Movies of the Week #16 (2019)

When Dealing Lands You in Prison

25th Hour (2002): I am always fearful of re-examining the movies I loved while growing up. This Spike Lee ‘joint’ bears the usual excesses of the director, as he portrays the last day of freedom for Monty Brogan (Ed Norton). It’s out of these excesses that the movie grows, submerging the affair in an intensely colourful drama about family and friends. Funnily enough, I thought Norton was the lesser of his co-stars, with Berry Pepper, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson and Bryan Cox outshining his heavily restrained performance. The poetic ending got to me a lot, with its introspective foray into the choices one makes in life, which is part of the reason why I’ve always had a special place in my heart for 25th Hour. Still do. 9/10

P.S. Based on the novel and adapted to the screen by David Benioff (of Game of Thrones fame), can you believe that?

When Dealing Lands You in Rehab

Ben is Back (2018): A heavy drama about a son who returns home for the holidays during a stint in drug rehab, Ben is Back is well acted, well executed, but just too burdensome to be really worthwhile. Starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges (and directed by, hey!, Peter Hedges), what the movie does well is to portray this unraveling of the picture-perfect-son as seen through the eyes of his mother. What it does less well is engage the viewer as it drifts through the second and third acts. 6/10

When Just Dealing in Front of a VHS Store

Clerks (1994): Famous and infamous, Clerks feels like a movie that would have no place in the 21st century. It’s a male-centricity is mostly amusing, without turning into blatant chauvinism, and the manner in which Kevin Smith treads this thin line is presumably why the movie has survived for so long. Taking the time to look at the lives of a couple of clerks, it’s an uneven first feature, with some really funny bits and quips, as well as some tedious, or even cringey attempts at humour – or, even worse, relevance. That being said, I enjoyed it. 7/10

When Dealing in Emotional Baggage

The Perfect Date (2019): The Netflix movie-making machine churns on and on, with TPD among its latest productions. In the spirit of its previous teen movies (To All The Boys I Loved Before, Sierra Burgess is a Loser, etc.), TPD creates a scenario in which a teenage boy acts as a stand-in for girls who need a date, need advice or need to horrify their parents, in order to earn the money he needs to study at Yale. If you take it seriously, you risk causing a dangerous, even fatal brain swelling. Instead, try to enjoy the chemistry between Noah Centino and Laura Marano and you might just indulge in the silliness of this rom-com. 6/10

When Just Dealing With It All

Catastrophe (2015-2019): I’m making an exception here and jotting some lines about TV material, as one of my favourite shows came to an end earlier this year. Few TV series do a better job than Catastrophe in collapsing the craziness of relationship life into a half-an-hour, six-episode-a-season format. Actually, I don’t know of any. Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan created and starred in the show, alongside an excellent supporting cast, which adds all the missing flavours to a “catastrophic” leading couple. In fairness, the title is a bit of a misnomer, as Rob and Sharon’s relationship is not that different to what you would expect most relationships to be like – and that’s part of the fun of it. Their wit and snarkiness, their aspirations and disappointments, their unforgiving bluntness, it all makes for a picture-imperfect image of the clusterf**k most relationships are. Bottom line being: it’s all a matter of choices. 9/10

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Movies of the Week #14 #15 (2019)

The Kitsch, the Horror

Aquaman (2018): Rarely have I had the chance to dislike a superhero movie as much as I disliked Aquaman. The kitschy costumes, the numerous braindead characters, their undiscerning sobriety, the ridiculous lesser villain, the pathetic main villain, the tired fight scenes, the trigger-happy editing, the run-time, almost everything about the movie irked me. Jason Momoa was the only slight positive in the whole thing, but not even he managed to make the affair tolerable. Big boos from me. 4/10

Murder, He Wrote

Reversal of Fortune (1990): A true-to-life “making a murderer” before murderers were made, starring Glenn Close, Ron Silver and Jeremy Irons. It’s the story of Claus von Bulow, accused of attempting to kill his wife – who lies in a deep coma as the movie begins. Mr. von Bulow is not a likable man, which makes for an exciting story and the perfect role for Irons, who ended up winning the Academy Award for best Actor. It is, indeed, his performance that makes the most out of this movie, an otherwise well executed drama with a good tempo. 8/10

