Movies of the Weeks #16 #17 (2018)

I’ve been AWOL for a while, with a poor record to boot over these last two weeks. However, as you might have noticed, I made an important investment into the future of this blog, the future of cinema, dare I say, by purchasing a proper domain name. Yay to the Tributary. Long live the Stu.

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A proper teen-pregnancy deterrent

  • A Quiet Place (2018): If you’re looking for a nerve-wracking experience, this is it. AQP is an effective thriller/horror creature-feature, which shows a future world inhabited by some kind of beasts that kill anything that makes a sound. So, yeah, the world has become ‘a quiet place’, a nifty take contrasting to the noise levels of modern day life. We are shown three different time frames since ‘the beginning’, which helps in obfuscating most concerns that might lead to narrative and logical inconsistencies. The family angle works really well, thanks to a convincing cast and some universal familial concerns, but it’s the execution that sells it, with nailbiting, face-covering scenes tingling with impeding doom. Ending is not great, which surprisingly did not bother me too much. 8/10

And then there were…way too many?

  • Suicide Squad (2017): An incompetently written mess, Suicide Squad has the makings of a cool super-anti-hero blockbuster, but squanders its opportunities. There are a bunch of narrative head-scratchers in the plot and some terrible dialogue to go with underdeveloped, one-layered characters, but this could almost be ignored, were it not for the horrendously stupid villain trigger and the villain itself. Margot Robbie does a good job with Harley Quinn, as does Will Smith with Deadshot, but Jared Leto’s joker is overplayed, while all the other characters are mundane, irritating or both. So, yeah, disappointing, as everyone has already proclaimed long ago. 5/10

The Wolf of Cocaine Stuffed Submarines

  • Operation Odessa (2018): In one of those ‘too good to be true’ documentaries, Tiller Russell tracks down three…smugglers, who tried to sell a Russian submarine to the Columbian cartels for drug muling in the 90s. If that sounds preposterous, just watch the film, which boasts a lot of boasting, alongside expected and unexpected backstabbing. By the end of it you’re there asking yourself how the heck these guys are still alive. Snippets of the story of how this movie was even made can be found online, but as long as crazy Russians called Tarzan intrigue you, this is something that should not be passed up. 8/10

Too sweet for comfort

  • Coco (2017): I always worry about being too cynical, more so when I watch a feel-good movie that’s universally appreciated and simply feel underwhelmed. Coco is a sweet, little thing that’s just by the numbers for the most part and somehow just knows how to pull on your heart strings in the last fifteen minutes. The story of Miguel, aspiring singer in a family that despises music, has laboratory-grade uplifting material in it, as he learns to love his family and give up on his dreams. Just kidding, of course he gets to follow his dreams, because I’m just a grouchy, soon-to-be middle aged pseudo-critic and I am already nostalgic of days gone by, when a 97% rating on IMDb meant more than just Armond White dissenting. Or did it mean exactly that? Argh, just have it your way and watch Coco. 7/10

A bit of serious cinema for the week

  • Thelma (2017): I’m a bit of a fan of Joachim Trier’s – the only ‘good cinema Trier’, as I like to call him – having loved Reprise (2006). All of his movies since have been solid and Thelma falls in the same category. It’s a beautifully shot, visually compelling exploration of emotional chastisement (pretentious enough?). We get to know Thelma, a young girl, with a severely religious upbringing, who finds herself faced with the sexual ambiguity of university life. There’s quite a bit of Carrie (1976) in its DNA, but Trier goes beyond the sexual-religious dichotomy and encapsulates our struggle with desire, with understanding what we want and how to exert some control over who we are. Unfortunately, the finale is rather tame, lacking a proper punch that embraces the complexity of being and becoming, which is not to say that Thelma isn’t worth the time. It definitely is. 8/10

Movies of the Week #15 (2018)

Short on movies this week. Box looks sadly empty. HBO takes the second one in a row.

