Movies of the Week #12 (2018)

I was away last week, but still managed to pull my quote. #pride #thelittlethingsinlife #hashtag

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Oh, pitches…

  • Pitch Perfect 3 (2017): Wow, talk about a movie being painfully unfunny and depressingly one-note. As a fan of the previous two movies, I felt insulted by how little they tried here. There’s nothing special about PP3, which is really just a schmaltzy send-off for the girls we grew to know and not care too much about. The same old template, some flashy songs, some inane plotlines, basically non-existent rivals, everything is off about this movie. So just don’t. 3/10

All the stand-up you can handle

  • Ricky Gervais: Humanity (2018): The uber-expensive Netflix stand-up featuring the former Golden Globes host is a fun dose of Gervaisianism – a brand of humor that makes few concessions. In this 80 minute show, Gervais mostly stays well tuned and produces some solid material, taking on American media item Caitlyn Jenner, impending old age, choices on having children and some other topics. Barring the occasional miss, it’s the humorless personal politics of the man which lessened the experience towards the end, in something that felt like an attempt in self-redemption – an expose on animal suffering and his support towards causes fighting against it, tagged onto an almost apologetic remark about the usefulness of Twitter, which gets a lot of bashing otherwise. Still, not too shabby from the soon to be old man. 7/10

All the drama in the world of film

  • All the Money in the World (2017): With all the controversy surrounding the recasting of Kevin Spacey, it sure felt like Ridley Scott’s latest would be doomed. In fact, it turns out that the movie works well enough and that the reasons why it fails are not related at all to Spacey’s replacement, Christopher Plummer. On the contrary, Plummer is probably the best thing in a movie which otherwise doesn’t gel together very well. This loose  retelling of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III and the family’s reluctance to pay the ransom requested plays on the avarice that tends to run through the veins of some of the richest men on the planet, as was the case with the elder Getty. It’s a palatable Hollywood topic, taking on these cardboard outlines of the flawed rich and their exploitative, insensitive ways about life. (Un)fortunately, characters still matter in movies, and all other characters bar the one played by the more senior Plummer (fun fact, Charlie Plummer, cast as the younger Getty, is just an unrelated namesake) feel lifeless and unrelatable. Add to that a meager final act and you have a bit of a flop, which is perhaps better than AtMitW deserved to be after the backstage drama surrounding it. 6/10

The Italian nut-job (haha, sorry!)

  • La pazza gioia (2016): I’ll be truly honest – it took me three attempts to finish La pazza gioia. That’s mostly because watching a movie that treads the fine line between being mentally ill and just being in existential pain as well as this one does is hard. For me, at least. The glorious performances of Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Micaela Ramazzotti are key to expressing the ambivalence of their characters, two women who find themselves in a psychiatric recovery home and yearn to be a part of their own lives again. Barring a far-fetched, but emotional finale, Paolo Virzi’s film is a delicate study of pain and happiness that’s worth the struggle. Definitely. 8/10

Movies of the Week #11 (2018)

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When the girls come into town

  • Annihilation (2018): Oh dear, this one’s a pickle. Alex Garland’s second movie after Ex Machina (2014) is not a mainstream friendly affair, being a sci-fi flick with influences from some of the best genre movies ever made. There’s some Alien in it, there’s some 2001, there’s some The Descent and there’s a dollop of Arrival on it as well. Under these circumstances, Annihilation might have had a hard time finding its identity. It fares well because the characters are integral to the story and the story is integral to the characters, regardless of how much you’ll really understand of what’s going in. I took it as a study of personal divergence, about the struggles we inflict upon ourselves – Annihilation can be about many other things too, in particular our relationship with nature and climate change, but it’s within this interpretive multiplicity that its strengths lie. Wish I could have seen it on the big screen. 8/10

Ghetto Swan

  • Polina (2016): A movie that’s both soft and tough, just like it’s subject matter, Polina manages to weave a great story of sacrifice and passion out of the somewhat overused ballet drama section. What it does really well is paint the portrait of the regular girl, not the superstar, whose struggle to find her purpose feels authentic. Measuring success is in the eye of the beholder, something that anyone who has ever raised someone else’s expectations (or their own) knows. Unfortunately, the movie is a tad too slow in moments which only hinder the pacing, rather than build the picture. I would still recommend it in spite of this, but cautiously. 7/10

