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

Movies of the Week #43 (2019)

Diego Maradona (2019): Asif Kapadia is cornering the market on documentaries about celebrity tragedies. After the impressive Senna and Amy biographies, comes this complex story about a fallen god of football who has the…misfortune of being still alive today. For the dramatic purposes of the movie. Maradona’s story lacks the morale shattering life-cut-short variable, although one could argue that surviving and falling as low as he’s done should be tragedy enough. With the movie focusing mostly on the Argentine’s period in Napoli, we get a beautiful arc of rebirth-omnipotence-downfall, but don’t really get the sense of what followed, with a quick and shocking wrap-up-scene meant to provide closure. Kapadia’s usual hagiography is just as present when it comes to Maradona’s life choices and it lessens the movie to some degree, by treading the same territory as with Amy – Maradona being exonerated, the inhumane pressures of being a football deity (media pressure, local culture, public expectations) indicted. Even so, the movie is entertaining to watch, as Maradona’s years in Napoli were especially colorful and reminiscent of an age pre-dating the personality-ostracized PR world of modern athletes. 8/10

Demoni (1985): If you’re looking for a gory 80’s Italian zombie flick, look no more. In this cult movie set in Berlin (!), random people are invited to watch a mysterious movie. Turns out, the movie comes to life and a sort of zombie infestation manifests itself. The special effects stand out in a an otherwise thin narrative, with some amusing bits and pieces (the blind man going to the cinema? his caretaker ditching him to make out with a random guy?) and not much in terms of scares. Drawing the line, Demons has enough character to withstand the test of time and proves a decent entry particularly for genre enthusiasts. 6/10

Der Rosenkavalier (1925): “But TS, how did you stray in pre-WWII cinema? And such an obscure movie, to boot!”

Well, the local philharmonic with the German Cultural Institute of Timisoara organized this screening/concert of Robert Wiene’s Rosenkavalier and it’s been a while since I last saw a silent movie. Wiene is known for his Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920), which I have yet to see, but RK is something quite different. An adaptation of Richard Strauss’s 1910 opera, Strauss himself conducted the orchestra on the film’s debut in Dresden. The story is your usual comedy mess of mixed lovers, masks and inheritances, so if you’ve seen any romantic operas, you’ll know where it goes pretty quickly. I can’t say I was enthralled with the movie, but some clever scenes surprised me and the orchestra’s accompaniment made the experience worthwhile. As an aside, I learned (by reading an IMDb review) that silent movies were generally not silent in the 1920s, as only the reputable theaters provided an orchestra. Medium venues played popular songs on the piano, whereas in smaller ones “coughing or marital discussions together with children howling were the music accompaniment “. A good little bit of trivia. 6/10

Ready or Not (2019): After their failed feature length debut in 2014, Devil’s Due, directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett produced a thoroughly enjoyable flick this time around. The story: as Grace (Samara Weaving) marries into the Le Domas family (and gaming empire), she has to survive a game of life or death on her wedding night. If you want to go meta, you can call RoN a critique of the 1% and everything that comes with wealth, inheritance and traditions, but it never takes itself particularly serious. While this is a traditional (genre) movie in some ways, it packs enough flair, humor and, yes, gore to make it stand out, thanks also to its strong cast – Adam Brody, Henry Czerny and Andi MacDowell, to name a few aside from Weaving. 7/10

Under the Silver Lake (2018): After two great movies in The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010) and It Follows (2014), David Robert Mitchell goes all-out David Lynch with Silver Lake and…somewhat misfires. The movie follows Sam, a Hollywood-based pop-culture addict who is in the throes of despondency when he meets a mysterious girl who just as mysteriously vanishes. With a newfound purpose, he embarks on a cryptic search through that’s markedly bizarre and eclectic, unraveling his life’s meaning, in what you’d expect of Hwood excesses. You can’t fault the movie for being unambitious and, somehow, it finds a path by the end, although it feels like its climax is three quarters of the way through. Andrew Garfield’s character is representative of the lot and takes some getting used to, which is probably why it felt like UtSL came up short – it’s interesting conceptually, but none of the people inhabiting it draw you in. Still, with such a detail rich and ambiguous story, there’s enough to bite on to make me will it towards a 7/10