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Another one strikes against abuse

  • You Were Never Really Here (2017): The lauded Lynne Ramsay film starring Joaquin Phoenix has a bit of a Drive (2011) vibe, mixed in with a bit of Leon (1994). There’s nothing riveting about the story, as Phoenix’s character, a fixer, is hired to recover a kidnapped girl. Some political commentary, about big fish and little fish, finds its way into the movie, but it stands out thanks to the calculatedly fierce Phoenix, his young, ice-cold co-star Ekaterina Samsonov and through the way it plays its cards. It proved a more surprising experience than I expected, so I cannot but recommend it, even if it may not be everything you thought it would be. 8/10

And one about some American-Indian coop

  • Hostiles (2017): If you like your Christian Bale all frowny, then this movie was just made for you! Seriously though, Hostiles takes a while to get into and is best when its characters stay silent, which, thankfully, is a lot of the time. Set at the turn of the 19th century, “a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory” (IMDb). The movie is a contemplation of life and, mostly, death, and although it never reaches the depths one would have wanted, it works well enough to warrant a recommendation. Let’s be professional and say it’s for the cinematography and the costumes, when in actuality it’s for Bale’s mustache. 7/10

And one about American WWF culture. Or was it WWE?

  • Andre the Giant (2018): As anyone born in the (late) eighties, I was vaguely familiar with Andre the Giant – foremost because of his role in The Princess Bride (1987). I’m not even sure I knew he was a wrestler, because wrestling was never big around here and I’ve never taken to it much – I did recently watch Glow (2017) though! So in spite of this, Jason Hehir’s documentary proved to be unexpectedly emotional, a tender portrait of a person who seemingly had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and not even those broad shoulders could hold it. Andre was a stand out and Hehir frames him excellently, while also referring to a lot of nostalgia, not only for wrestling, but for a time when myth-building was more than an edition of the evening news. It transmits that uniquness, that sense of once in a lifetime, something that’s been devalued by ubiquitous availability. On some meta-level I question how much of the emotion was real, in the way in which I would question wrestling, but I guess as long as it feels real, it is real, right? 8/10

Movies of the Week #14 (2018)

It was really hard to pick a standout movie this week. Ultimately, my gut went with Paterno, although The Post is a more coherent affair, with the two even being tangentially related. But I simply refuse to promote ‘modern’ spielbergianism until it decides to take a chance at something other than itself.

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When rough is not rough enough

  • Rough Night (2017): Movies as deplorable as this are pretty rare. The first hour or so of Rough Night feels like a lesser version of The Hangover. The Hangover 3. Except that it’s driven by female ‘characters’ and stereotypes, wasting its perfectly capable cast. The latter half hour paradoxically becomes bearable and slightly entertaining, but not to the extent that it might ever be a movie you should waste any time on. 3/10

On having meddling opinions about others

  • The Intervention (2016): Clea DuVall’s directorial debut is a mostly inspired depiction of married life in your 30s. I might not be talking from experience, but I am talking from observation. A group of friends gathers to arrange an intervention on a married couple that’s having a hard time making life work. Naturally, all the interventionists have their own problems, deftly swept under the carpet, which come to bite them in the ass at one point or another. I enjoyed the conclusion, which refrains from neatly bow-wrapping the jig, even if it does take a fairly optimistic view of how quickly tears in the relationship wall can begin to heal. The movie never really takes on too much, which is why I don’t rate it higher, but for what it does and says, it does and says it well. 7/10

The controversy, the integrity, the been there, done that

  • The Post (2017): There’s something sadly anachronistic about Spielberg’s The Post. The movie looks at the moral imperative that news publishers had to write about the cover up leading to the Vietnam war. The problem with it is that this idea that a sole publisher might make the news is to some degree obsolete, in this heavily fragmented marketplace, where the truth has gone missing in between all the non-truth that’s floating around it. This relativization of news is what’s lacking and it makes The Post feel like an old-school movie, your usual by the numbers affair brought to you by Mr. S. Add to that the feminist angle brought by Post owner Kay Graham, lauded for her ability to gain a foothold in a world run by men, but also spared any serious critique for the aristocratic/elitist tradition she represents. Beyond that, the great cast works well and the movie did hold my attention for what it is. But it ain’t no Spotlight (2015)7/10

