Movies of the Weeks #28 #29 (2018)

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Oh, those Russians

  • Our Kind of Traitor (2016): This John le Carre adaptation bears some of his usual trademarks – small mafia-big mafia and the wider political entanglements of black money – and works well for the most part, without ever really exciting. Director Susanna White, in what is her second major movie after…Nanny McPhee, fails to really make the personal drama of Perry and Gail resonate with the crazy geopolitical storm they got mixed in. The pedigreed cast, starring Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Naomi Harris and Damien Lewis, provides a bunch of rather lifeless performances, perhaps due to the equally lifeless characters they play. Which is not to say that the movie didn’t feel slick at times, it just felt kind of empty. 6/10

It’s bloody grim

  • The Future (2011): Miranda July’ second feature isn’t as impressive as Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), but still proves an unusually intense love story. Or something of the sort. The movie is uncomfortable, painful at times, weird at others, while providing an unforgiving X-Ray of relationship plateaus. And to think it all starts with the lead couple adopting a defective cat, with said-cat narrating the whole affair. Can it get more weird than this? Strangely enough, it also makes sense, while having a distinctively true ring about the relationship complications it portrays. The fact that it has an equally strong meta-verse makes for a memorable, if imperfect and overly quirky experience. 7/10

Child-rearing antidote

  • Tully (2018): Charlize Theron goes for a body transformation once more, in her saddening portrayal of Marlo – anguished mother of two (three), hanging on to life and sanity by her teeth. Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, Tully isn’t an easy ride – if anything, it’s a good companion piece for The Future, if that one didn’t scar your soul sufficiently. There’s a harrowing montage early on, of Marlo going through her sleep-deprived routine with her newly-born, which was just seared into my brain. It becomes more digestible as it goes on, to ultimately pull the rug from under you at the end. It didn’t feel like the most believable outcome and, often enough, it sounded like Diablo Cody just leapt out of her characters’s mouths, undermining the whole experience. I’m not sure why it bothered me so much, because other than this, Tully is a remarkable story about the undue burdens of motherhood. 7/10

Angel Eyes on repeat for five hours – check!

  • Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018): I am shocked by how harsh I was with my review of the original (“unless you’re as big an ABBA fan as I am, it’s hard to recommend this stuff”). Surprisingly enough, the sequel is a better, more natural and more joyous movie, even though it doesn’t rely on the most popular ABBA songs. The story is a variation on the original, as Sophie copes with her mother’s death while preparing to open a fancy hotel/resort on their idyllic Greek island. In parallel, we are pranced around young Donna’s life-affirming choices many years ago, which led her towards said island, meeting Harry, Bill and Sam along the way. Breaking from the chains of the musical makes for a more free flowing movie, aided by the flair of its fresh, young cast. But don’t worry, there are a lot of old faces around too, as Here We Go Again finds the sweet spot for nostalgics and new fans alike. 7/10

Movies of the Week #27 (2018)

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One small step for man!

  • Chappaquiddick (2017): The Kennedy clan lore is a treasure trove for American film-making, with so much drama in it, that it never ceases to offer tempting material to work from. Ted Kennedy, the younger brother of Jack and Bobby, was close to the presidency in the late 60s, before the car he was driving crashed an took the life of one of Bobby’s former aids. The manner in which the whole even was handled is on show here, with lines being crossed, crisis managers brought in and familial disrepute at stake. Jason Clarke is impressive in the titular role, an interesting character that unfortunately feels too stiff and controlled to really fascinate. Ultimately, in spite of its merits, the movie just doesn’t transcend the factual in favour of the riveting. 7/10

The rehash of the rehash

  • Finding Your Feet (2017): This ultra-tame feel-good story rests on the quality of its stars (Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, Timothy Spall), but phones in a story with no surprises and little appeal. If you have no expectations and are in the mood for a fluff piece, maybe you’ll find something pleasurable in the downfall of a socialite who returns to her youthful passion of dancing and falls for ‘a downtown guy’. It wasn’t quite what I wanted, though. 5/10

One Sicario wasn’t enough

  • Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018): This is what happens when you do a sequel to a movie that doesn’t demand it. Sicario 2 is still a stylish flick, featuring an entertaining actor in Benicio del Toro and an ultra-popular one in Joshn “Thanos” Brolin, which is why it finds a passing grade. Beyond this, the narrative is slim and focuses on the dark interests of American forces to induce a war between Mexican cartels after another US terror attack. It makes some sense, but is needlessly dramatic, before turning in on itself and running out of an ending. Unsurprisingly, Sicario 2 is nowhere near the original, even if it does entertain at times. 6/10