Movies of the Week #42 (2019)

Joker (2019): This will not be a popular opinion, but I thought that Todd Phillips’s Joker was, for the most part, a cliched, bombastic, pretentious and tired piece of film-making that’s bleak to fault. While it is a different, more engrossing and single-focused origin story thanks to Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, I found myself rarely engaged and never excited. In the same way that ultra-violent movies are accused of being torture porn, this is its own brand of torture porn, with the sadistic world Arthur Fleck inhabits. Of course, Gotham has always been dark, but that’s why you’ve got Batman, because you need contrast. The complete lack thereof, some predictable twists, the second rate philosophy ramblings, all limited my ability to emote over what was going on. As far as I can tell, everything the movie put forth – narrative, visuals, themes – has already been done before and better. And slow-mo as the main means of atmosphere building is cheap.
The one thing it’s got going beyond Phoenix, is the sheer visceral quality of some of its scenes. And as a side-note to Phoenix’s character, I found the depiction of mental illness to be well on point regarding the effects of poverty on treatment and care options, but so extreme that it became caricatured, with the potential of further stigmatizing against those who suffer of it.
I guess that’s a long short review for a movie I didn’t like, but when you piss against the wind, you gotta expect the wind to piss back at you.That being said, yes, Joker was a disappointment and that always counts for something when rating. It’s also why I give it the same rating as Zombeavers because, hey, Zombeavers knew what it was and made no false promises. 6/10

Little Monsters (2019): If there ever was an antidote to Joker, this could very well be it. In the saturated world of zombie movies, Little Monsters provides a somewhat new, somewhat diverting and totally endearing take on the genre – a bit of Shaun of the Dead, but with children. It’s all very on the nose and one could argue it could have had more bite to it, be more irreverent, or even be funnier (can’t say McGiggles did it for me), but I just came away from it with a feeling of satisfaction and a stupid smile plastered on my face. And yes, Lupita Nyong’o is amazing, as usual. 7/10

Fatal Attraction (1987): The 80s and 90s were a great time for sex-themed movies. The naughties, innit? Like real naughties, not fifty shades of naughties – Body Double, Basic Instinct, Body Heat (see ap attern there?), all culminating and kinda ending with Eyes Wide Shut. They were also two really good decades for Michael Douglas, but in Fatal Attraction it’s Glenn Close who does most of the heavy lifting (don’t shed a tear for Douglas, he did win an Oscar that year for Wall Street). The ‘crazy female’ template has its sexist qualities, but the movie is a fun/fine ride, until the less than imaginative finale. There’s probably a nostalgia factor to it as well for viewers of a certain age, which makes it that little bit more pleasurable. 7/10

Câini (2016): A lauded Romanian No Country for Old Men (as it was labelled/self-labelled), Câini aka Dogs is a great movie to look at that’s in rather short supply of fascinating characters. Which, of course, means that it differs from NCfOM in a key way and it’s the reason for Bogdan Mirica’s movie feeling flat at times. Story in short: city dude inherits his criminally-inclined father’s estate in the countryside and gets tangled in more than he can handle. It’s not the most gripping of stories, but it’s beautifully shot and has an atmosphere akin to the Coen brothers masterpiece, which proves just about enough. 7/10

Wild Rose (2018): Half Mike Leigh, half Richard Curtis, half John Carney (hah, see what I did there?), this lass-wannabe-country-singer story felt truly endearing by the end. Featuring Chernobyl’s (and Beast’s) Jessie Buckley, it takes a bit of warming up to, because our lead, Rose-Lynn, is a morally bankrupt mother of two, with a total disregard for her responsibilities. But it’s not hard to feel for her, because she’s not the first, nor the last one to be a very young mother, whose dreams are in stark contrast with what her priorities should be. Heck, the question of how we should reconcile parenthood with a career is one of the biggest questions of our current society. With me being a bit of a country music fan (four seasons of Nashville, I must be a fan, right?), it all came together quite nicely as an exploration of our humanity, even in spite of its super-mushy ending. 8/10

Movies of the Week #40 #41 (2019)

