Movies of the Week #38 #39 (2019)

Wonder Boys (2000): Back in the days when Curtis Hanson did his better movies (and was still alive), I had the pleasure of watching Wonder Boys. With an excellent cast, starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire when he was fashionable, Robert Downey Jr. when he wasn’t as fashionable, Frances McDormand who’s amazing as usual and Katie Holmes who was just about starting to get a movie career going (Dawson’s Creek FTW), it tells the story of a miserable writer-professor who just can’t get his second book going. Or ending. The movie features some kooky characters who are really just finding themselves and they’re endearing to look at, but there’s a reason why there’s a boys in the title: female characters don’t get much to do. You can take the man out of the boy but you can’t take the boy out of the man (hah!), that’s what I got from all this. And also a great Bob Dylan tune, that won WB an Academy Award. Seriously, though, it treads some interesting topics, without being very serious about them, and unlike most movies about writing, it manages to balance its narrative excesses with interesting people. That’s all there is to it, really. 8/10

IT: Chapter 2 (2019): Following up on the arguably successful IT re-imagining of two years ago, the adult version is tonally impaired, overlong and processional. It takes its characters and isolates them in Derry, which is not really a grown-up thing to do, and in spite of emphasizing the importance of their shared resistance, has them spend a lot of the story separated (for scheduling reasons? don’t know). A big, multiple legged clown reminiscent of unimaginative end-game bosses doesn’t make for a great showdown either. It might not be a terrible movie (the remake wasn’t that great either), goes for some jump scares, but for the most part it felt disjointed and a bit of a let down. 5/10

Ad Astra (2019): There are a few things Ad Astra has going for it – great visuals, great soundtrack via Max Richter and a real retro-future feel that’s captivating. Unfortunately, it also features an average script with a less than engaging mid-life crisis story starring the most beautiful astronaut that never was, Brad Pitt. The lack of a pay-off / satisfying climax doesn’t help much either, nor do a couple of action sequences (beautiful, again) thrown into the mix simply for a change of pace. But somehow, overall, I developed a fondness for it and the more I think of the movie, the more I want to see it again. The manner in which it captures the haunting beauty of space is memorable, even Pitt’s ponderous character sometimes draws you to him, it’s just disappointing that the big-corp, socio-political criticism is less than imaginative. Definitely worth the look and feel of IMAX and reflecting upon it in the 48 hrs since seeing it makes me will it towards an 8/10!

Downton Abbey (2019): I remember thoroughly enjoying the first two seasons of DA, before it started venturing into serious melodrama territory and I just couldn’t watch any more. Having caught up on events with a ten minute recap, my hopes were that the movie offered fan service with a dollop of nostalgia value on top, without being too ambitious. Thankfully, it delivered – even though it feels like everything that’s happening is terribly low-stakes for all the kerfuffle, show creator and screenwriter Jullian Fellows managed to show why it’s important for our characters, and not take itself too seriously in the process. I even wept a tear at what is, most likely, one of Maggie Smith’s final roles, in a heartfelt send-off. So yes, go for it Downton Abbey fans! For the rest of you, go through the show first a bit, because if you have no relation to the characters, this will not resonate. 7/10

68 Kill (2017): To be honest, I saw this one three weeks ago or so and didn’t get to review it at the time. It was pretty fun to watch, but not that memorable – something in the spirit of Slice, which I wrote about last time around, but not quite as memorable. You’ve got yourself a guy who’s in a relationship with a chick that’s way too hardcore for him, but the story goes quickly from “mildly weird” to “batshit crazy”, in a violent bonanza where, ironically enough, chicks kick as and definitely don’t take names. 68 Kill can’t sustain its energetic tempo and lost me when things got flat, but it’s twists and the odd ultra-violence made sure it fits a niche. Is it yours? 6/10

Movies of the Weeks #36 #37 (2019)

Le grand bain (2019): There’s something endearing about a bunch of middle-aged men solving their mid-life-crises by forming a synchronized swimming team. The strong cast, starring familiar faces like Mathieu Amalric and Guillaume Canet, keeps the whole thing afloat, even in its drearier moments, as the movie sloppily spans over two hours. Its tone is not perfectly adjusted, with scenes worthy of sketch comedy, while others could well stem from traumatizing dramas, but overall the good intentions and positive vibes shine through. 7/10

Slice (2018): I went in expecting nothing of this 4.5 rated flick on IMDb and was pleasantly surprised by it. In a world of ghosts and werewolves, where no pizza boy (or girl) is safe, there’s social uproar to find the murdering slicer. Silly, yet played with a mostly straight face, the movie is a fresh enough allegory of prejudice that looks good and finds a balance between the ridiculous and the bizarre. I get it why some people have an aversion for this kind of story, unwilling to tolerate the serious treatment of a silly premise, but if you’re an open-minded geek, this can be worth your time. 6/10

Sense & Sensibility (2008): Following up Ang Lee’s 1995 adaptation of the Jane Austen novel seems like a daunting task. The 2008 take on the story tries to be structurally different, by proposing a mini-series, which is a mere half hour longer than the aforementioned movie. It works well, however, in terms of pacing. While without the likes of Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, this mini-series is not lacking in heavy hitters, such as Dan Stevens, David Morrissey and Dominic Cooper. I wasn’t fully taken in by Marianne and Elinor Dashwood’s characters, with Charity Wakefield’s interpretation of the former particularly tame. Yet, they all grow on you, the way only an episodic tale can allow its characters to really grow, so I would judge this adaptation a success, if not quite the remarkable achievement of more than twenty years ago. 7/10

Good Boys (2019): From the producing mind of Seth Rogen comes a movie about three tweenage friends whose bond is under the usual social pressures of 6th grade conformity. They end up doing some crazy stuff, handle drugs, shoot guns, everything you would expect from Rogen, but what carries the movie is the underlying innocence that doesn’t come across as trite – at times. It’s worth a few laughs, but never hits the highs of preposterousness that I’d have liked. 6/10

The Dead Don’t Die (2019): Coming from Jim Jarmusch, this zombie apocalypse is a serious let down. In spite of its stellar cast (Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton) and some familiar Jarmusch side-characters (Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Steve Buscemi, RZA), the movie never takes off and never feels fresh. Some of its ideas have merit and the introspective, slow-paced approach to the zombie kerfuffle definitely had some potential, but in the end I got the distinct feeling that it’s the kind of ironic/meta zombie movie someone would do, if they hadn’t seen that many zombie movies of the last decade or so. 5/10