Movies of the Week #31 #32 (2019)

Bumblebee (2018): After the experience of Shazam, I was cautious in approaching BB, a movie that gave a similar vibe. Sadly, it felt painfully PG-13, with a tired story and equally tired characters. Hailee Steinfeld is usually awesome and she does her part in making the whole thing bearable, but were it not for an excellent soundtrack, I’d be loathe to give it a passing grade. This is coming from someone who actually rated the first Transformers a solid six. Not much else to add, the movie just rubbed me the wrong way. 5/10

Skyscraper (2018): A good companion piece to Bumblebee, in all the wrong ways, Dwayne Johnson can’t save this lackluster blockbuster with strong Die Hard vibes from sucking. In spite of the odd impressive effects piece and some decent stunts, the movie has no spirit and, what’s even worse, is not as fun as this low-frills ride should be. Boo. 4/10

Kraftidioten (2014): A movie dipped into the Fargo jar, Kraftidioten aka In Order of Disappearance is a fun tale of revenge. Starring Stellan Skarsgard and Bruno Ganz, with both seemingly enjoying their roles, it tells the story of a bereaved father, whose son is killed after getting involved in a drug ring. In its triangle of death, the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, but do so in an intelligent way – not unlike In Bruges, whose influence is also palpable here. 7/10

The Souvenir (2019): If you’re up for an introspective piece of filmmaking, look no more. Joanna Hogg’s souvenir is a bittersweet story of first love, more bitter than sweet, as artistically inclined Julie meets bohemian bonhomme Anthony. Set in the glorious 80s, the movie does a phenomenal job in framing its story and its characters, which allows J&A to burn low, yet stay compelling at all times, with an unexplainable magnetism. It’s an endearing, frustrating, infuriating, despondent ride that deserves a quiet two hours as its tribute. 8/10

Photograph (2019): This low-burning and mostly tame Indian rom-com comes from the director of the more accomplished Lunchbox (2013). It’s a familiar tale of marriage pressures within Indian society, affecting two characters of different generations – a 40 something photographer and a 20ish student. There’s nothing glamorous about earning your living by taking random pictures of people around touristic landmarks, while flat-sharing with five guys in your forties, but Rafi just about captures Miloni’s essence in a picture he takes of her. It starts out as a farce, with Rafi using her likeness to convince his grandmother that he’s set romantically, but once the two actually come together, they…belong? I guess. It’s an understated love story, with a focus on care and appreciation, rather than romantic passion, so it may or may not rub you the right way. For me, it felt just a tad too safe, although I totally got behind the final romantic gesture. Yum. 6/10

Movies of the Week #30 (2019)

Saving Mr. Banks (2013): A rare success story for the “movie about the movie” genre, SMB proves insightful, amusing and terribly emotional – sometimes to a fault. You probably know by now that I am strongly attached to Mary Poppins, which is why my liking of SMB should come as not so much of a surprise. The story highlights what I’ve always felt Mary Poppins was really about and takes full advantage of its phenomenal cast, with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks at their delightful bests, alongside a bunch of very talented co-stars. The movie is not very ambitious, in that it streamlines reality to fit the Disney template, yet it manages to not only muster sentiment, but to also tell a proper tale. I cried, of course, but I always do that with the Poppins. 8/10

Alita: Battle Angel (2019): As with Ghost in the Shell, it proves elusive for Hollywood to get this whole cyber-humans concept right. Alita is definitely a well-oiled movie, with a strong overall look and some well choreographed fights, but it damn well feels like there’s not much of a ghost in its shell. To its credit, it manages to weave several plots together with coherence, so it’s a shame that it doesn’t treat its characters with as much care. Then again, director Robert Rodriguez has always been known for his cinematic flair, whereas the writing duo of James Cameron (!) and Laeta Kalogridis (Alexander, Terminator Genesys, Shutter Island) failed to bestow some much needed freshness to the movie. Functional, but not impressive. 6/10

