Movies of the Week #3 (2019)

Say Whaaat!

  • Blindspotting (2018): I had heard of the movie before it featured on Obama’ “best of”list for 2018 – just putting it out there. Indeed, it is a worthy addition to any top list for last year, thanks to rounded performances by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. The two also wrote the movie, which speaks volumes about their ability to portray the various social pressures and expectations in Oakland (esque) environments. It’s not just an effort with depth and heft, but also a joy to watch and listen to – the lingo just rocks and is used to great effect. Perhaps the ending leaves something to be desired, but very strong otherwise. 8/10

Home is Where Your Mind is

  • What They Had (2018): In one of those movies where you just dislike all characters, Michael Shannon and – believe it or not – Hillary Swank manage to bring enough to the table, to make this Alzheimer-themed horror-show close to enjoyable. Or memorable, heck. The couple are brother and sister, each profoundly damaged to the point of it almost being tacky, with the unenviable task of convincing their father that his wife/their mother (i.e. the Alzheimer case) is better off in a nursing home. The whole family dynamic is unsettling, whereas some of the twists and turns the movie takes are just mundane. However, the whole thing has a pulse and some wit, which is more than you can say about a lot of things. Like stones. Stones have neither. 7/10

For the Cliches in All of Us

  • Ali’s Wedding (2017): If you were craving for a different family dynamic, Ali’s is the way to go. We move on to the case of a young, talent-less boy, who is faced with the expectations attached to him being the son of the local Muslim cleric, a man of inspirational wisdom, much beloved by the community. So, of course, when said boy fails his exam to enter medical school, he ends up lying about it, just so you can work up your anxiety levels. There’s a girl involved as well, who has different issues (if you’ve seen any Western movie about Muslims, you know the stereotype), and you just know a big mess will come if it all, before neatly sorting itself out. Thankfully, the movie is endearing, in spite of being a rehash – which just goes to show, even ‘true stories’ have knack for fitting the same, old bill. 6/10

Legacy

  • Nothing Like a Dame (2018): Gather round to enjoy an hour of dames reminiscing of things you most likely won’t relate to – especially if you were born after the 80s. This is not to say that the four great ladies of British stage and film won’t catch your attention, even raise your spirits before lowering them again, in the frankness of their adventures as octogenarians. It’s a fair cup of tea’s worth of a movie. And like any good cup of tea, it will beg the question: why, Brexit, why? 7/10

A Different Kind of Legacy

  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991): No idea when I first saw T2, but it must have been close to twenty years ago, at least. You probably know what it’s about and if you don’t, well, hasta la vista and google it. Funnily enough, the movie left me a bit flat by the end. I definitely liked it the first time around, but the action sequences seem less impressive nowadays, whereas the characters are like ironing boards. Some interesting choices, plot-wise, are still worthy, as is the new terminator, both for the effects, and for his ominous presence. Overall, though, I can’t say any more why T2 is, supposedly, on of the sequels that are better than the original – maybe its context of the day, or maybe I just need to rewatch both. It’s definitely no Aliens, though. 7/10
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Movies of the Week #1 #2 (2019)

New year looks new.


On Addictions and Other Things

  • The Monster (2016): As a horror movie, The Monster is bland and boring. As a take on alcohol addiction, it’s not a bad piece of allegorical work. This must be why critics have given it some decent reviews, as opposed to the stark 5.4 it garnered on IMDb. I did think the atmosphere failed to really get under your skin, whereas the characters worked up an engaging story. The gist of it is that alcoholic mother is driving to drop off her daughter at her father’s, for an undetermined period of time. They get stuck in the woods and a monster rears its head. There are casualties. Addiction stuff. So yeah, not the worst failed horror movie I’ve seen. 6/10

A Childhood Stroll

  • Matilda (1996): I know for certain that I’ve seen Matilda before, but it was only the odd scene here or there that truly felt familiar. As one of the big movies of the 90s, a decade seemingly littered with highly successful movies about children, Matilda isn’t all that. It’s cute and honest, with a likable lead and a bunch of excellent villains – Pam Farris steals the show here. Beyond that, there wasn’t much to keep me interested in either the story, or its characters. Old age made me cynical, I’m afraid. 6/10

