Movies of the Week #38 (2018)

A suboptimal week, with hardly any movie really standing out. But the people demand a winner, so they shall have one!

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AKA The Pre-dater

  • The Predator (2018): For a franchise as iconic as this, Predator has been plagued by very average sequels. Although, to me, ‘the’ predator movie will aways be Predator 2, which I watched many times as a child from a VHS tape, dubbed in Romanian, the only ones with some critical acclaim are the original and the 2010-try, Predators. Funny enough, I didn’t enjoy Predators much, whereas The Predator actually proved quite a bit of fun. The plot, screenplay and some characters are quite atrocious, but the banter is great and borderline offensive. Which, I guess, is why it’s great. Going for a larger dose of comic relief worked for me. So if you can ignore some of the silliness – or just get on board with it, chances are you might also enjoy this. 6/10

When you need to go beyond watching dogs react to their owners ‘vanishing’

  • Alpha (2018): One of the bigger movies of this early autumn, Alpha is a slightly unusual mainstream affair, in that it’s silent a lot of the time and when it isn’t silent, the characters speak a fictional language. Unfortunately, it’s tired, predictable and slow, with fewer emotional hijackings than suspected – and this is a bad thing because I failed to really get into it and didn’t care much for the hut-dwelling characters fueled mostly by their survival instincts and an overly structured sense of familial belonging. Not my cup of tea. 5/10

…people said Brexit and Trump were impossible.

  • The First Purge (2018): Although I’ve seen all the four movies now, I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan. That being said, the Purge is not the worst franchise around. It’s one of the few that finds ways to stay pertinent. If you know what this thing is all about (a night a year when all laws are suspended and people can kill/steal/etc. without the legal repercussions), you don’t need a schematic to know where this one’s going. Heck, just reading this phrase should be enough. While there are plenty stereotypes going about, the essence of the movie is about the power political figureheads have in amplifying social rifts and creating self-fulfilling prophecies of doom to support their ‘platforms’. I want to believe people have a propensity for good, even at the worst of times, and that the strain we are being put under to undermine and despise one another is gnawing at the fabric of our existence. Well, I don’t really want to believe the latter part, but that’s what it feels like a lot of the time – a feeling that The First Purge does an excellent job of capturing. And to feed the meta-irony, I was looking at the suspicious recent reviews the movie has on IMDb, with people lambasting it with harsh one liners a la ‘worst film I’ve ever seen’. A lot of those reviews come from users who had never commented on anything else before, sometimes newly registered, other times (most bizarrely) with five-ten year old accounts, who have finally deemed to write their first IMDb contribution, i.e. said one-liner for this flick. Did the the jibe about the Russians really hurt that much? 7/10

At least it left me craving some pizza

  • Little Italy (2018): I’m all for unambitious romcoms that parade ethnic stereotypes and sell fortune-cookie level wisdoms, but Little Italy really does a job here! Thankfully, the old, tired cheese and the stale gags are made tolerable by a functional cast, with quite a few character actors and a decent leading couple – Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen. Let me say it: he’s definitely gone to the dark side with this one (haha, sorry). Long gone are the days of Shattered Glass, Life as a House or even Factory Girl for the Star Wars star. Now any role in third rate movies goes. There were maybe a couple of lines that made me chuckle, and then I chuckled harder at some of the horrendous scenes laid out in the movie. Yet, somehow, it didn’t make me want to end my life or pick up a book. 4/10

Movies of the Week #37 (2018)

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Why are horses so resplendent?

  • The Rider (2017): What a glorious, heartfelt movie about passion and struggling against the odds! The Rider treads the thin-red-line between reality and fiction to paint this stern, yet touching story about Brady, a cowboy who suffers a head injury that impairs him from doing what he’s best at – riding and taming (breaking in) wild horses. You can sense the potential for metaphors and drama right there, and director Chloé Zhao manages to milk it to the very last drop without ever becoming melo. Great cinematography helps in creating the setting, while perfect pacing makes for one of the best Western-themed movies I’ve seen in a while. 8/10

There’s a resplendent horse here too!

  • One and a Half Prince (2018): Although I saw this and The Rider a few weeks apart (#fakechronology), it’s funny how they are both semi-documentarian movies, talking about loss. The results, however, are very different, with One and a Half Prince failing in eliciting revelatory emotions. Or almost any other kind of emotions. More in the review. 5/10

No horses that I can recall.

  • RBG (2018): I was writing about this last week, in reference to the similarities it shares with Won’t You Be My Neighbour (2018). While RBG is still a fairly interesting movie, it feels more like a hagiography (God, I love this word) and focuses a fair bit on political overtones, rather than soulful subthemes. In what ultimately is a more old-fashioned documentary, the life of supreme court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg is distinctive enough to merit the treatment, but I never felt it went beyond itself to create something special. Or maybe that’s just me being pretentious. 7/10

Horse don’t associate with losers.

  • Sierra Burgess Is a Loser (2018): Another tame Netflix production about teenagers being teenagers and faking relationships (all that big data is really paying off!) proves to be an enjoyable ride for an uneventful night in. Even sharing the same object of desire like the other Netflix teen-pic, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Noah Centineo, it’s a bit hard to set them apart. For whatever reason, I did feel All the Boys was less formulaic than Sierra Burgess and the two leads had a less absurd love-story that you could actually get behind of. This does not mean Sierra Burgess doesn’t provide it’s share of positive characters and some moments of truth, just not that many. 6/10

P.S. And if you think that big data ain’t doing stuff – Noah Centineo is number six on the IMDb starmeter, after peaking at number one a week ago. Fear the aggregated data, guys and girls, fear the aggregated data.