Crawl (2019): I was looking forward to Alejandro Aja’s latest and, I’m glad to say, it fits the bill. A natural disaster/creature feature, the movie has a simple premise – during a hurricane, a daughter goes looking for her father, who, it turns out, is cornered in a basement by…alligators. Strong effects, decent acting and a healthy amount of tension make up for the less than imaginative narrative, even if, on the whole, the movie could have been more fierce and more imaginative. 6/10

The Shallows (2016): I had seen the movie on release, but per chance came across it on TV and made my family sit through it. Yum. It’s a good buddy feature to Crawl, even if I thought the pacing, set-pieces and Blake Lively’s performance made for an overall superior experience. Synopsis: surfer dudess gets caught in shark infested water and contemplates survival on a wet patch of stone. What worked really well for me was the sense that relief seems so close (the shore is right there, all the time), yet stays out of reach. Like, you know, in day to day life. Some proper chomps and a nice send-off make for an enjoyable ride. 7/10

Plus One (2019): As always, the key to good love on screen is choosing a duo with excellent chemistry to go down a familiar rom-com route, hence the plot: two friends tag-team their summer wedding season, which brings them together in ways they never imagined (lol). Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid work really well together and their chemistry is helped by the solid dialogue they share. For all the good work it does and good feeling it generates, a weak subplot involving one of the lead’s father getting remarried and a perfectly lame and predictable meltdown towards the end almost ruin a movie that does a lot of things right in capturing a piece of romance. Thankfully, I have a lot of goodwill. 7/10

Movies of the Weeks #27 #28 #29

Giant Little Ones (2018): In spite of treading familiar territory in terms of story and characters, the way in which director Keith Behrman conjures moods through colors and pacing is top-notch. The story of Franky, played by a young Jesse Eisenberg kind of fellow, and the falling out with his best friend edges towards the unlikely at times, but it is held together by the ephemeral melancholy that only the better coming-of-age movies have. Everyone seems to be in a different place on the sexual spectrum here, which makes certain scenes feel like a stretch, e.g. almost anything with the queer side-kick Mouse – a strange choice for a movie that works well with subtlety. That being said, it wasn’t a bad ride at all. 7/10

After Hours (1985): If you’re up for a trippy Scorsese movie that doesn’t really feel like a Scorsese movie, then this is something for you. In a story that pretty much sums up my expectations of what would happen if I ever left the house after 23.00, a humble word processor gets into the mess of his life when trying to hook up with a mysterious woman he meets at a coffee store. It’s all unlikely, sometimes ridiculous, often head-scratching, yet in the end everything finds a way to fall into place and make sense. Do try it out for taste. 8/10

Long Shot (2019): An old-school, perfectly amusing, not overly ambitious comedy, starring my erstwhile beloved, Charlize Theron (went for Sean Penn instead of me, how could she!), and the self-deprecating Seth Rogen, Long Shot is a movie about…friendship? I guess. Or a woman becoming US president, although that never comes across as being anything but a vehicle for quippy one-liners and solid situational comedy. The leads do a great job in carrying this, although I did appreciate June Raphael’s contribution to a couple of really entertaining scenes. So yeah, good for a laugh or two. 7/10

Yesterday (2019): It’s hard to believe a movie directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis can fail so hard. Alas, Yesterday proved a huge disappointment. Which is even more of a shame, if you consider the potential behind its concept: what if The Beatles never existed and you were the only one in a position to recreate their music? You could wonder about the ethics of it, which is the only thing this movie really does. But you could also question whether it would be just as successful, how it would all look and feel if launched in the modern world. There’s too little of that in Yesterday, which also fails because the leading duo has no chemistry and there’s very little joy to the whole affair, just a lot of moral anxiety. Boo. One of the few upsides is that Kate McKinnon was awesome, so that’s that. 5/10

Las Herederas (2018): This is probably the first Paraguayan movie I’ve ever seen and that makes for a very strong start. People rarely talk about the idea of someone being a prisoner to their inheritance, but that is exactly what The Heiresses manages to capture, a story which uses strong contrast subplots of sexual desire and emotional fulfillment to create something quite special. Sure, it meanders some, but to good effect, in establishing the lead’s desire to break free of expectations, wealth, debt and everything in between. The fact that said lead, Ana Brun, is at her first screen credit, makes Marcelo Martinessi’s movie even more of a stand-out. Do watch. 8/10

