Movies of the Week #20 (2019)

The definition of a classic

Casablanca (1942): I fell in love with you watching Casablanca/ Back row of the drive-in show in the flickering light/ Popcorn and cokes beneath the stars/ Became champagne and caviar/ Making love on a long hot summer’s night/ I thought you fell in love with me watching Casablanca/ Holding hands ‘neath the paddle fans/ In Rick’s candle lit cafe/ Hiding in the shadows from the spies/ Moroccan moonlight in your eyes/ Making magic at the movies in my old Chevrolet (Bertie Higgins/Jessica Jay, Casablanca).

What else is there left to say? 9/10

Goes under the skin, then slips right out

XX (2017): A horror anthology with the distinction of being directed solely by women, XX feels all over the place – either too literal or too metaphorical, too tame or too vicious, too ironic or too mundane. All of the stories have something about them, something left dormant through these rather disappointing explorations. Unconvincing acting performances don’t help, with Karyn Kusama’s tale (who also directed The Invitation) being the sole stand-out of the bunch. 5/10

Ageless action heroes have become the norm

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019): Wick is back! Narratively as unambitious as ever, the movie provides more of its trademark action sequences, that you’ll either enjoy or completely despise. Director Chad Stahelski and lead Keanu Reeves know they have a good thing going, with narrative minimalism and action maximalism dictating the rhythm of their world. The addition of Asia Kate Dillon is a very welcome move, whereas Mark Dascascos’ “villain” didn’t feel quite right, but provided effective fight scenes. One would think this trilogy should have run its course by now, but it seemingly has not. 7/10

Talking of ageless…

The Old Man & The Gun (2018): Robert Redford’s final movie fits the man like a glove, as he portrays the story of Forrest Tucker, a gentleman bank-robber and top-notch jail-breaker. His style draws admiration from press, public and law enforcement, with detective Hunt, played by Casey Affleck, particularly impressed. David Lowery of A Ghost Story (2017) fame creates attractive visuals to frame this small tale that tries to make the distinction between making a living and living. I didn’t find it convincing in this regard, with the movie feeling mostly like a soft-spoken vehicle for Redford. 7/10

The heavy pen of video-game scriptwriters

Tomb Raider (2018): In the spirit of all video-game adaptations, TR is an inconsequential movie, that sometimes entertains, but mostly feels like a silly rehash of better films. It’s a shame, really, because Alicia Vikander makes for a decent Lara Croft, and there are a couple of scenes that look really cool. There are a lot of nods towards the more recent TR game trilogy, which I’ve enjoyed myself, but it proves a real challenge to make the plot work and the characters engaging. Hard to say when a good video-game adaptation will finally come our way. 5/10

Movies of the Week #19 (2019)

Casablanca II

Transit (2018): Christian Petzold is shaping to be one of my favourite directors at the pace he’s going. The manner in which he tiers characters, geography and historical context is mesmerizing, making up for the more ambiguous moments in his film-making. Transit is particularly bizarre and unlikely at times, with its characters intermittently gliding and swerving in the way they act, which would make a literal interpretation of their relationships fruitless. Seemingly set during Nazi occupation of France, Petzold chooses to abandon any attempt of strict historical recreation, creating a disturbing sense of modern day conflagrations. The movie’s characters struggle to find transit to America, while the movie plays around with concepts of identity and romance at will, bordering on the absurd. It’s all somehow contagious, the questions, the despair, the passion, even if Transit‘s overt coherence might put some people off it. 9/10

Punch, snort, punch

A Prayer Before Dawn (2017): One of those movies that have been waiting on my watch-list ever since their release, this brutal story of an “English boxer incarcerated in one of Thailand’s most notorious prisons” (IMDb) feels relentless. Not unlike the below-reviewed Brawl, it’s rough and tough, but more sparing with its excesses and more generous with its humanity – in a place so devoid of it. For better or worse, the movie doesn’t dwell on the larger dramas of Billy Moore’s life, one so rife with tragedy and poor decisions that it would need another format for it. Alas, this also streamlines and diminishes the character somewhat. That being said, Prayer is the better prison movie of the week. 8/10

