Movies of the Week #12 (2020)

Chained for Life (2018): Ironically, in a week full of familiar movies, familiar stories, familiar characters, Chained for Life is the exact opposite. It defies all expectations and brings to life a completely unusual tale, which you’ll find hard to forget. The plotline goes: “A beautiful actress struggles to connect with her disfigured co-star on the set of a European auteur’s English-language debut”. However, writer-director Aaron Schimberg goes beyond commentary on beauty and prejudice, as he embraces the…ordinary otherworldliness of his characters, in a kind of fairy tale that dares you to come along for the ride and prepare to be challenged. It might be too eccentric for its own good at times, but it is humanistic in beautiful, imaginative ways, something well suited for the routine days we’re experiencing right now. 8/10

Colectiv (2019): I’ll be in the minority here, but Alexandru Nanau’s documentary on a critical juncture in the shared consciousness of Romanian society is a mess of a movie. It tries to be many things at once, starting out with the pure tragedy of the Colectiv disaster, then moving onto one of the driest pieces of investigative journalism imaginable (which, if you’ve lived through the times, sheds no new light whatsoever), only to be revived by health minister Vlad Voiculescu’s “deer in the headlights” charisma. By the time it reaches the crowning moment of democratic suicide committed by the Romanian people on the eve of parliamentary elections, you have no idea of how or why. If anything, Colectiv is more of a sketch than a fully drawn story, but if you’re into the zero-commentary, fly-on-the-wall type of documentary works, then maybe you’ll find it rewarding. For my tastes, it’s emotionally erratic and unfocused. 6/10

The Way Back (2020): If you like your underdog stories well acted, familiar and smelling like that bus driver from your childhood nightmares, this is just the movie for you. Ben Affleck is in full redemption mode here, suffering from his own alcohol induced afflictions, and he makes for a compelling lead in this former teen basketball star – turned nothing – turned coach tale of existential woe. It somehow got to me, in spite of treading a very beaten path, because I’ve been suffering alongside a small football team faced with similar characters – the talented captain who lacks confidence, the veteran who’s almost a has-been, the oversight commission telling you not to swear, etc., but it might not be for everyone. 7/10

Outside In (2017): Another competent, well-acted drama that doesn’t amount to much, Outside In is like an inferior, fast-forward version of one of my favourite TV series ever, Rectify. Chris, recently released from a lifelong jail sentence he was wrongly (?) convicted for, is struggling to adapt to the world outside – not unlike some of the people around him who have no valid excuse for their shortcomings. I liked that director/writer Lynn Shelton embraced the vagaries of the story, didn’t focus on filling gaps, but building characters. Unfortunately, it’s familiar characters in familiar situations, and however well executed the movie may be, I was not left ruminating by the end of it. 6/10

The Pentagon Wars (1998): The HBO time machine took me back to a movie I had seen twenty years ago, but which I failed to rate back in the day. Kelsey Grammar and Cary Elwes play antagonists in this military satire about priorities within the army of armchair military men – they will do anything to keep the funding coming, the projects progressing aimlessly, and ensure their promotions. The movie is generally amusing and provides wider commentary on management theory, but it never really takes off. I reckon it’s considered a bit of a cult classic by now, given its impressive cast and the evergreen nature of its tale, alas not quite exceptional. 6/10