Nobody can afford a horse in this one.

  • Support the Girls (2018): I think director Andrew Bujalski is on to something here: he’s found the recipe for making critically acclaimed movies that people rate below 6.0 on IMDb. After Results (2015), which I found to be quite enjoyable, Support the Girls is an even more accomplished picture, that seems to hit people the wrong way. Starring Regina Hall and – the apparently unavoidable – Haley Lu Richardson, offers some insight into the day of Lisa, the manager of a “sports bar with curves”. At face value, it’s a trip with Lisa managing all the things that could possibly go wrong during a day’s work. I would argue that it’s actually a critique of modern America, of cutthroat competition and self-serving, misogynistic ownership that undermines the humanism rooted in the way of life we should aspire to. There are no quick fixes, no easy ways out, just a lot of taking crap and making it shine on a platter. It turns out, Support the Girls is a movie about being stoic and willfully obtuse in one’s desire to make the best of things. 8/10

 

Movies of the Weeks #35 #36 (2018)

To my credit, I have been watching movies. It’s just that I haven’t been writing about them! I deserve a GoT shaming for this.

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Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013): I had no particular interest in the world of music in general or backup singers in particular, but there was something so relatable about the idea of being ‘twenty feet from stardom’. Most people are about that distance from being ‘important’, being ‘fulfilled’, from being just ‘more’ of themselves. It’s particular to the arts that so many people dedicate themselves and, yet, only a speckle become famous. The case of backup singers is fascinating, because these (mostly) girls are exceptional talents, yet they find themselves in a career limbo that can quickly become the end of solo aspirations. There’s a lot to be gotten out of TFfS, so it gets a warm recommendation. 8/10

To All the Boys I’ve Loved (2018): This cheery little Netflix title is everything it could have ever been – which is no small feat. Starring a couple of likable leads, it offers a lot of familiar themes from the world of teenage rom-com movies, but still manages to make them feel fresh and honest. It doesn’t make a joke of itself, which is, again, something praiseworthy, while also defying certain gender-related expectations. Enough said. 7/10

When We First Met (2018): In stark contrast with it is this other Netflix rom-com, about a guy stuck in a borderline implausible ‘what could have been’ over Alexandra Daddario. Yes, we all contemplate that, but you have to make a real meal of it for something like this to stand out. WWFM doesn’t and feels like the opposite of All the Boys I’ve Loved, by creating contrived scenarios with one-note characters. It’s slight and easily digestible, but, c’mon, you have to try harder and invest a dime in your characters. Having a cool time-travel mechanic (which you then use for the most generic scenarios) isn’t enough. 4/10

Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018): There was a lot of buzz surrounding a couple of unexpected documentaries this summer – the one about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and this, starring Fred Rogers. It’s not only the unexpected characters leading them that embrethrens them, but also their approach to the wider theme of how we build society and foster particular ways of thinking. More on RBG next week, because Mr. Rogers deserves a LOT of attention. The documentary is, really, a great piece of filmmaking, which reconstructs a man and his singular vision of how television can be used to teach children about the complexities of life. It’s an intricate story with surprising emotional heft, stemming from director Morgan Neville’s ability to bring Rogers into your living room. It doesn’t matter if you agree with everything (and the movie does shy away from controversy), because the overall experience is such a wholesome, uplifting one, that it will, in the least, change your day. That’s not a simple feat from a movie about an awkward man playing around with puppets. 9/10

P.S. Can you believe I had no idea Morgan Neville also directed Twenty Feet From Stardom until writing this? Crazy, crazy world.

First Reformed (2018): It’s hard to make a relevant movie about spiritualism and radicalism without being totally political about it. Yet, Paul Schrader manages just that in a difficult movie, that ends up in totally unexpected places. Ethan Hawke plays Toller, a priest who is tormented by his own shortcomings. This leads to something else when he has to ‘consult’ with a young radical environmentalist, who just about ends up ‘infecting’ Toller with doubt and action. Torn between duty, carnality and desperation, Toller slowly winds himself up, while losing more and more control. A strong finale underpinned the forlorn feelings I was left with while the credits were rolling. It might be a tad slow, but it’s worth it. 8/10

One and a Half Prince (2018): Review

Incompleteness is an important theme to Ana Lungu’s feature, a ‘story’ about three friends cohabiting with one another, featuring a selection of scenes from their lives. The ever so slight narrative circles around Iris, who is dealing with the sudden death of her boyfriend and looking to fill the void.

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The boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred by the fact that the actors play themselves as characters. This generates a certain ‘meta’ feeling, particularly when it is actually discussed within the movie, but abstractly. A lot of the script plays as improvised, with unpolished dialogue and awkward silence abounding.

Unfortunately, this loose approach didn’t work too well for me. The air of detachment surrounding Iris, the lead and also co-writer of the movie, sets her character somewhere in the distance, too far to be touched and emoted with. As a result, the movie failed to pull me in, playing as an almost random sequence of events with neutral people talking as people often do, boasting an aimless sense of philosophical enrichment. It might capture the particular joys and tribulations of actors, featuring nods and references to the likes of Mike Leigh and Daphne du Maurier, but what it succeeds at is framing them as people, in all their/our mundane glory.

The beautiful cinematography partly makes up for the lack of thrills or the incisiveness of its introspections. It is, however, not enough to make for a recommendation.

**