Movies of the Week #40-43 (2021)

The Card Counter (2021): Paul Schrader surprised everyone with First Reformed, after a series of very lame ducks throughout the 00s. His follow-up, chronologically and thematically, is also a standout – a complicated movie, a slow burner, led by an impeccable performance from Oscar Isaac. It might try to lure you in with the allure of past movies about card players, be it poker or blackjack, but for Schrader this is just the backdrop, a suitable metaphor and characterization tool. A movie about moral imperatives, contrasting against the US torture policies in the Middle East, The Card Counter hits hard, even in spite of a less than spectacular finale. 8

End of Sentence (2019): And if we’re at movies featuring people just released from prison, End of Sentence brings a very different perspective to the matter. A tale of bonding on the father-son axis, the story eschews the reasons behind the animosity between the pair for a long time, making for a needlessly confusing set-up. Thankfully, John Hawkes offers another exceptional performance, creating a vulnerable, endearing father-character, whose own story-arch sees him set in a 45 Years kind of scenario – realizing he might have been his deceased wife’s second choice for a husband. Finding common ground with his son, played by Logan Lerman, is also rewarding, if rather feel-goody, ultimately making for a satisfying movie. 7

Backdraft (1991): What’s better than firefighting heroics and sibling rivalries? Spectacular special effects to go with them, that’s what. And I’ll ask you another one: who needs a clever script, when you can just whip together a routine story with kinda likable leads (wouldn’t getting a pair of Baldwin brothers have been just so meta?) and a crazy twist to tie things together neatly? Pretentious snobs, that’s who. So yeah, Backdraft is a bit all over the place, but perfectly watchable. 7

Uncorked (2020): A movie going against preconceptions, Uncorked tells the story of Elijah, a wine aficionado who is torn between taking over the family BBQ restaurant and following his passion by becoming a sommelier. It has that distinctive Hallmark vibe, with the drama trifecta – personal, family and plot – and makes for a pleasant, if not particularly exciting piece of filmmaking. 6

47 Meters Down (2017): In preparation for the new Resident Evil, I wanted to give director/writer Johannes Roberts a shake. His best known movie to date stars Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine and some sharks. In it, sisters Lisa and Kate are having a good old time in Mexico, as Lisa struggles with being too gorgeous and boring for her ex-boyfriend, who left her. Maybe not in that order. So when a diving opportunity comes along with two hunky hunks, why not shed the boring tag and make some memories to last a lifetime? Regardless of how long that lifetime might be. Movie logic then trumps physics and biology once things start to go bad, but if you have the capacity for dissonance, you might find some bits of fun and games in what is…almost an entertaining B-movie. 5