Movies of the Weeks #25 #26 (2019)

This is Where I Leave You (2016): Star-studded family reunions rarely work well and, unfortunately, neither does TiWILY. Lead by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Adam Driver, the movie tries to create the familiar tension of reunions, with secrets unfolding and comatose passions reigniting. At times, it does a decent job, with some of the subplots proving worthwhile diversions. However, it rarely feels fresh, which is why my recommendation comes with an asterisk. 6/10

Dick (1999): I thought little of Dick as it started unfolding – another run of the mill spoof that feels too much of a caricature to really be enjoyable. But as the movie went on, its quirkiness became endearing, and it left me with the feeling that everyone was having a lot of fun with it – no clue if that’s factual, not that it matters. Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst are pretty amazing in roles that could easily have played out as I initially thought they would. So even if you’re not familiar with the topic of Nixon/Watergate, this re-envisioning of events can prove more fun than you think. 7/10

The Mustang (2019): A poor man’s The Rider, The Mustang is still a solid movie, starring Matthias Schoenaerts and Bruce Dern. It’s partly a tale about the fate of wild mustangs, partly a tale o redemption, with an angry, imprisoned man who finds an unexpected outlet in breaking said mustangs – a rather unimaginative allegory. However, Schoenaerts’s and Dern’s energy, alongside some visually striking scenes, make up for the film’s weak script and if we consider this is the first feature by director/writer Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, then there are reasons to keep the faith. 7/10

Shazam (2019): Not quite sure what I expected of Shazam, one of the more appreciated DC movie adaptations. As far as origin stories go, this isn’t a bad one, with bad-boy-foster-boy Billy Batson appropriately grunge for his age. It’s a tame effort overall though, with some decent touches to make it likable, but the stakes rarely appear high enough to matter. The movie feels distinctly PG, even if it doesn’t always look it, targeted at a teenage demographic, with little to offer to the more pretentious viewer like myself. 6/10

Child’s Play (2019): I couldn’t say whether I ever saw the original from beginning to end. In my mind, it’s a gruesome affair, less campy than this re-envisioned, modernistic take. That being said, this new Child’s Play tries to be a cautionary tale about IOT (haha), which makes it a seem ridiculous at times. Rarely does the movie find a voice and tone, with some scenes juvenile and silly, whereas others are brutally violent. At no time, though, was it really scary, which is a shame. I did like bits of it, but it’s a missed opportunity overall. 6/10

Movies of the Week #23 #24 (2019)

Horror turns classical mush-fest

The Perfection (2018): While the movie boasts some cool visuals with strong musical backdrops, it’s farther off from perfection than it probably desires. (Some spoilers ahead) After a promising and thoroughly sexy set-up, it swerves into explanatory flashback territory (a big no-no) before going into full revenge porn mode. Unimaginative twists and a cultish, cliched antagonistic force did little to redeem the latter part of the thing, which is held up by the aforementioned cinematography. Such a shame. 5/10

Hold my phone

Den skyldige (2018): The much acclaimed Danish movie is a strong and mostly successful take on the Phone Booth (2002) model, but even more minimalistic. It succeeds wonderfully in creating tension and offering good depth to its protagonist, a police officer on alarm duty who happens upon a kidnapping. The guy oversteps his responsibilities in a (sometimes) frustratingly reckless manner, with consequences both expected and unexpected. It all tied up too nicely by the end, but conjuring this kind of tension from a story that unfolds within two rooms is an impressive feat. 7/10

AKA school and teachers

Stockholm (2018): A good trailer got me excited about Stockholm, an interpretive re-imagining of the bank heist that lead to the unearthing of the so-called Stockholm syndrome. Unfortunately, Robert Budreau’s story isn’t as explosive as I was led to believe, as it fails to really work the ‘kidnapped-but-thoroughly-charmed’ angle, with characters that puzzlingly lack charisma. Although a mere 92 minutes, it felt long and tired, rarely offering anything remotely memorable. 5/10

” Announcin’ your plans is a good way to hear god laugh.

