Movie of the Week #47 (2019)

Life (2017): I reviewed Life when it was released two and half years ago, but have been mysteriously drawn to it ever since, in spite of my harsh rating at the time (5/10). For the most part, I stand by my first impression, that the movie is a missed opportunity, in spite of it’s good looks and solid cast. What really causes it to fail is a lack of attention to detail that, too often, is required to make the plot work – which, of course, is why so many things just feel out of place. What stands out, though, is the scene where excrement gets real, a scene that completely terrified me, even in spite of its physical and logical inaccuracies. As far as tension and subliminal gore go, it’s probably one of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve ever seen in a horror movie. Given this, and the fact that Life is, ultimately, a competent (and expensive) B movie, I have to adjust my initial rating, bumping it up a grade – i.e. recommended for genre enthusiasts. 6/10

Paterson (2016): Jim Jarmusch may not be the most consistent filmmaker of his generation, but his desire for exploration is something to be admired, leading to more hits than misses. In Paterson, he finds the every-man, the non-hero more defining of us all than most leading men and women in cinema. Wrapped within a poem, with a very particular rhythm to it, the movie benefits of layered performances, as Adam Driver really captures the nuances, often left implied, of the titular character’s feelings, drive and desires. As you would expect, it’s a slow burner, but it definitely burns. In a world so demanding of attention and drama, Paterson really is the anti-movie. 8/10

Blinded by the Light (2019): It’s rare that a musical really finds the right tune and tone when using popular songs – in this case, Bruce Springsteen’s. Blinded by the Light does a great job at this, with the music emphasizing the story and elevating the whole gig. It’s a bit of a shame that said story relies on a lot of cliches, with the central conflict between a strict father and his angsty teenage son feeling all too familiar. If you can take it as it is, BbtL has enough to offer, with a strong feel-good vibe keeping it afloat. 7/10

I Kill Giants (2017): In the way that Hwood produces very similar movies within twelve month periods, I Kill Giants takes on the same theme as 2016s A Monster Calls – a young teen coping with the imminent death of a parent. This one is a bit more down to earth, with Barbara’s struggles to integrate within the crowd at school and come to terms with the injustice that has struck her life framed by the difficulties of those around her as well. It dares to get really dark with its main character, a kind of darkness that’s not just reserved to family members. However, its attempt to ‘cover’ the metaphor in various layers of fantasy, only to then unveil it all in a tired last act, does the movie a disfavour. This inability to stay true to itself is why I ultimately consider IKG is the lesser movie. 6/10

A Monster Calls (2016): It turns out, I forgot to review this one, although I saw it just about a month ago. If you’re going to watch just one of the two, AMC has more going for itself – a more consistent story, a befitting allegory and stronger visuals. Other than that, the two movies are really very similar, with different family troubles, similar bullying struggles and two justifiably angry kids at their centers. AMC may not be a perfect movie, because it also goes for a bunch of tired tropes, yet overall it just felt like the superior take on the matter at hand. 7/10

Movies of the Week #46 (2019)

Parasite (2019): It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film with the impact of Parasite. Joon-ho Bong’s latest is a layered, visually striking and emotionally jarring piece of work, filled with social commentary. I don’t even want to go into much detail regarding the plot, other than to say that it all starts with Ki-taek, whose whole family is unemployed, getting a tutoring job at a rich employer and then scheming to get his sister and parents positions within the household. What begins as a comedy proves to be very…genre-fluid, switching tonality with impressive ease. The questions it so artfully poses about social structure and the hierarchy of life will probably hit home regardless of culture. By the end, with a finale reminiscent of 25th Hour, Parasite left me in quite a mood, brimming with anxiety, which is enough to excuse some of its Bong-esque ideological excesses . That’s quite the feat. 9/10

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019): For a franchise that has been consistently disappointing for the last 16 years, Dark Fate can definitely be considered a step in the right direction. The fact that James Cameron wills himself to believe that all sequels since Judgement Day didn’t happen would be worth something, if DF were, indeed, a return to form. Alas, it’s just barely good enough to warrant its existence. With a paper thin plot and less than creative SJW discourse, the newest Terminator relies wholly on its action sequences and the charisma of its characters. The action is enjoyable for the most part and it would have been even more impressive, had most major set-pieces not been spoiled in the trailer. The characters, however, are a very mixed bag. Discount-Michelle Rodriguez (sorry, that’s just very mean from me) is bland and uninteresting, Sarah Connor turns out to be a grumpy grandma, with Mackenzie Davis left to do all the heavy lifting. She gets support from a nostalgic and amusing Schwarzenneger, the only solid source of comic reliev in the movie, and the other “robot” in the game, Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9. Luna brings some serious swagger and danger to the table, making for a strong villain, even if the movie generally lacks a sense of ‘greater purpose’ beyond keeping the itsy-bitsy Dani (Natalia Reyes) safe. This should be the end of the Terminator series, which could have done way more with the complex evolution of AI in the 21st century, but was content to retread the same territory…over and over again. 6/10