Back When Westerns Had Character

  • The Sisters Brothers (2018): You come across a movie directed by Jacques Audiard and starring the likes of John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phones and Riz Ahmed, and you are just bound to have phenomenal expectations. Then the movie trots about at a leisurely pace for half an hour and just as you start questioning the routinely Western events unfolding, the characters catch colour. They become distinctive, memorable, and as Audiard plays with the seen and the unseen, I found myself enraptured. As far as sibling movies go, this one is pretty high up there. 8/10

A Childhood Stroll Returns

  • Mary Poppins Returns (2018): It’s hard to find a much bigger MP fan than me. This movie is so meshed up into my childhood, every time I watch it, I get hit by a hurricane of emotions. Obviously, hearing of her return made me weary, although I did have faith it Emily Blunt. What came out was a very faithful recreation, almost scene by scene, which can be a worthy point of critique. However, Rob Marshall succeeded in also recreating some of that warm and tingly atmosphere, even without the aid of any iconic songs. It’s why, overall, I got to enjoying MPR, as a decent piece of fan service, if there even is such a thing as MP fans in need of it. 7/10

When Art Meets Commerce

  • Colette (2018): The story of Colette, the famous French writer of the eary 1900s that you’ve probably never heard of, has a penchant for the unusual, yet manages to feel tediously modern in most of its commentaries. This defied my expectations of authenticity and even if I’m totally in the wrong, it simply didn’t engage. Some very competent acting and a reasonably interesting story make up for its other shortcomings, but that’s meager consolation for what might have been a different experience altogether. 6/10

Movies of the Year #2018

I’ve only seen 69 movies released in 2018, with a bunch of the big ‘uns missing at this point. However, this does not limit my ability to string together a bunch of pics I enjoyed the heck out of and – as it so happens – their number stands at six, including some almost ineligible 2017 entries. No particular order, in spite of their different ratings.

But if I were to have a favourite, a most engrossing experience? The Tale.

Parenthood part x+2

  • Leave No Trace (2018): From the visionary director of Winter’s Bone (2010), wherein Jennifer Lawrence had her breakthrough performance, comes another tale of surviving in the wilderness. A father-daughter couple (didn’t we leave on this note all those weeks back?) survive together in a wildlife park near Portland in a rugged woman’s take on Captain Fantastic (2016). But this is no Captain Fantastic – no lush fairytale of happy hippies. It’s the story of a troubled war veteran who cannot adapt to society any more and now faces his daughter’s longing for a community. Thomasin McKenzie’s piercing glare will stay with you long after the movie is over, in a narratively austere, yet emotionally rich adventure into anti-modern America. Unlike Captain Fantastic’s bohemian pandering, Leave No Trace is a testament both for and against modern society, a taut and uncompromising coming of age story like few others. Have I used all the right buzzwords? 9/10

The real truth

  • The Tale (2018): Wow. Just wow. I don’t usually appreciate movies about abuse at all (well, you know what I mean), but The Tale approaches this semi-autobiographical story in an original, inspiring manner that I’ve never seen before. When our lead is faced with letters from her youth, her perception of how she grew up and the people she met along the way take a big hit. The way in which Jennifer sets out to rediscover the truth and cope with it is presented with so much tact and care, both narratively and cinematically, that I couldn’t help being enthralled with it. Director Jennifer Fox, upon whose experiences the movie is (loosely?) based, captures the evanescence of youth with great flair, while finding a perfectly suitable contrast to make it stand out against without becoming more grotesque than it is. The Tale proves to be one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, without a doubt. 9/10

Happy Go Lucky

  • 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

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

Alternative sci-fi:

  • Sorry to Bother You (2018): The trailer to StBY is intriguing, but it’s greatest achievement lies in saying something while withholding the movie’s essence. What starts out as a corporate ladder climb dipped in racial observations, becomes a full blown social dissection by the end. It’s a no holds barred kind of experience – nothing’s off limits. Which also means that it might not be everyone’s cup of hot tea, but it felt pretty good to me. So as not to spoil anything, just go ahead and give it a try. 8/10