Deadwood (2019): After more than a decade’s worth of delays, the Deadwood movie has finally seen the light of day. In a rather masterful composition, show creator David Milch manages to really synthesize what the show stood for, to refresh the characters we’ve always known and to wriggle everything around a story that proves both familiar and surprising. Some things change, most things don’t – that seems to be the motto to go by here. Indeed, I felt terribly old, thinking back on the Deadwood days of 2006. Since then, technology has rampantly changed the way in which we lead our lives, something that the movie touches upon heavily and poetically; the old Shakespearian wit of the Wild West is stronger than ever in the mouths of Al, Bullock and co. That being said, this is definitely an experience for the already initiated, as it lacks the run-time to properly expand upon its characters, their motivations and, particularly, their relationships. 8/10

Not great, but not terrible (jk, jk!)

Chernobyl (2019): Cheating a bit here to include HBO’s mini-series on my list. Ridiculously popular by now, the true story of the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl reactor nr. 4 is a riveting piece of film-making, that could have done with more nuance in key points. The first episode is pure poetry to me, a menacing tale of horror that crawls under your skin without any excesses or cheap stunts. The immensity of the situation, the stunted flow of information, the near-philosophical degree of indoctrination make for a great opening salvo. It remains interesting throughout the series, as we unfold the human drama, the systemic failures, the political weightlifting. Alas, the degree of autonomy and opinionhood it bestows on some of its characters is out of place and off-putting, which ended up bothering me. That being said, it’s great to finally reveal part of the tales and myths surrounding Chernobyl and for it to be done so memorably is just a gift. 8/10

Movies of the Week #21 #22 (2019)

American Animals (2018): Based on a true story, AA approaches its heist story in an unusual manner – not only by recreating it, but also offering a documentary perspective from its protagonists. I wasn’t completely taken by it, because a clean docu or a clean interpretive movie would have felt tighter and produced a more immersive experience. What stuck with me is how well it recreated the panic and amateurism of the attempt, i.e. what a heist would probably look like if a fellow off the street had his go. It’s a shame that it didn’t fully stick with its guns. 6/10

Booksmart (2019): Olivia Wilde’s highly acclaimed debut feature has been called ‘the Breakfast Club of a new generation’. I get the parallel, because the movie really doubles down on fighting stereotypes and providing redeeming traits to most of its characters. While certain moments felt a tad contrived, the dynamic energy between leads Kaytlin Dever and Beanie Feldstein makes for a whole lot of fun to watch, in a coming-of-age tale that feels both familiar and new. Like most good things in life. 8/10

The Wife (2018): In spite of its less than exciting story, Jonathan Pryce and, particularly, Glenn Close make a real meal out of this one. Pryce plays a writer who stands to win the Nobel Prize, whereas Close is, you guessed it, the wife – and there’s more to her than meets the eye, too. The story tries to strike a balance between duty, love and justice, which it often does, sometimes pedantically so. Close’s magical touch ensures said balance is struck, in a wonderful performance well worth its praise. 7/10

Miami Blues (1990): Stepping into the 90s is always an adventure, but not many mainstream movies have the level of quirkiness to their characters that Miami Blues does. Starring Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Fred Ward, the story goes about its evil-doing protagonist with a lot of flair, as the man tries to get a (crummy) foothold into post-prison life. It sometimes feels like the movie isn’t trying really hard to make sense and be serious, yet everything falls into place by the end, with plenty odd moments just stuck in your mind. Nothing too ambitious, but different enough to stand out. 7/10

Always be My Maybe (2019): Netflix romcoms have become a dime a dozen and they all share from the essence of what makes romcoms work, but never really manage to go beyond the ‘somewhat enjoyable’. AbMM is no exception, with a likable leading duo, childhood friends/lovers who reunite after a decade long break, with their lives in vastly different places. Yet, nothing seems to really matter, it’s all just a question of when specific things happen. Sure, there’s enough personality to fill your chuckles, with an excellent celebrity guest-scene making for a fun distraction. 6/10

