Movies of the Week #50 (2019)

The Farewell (2019): There’s nothing like a good meal of family contrivances. In this much praised movie, a US-based Chinese family needs to return home in order to deal with the impending death of their grandmother/mother. The “trick” is that nobody plans to tell said grandmother that she only has a few weeks left to live. This poses some ethical conundrums, especially for those used to a more Western approach to personal rights and freedoms. Lulu Wang, who wrote and directed the movie, finds just the right tone and pulls at just the right sensibilities in a story that feels both timely and universal, in spite of its cultural particularities. Not completely unlike China, there are large communities of Romanians abroad who have to deal with complex family problems from a distance, mixing values and priorities. 8/10

Dolor y gloria (2019): I’m not sure if this needs to be labeled a “return to form” for Almodovar, yet it’s his best effort since 2011’s The Skin I Live In. Coincidentally (or not), both star Antonio Banderas, whose dramatic roles have been more than convincing. With its beautiful and peculiar characters, Dolor y gloria feels like an honest exploration of (artistic) depression, doubled by an “origin story” that’s poetic and austere at the same time. There are a few almodovar-esque moments of manifest destiny in it, that, I’d argue, add to the movie’s flair, making overall for one of the better cinematic experiences of the year. 8/10

Midnight Express (1978): Oliver Stone’s first major screenplay brought him an Academy Award in this acclaimed flick directed by Alan Parker. For me, Midnight Express was a terribly uneven ride – a first hour marked by excellence, a sense of forlorn anguish at a foolish man being imprisoned in an unforgiving Turkish prison. Funnily enough, my parents had just seen the movie when they first visited Turkey and, as a custom’s officer was angrily waving at them to turn their car around after having inadvertently passed the border without going through all the formalities, they expected the worse (spoiler: not much happened, but it sure as hell wasn’t fun). So yes, Midnight Express’s first half is terrifying. The second half is overlong and overdrawn, with a couple of scenes making evident and uninspired abstractions from the real events that they were based upon. It still makes for a good show, even if the kind of American-centric views of the Orient it embodies are what one expects these days from Rambo, not an Academy Award frontrunner. 7/10

11:14 (2003): If you’re running out of light, gimmicky movies that are unexpectedly clever and entertaining to watch, you’re in luck. A bunch of unfortunate events unfold one evening at 11:14 in an irrelevant corner of the world, that end up being all tied together while only relying on a modicum of contrivances. The surprisingly strong cast consists of Hillary Swank, Patrick Swayze, Ben Foster, Colin Hanks, Henry Thomas, Rachel Leigh Cook, Clarke Gregg, Barbara Hershey and even a couple of minor appearances from Jason Segel and Rick Gomez – basically, you know everyone. So this gives 11:14 a strong nostalgia vibe, which carries it across its 86 minute runtime, avoiding any sensation that your brain might have died in the process. 6/10

The Report (2019): I love me some talky movies about political pressures and conspiracies. Starring Adam Driver, actor of the year with four major and diverse cinematic experiences, the film also gets the support of a bunch of high-profile actors, Annette Bening and Jon Hamm leading the pack. Together they make for a captivating and depressing viewing, in spite of delving dangerously into moralizing and preachy territory. Ultimately, The Report is a softcore Edward Snowden story, with a bit of nuance, greater focus and just as much passion in telling about the CIA’s inhumane treatment of detainees after 9/11. It’s not as fresh as it wants to be, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. 7/10