Movies of the Week #43 (2019)

Diego Maradona (2019): Asif Kapadia is cornering the market on documentaries about celebrity tragedies. After the impressive Senna and Amy biographies, comes this complex story about a fallen god of football who has the…misfortune of being still alive today. For the dramatic purposes of the movie. Maradona’s story lacks the morale shattering life-cut-short variable, although one could argue that surviving and falling as low as he’s done should be tragedy enough. With the movie focusing mostly on the Argentine’s period in Napoli, we get a beautiful arc of rebirth-omnipotence-downfall, but don’t really get the sense of what followed, with a quick and shocking wrap-up-scene meant to provide closure. Kapadia’s usual hagiography is just as present when it comes to Maradona’s life choices and it lessens the movie to some degree, by treading the same territory as with Amy – Maradona being exonerated, the inhumane pressures of being a football deity (media pressure, local culture, public expectations) indicted. Even so, the movie is entertaining to watch, as Maradona’s years in Napoli were especially colorful and reminiscent of an age pre-dating the personality-ostracized PR world of modern athletes. 8/10

Demoni (1985): If you’re looking for a gory 80’s Italian zombie flick, look no more. In this cult movie set in Berlin (!), random people are invited to watch a mysterious movie. Turns out, the movie comes to life and a sort of zombie infestation manifests itself. The special effects stand out in a an otherwise thin narrative, with some amusing bits and pieces (the blind man going to the cinema? his caretaker ditching him to make out with a random guy?) and not much in terms of scares. Drawing the line, Demons has enough character to withstand the test of time and proves a decent entry particularly for genre enthusiasts. 6/10

Der Rosenkavalier (1925): “But TS, how did you stray in pre-WWII cinema? And such an obscure movie, to boot!”

Well, the local philharmonic with the German Cultural Institute of Timisoara organized this screening/concert of Robert Wiene’s Rosenkavalier and it’s been a while since I last saw a silent movie. Wiene is known for his Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920), which I have yet to see, but RK is something quite different. An adaptation of Richard Strauss’s 1910 opera, Strauss himself conducted the orchestra on the film’s debut in Dresden. The story is your usual comedy mess of mixed lovers, masks and inheritances, so if you’ve seen any romantic operas, you’ll know where it goes pretty quickly. I can’t say I was enthralled with the movie, but some clever scenes surprised me and the orchestra’s accompaniment made the experience worthwhile. As an aside, I learned (by reading an IMDb review) that silent movies were generally not silent in the 1920s, as only the reputable theaters provided an orchestra. Medium venues played popular songs on the piano, whereas in smaller ones “coughing or marital discussions together with children howling were the music accompaniment “. A good little bit of trivia. 6/10

Ready or Not (2019): After their failed feature length debut in 2014, Devil’s Due, directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett produced a thoroughly enjoyable flick this time around. The story: as Grace (Samara Weaving) marries into the Le Domas family (and gaming empire), she has to survive a game of life or death on her wedding night. If you want to go meta, you can call RoN a critique of the 1% and everything that comes with wealth, inheritance and traditions, but it never takes itself particularly serious. While this is a traditional (genre) movie in some ways, it packs enough flair, humor and, yes, gore to make it stand out, thanks also to its strong cast – Adam Brody, Henry Czerny and Andi MacDowell, to name a few aside from Weaving. 7/10

Under the Silver Lake (2018): After two great movies in The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010) and It Follows (2014), David Robert Mitchell goes all-out David Lynch with Silver Lake and…somewhat misfires. The movie follows Sam, a Hollywood-based pop-culture addict who is in the throes of despondency when he meets a mysterious girl who just as mysteriously vanishes. With a newfound purpose, he embarks on a cryptic search through that’s markedly bizarre and eclectic, unraveling his life’s meaning, in what you’d expect of Hwood excesses. You can’t fault the movie for being unambitious and, somehow, it finds a path by the end, although it feels like its climax is three quarters of the way through. Andrew Garfield’s character is representative of the lot and takes some getting used to, which is probably why it felt like UtSL came up short – it’s interesting conceptually, but none of the people inhabiting it draw you in. Still, with such a detail rich and ambiguous story, there’s enough to bite on to make me will it towards a 7/10

Movies of the Week #42 (2019)

Joker (2019): This will not be a popular opinion, but I thought that Todd Phillips’s Joker was, for the most part, a cliched, bombastic, pretentious and tired piece of film-making that’s bleak to fault. While it is a different, more engrossing and single-focused origin story thanks to Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, I found myself rarely engaged and never excited. In the same way that ultra-violent movies are accused of being torture porn, this is its own brand of torture porn, with the sadistic world Arthur Fleck inhabits. Of course, Gotham has always been dark, but that’s why you’ve got Batman, because you need contrast. The complete lack thereof, some predictable twists, the second rate philosophy ramblings, all limited my ability to emote over what was going on. As far as I can tell, everything the movie put forth – narrative, visuals, themes – has already been done before and better. And slow-mo as the main means of atmosphere building is cheap.
The one thing it’s got going beyond Phoenix, is the sheer visceral quality of some of its scenes. And as a side-note to Phoenix’s character, I found the depiction of mental illness to be well on point regarding the effects of poverty on treatment and care options, but so extreme that it became caricatured, with the potential of further stigmatizing against those who suffer of it.
I guess that’s a long short review for a movie I didn’t like, but when you piss against the wind, you gotta expect the wind to piss back at you.That being said, yes, Joker was a disappointment and that always counts for something when rating. It’s also why I give it the same rating as Zombeavers because, hey, Zombeavers knew what it was and made no false promises. 6/10