The King (2019): Not even Timothee Chalamet’s star power can give the bloated story of Henry a proper pulse. At almost two and a half hours, it’s a beautiful (if dark and muddy) film to look at, that strains a less than intriguing story of medieval warfare. It doesn’t dig deep into the era or its characters, being content with focusing on how Hal switches gears from a Tyrion Lannister into a warrior-king without batting an eyelash. Thankfully, Robert Pattinson shows up in a somewhat exotic, yet much needed splash of colour, that just about revitalizes the dry, dry wits of The King. And then, when a good ending might have somehow sold this whole historic venture, the movie introduces an emancipated-spouse-to-be that works solely as a narrative device to find closure for a subplot that never really took shape. So, yes, looks good, but brings very little of note to the table. 6/10

Little Shop of Horrors (1986): A horror-themed musical is rare to come by. One to survive the test of time is even rarer. That’s where the exception comes in, as LSoH proves to be a thoroughly weird and enjoyable movie with good visual effects, some catchy songs, surprising twists and a lot of room for interpretation. A couple of strong “character guest stars” in Steve Martin, Bill Murray and John Candy round out the more personas played by Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene (whose pitch is…an acquired tasted). I guess you could say it’s a reinterpretation of Faust in a bizarro-way, with a demonic plant running the show. Doesn’t this just sound jolly? 7/10

Official Secrets (2019): It may not be the most engrossing newsroom/whistleblower story, heck, but Official Secrets entertains. Gavin Hood’s latest follows the excellent Eye in the Sky, which may make this a bit of a disappointment by comparison. However, the excellent cast it relies on, with the likes of Keira Knightly, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith or Indira Varma to name a few, manages to get the most out of Katharine Gun’s “treasonous” story, asking the question of where you draw the line between wanting to protect your country and betraying it. There’s some timeliness to it as well, with the Trumps and Erdogan’s of this world deciding the wider geopolotical futures of the world according to political and financial interests, before social ones. So, all in all, not that bad. 7/10

Movies of the Week #44 #45 (2019)

Petulia (1968): George C. Scott led me to this little gem of the late 60s, a movie directed by Richard Lester, better known for A Hard Day’s Night (1964), The Three Musketeers (1973) and Superman II (1981). Petulia is a story about marriage and relationships, but it is really much more than that, a story about a particular time in history that ostentatiously lacks heart. It’s all concept, all status and all brutish, primal feelings, anchored by its excellent leads, Scott and Julie Christie. The movie really looks like the future of the 60s, clean and neat and nasty, with technology taking an ever-more-present place in the day-to-day. It creates a distance between the real and the artificial, which it captures thanks in no small part to Nicholas Roeg’s cinematography. Quite a treat. 8/10

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019): A perfectly workable sequel, ZDP doesn’t stray from the formula one bit and is content to recreate what worked in the original. This means it doesn’t stand out, but thanks to some inspired moments and its top-notch cast, Ruben Fleischer’s sequel is just about good enough for the fans. The plot only sees the gang roaming through the wasteland, after a short intermezzo at the White House, with everyone yearning to be free and independent. Well, everyone except Columbus. It’s a weak driving force behind the story and the movie is content with introducing a couple of cardboard characters, a Barbie played by Zoey Deutch, and an equally ridiculous hipster-type played by Avan Jogia, instead of digging deeper with its characters. So you’ll have to be content with Emma Stone’s grimaces, which are surely deserving of a feature film by themselves, and go a-pondering of how much things have changed since the first movie was released, ten years ago. 6/10

High Life (2018): In a year of fatherly bonding in space (see Prospect), High Life proves the more engrossing story, in spite of its appalling IMDb rating. I had not seen any of Claire Denis’s movies (there’s really a bunch of acclaimed efforts to pick from), but HL quite surprised me. Story: a bunch of criminals are sent into deep space and experimented upon, in an effort to achieve reproduction in the hostile extraterrestrial medium. Juggling a slightly demanding, yet engaging timeline, the movie is led by Robert Pattinson’s performance. Pattinson, just like his former co-star Kristen Stewart, has paid for the ‘sins’ of his vampiric youth with several excellent indie movies, but he still does sexual tension well, with it taking all sorts of shapes and form in HL. Sure, it will test your patience (the number one reason for low ratings of critically acclaimed movies), in the same way that letting good wine breathe tests your patience. 8/10

Arctic (2018): One-man survival movies also take a toll on your patience, with Arctic a mostly engaging and realistic looking attempt at storytelling. Poor, old Mads Mikkelsen is stuck in what appears to be the middle of the arctic, with only vicious polar bears keeping him company while he ice-fishes. It’s a good a way as any to pass the time, but this blissful existence is disturbed when a helicopter crashes amidst the gusts of wind and snow and our adequately named Overgard suddenly has to make some tough choices. Ultimately, it’s these tough choices that speak volumes about the humanity of Arctic, a stoic testament to what mankind can be, in stark contrast with what it currently feels like. This is what confers personality to an otherwise beautiful, but narratively stingy adventure in the snow. 7/10

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018): The days when Harry Potter was truly magical have faded since the book series and the canonical movies have come to their conclusion(s). I haven’t read any of JK Rowling’s additions to the universe, but it’s quite clear that Fantastic Beasts just…doesn’t…work. A tired rehash of themes covered better in Harry Potter, with less interesting characters and a thin plot that resembles the twists and turns of the series it precedes is all we’ve been getting in the first two flicks of the series. With three more supposedly to follow, there’s little hope things will suddenly change pace and become engaging. There’s really little else to say, with the HP-nostalgia the only pleasurable side-effect of this uninspired story. It all feels like a heartless churn. 5/10