Movies of the Week #20 (2019)

The definition of a classic

Casablanca (1942): I fell in love with you watching Casablanca/ Back row of the drive-in show in the flickering light/ Popcorn and cokes beneath the stars/ Became champagne and caviar/ Making love on a long hot summer’s night/ I thought you fell in love with me watching Casablanca/ Holding hands ‘neath the paddle fans/ In Rick’s candle lit cafe/ Hiding in the shadows from the spies/ Moroccan moonlight in your eyes/ Making magic at the movies in my old Chevrolet (Bertie Higgins/Jessica Jay, Casablanca).

What else is there left to say? 9/10

Goes under the skin, then slips right out

XX (2017): A horror anthology with the distinction of being directed solely by women, XX feels all over the place – either too literal or too metaphorical, too tame or too vicious, too ironic or too mundane. All of the stories have something about them, something left dormant through these rather disappointing explorations. Unconvincing acting performances don’t help, with Karyn Kusama’s tale (who also directed The Invitation) being the sole stand-out of the bunch. 5/10

Ageless action heroes have become the norm

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019): Wick is back! Narratively as unambitious as ever, the movie provides more of its trademark action sequences, that you’ll either enjoy or completely despise. Director Chad Stahelski and lead Keanu Reeves know they have a good thing going, with narrative minimalism and action maximalism dictating the rhythm of their world. The addition of Asia Kate Dillon is a very welcome move, whereas Mark Dascascos’ “villain” didn’t feel quite right, but provided effective fight scenes. One would think this trilogy should have run its course by now, but it seemingly has not. 7/10

Talking of ageless…

The Old Man & The Gun (2018): Robert Redford’s final movie fits the man like a glove, as he portrays the story of Forrest Tucker, a gentleman bank-robber and top-notch jail-breaker. His style draws admiration from press, public and law enforcement, with detective Hunt, played by Casey Affleck, particularly impressed. David Lowery of A Ghost Story (2017) fame creates attractive visuals to frame this small tale that tries to make the distinction between making a living and living. I didn’t find it convincing in this regard, with the movie feeling mostly like a soft-spoken vehicle for Redford. 7/10

The heavy pen of video-game scriptwriters

Tomb Raider (2018): In the spirit of all video-game adaptations, TR is an inconsequential movie, that sometimes entertains, but mostly feels like a silly rehash of better films. It’s a shame, really, because Alicia Vikander makes for a decent Lara Croft, and there are a couple of scenes that look really cool. There are a lot of nods towards the more recent TR game trilogy, which I’ve enjoyed myself, but it proves a real challenge to make the plot work and the characters engaging. Hard to say when a good video-game adaptation will finally come our way. 5/10

Movies of the Week #19 (2019)

Casablanca II

Transit (2018): Christian Petzold is shaping to be one of my favourite directors at the pace he’s going. The manner in which he tiers characters, geography and historical context is mesmerizing, making up for the more ambiguous moments in his film-making. Transit is particularly bizarre and unlikely at times, with its characters intermittently gliding and swerving in the way they act, which would make a literal interpretation of their relationships fruitless. Seemingly set during Nazi occupation of France, Petzold chooses to abandon any attempt of strict historical recreation, creating a disturbing sense of modern day conflagrations. The movie’s characters struggle to find transit to America, while the movie plays around with concepts of identity and romance at will, bordering on the absurd. It’s all somehow contagious, the questions, the despair, the passion, even if Transit‘s overt coherence might put some people off it. 9/10

Punch, snort, punch

A Prayer Before Dawn (2017): One of those movies that have been waiting on my watch-list ever since their release, this brutal story of an “English boxer incarcerated in one of Thailand’s most notorious prisons” (IMDb) feels relentless. Not unlike the below-reviewed Brawl, it’s rough and tough, but more sparing with its excesses and more generous with its humanity – in a place so devoid of it. For better or worse, the movie doesn’t dwell on the larger dramas of Billy Moore’s life, one so rife with tragedy and poor decisions that it would need another format for it. Alas, this also streamlines and diminishes the character somewhat. That being said, Prayer is the better prison movie of the week. 8/10

