Movies of the Week #17 (2020)

What a week, guys. What a week…
But now, here are some movies.

John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls (2018): I guess you can call me a McCain, in as far as someone who doesn’t care much about US politics outside of election years. But even if you look beyond that, the man has an impressive life’s story, elegantly woven into a documentary that is tame, yet still relevant. Beyond this, the Kunhardt directing trio frames him as the middle ground the modern bipartisan politics of…the world, really, simply can’t tread upon without breaking their necks. As a standard bearer for principles above party colors, McCain is a solid fairytale hero. How much of it is sugarcoated? I’m not sure. But it all makes you want to strive for more, to dream of what politics should be like. 8/10

Stuart: A Life Backwards (2007): Just before Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch were worldbeaters, they churned out this little TV movie. It’s an ambitious take on how social determinism can undermine a person, in this case Hardy’s character, a homeless alcoholic with serious integration problems. And the gist, as per the title, is to tell the tale backwards, which is indeed clever as a device for framing expectations and prejudices. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t go the Benjamin Button route, only fleetingly looking back at childhood trauma. It was all too safe, too slow and drab to get me engaged, in spite of its leads and ambitions. 6/10

Monstri. (2019): Talking of gimmicks, this Romanian movie actually makes good use of them to create a tense and engaging atmosphere. It might sound like yet another sad case of modern love, with ambiguous sexuality and toxic partners, slow and ponderous. Which it is, for sure. But director Marius Olteanu leans heavily on his leads, Judith State and Cristian Popa, to very good effect, mostly making up for the lack of pace. The wider sense of modern love having outgrown the constraints of romance is what struck me by the end of Monstri., with healthy ambiguity wrapping up an experience that doesn’t really pose questions, but simply…observes them. 7/10

Heaven (2002): And if you want an antidote to Monstri, that also places atmosphere center stage, then this unusual movie is the right choice. Directed by Tom Tykwer, it was written as the first part of a trilogy by legendary K. Kieslowski, alongside Krysztof Piesiewicz, and it stars Cate Blanchett alongside Giovani Ribisi, both rocking it in…Italian. The story isn’t as inspired as one would like, but thankfully its leads do a great job in elevating the whole thing…almost literally, I would say. A strong finale makes for a worthy piece of moviemaking. 7/10

Abe (2019): A movie that takes the concept of fusion cooking and tries to apply it on religion is bound to be overreaching. Which is why Abe, for all its mild mannered traits and healthy visuals of yummy foods, doesn’t take off and only works thanks to the charm of Seu Jorge. That’s not to say that young Noah Schnapp, playing the titular character, doesn’t fill you with the odd dose of youthful good nature, but the thing never outgrows its cuteness. 6/10