Smile, kill, smile

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019): They all come in twos or threes – after watching parts of the Jeffrey Dahmer story in My Friend Dahmer, it was serial-killer Ted Bundy’s turn to get the full-movie treatment. Unfortunately, there are a lot of times when EWSEaV doesn’t quite make sense, in an off-putting way. While Zac Efron’s performance, widely praised, is indeed worth the run-time, the man alone can’t keep the movie together, as it fails to get the menace behind its charm across. 6/10

Sing, kill, sing

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017): Who doesn’t want to watch a zombie musical? Shame on you! Every zombie movie deserves to be seen. Well, AatA has its moments and takes the Walking Dead/Game of Thrones approach to key character survival odds, which is fun. For a while. Its less than inspired musical moments don’t do enough to feel like more than a cheeky twist to the genre, which is why the thing lost me towards its finale. Props for trying to do something different. 6/10

Grit, grit, grit

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017): There’s a lot of grit to be had in Craig Zahler’s flick, as the director doubles down with the occasional moments of ultra-violence to rouse the viewer. What really makes the film stand out is Vince Vaughn’s assured performance, who anchors some of the more extravagant characters around him. This bestows the familiar tale of an incarcerated drug handler fighting to save his family with depth and is particularly well served by the uncompromising downward spiral Zahler wishes us to embark upon. 7/10

Movies of the Weeks #17 #18 (2019)

*Insert Blood Pun Here*

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019): Coming directly after finishing John Carreyrou’s book on the subject, I had high expectations of HBO’s Inventor. While it’s an informative piece of film-making, it has three major issues: a) it doesn’t dig deep enough in the juicy subject matter b) it justifies away too much of Elizabeth Holmes’s shortcomings and c) it treats the subject matter with too much levity. Hopefully the upcoming feature film will do a better job. 6/10

LoveBeGone

Someone Great (2019): There’s quite a bit of flair behind Someone Great, but not quite enough pazazz to make it memorable in any way. Its likable lead trio (Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow and DeWanda Wise) goes some way towards ensuring the movie is watchable, in this renewed old tale of heart overcoming heartbreak, of relationships moving and changing from one day to the next. Alas, it doesn’t go beyond that. 6/10

Bonnie and Clyde Rehash

The Highwaymen (2019): The 1930s manhunt equivalent of Someone Great, this tale of how Bonny and Clyde were tracked down by a pair of aging rangers provides little beyond its central duo – Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson. In spite of its 2hrs+ runtime, there’s only a fatigued story to hang onto, with no proper secondary characters and dramas propping up the protagonists. So, yes, not quite a movie to remember either. 6/10

PG 13 Wrestling – Oh, Wait

Fighting With My Family (2019): I had some hopes from FWMF, not so much because wrestling is a thing (although it arguably is), but because it was Stephen Merchant penning and helming it – there are few other comedian/actors out there who are more enjoyable to me. Sadly, the movie reflects little of Merchant’s wit, playing out as a tame, wannabe inspirational story of believing and defying the odds. Not quite sure while the whole thing didn’t grow on me, because people seemed to have liked it, but as it didn’t, it just felt distinctly middle of the road. A pattern for the week. 6/10

Jigsaw Coming Together

Avengers: Endgame (2019): I’ve never been enthralled by the Avengers (or almost any other Marvel movie), because Marvel, to me, can only do levity really good, but it fails at proper drama. Sure, Endgame is everything it could be, an achievement of mammoth proportions given its narrative breadth and the amount of characters it had to service. Which is why it stands out in the Marvel universe and I give it credit for that – and for being an entertaining movie. However, it’s so surgically put together that it cannot but fail in being more than the sum of its parts. I might also not agree with its utilitarian approach, but it does weave the stories together well and that is the standard by which I’ll judge it. Won’t deny it, I got somewhat emotional towards the end – the way you do when something that’s been a constant in your life, good or bad, finds closure. 8/10