Hail Satan ? (2018): To get things straight right out of the gate – this is most likely not the movie you think it is. You won’t get a bunch of people playing dress up and hailing an ungodly demon. Instead, HS proposes a debate about the role of anti-establishment movements (i.e. The Satanic Temple) and the importance of civilized and fair challenges to the status quo. Sure, it’s bombastic at times, while at other times you wonder if it’s not just all an elaborate prank, but it doesn’t even really matter, in the same way it doesn’t matter whether Borat is real. Because the world he/they choose to inhabit reacts with authenticity – and that’s a world in which “nontheistic religions” are a thing. How can that not be fascinating? 8/10

Anna (2019): The days of Luc Besson being relevant seem to be behind us. In Anna, a cliched action-spy-thriller, bogged down by timeline yo-yo-ing, there are few things worth remembering. Model-turned-actress Sasha Luss leads some proper actors (Cillian Murphy and Helen Mirren, to name the more notable ones), but isn’t the most convincing lead. Heck, I didn’t much like Atomic Blonde, and that one starred Charlize Theron, so it’s no surprise Anna didn’t grow on me. So unless this is your genre, stay away. 4/10

Beast (2017): Director Michael Pearce picked up a BAFTA on his debut picture – this one. Starting from a simple premise (shy, innocent, girl falls for dangerous man), it paints a beautiful role-reversal by slowly revealing the true nature of its characters. Unlike how a Korean movie might go about this, i.e. swashbucklingly, Beast is subtle and restrained for the most part. The experience is lessened by a lack of urgency in critical moments and the over-the-top ending Pearce goes for, but movie has merit. 7/10

Despre oameni și melci (2012): In a Romanian interpretation of The Full Monty, Of Snails and Men proposes an all-together familiar story: state-owned factory run by corrupt management is taken over by private investors and thousands of people lose their jobs. Said people try to work out a way to do something about it and come across a sperm donation scheme, paying 50 USD per scoop of semen. It doesn’t quite all come together, because, really, who wants to artificially inseminate the sperm of some factory worker with no higher education? In spite of the potential for powerful social commentary, Tudor Giurgiu’s movie feels slight and lacks both focus and subtlety. What it does do well, is capture “the times” and some of the people, but without creating truly interesting characters. Shame, really. 6/10

Tall Girl (2019): A Netflix production that’s about as bland and uninteresting as they come, while also going against rule nr. 1 of rom-coms – we need to root for the couple! In this tragic tale of a (gorgeous) tall girl being shunned in school for being different, we are supposed to believe that the sheer goodness of a geeky, friend-zoned dork wins the day and the girl. I’ll admit that there are times where it just looks like there might be more to this movie, a few scenes that click or a relevant piece of social commentary, but they fade into a puddle of boring irrelevance due to the unagreeable story put forth. The appalling ending was just too much to bear in the end, which is why I really can’t recommend TG. 4/10

Movies of the Week #38 #39 (2019)

Wonder Boys (2000): Back in the days when Curtis Hanson did his better movies (and was still alive), I had the pleasure of watching Wonder Boys. With an excellent cast, starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire when he was fashionable, Robert Downey Jr. when he wasn’t as fashionable, Frances McDormand who’s amazing as usual and Katie Holmes who was just about starting to get a movie career going (Dawson’s Creek FTW), it tells the story of a miserable writer-professor who just can’t get his second book going. Or ending. The movie features some kooky characters who are really just finding themselves and they’re endearing to look at, but there’s a reason why there’s a boys in the title: female characters don’t get much to do. You can take the man out of the boy but you can’t take the boy out of the man (hah!), that’s what I got from all this. And also a great Bob Dylan tune, that won WB an Academy Award. Seriously, though, it treads some interesting topics, without being very serious about them, and unlike most movies about writing, it manages to balance its narrative excesses with interesting people. That’s all there is to it, really. 8/10

IT: Chapter 2 (2019): Following up on the arguably successful IT re-imagining of two years ago, the adult version is tonally impaired, overlong and processional. It takes its characters and isolates them in Derry, which is not really a grown-up thing to do, and in spite of emphasizing the importance of their shared resistance, has them spend a lot of the story separated (for scheduling reasons? don’t know). A big, multiple legged clown reminiscent of unimaginative end-game bosses doesn’t make for a great showdown either. It might not be a terrible movie (the remake wasn’t that great either), goes for some jump scares, but for the most part it felt disjointed and a bit of a let down. 5/10