Little Monsters (2019): If there ever was an antidote to Joker, this could very well be it. In the saturated world of zombie movies, Little Monsters provides a somewhat new, somewhat diverting and totally endearing take on the genre – a bit of Shaun of the Dead, but with children. It’s all very on the nose and one could argue it could have had more bite to it, be more irreverent, or even be funnier (can’t say McGiggles did it for me), but I just came away from it with a feeling of satisfaction and a stupid smile plastered on my face. And yes, Lupita Nyong’o is amazing, as usual. 7/10

Fatal Attraction (1987): The 80s and 90s were a great time for sex-themed movies. The naughties, innit? Like real naughties, not fifty shades of naughties – Body Double, Basic Instinct, Body Heat (see ap attern there?), all culminating and kinda ending with Eyes Wide Shut. They were also two really good decades for Michael Douglas, but in Fatal Attraction it’s Glenn Close who does most of the heavy lifting (don’t shed a tear for Douglas, he did win an Oscar that year for Wall Street). The ‘crazy female’ template has its sexist qualities, but the movie is a fun/fine ride, until the less than imaginative finale. There’s probably a nostalgia factor to it as well for viewers of a certain age, which makes it that little bit more pleasurable. 7/10

Câini (2016): A lauded Romanian No Country for Old Men (as it was labelled/self-labelled), Câini aka Dogs is a great movie to look at that’s in rather short supply of fascinating characters. Which, of course, means that it differs from NCfOM in a key way and it’s the reason for Bogdan Mirica’s movie feeling flat at times. Story in short: city dude inherits his criminally-inclined father’s estate in the countryside and gets tangled in more than he can handle. It’s not the most gripping of stories, but it’s beautifully shot and has an atmosphere akin to the Coen brothers masterpiece, which proves just about enough. 7/10

Wild Rose (2018): Half Mike Leigh, half Richard Curtis, half John Carney (hah, see what I did there?), this lass-wannabe-country-singer story felt truly endearing by the end. Featuring Chernobyl’s (and Beast’s) Jessie Buckley, it takes a bit of warming up to, because our lead, Rose-Lynn, is a morally bankrupt mother of two, with a total disregard for her responsibilities. But it’s not hard to feel for her, because she’s not the first, nor the last one to be a very young mother, whose dreams are in stark contrast with what her priorities should be. Heck, the question of how we should reconcile parenthood with a career is one of the biggest questions of our current society. With me being a bit of a country music fan (four seasons of Nashville, I must be a fan, right?), it all came together quite nicely as an exploration of our humanity, even in spite of its super-mushy ending. 8/10

Movies of the Week #40 #41 (2019)

Hail Satan ? (2018): To get things straight right out of the gate – this is most likely not the movie you think it is. You won’t get a bunch of people playing dress up and hailing an ungodly demon. Instead, HS proposes a debate about the role of anti-establishment movements (i.e. The Satanic Temple) and the importance of civilized and fair challenges to the status quo. Sure, it’s bombastic at times, while at other times you wonder if it’s not just all an elaborate prank, but it doesn’t even really matter, in the same way it doesn’t matter whether Borat is real. Because the world he/they choose to inhabit reacts with authenticity – and that’s a world in which “nontheistic religions” are a thing. How can that not be fascinating? 8/10

Anna (2019): The days of Luc Besson being relevant seem to be behind us. In Anna, a cliched action-spy-thriller, bogged down by timeline yo-yo-ing, there are few things worth remembering. Model-turned-actress Sasha Luss leads some proper actors (Cillian Murphy and Helen Mirren, to name the more notable ones), but isn’t the most convincing lead. Heck, I didn’t much like Atomic Blonde, and that one starred Charlize Theron, so it’s no surprise Anna didn’t grow on me. So unless this is your genre, stay away. 4/10

Beast (2017): Director Michael Pearce picked up a BAFTA on his debut picture – this one. Starting from a simple premise (shy, innocent, girl falls for dangerous man), it paints a beautiful role-reversal by slowly revealing the true nature of its characters. Unlike how a Korean movie might go about this, i.e. swashbucklingly, Beast is subtle and restrained for the most part. The experience is lessened by a lack of urgency in critical moments and the over-the-top ending Pearce goes for, but movie has merit. 7/10

Despre oameni și melci (2012): In a Romanian interpretation of The Full Monty, Of Snails and Men proposes an all-together familiar story: state-owned factory run by corrupt management is taken over by private investors and thousands of people lose their jobs. Said people try to work out a way to do something about it and come across a sperm donation scheme, paying 50 USD per scoop of semen. It doesn’t quite all come together, because, really, who wants to artificially inseminate the sperm of some factory worker with no higher education? In spite of the potential for powerful social commentary, Tudor Giurgiu’s movie feels slight and lacks both focus and subtlety. What it does do well, is capture “the times” and some of the people, but without creating truly interesting characters. Shame, really. 6/10

Tall Girl (2019): A Netflix production that’s about as bland and uninteresting as they come, while also going against rule nr. 1 of rom-coms – we need to root for the couple! In this tragic tale of a (gorgeous) tall girl being shunned in school for being different, we are supposed to believe that the sheer goodness of a geeky, friend-zoned dork wins the day and the girl. I’ll admit that there are times where it just looks like there might be more to this movie, a few scenes that click or a relevant piece of social commentary, but they fade into a puddle of boring irrelevance due to the unagreeable story put forth. The appalling ending was just too much to bear in the end, which is why I really can’t recommend TG. 4/10