufman one might argue, takes over the director’s helm for the first time here. The result is an exciting, if uneven retelling of Molly Bloom’s story, “an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.”. You’ll have your Sorkin-esque zippy talk, voice-over, literary references, metaphors fed with organic ink, and impassioned speeches, which all come across pretty well, thanks to Jessica Chastain’s and Idris Elba’s performances. If anything, I could have done with a little less cleavage screen-time from Chastain, but I guess that went with the job – a Sorkin movie isn’t just metaphorically sexy, after all. Certain scenes felt like a let down unfortunately, and having your foot on the viewer’s jugular can become tiresome at some point. Molly’s Game tries hard to reach The Social Network’s (2010) gait and posture, but lacks Fincher’s steadfast touch, which somehow still found time to be sensitive, not just forceful. 7/10
Oh, oh you’re in the army, now
- Thank You for Your Service (2017): It’s terribly difficult to make a fresh and relevant movie about war or the consequences of war, especially in the United States. It’s perhaps wrong to say that there’s such a thing as war-movie fatigue, but there’s some truth to it. TYfYS take a hard, harsh look at the lives of three young soldiers returning from active duty, who are scarred to hell and back, while finding it next to impossible to get the help they require in order to function as social human beings. I wasn’t sure it would stick to me, but Miles Teller’s performance grounded, even personified a struggle which otherwise might have been written off as too generic. It works and feels. Yeah, it works and feels. 7/10
Did some big tennis tournament just start?
- Borg McEnroe (2017): The second much-lauded tennis movie of 2017 (alongside Battle of the Sexes) is almost a success. It brings us up close to Bjorn Borg and, to a lesser degree I felt, to Johnnie Mac, painting at least one enticing portrait. The Swedish former number one, whose relationship with Romanian tennis player Mariana Simionescu is also portrayed, offers a great sense of the kind of self-management one needs to prove capable of in order to turn and channel your energy towards the positive. From all my tennis playing, which is not much at all, I’ve felt that the sport tended to bring out my inner most competitor, with myself always on the other side of the net, regardless of who the actual opponent was. You get that from BvM. Unfortunately, the drawn out dramatization of the 1980 Wimbledon final is plagued by all the imaginable commentary cliches, which definitely diminished my appreciation of the scenes. The attempt to portray two complicated personalities in one movie also falls short, which is why I can’t fully recommend an otherwise exciting, at points beautiful movie. 7/10
Those old school Brits, what a halfway non-ironic joy
- Howards End (1992): A sort of insider’s take on class in the British society of the early 1900s, the three time Academy Award winning picture by James Ivory defines the word “lavish”. In a complex story of social dynamics and expectations, E.M. Forster’s novel really fleshes out what assumed privilege looks like, wherein the protagonists don’t even fathom asking the same questions of themselves as they ask of others. It’s just not in their mental syntax. The final scene is a marvelous example thereof. An all around great cast and a beautiful classical score accompanying the not quite as stellar of a story work in unison to create a good movie. 8/10
Some good old ultraviolence
- Mayhem (2017): The ‘i-hate-my-job-i’m-going-to-kill-everyone’ movie of the week award definitely goes to Mayhem. A virus that diminishes self-control spreads in an office building that’s just ripe for some revenge fetishes to be indulged in. All hell ensues, in a playful and violent exorcism of ‘nine to five’ fatigue, which makes the movie play out like a videogame, with levels and bosses and all the usual kapow. If you don’t mind the PG-13 visual levels of gruesome violence, Mayhem can and does provide a charming make-belief distraction from the bitter feuds of the work place. 7/10
- Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017): It’s always an interesting surprise to find out more, a totally unexpected side about an accepted mainstream figure and its origins. William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, was quite the polyamorous professor of psychology and is relationship with his wife and their mistress (one of them) is incisively portrayed here. The two, of course, were the inspiration to the ‘most famous’ female superhero. With a greater sexual load and more perversion than I could have expected, PMatWW surprised me most pleasantly and that’s not just because I’m a perverted human being. It did so by pleading an eloquent case for free love. However, it loses points when it comes to nuances, which are lacking. This leads to a certain lack of veracity and depth, the presence of which would really have made the movie memorable. 7/10
So, how many movies are you going to watch this year? Last year was a bit of a disappointment, with less than 200 pics for me, ranking as one of my least prolific years since 2007. You say ‘give me more numbers’? I say get your own.