Oh, J.K., milking it like there’s no tomorrow

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016): I’ve been postponing this screening for a while now, fearing the worst of it. Sadly, it mustered up to that expectation. With David Yates back in the director’s chair (my least favourite director of the Harry Potter series after the unmentionable Chris Columbus), Fantastic Beasts puts together a visual feast with no emotional attachments whatsoever. Plain, lackluster characters and a boring, lackluster plot make for a dreadful viewing, with many more lackluster sequels to follow, I’m sure. So I won’t waste any more time on this. 5/10

When we were young

  • The Lion King (1994): Going back memory lane, I remembered The Lion King as one of my favourite childhood animations. Although I rewatched it within the last decade, this new viewing left me less impressed than I expected to be. Suddenly, TLK looked like a tame and simple animation, especially when compared to some of the modern day Pixar movies (ok, not the modern day ones, as much as the ones from the 00s), or to a bunch of animes that came before it. Then again, there’s beauty in simplicity and it’s hard to tread that fine line between when making a movie for children that stands up just as well for mature audiences. So I’m stuck in this emotional quagmire and I can’t argue my way out of it, and I’ll just shut up now and leave my original rating. 8/10

Everybody loves a good con

  • Confidence (2003): With the strong backwinds of Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Confidence tries to play the con artist plot with a lot of it – confidence, that is. It works to some degree, in a movie with big name actors, which feels a lot like the early 2000s. Ok, that’s because it is the early oos, but still. This was director James Foley’s last major movie for some time, until 2017, when suddenly, after helming a bunch of House of Cards episodes, he popped up again, directing the last two parts of the Fifty Shades trilogy. That was just some random trivia, it’s not to say Confidence is as bad as 50S. It’s just a run-of-the-mill con-artist movie, with all the pizazz, the style, but little substance. 6/10

Movies of the Week #10 (2018)

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Modern day Yogi Bear

  • Paddington 2 (2018): There used to be a time when anything above a 90% Rottentomatoes rating meant something really special and a 100% rating was unheard of. Even in the worst of cases, you had an Armond White to make it elusive – well, you still do, he just hasn’t review this. I don’t remember where, but I must have heard this one in a movie recently, about how once everyone agrees about how phenomenal your work is, you’re done as an artist. It’s exaggerated, sure, but the claim could easily extend over those evaluating the art. Anyway, much ado about nothing, Paddington 2 is very light, warm hearted, enjoyable little movie that brings together the usual the British A-listers and flows squeak-lessly. And that’s about all I can say about it, sorry for being the Grouchmaster. 7/10

Just take the shot already!

  • Infinite Football (2018): Corneliu Porumboiu’s most recent work is a ‘documentary-essay’ about – well, the human condition. The director likes to focus on the question of how one can be truly free within rules and norms, but that was not the strong point that made me appreciate this work. Instead, I was fascinated by how well ‘Infinite Football’ captures the manner in which life shapes the ideas we hold and how, with the passing of time, we have the tendency to create our own narratives almost regardless of whether those ideas align or not. Full review here. 8/10

Dope like there’s not tomorrow

  • Icarus (2018): The surprise Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature #politics, Icarus is two movies: the first part, starting out with director Brian Fogel trying to dope himself and get away with it in an amateur cycling event; the second part, the unveiling of the Russian state-sponsored doping program. The connection between the two is the now former director of the WADA approved anti-doping laboratory in Moscow, Grigory Rodchenkov. In some ways, the movie is similar to Alex Gibney’s The Armstrong Lie (2013), which also started as one thing and ended up being about Lance Armstrong’s confession of doping. But the tear in Icarus is more deeply felt, as the failed personal doping project of Fogel lacks a proper insightful resolution beyond “even if I had doped, I would never have won the Tour de France”. This renders the first part as little more than an introduction to the eccentric Rodchenkov, whose willingness and ease at assisting Fogel in his doping is questionable in itself but never really questioned. As the state-sponsored doping program blows up and Rodchenkov finds himself in the middle of it, the movie becomes something else, a taut little thriller and a convincing portrayal of the purported facts. It cedes initiative towards the end again, when the Olympic Committee’s willingness to allow more than two thirds of the Russian athletes to participate in the Rio 2016 is left unanalyzed. So take away the first half hour or so of the movie, refocus it on the (lack of) consequences to the scandal, and you’ve got something really, really good here. 7/10