Love and War

Frantz (2016): For Francois Ozon, Frantz is a tame movie – tame in the best ways possible: a quiet and soulful reflection on life and death, on national prejudice and the willingness to believe the unlikely, as long as it creates coherence in our lives. In post WW1 Germany, a Frenchman appears, mourning a fallen soldier, as he tries to contact the man’s family. The movie twists and turns in various introspective ways, thanks to a couple of fleshed out characters and Ozon’s deft touch at creating emotion. A good time, most definitely. 8/10

The Portrait of Oscar Wilde

The Happy Prince (2018): If you’re up for a more depressing drama, do check out Rupert Everett’s lovechild, this retelling of Oscar Wilde’s tragic demise. The events of the movie occur mostly after his two years in prison, as he had been sentenced for sodomy, gross indecency – and being the pompous fool that he was. “Tragic” is, indeed, a word that’s justly used in this case, with Wilde slumming it penniless around Paris, as a couple of his friends try to give him a lifeline, which e refuses to embrace. The movie’s bleakness is also its weak point, as Everett fails to find a balance, relying solely on the larger-than-life persona of Oscar Wilde. It’s a good bet, but not at the best of odds. 7/10

Cheese Louise!

Green Book (2018): It’s amazing how a Hallmark level story managed to propel a banal feel-good movie into the position of a Best Picture winner – not to mention a Best Original Screenplay winner! It’s the performances of Ali and Mortensen that elevate Green Book out of the cushy, boring place that its story corners it into. The movie is such a predictable, melodramatic tale of two characters that feel fantastically artificial for the fact that the whole thing comes out of a true story, that its success baffles me. Alas, it’s not the first, nor with it be the last time that the Oscars make no sense to me.6/10

Movies of the Week #13 (2019)

Caught Offside?

  • Mario (2018): There are few places where homosexuality goes under the radar more than in professional football. The reasons for that are easily identifiable and Mario does the work to tick most of them. It’s a movie that portrays the football part surprisingly well, setting the story with a real-life backdrop – even if the actors barely look like pro players. Their chemistry works, which is why Mario churns out a tender story of love within the familiar frame of almost-cliched obstacles. I would argue it does the job well, making for a respectable flick, worth its time. 7/10

Nerd Alert

  • Prospect (2018): Indie sci-fis have become quite the spectacles nowadays. After last year’s Annihilation, a very high-brow approach, comes a movie with a similar feel but a lower-brow, if I may say so. Its strengths lie both in the visuals it creates, as well as its main characters – the silver tongued Ezra (Pedro Pascal) and the determined Cee (Sophie Thatcher). In between Pascal’s cheekiness and Thatcher’s reticence blossoms a strong bond, which carries the movie up until the end, when it begins to feel a bit tired – the movie, that is. Ultimately, a thoroughly enjoyable affair. 7/10

Music + Natalie Portman = Love

  • Vox Lux (2018): A big mashup of themes and tones, Vox Lux almost succumbs to its own weight. Thankfully, a late bravado performance from Natalie Portman rekindles the movie’s fading pulse, in this portrayal of school-shooting-victim-turned-child-pop-star-turned-a-wreck-of-an-adult-pop-star. Parts of the story and its characters are stereotypical, yet director/writer Corbet still manages to put in the extra something that elevates the experience beyond its tonal disharmony. 7/10

It Won’t Jump Scare You

  • Us (2019): Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out is every bit as unnerving and entertaining. Starring the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Elizabeth Moss, it takes a fairly abstract literal premise (everyone’s shadow is out for revenge) and turns it into a coherent social commentary about the structural effects caused by the access (and lack thereof) to fundamental social amenities. The powerful mirroring game works on several levels, which is what makes Us not only smart, but fun as well, in spite of the odd leaps of faith it asks of the viewer. 8/10

The Slow Burn of Your Dream Job

  • Personal Shopper (2016): It’s fun to see both former Twilight stars, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, take on some really exciting art-house productions. After her previous team-up with Olivier Assayas, Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), was well received – and rightfully so – Stewart has doubled down with a role that’s both difficult and engaging in equal measure. Her performance is at the core of why Personal Shopper turns out to be a good movie, as Stewart overcomes some of the jarring shifts in tone that Assayas goes for. Definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but a distinctive take on solitude and grief. 7/10