Here’s to more of the same!
Movie of the Week
Mary Poppins (1964)
Fearing the ‘sequel’
- Mary Poppins (1964): There’s no better way to starting the year than with a movie you love, just so it reminds you of how regardless of the passage of time, some things just stay the same. Unless they change, in which case it sucks and you have my commiseration. It’s funny, I never really thought of Mary Poppins as my favourite childhood movie, although I recall reading some of the books as well. Now, however, I feel it takes me away to a place filled with a mixture of happiness and despair at the end of which I always come back to reality behind a veil of tears. It’s hard to say exactly why it concludes that way for me, as I adore the glee of the songs, the eclectic visual style and the all-around performances. Bar a couple of scenes which I never really took to, Mary Poppins is a flawless children’s tale filled with the horrors of adulthood. Also, scary Mary. 9/10
- Marshall (2017): There’s little special about Marhsall, a competent, by the numbers, court drama portraying one of Thurgood Marshall’s pivotal cases in the NAACP’s fight for equality during the American 1930s. As the African American cause is tentatively conjoined with Jewish suffering due to Marshall teaming up with Sam Friedman in their attempt to defend a black servant of having raped his white, socialite mistress. The story of the case is unspectacular, as is the courtroom drama, but the odd moment of inspired rhetoric raises the movie above the average. Add to that the wasted talents of Dan Stevens and James Cromwell, pegged in a couple of steretoypical roles, and you’ve got an idea of the vaguely interesting, but not at all riveting tale that Marshall amounts to. 6/10
The re-quel that works
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017): As a fan of the original, I was skeptical the new Jumanji could bring anything to the table. Robin Williams carried the original, a dark venture into the unknown which has etched a profound mistrust towards boardgames deep into my core. This reboot/remake moves a step up in the direction of video-games and focuses the story on high-school dynamics and stereotypes. As the four protagonists are absorbed into the world of Jumanji, they take on some really cool avatars, in the form of Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Tori Bl…erm, sorry, I meant Karen Gillan, and Kevin Hart. These guys carry the movie in what ends up being a thoroughly enjoyable run through the jungle, making it 2 for 3 in the Johnson catalog of jungle warfare. 7/10
The one that doesn’t
- Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017): Everything that worked well in the first Kingsman feels tired, overused and inferior in this second one – from the heroes, to the villains to the sub-villains. As Jeron0 lovingly put it on icheckmovies: “My least favorite movie starring Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore and bowling balls.” I’ve already wiped it away from my mind and refuse to recall anything else about it. 4/10
Una noticia HUGE
- Nosotros los Nobles (2013): This silly little Mexican thing about a father wanting to teach his spoiled children a lesson by faking poverty on them is an enjoyable fare. It stars Karla Souza, who seems to have popped up fairly often in my viewing patterns over the last six months. With four protagonists to cover, Nosotros los Nobles does a surprisingly fine job in offering each of them a chance to feign character particularities, strewn along a thoroughly predictable and dubious storyline. I even chuckled at times. 6/10
A mustache away from greatness
- The Hero (2017): The last collaboration between director Brett Haley and actor Sam Elliott was the successful I’ll See You in My Dreams (2015). There’s a lot of dreaming in this one as well, as The Hero takes on the same life-departing themes, just from a different angle. Lee (Sam Elliott) is a 70+ years old actor and is faced with his own mortality after receiving a cancer diagnosis. The whole introspective/escapist gig that follows is at times emotional, at other times frivolously masculine, while generally suffering from a lack of definite purpose. That’s what makes The Hero less exciting than Haley’s previous movie, although it’s not all bad. 6/10