When Rachel met Rachel

  • Disobedience (2018): From Sebastian Leilo, the director of Gloria (2013, thumbs up!) and the Oscar-winning Una Mujer Fantastica (2017) comes a forbidden romance in the midst of an Orthodox Jewish community of the US. Starring a couple of the best Rachels in the world, Weisz and McAdams, the movie burns slowly, before flaming up and leaving you with the burning embers of a once pleasantly repressed existence. It feels like a bit of a churn, being so deeply set in its community that it becomes borderline foreign at times. Its finale has some redemption to it, even if the movie never provides emotional closure, because, hey!, that’s life. Leilo is a critics favourite and it’s easy to see why, but his movies aren’t the most digestible. Disobedience lacks a proper punch, that would have made it resonate more powerfully, given how deeply steeped it is in its microuniverse. 7/10

The original courtroom drama

  • The Staircase (2004): Without The Staircase there would probably have been no The Jinx (2015), Making a Murderer (2015) or all the similar true-crime documentaries that place us in an intimate setting with potential criminals. Whether Michael Peterson did kill his wife or not is a question you won’t have answered for you without a reasonable doubt, particularly not by a documentarian who captured it all alongside the accused from the very beginning. Jean Xavier de Lestrade stays out the limelight, offering it all up to Peterson and his exuberant lawyer, David Rudolf. It’s an experience spanning almost fifteen years, with so much drama and frustration in it, that being truly factual falls by the sides. I don’t even think it is Lestrade’s job to prove facts, but rather to explore the complicated realities of Peterson’s case, wherever they may take him. The amount of unexpected thrown at the viewer in the first part of the series, the existential drama of a family that tears itself apart the seams, the inefficiencies of the judicial system, the conspiracy theories – everything comes together in one of the most memorable TV cases ever caught on film. 9/10

Movies of the Week #25 #26 (2018)

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Oh, the not quite horror

  • Hereditary (2018): Much acclaim has come the way of Hereditary, a horror movie that provides less horror than advertised, but manages to conjure an unsettling sense of dread. I wasn’t as taken by it as I expected to be, especially as first timer Ari Aster uses a lot of style to compensate for a less than convincing story. To be fair, I am yet to be truly impressed by movies about spiritualism and possession, because this brand of supernatural horror just falls flat most of the time. Hereditary does a good job in defying certain expectations without relying on jump scares, as Toni Collette offers a classic performance. You could even argue for some mind-twisting interpretations about blind followers and echo chambers as well, but ultimately Hereditary left me wanting more. 7/10

Team parents all the way!

  • Blockers (2018): Is a comedy in the spirit of Neighbours (2014), which I also liked, so it’s no surprise I enjoyed Blockers too. Three parents go nosing around in their kids’ business to find out they have embarked on a sex pact and the parents themselves then try to intervene. You see the comedic avenues available right there. Thanks to a likable cast (particularly Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz), director Kay Cannon puts together a funny little thing, that even touches on some more serious matters – tactfully. Sure, there’s a lot of physical comedy in this, so if you enjoy that, then Blockers is for you (I do). If not, life’s too short for this nonsense. 7/10

The passion of the T-Rex

  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018): I don’t mind clichés that much, which is probably why Fallen Kingdom was a bearable, borderline enjoyable ride. It helps that dinosaurs fascinate me – just think about walking around a place that holds living beings taller than two-story buildings! Ok, so my dino-fascination is stuck at the level of a ten year old, but what can you do? There’s a lot you can dislike about this sequel to the already semi-convincing reboot, starting with a lame villain – obvious reason why, it’s not one of the dinosaurs. Sure, there’s this mean, hybrid killing machine, but it’s stuck in a boring old mansion, which is part of why the movie doesn’t do much with the premise. So what did I like? I liked some of the action, I liked Chris Pratt and I liked the T-Rex bile. 6/10

Alas, the great Alexander Payne falters

  • Downsizing (2017): If anything, Downsizing is a distant relation, perhaps a third cousin, of Fallen Kingdom – a movie about how going small will save the planet from dying out. It’s a very ambitious thought experiment, that fails to really take off beyond the ‘very interesting, but’ phase. You get these miniature people, who consume less and have way more buying power, which is supposed to be a tempting proposal for those who want to do good and curb melting ice caps. But I never got beyond how this miniature world would work without the non-miniatured world around it, which is the primary reason why there’s this (unsustainable) buying power conversion rate (e.g. 100k USD converts to 12kk USD). There are times when Downsizing feels important, like it’s saying something poignant about mankind’s willingness to self-sacrifice. Alas, this feeling of importance has no staying power, which is why, in the end, the movie takes you nowhere. 5/10

Standard in non-standard

  • Ideal Home (2018): This story about a neglected child that gets taken in by his gay uncle works well thanks to Steve Coogan’s and Paul Rudd’s shenanigans. It’s not a spectacular ride in celebrating same-sex parents, but it does paint a relationship that occasionally steps out of the stereotypical – the flamboyancy is there (a gay cowboy cook will get you there quickly), as is the drama. Not sure why the harsh IMDb rating, but it gets a 6/10 from me for the amusing little tale that it is.