Smile, kill, smile

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019): They all come in twos or threes – after watching parts of the Jeffrey Dahmer story in My Friend Dahmer, it was serial-killer Ted Bundy’s turn to get the full-movie treatment. Unfortunately, there are a lot of times when EWSEaV doesn’t quite make sense, in an off-putting way. While Zac Efron’s performance, widely praised, is indeed worth the run-time, the man alone can’t keep the movie together, as it fails to get the menace behind its charm across. 6/10

Sing, kill, sing

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017): Who doesn’t want to watch a zombie musical? Shame on you! Every zombie movie deserves to be seen. Well, AatA has its moments and takes the Walking Dead/Game of Thrones approach to key character survival odds, which is fun. For a while. Its less than inspired musical moments don’t do enough to feel like more than a cheeky twist to the genre, which is why the thing lost me towards its finale. Props for trying to do something different. 6/10

Grit, grit, grit

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017): There’s a lot of grit to be had in Craig Zahler’s flick, as the director doubles down with the occasional moments of ultra-violence to rouse the viewer. What really makes the film stand out is Vince Vaughn’s assured performance, who anchors some of the more extravagant characters around him. This bestows the familiar tale of an incarcerated drug handler fighting to save his family with depth and is particularly well served by the uncompromising downward spiral Zahler wishes us to embark upon. 7/10

Movies of the Weeks #17 #18 (2019)

*Insert Blood Pun Here*

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019): Coming directly after finishing John Carreyrou’s book on the subject, I had high expectations of HBO’s Inventor. While it’s an informative piece of film-making, it has three major issues: a) it doesn’t dig deep enough in the juicy subject matter b) it justifies away too much of Elizabeth Holmes’s shortcomings and c) it treats the subject matter with too much levity. Hopefully the upcoming feature film will do a better job. 6/10

LoveBeGone

Someone Great (2019): There’s quite a bit of flair behind Someone Great, but not quite enough pazazz to make it memorable in any way. Its likable lead trio (Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow and DeWanda Wise) goes some way towards ensuring the movie is watchable, in this renewed old tale of heart overcoming heartbreak, of relationships moving and changing from one day to the next. Alas, it doesn’t go beyond that. 6/10

Bonnie and Clyde Rehash

The Highwaymen (2019): The 1930s manhunt equivalent of Someone Great, this tale of how Bonny and Clyde were tracked down by a pair of aging rangers provides little beyond its central duo – Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson. In spite of its 2hrs+ runtime, there’s only a fatigued story to hang onto, with no proper secondary characters and dramas propping up the protagonists. So, yes, not quite a movie to remember either. 6/10

PG 13 Wrestling – Oh, Wait

Fighting With My Family (2019): I had some hopes from FWMF, not so much because wrestling is a thing (although it arguably is), but because it was Stephen Merchant penning and helming it – there are few other comedian/actors out there who are more enjoyable to me. Sadly, the movie reflects little of Merchant’s wit, playing out as a tame, wannabe inspirational story of believing and defying the odds. Not quite sure while the whole thing didn’t grow on me, because people seemed to have liked it, but as it didn’t, it just felt distinctly middle of the road. A pattern for the week. 6/10

Jigsaw Coming Together

Avengers: Endgame (2019): I’ve never been enthralled by the Avengers (or almost any other Marvel movie), because Marvel, to me, can only do levity really good, but it fails at proper drama. Sure, Endgame is everything it could be, an achievement of mammoth proportions given its narrative breadth and the amount of characters it had to service. Which is why it stands out in the Marvel universe and I give it credit for that – and for being an entertaining movie. However, it’s so surgically put together that it cannot but fail in being more than the sum of its parts. I might also not agree with its utilitarian approach, but it does weave the stories together well and that is the standard by which I’ll judge it. Won’t deny it, I got somewhat emotional towards the end – the way you do when something that’s been a constant in your life, good or bad, finds closure. 8/10