‘Good breeding gone bad’

  • Thoroughbreds (2017): In his very first movie, which Corey Finley wrote and directed, the filmmaker manages to create and capture a spectacularly tense atmosphere, vividly portrayed through the eyes and souls of two emotionally dejected youths. The atmosphere borrows articulately from Chan-wook Park’s Stoker (2013), but Finley’s characters stand out more. Amanda, a girl devoid of emotions, is sent by her mother to get tutored by Lily, an emotionally ambivalent character, with both treading deeply into dysfunctional territory. The movie wraps around your throat with the ominous delight of white privilege and a boa constrictor, without making any concessions. Might need a rewatch to promote it to ‘delight’ level, but it’s really close regardless! 8/10

Movies of the Week #52 (2018)

The Lukewarm Sequel Brigade Reporting for Duty!

  • Incredibles 2 (2018): As a big fan of the original, I was fairly anxious before this sequel – follow ups so many years later rarely stand out. In spite of the glowing reviews, all I took away from it was how much standards have changed. Incredibles 2 is a tame movie, rarely funny or witty, often settling for ‘cute’. The phoned in storyline does little to help, but at least it’s brave enough to provide a small twist on the villain’s side. Other than that, poor, old Mr. Incredible has to deal with being a more of a father and less of a superhero, while Mrs. Incredible gets the spotlight – shock and awe. Sadly, there’s not enough to this sequel to call it warranted, but it’s not so appalling to deplore its existence either. Just middle of the road. 6/10

Netflix Doesn’t Do It Again!

  • The Princess Switch (2018): The greatest challenge with all these Netflix Christmas movies is telling them apart. TPS, similarly to A Christmas Prince (and its sequel), is filmed in Romania and stars a bunch of affable actors in a tale with no pretenses and absolutely no ambitions. For all the Christmas hassle, the algorithms know what fits bets. In this one, two lookalikes, a baker and a to-be princess, go for the good old switcheroo, to sample ‘the other life’. If you succeed in not engaging your brain, time will go by smoothly. While TPS is arguably a tad better than ACP, thanks to a more robust cast and better production values, it’s still not fresh enough to warrant a passing grade. 4/10

I Still Don’t Eat Fish

  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011): If you’re looking for a documentary that seamlessly binds food porn and enduring life principles, Jiro is the way to go. Seeing 85 year old Jiro run his little Tokyo sushi restaurant makes most 30 year olds blush for lack of discipline and vigor. I’m not certain it’s an inspirational journey, because work ethic is more deterministic than inherited, but it sure is impressive. The lush foods beings served in the subway-based Michelin starred joint make the whole thing feel introspectively romantic. 8/10

Newsflash: We’ve Sent a Man on the Moon

  • First Man (2018): While thoroughly competent and beautifully shot, Damien Chazelle’s newest pic shows too much restraint in retelling a very familiar story to be memorable. To its merit (and also causing some controversy), Chazelle painted the valiant effort in putting a man on the moon with little focus on the nationalistically driven space race. It’s mankind’s achievement, not the real-life equivalent of Rocky IV. Alas, whereas you can easily be appreciative of the subtle nuances that place FM above a pandering Michael Bay-esque trip to the moon, it’s not as easy to become immersed in it. 7/10

The Wild 70s

  • Roma (2018): One of the highlights of this year’s awards season is certain to be Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. Chronicling the turmoil of the early 70s in Mexico, it provides a thoughtful approach of considerable depth by cross-pollinating the personal with the political. It’s the perspective most of us have on life, as we traverse it with our own joys and fears, merely glancing at most of the wider socio-political issues of our era. The story here is anchored by Cleo, the maid of a middle class family (so IMDb claims, I’d have thought it was at least upper-middle class) in Mexico, whose stoicism in the face of adversity is thoroughly endearing and profoundly humanistic. While class is definitely a topic in Roma, the film dares to claim that it can be transgressed by humanism, with people being people on a day to day basis, not primarily warriors of class welfare. And as soon as you detach yourself from people and attach yourself to ideas, life has a tendency to take on dark undertones. 8/10