The silent killer

  • Marjorie Prime (2017): There’s something so beautiful, haunting and eerie about Marjorie Prime that it makes me want to ignore its shortcomings. In this elegy to memory, director Michael Almereyda just captures the cyclical nature of our lives, in a slow-paced, introspective and deeply emotional venture. Maybe it could have done even better with more focus, in a different interpretation, but it’s hard to say. The movie works because it feels suspended in time and is beautifully acted by its small cast of veteran actors (Tim Robbins, Geena Davis, Jon Hamm, Lois Smith). I’m a bit short for words, but MP is probably one of the best movies I’ve ever seen about grief, pain, acceptance and everything in between. 9/10

 

Review: Infinite Football (2018)

Corneliu Porumboiu’s most recent work is a ‘documentary-essay’ about – well, the human condition. The director likes to focus on the question of how one can be truly free within rules and norms, but that was not the strong point that made me appreciate this work. Instead, I was fascinated by how well ‘Infinite Football’ captures the manner in which life shapes the ideas we hold and how, with the passing of time, we have the tendency to create our own narratives almost regardless of whether those ideas align or not.

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We follow Laurentiu Ginghina, a 50-something administrative clerk whose story starts when he was in his teens and had his fibula broken while playing football. He describes it later not as an act of malice or an error of judgment on the part of the players or himself, but rather a failure of the rules that govern the sport. It is the rules that facilitate, even require, this kind of physicality. A mere year after Laurentiu recovers from his broken fibula, which doesn’t even heal correctly, his weakened shinbone crumbles on a wintery day in a red December, leaving the man to limp six kilometers all the way home.

So what’s up with this adversity? It’s what sets the man on a more existential path, emboldening him to search for purpose. The purpose of his life – a rather mundane one, in spite of the odd experience abroad – was to improve football. His ideas to improve the game start out with a few radical changes, like turning the pitch into an octagonal shape, removing the offside rule and subdividing the two teams by restricting their movement between specific lines. As his ideas percolate and fail to find acceptance, they are tweaked and adapted, to the point of becoming more impractical or even redundant, in what is to be Football 2.0. Or if that doesn’t work, Football 2.1, or 2.9 or…infinite football.

But Porumboiu’s film isn’t really about football. “The ball is free, but we are not” is our protagonist’s mantra, who simply fails to bridge the distance between theory and practice in a strained effort to matter. Doesn’t almost everyone have his one idea they never managed to bring to fruition? That’s what makes the movie truly relatable, especially in that Porumboiu treats Mr. Ginghina with interest and attention. Perhaps this is the best that we can all do, being gentle with each other and our ideas, starting with a certain age where everything tends to become more immutable. The meta-analysis of our being free within norms and rules is a perfunctory one, which works to some degree, but never enthralls by gathering a weight of relevance.

I’m definitely a fan of these Herzog-ian documentaries wherein some boundary-blurring occurs between the real and the surreal. Porumboiu, by inserting himself into the movie, encouraged this experience. It might be too close to the fringes of the absurd for some, but I think it’s a philosophically fueled movie that trims it’s audience based on compassion. And whether they think Messi is better than Ronaldo. 8/10

Movies of the Week #9 (2018)

I went down on Oscars-lane this week, checking off my lost all but one of the best picture nominees (The Post). Who would I want to win? Well, the days of me caring are long gone – if by long we understand two years. All the best picture nominees are pretty good movies, even if they are not necessarily good movies. So here are my winners off the given list:

Best Picture – Phantom Thread
Actor Leading Role – Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Actress Leading Role – Frances McDormand (Three Billboards…)
Actor Supporting Role – Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Actress Supporting Role – Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Directing – P.T. Anderson (Phantom Thread)
Adapted Screenplay – Call Me By Your Name
Original Screenplay – Lady Bird (pulled this one out of nowhere, didn’t I?)