Ad Astra (2019): There are a few things Ad Astra has going for it – great visuals, great soundtrack via Max Richter and a real retro-future feel that’s captivating. Unfortunately, it also features an average script with a less than engaging mid-life crisis story starring the most beautiful astronaut that never was, Brad Pitt. The lack of a pay-off / satisfying climax doesn’t help much either, nor do a couple of action sequences (beautiful, again) thrown into the mix simply for a change of pace. But somehow, overall, I developed a fondness for it and the more I think of the movie, the more I want to see it again. The manner in which it captures the haunting beauty of space is memorable, even Pitt’s ponderous character sometimes draws you to him, it’s just disappointing that the big-corp, socio-political criticism is less than imaginative. Definitely worth the look and feel of IMAX and reflecting upon it in the 48 hrs since seeing it makes me will it towards an 8/10!

Downton Abbey (2019): I remember thoroughly enjoying the first two seasons of DA, before it started venturing into serious melodrama territory and I just couldn’t watch any more. Having caught up on events with a ten minute recap, my hopes were that the movie offered fan service with a dollop of nostalgia value on top, without being too ambitious. Thankfully, it delivered – even though it feels like everything that’s happening is terribly low-stakes for all the kerfuffle, show creator and screenwriter Jullian Fellows managed to show why it’s important for our characters, and not take itself too seriously in the process. I even wept a tear at what is, most likely, one of Maggie Smith’s final roles, in a heartfelt send-off. So yes, go for it Downton Abbey fans! For the rest of you, go through the show first a bit, because if you have no relation to the characters, this will not resonate. 7/10

68 Kill (2017): To be honest, I saw this one three weeks ago or so and didn’t get to review it at the time. It was pretty fun to watch, but not that memorable – something in the spirit of Slice, which I wrote about last time around, but not quite as memorable. You’ve got yourself a guy who’s in a relationship with a chick that’s way too hardcore for him, but the story goes quickly from “mildly weird” to “batshit crazy”, in a violent bonanza where, ironically enough, chicks kick as and definitely don’t take names. 68 Kill can’t sustain its energetic tempo and lost me when things got flat, but it’s twists and the odd ultra-violence made sure it fits a niche. Is it yours? 6/10

Movies of the Weeks #36 #37 (2019)

Le grand bain (2019): There’s something endearing about a bunch of middle-aged men solving their mid-life-crises by forming a synchronized swimming team. The strong cast, starring familiar faces like Mathieu Amalric and Guillaume Canet, keeps the whole thing afloat, even in its drearier moments, as the movie sloppily spans over two hours. Its tone is not perfectly adjusted, with scenes worthy of sketch comedy, while others could well stem from traumatizing dramas, but overall the good intentions and positive vibes shine through. 7/10

Slice (2018): I went in expecting nothing of this 4.5 rated flick on IMDb and was pleasantly surprised by it. In a world of ghosts and werewolves, where no pizza boy (or girl) is safe, there’s social uproar to find the murdering slicer. Silly, yet played with a mostly straight face, the movie is a fresh enough allegory of prejudice that looks good and finds a balance between the ridiculous and the bizarre. I get it why some people have an aversion for this kind of story, unwilling to tolerate the serious treatment of a silly premise, but if you’re an open-minded geek, this can be worth your time. 6/10

Sense & Sensibility (2008): Following up Ang Lee’s 1995 adaptation of the Jane Austen novel seems like a daunting task. The 2008 take on the story tries to be structurally different, by proposing a mini-series, which is a mere half hour longer than the aforementioned movie. It works well, however, in terms of pacing. While without the likes of Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, this mini-series is not lacking in heavy hitters, such as Dan Stevens, David Morrissey and Dominic Cooper. I wasn’t fully taken in by Marianne and Elinor Dashwood’s characters, with Charity Wakefield’s interpretation of the former particularly tame. Yet, they all grow on you, the way only an episodic tale can allow its characters to really grow, so I would judge this adaptation a success, if not quite the remarkable achievement of more than twenty years ago. 7/10