Talking about blind eyes

  • Paterno (2018): Pacino drew me to this nefarious affair of college football, which portrays the child abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and those guilty of knowing about it and not doing anything. Pacino plays Joe Paterno, head coach in this period, and his performance definitely kept me glued to the action for the most part. With no background knowledge on the matter, Paterno felt like an ambiguous guy, who fits in the institutional climate like the one that allowed for this kind of prolonged abuse to occur. Although there are many interesting things going on, director Levinson’s lack of focus ultimately hurts the movie, making it feel disjointed emotionally and undecided on the judgment of its ‘hero’.  Moreover, Sara Ganim, the reporter who broke the story and went on to win a Pulitzer prize for it, felt oddly like a secondary character, which is also a symptom of the unfocused approach. In spite of this, I’d  still recommend Paterno, for Pacino, as well as for its depiction of institutional crimes and the power of looking the other way. It just gripped me with its disoriented tragedy and I guess I’m a sucker for downfalls. 7/10

Movies of the Week #13 (2018)

I was on holiday last week, so my movie diary got a bungled up. As usual, when with many others, re-watching movies is in order, both the recently released and the not-so-recently-released. There’s some big hitters though in each week, with no strong favourites though for the MotW title. Alas, there must be a winner and to make it a competition, I refuse to allow past winners back in competition (sorry GO and TDA).

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When art meets fart

  • The Square (2017): I loved the comment I saw on icheckmovies. It simply states: The Square is better than The Circle (2017). Hard to deny that. The Square is a multi-layered experience, about the world of art, social expectations and prejudices. It’s terribly ambitious and at times manages to sweep you off your feet, both visually and thematically. Overall though, I would argue that Ruben Östlund, in spite of receiving the Palme D’or for this effort, did better with Force Majeur (2014), a more focused movie that bears some of the same stylistic and thematic traits as TS. I’ll complain, as usual, about the runtime, which goes up to 2.5 hours, a symptom of the overcrowded nature of the film, which still leaves quite a few threads hanging by its conclusion. The threads that bind, though, feel pertinent and artistically sane, which means that it wouldn’t be too hard to make a case for TS as one of the best movies of last year. I have my own qualms though with social awkwardness, which is elevated to a spectacular level here, and although its effects are as intended, I failed to appreciate them. All this, I guess, makes The Square an acquired taste, like placing piles of ash in a museum and calling them art. But a bit better. 7/10

Family rebuttal

  • Wakefield (2016): The simple premise of Wakefield does little to enlighten the prospective viewer – “A man’s nervous breakdown causes him to leave his wife and live in his attic for several months.” (IMdB). Maybe I would disagree with the term ‘breakdown’, because there’s some deliberate, rational element to Mr. Wakfield’s decision to not go back home one evening and rather relocate in the garage across from it. His observations from afar provide an unusual, one-sided perspective, full of prejudice against and resentment of family life, as Bryan Cranston portrays the man who is hard to like. It starts out as a foolish gesture and then escalates into an unmanageable commitment.  Unfortunately, the movie is satisfied with not providing a proper conclusion, which was a major disappointment and cop out. Up to that point and especially in the last half hour or so, I found myself abstracting the unlikely and simply wondering about how such a character would come to be. The movie’s premise, lacking any premeditation, can more accurately be summed up to ‘man chases raccoon into attic and decides to abandon his life’. Who wouldn’t want to watch that to know more? 7/10

Put me up, put me down, in the sunken place I’ll frown

  • Get Out (2017): Rewatching it, exactly a year later, didn’t alter Get Out much. It’s still the same excellent experience it was the first time around. The only thing I contemplated, was whether I would have preferred the existing alternate ending and I think the answer is yes. It doesn’t make that much of a difference, but it felt like it belonged more tot the movie’s systemic critique. 8/10

When Lohan was more relevant than Logan

  • Mean Girls (2004): I first watched MG close to its release. Surprisingly, although it embodies my preferred high-school backdrop, I seem to have hated it. I don’t recall hating it and upon revisiting, it felt like a mild diversion, with no fundamental sins that would require penance. Gist of the story: nice, home-schooled girl joins actual school, sees it for what it is (a cesspool), then slowly becomes active part of the cesspool without realizing it. Starring Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Lizzy Kaplan, Amanda Seyfried, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey (who also wrote the script), there’s no shortage of big names here, although most barring Lohan weren’t that big in 04. So, you know, it’s not that bad and if you bother with it, you can enjoy some pertinent takeaways. 6/10

Still tearin’ me!