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When in doubt, have two affairs

  • The Lovers (2017): Every once in a while a movie comes along with a reasonable metascore (75) and a lowly IMDb rating (6.1) and my mind is instantly set on doing it justice, even if it requires some overcompensating. Here, a married couple, in which each partner is affairing away, suddenly stumbles across long lost intra-martial desire that risks to compromise their conviction of separating. In spite of the nature of their acts, Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) are two likable leads with whom you can easily connect. The first part of the movie takes some getting used to, because we are thrust unto these people who are total strangers to us without anything else but hints of what might have happened in their long, long union. The emphasis in their rekindling is foremost sexual, with a thesis that a healthy sexual life extends beyond the bedroom, in how two people appreciate one another – sex as a cure for apathy, not rage and resentment. It feels strange, because we see so little of why Mary and Michael are a match, beyond the sex and the banter. However, a great last half hour really ties things up and puts a cherry on top, amounting to a great flawed movie with great flawed characters. 8/10

Peter Sellers must be rolling in his grave!

  • Black Panther (2018): Trailers rarely get me going, but the trailer for Black Panther was very exciting. Then came the much lauded movie, which sure enough is entertaining and provides some thoughts on racial matters, yet without ever really landing a punch. Lacking in Thor Ragnarok’s humour, BP is a serious, sober superhero movie – which never really works for me, unless it’s Batman. The typical overcrowding of characters in comicbook movies can be observed here as well, obstructing any of them from really taking the spotlight and just…fascinating. So we’re left with sexy appeal and the absolutely necessary in terms of character development. The more I write about it, the more I convince myself of how little I liked the movie, although I had no major qualms with it exiting the cinema. So I’ll stick with my generous 7/10.

There’s not torture like parental torture

  • I, Tonya (2017): I’m too young to remember the debacle around Tonya Harding, the figure-skater who supposedly had one of her competitors attacked. This movie, based on her own version of events, finds a good balance around the question of what the truth is and how Tonya ended up in that unfortunate position in the first place. It provides solid context for the miserable, terror-infused upbringing she had to endure growing up. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are both great, but the characters aren’t always riveting to look at. What made the story stand out to me was the manner in which it highlighted two aspects of sporting life: the veneer with which certain things need to be covered in the public eye, as well as the impression that professional sports seemed astoundingly semi-professional as short a way back as the nineties. Oh, and I enjoyed the music as well, more heavy metal is required to spruce up the world of figure skating. 8/10

Al-barquq

  • Call Me By Your Name (2017): Director Guadagnino is piling it on with lush decors and feeling, aided by a very strong ensemble cast, in which Timothée Chalamet shines brightly. Set in the Italian 80s, Call Me By Your Name made me wish of another time, for the summer of love I never really had and the quiet passion of years gone by. It definitely reminded me of My Summer of Love (2004), but what makes it stand out is the manner in which it differs from the more ill-natured characters Pawlikowski’s story. There’s a warm glow to everyone here, a bohemian beauty of a post-consumerist age of enlightenment. Or maybe pre-consumerist, in a sense, and by consumption I mean everything: from material goods to human emotion. It provides a beautiful commentary on the rarity of true feeling, on the uniqueness of first loves, and does so set to a soulful musical theme that will transport you. Heck, the movie wasn’t even finished I was thinking of googling “places to visit where there are no tourists”. The paradox, the irony. And yet…I could see all these things, I could feel some of them, but I never fell in love with Call Me By Your Name. It’s not about the same-sex-ness of it, because Chalamet and Armie Hammer make for a passionate couple and the movie captures them truthfully. I guess it eludes me, this failure on my part, to ensure my feelings are on par with my thoughts. That must be why I’m only an armchair critic. That and a bunch of other things. 8/10