Good Boys (2019): From the producing mind of Seth Rogen comes a movie about three tweenage friends whose bond is under the usual social pressures of 6th grade conformity. They end up doing some crazy stuff, handle drugs, shoot guns, everything you would expect from Rogen, but what carries the movie is the underlying innocence that doesn’t come across as trite – at times. It’s worth a few laughs, but never hits the highs of preposterousness that I’d have liked. 6/10

The Dead Don’t Die (2019): Coming from Jim Jarmusch, this zombie apocalypse is a serious let down. In spite of its stellar cast (Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton) and some familiar Jarmusch side-characters (Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Steve Buscemi, RZA), the movie never takes off and never feels fresh. Some of its ideas have merit and the introspective, slow-paced approach to the zombie kerfuffle definitely had some potential, but in the end I got the distinct feeling that it’s the kind of ironic/meta zombie movie someone would do, if they hadn’t seen that many zombie movies of the last decade or so. 5/10

Movies of the Weeks #34 #35 (2019)

The Sword of Trust (2019): There’s a lot going for this kooky little comedy – an eccentric plot, characters heavy on the quirks, biting dialogue and an absolutely spot-on cast. It all makes for a thoroughly amusing minor cinematic entry. The gist: Cynthia and Mary need to handle Cynthia’s inheritance from her recently deceased grandfather, an antique sword…that supposedly proves the South won the Civil War. So they head over to Mel’s pawn shop and, as it so happens, they stumble across a group of firm believers that think, indeed, the South did win the war. It’s as absurd as flat-earthers and vaccine-deniers, but you know they exist, so…yeah, give it a go, odds are it will surprise you. 7/10

Pet Sematary (2019): I guess you can call me a Stephen King fan, even if I haven’t read a King book in years. But it was his books that got me started into anything resembling literature, before the likes of Harry Potter took over my teenage years. Pet Sematary is still on my (endless) to-read list, but I did give the movie a go. In the pantheon of SK cinematic adaptations, this one is quite middle of the road – it gave me some definite chills, but never really captured the grizzly tragedy that it portrays. The gist: a family’s cat dies and the friendly neighbour shows the pater familias a way to revive said cat. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t a good idea. If the movie had gotten this bit about the desire for a second chance better, maybe it would have stood an improved chance at succeeding. Or if it had spent more time in fleshing out the relationship between its characters. Alas, it keeps things simple, which is mostly fine, but rarely memorable. 6/10

I Am Mother (2019): After a promising start, I Am Mother still has a few tricks up its sleave, but never really brings the heat. In a post-apocalyptic world, a robot designed to repopulate humanity rears and educates a young girl. The nature of the apocalypse is left ambiguous, which is fine, even if the later twists and turns are only moderately convincing. There are several underlying themes to IAM, conceptually interesting, that somehow feel like they’ve been trimmed of their complexity. This sanitized feel is equaled by the movie’s sanitized look, as well as some less than convincing effects in the later stages. So while it may leave you pondering some bigger questions, IAM fails in its nuances to bring forth a wholly believable and engaging tale. 6/10

Confessions (2010): The Japanese cult classic is definitely a memorable movie, even if it stretches belief at many turns. It’s a story of revenge, of our darkest impulses and the raw selfishness of the “unformed” adult, that does a lot visually to create a specific and enthralling mood. However, it’s also a movie of excesses, both narrative and stylistic, which end up doing the whole a disservice – even if they can be tolerated. What worked really well was this sense it conveyed of being set in the present, yet concomitantly showing a vision of the future, a strong paradox to work with, which helps in mediating its lack of maturity. Definitely not something for the squeamish, but, in the very least, memorable. 7/10

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019): Everyone and their creepy uncle is excited about Tarantino’s latest, a semi-historical romp in the golden age of Hollywood. With his usual flair and slow-building character sequences, Tarantino puts together another solid entry, potentially even a top-three contender – clearly behind the unattainable heights of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. With Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, an era of the glorified man-actor-creature is ridiculed and eulogized at the same time and it feels just about right, for the most part. The odd sequences does straddle the line of being completely derivative, but in its imaginative narrative composition, Tarantino offers something just that little bit different. With its star studded cast (so strong is the man’s halo, established actors will come in to play extras) and an over-the-top-finale, Once Upon a Time might only be the third best Once Upon a Time (after “in the West” and “in America”), but it’s a delicious dish regardless. 8/10