Movies of the Week #22 (2020)

Color Out of Space (2019): A synaesthetic horror movie unlike any other you’ve seen, Color Out of Space scores one for team “style over substance”. Taking the aliens via meteorite route and aiming to put you off Alpacas forever, this lovecraftian tale is a surprise from director Richard Stanley and a perfect genre piece. Unfortunately, it’s light as a story, with sub-average dialogue and proves, once again, there is such a thing as too much Nick Cage. On a big(ger) screen, however, it absolves its sins by being an experience, at times fascinating, at times skin-crawling, which is what we go to the movies for, isn’t it? 8/10

Harpoon (2019): Close friends hold the darkest secrets, or at least that’s what Harpoon is trying to claim. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t even matter, because this tense, twisty betrayal-on-a-boat saga is a really fun ride, set to an excellent soundtrack. It doesn’t break new ground, but it also doesn’t need to, because it knows exactly what it is. Ultimately, what makes it work, is that, for a change, we get less of the survival bravado such movies usually propose, and more of some characters just being themselves and hoping, as one does in the 20th century, that someone will solve the problem. 7/10

Villains (2019): In what proves to be a week of enjoyable B movies, Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s Villains almost literally turns back the cinematic clock for a story of capers turned victims. Maika Monroe and Bill Skarsgard star opposite of Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick and their chemistry ensures the flick works even in its slower moments. Beyond these, Villains is going to surprise you and amuse you, while keeping you on the edge of your seat. 7/10

Rabid (2019): This remake of David Cronenberg’s 1977 cult classic doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Rabid works best as a body horror testament, but you would still have to look past the cliches, the clumsy dialogue and the uninspired editing. It doesn’t help either that we’ve seen how good meta-commentary on consumption and self-image can be in Raw (2016), and this title from the Soska sisters is off the mark. I’m a sucker for gore, which is why I was satisfied with the visuals of the movie, but it’s hard to really recommend it. 5/10

Patton Oswalt: I Love Everything (2020): I always held Patton Oswalt in pretty high regard, as a funny, edgy actor, thanks in particular to his character roles in various TV series. His latest stand-up, however, is awkwardly unfunny. It starts off quite well, with some good jabs at turning 50 and finding romance, but loses its footing midway through, only to end in a derivative existential commentary on the experience of going to Denny’s – something I can barely relate to as a European. I can’t pinpoint what the issue is, because Patton brings a good amount of energy to the stage, but it all just doesn’t…click. 6/10

Movies of the Week #20 (2020)

The Matrix (1999): God, it’s been a minute, hasn’t it? Nobody on Tik Tok was alive when this movie saw its release 21 years ago. Thankfully, The Matrix fares well against the test of time, even if the spectacular visuals have since been outmatched. For the most part, in particular the first half of the movie, it’s a high concept Sci-Fi, a grim metaphor for our routine existence in the machine – that’s when it’s not prophesizing in pseudo philosophical ways about fate and becoming or offering up a lackluster romance. But these complaints aside, The Matrix remains a cool ride, with a great antagonist and more than one reference to have gained a place in the folklore of movie quotes. 9/10

The Lion King (2019): Watching this visually lush, faithful adaptation of a classic is similar to meeting an old flame – it might seem enjoyable familiar, but it just doesn’t compare to what it used to feel like. This new Lion King falters in its grittiness and the half-an-hour added run-time doesn’t really add anything. In what the original could get away with narratively, because it was briskly paced and didn’t brood as much, Jon Favreau’s re-imaging comes up short. It’s a shame, because while the cinematic package is…neat and there are a few highlights beyond the visuals, like Seth Rogen’s Pumbaa, there is really no reason to suggest watching this over the 1994 version. 6/10

Bad Education (2019): A classic true story of manipulation and deceit, the unbelievable embezzlement scandal at the Roslyn High School, featuring superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), is a well executed, if not particularly groundbreaking movie. Jackman is a real star in this and inhabits the various shades of grey in his character skillfully, as the script questions the structure of a society where those who teach and form the children of the 1% (or thereabouts) are left wanting. Then again, wanting is a state of mind, isn’t it? From Cory Finley, the director of Thoroughbreds, this never sizzles, but it does entertain. 7/10

The Mule (2018): Eastwood is turning 90 at the end of the month, so the fact that he’s still acting/directing movies is remarkable to begin with. Of course, The Mule isn’t a riveting piece of art, but it’s an enjoyable redemption story with the man himself offering a charismatic lead. Perhaps the most unusual bit about it is how much it humanizes and relates to the drug cartel, seemingly just a group of chill, reasonable people going about their slightly illegal business. Frustratingly, director Eastwood doesn’t get the pacing quite right, which would have turned The Mule into a more memorable affair, especially given the star power behind it. 7/10

The Assistant (2019): There are times when The Assistant feels like it could be a Soderberghian classic. And then there are more times when it’s fatigued, in spite of being a mere 87 minutes long. After a few well received documentaries, director-writer Kitty Green proposes this story of a young assistant, Jane (Doe, if you will), who works for some big-shot executive. The job is supposed to be an unglamorous first step in a career towards producing for young Jane, but the abuse, the toxic masculinity, the parade of young girls said executive seems to use for sexual gratification (when does that man even work?) are beyond unglamorous. The point of it all is to stay in this gray zone, lacking drama and impetus, to be soul-killing, but it never gets exciting or introspective enough to warrant your full attention. And that’s in spite of a very inspired performance from lead Julia Garner. 6/10

Movies of the Week #19 (2020)

Driveways (2019): A perfectly pitched and executed story of family and belonging, Driveways is a classic feel-good movie infused with just the right amount of melancholy. It’s a wonderful thing when a character actor leaves behind a little gem like this, as is the case of Brian Dennehy. He plays Del, neighbour to Kate and her son Cody, who are cleaning up the house belonging to Kate’s recently deceased sister, to get it ready for sale. Everyone’s got some adjusting to do, some unresolved questions to contend with, and although some will find the story a bit slow and predictable, its understated nature is where it draws its strength from. Emotional stuff. 8/10

Saint Frances (2019): I wasn’t sure I was going to like Saint Frances, because its characters aren’t especially likable. Somehow, though, lead and writer Kelly O’Sullivan keeps you on the razor’s edge for long enough to start caring and ultimately signs off on a relevant and relatable tale of adulthood adaptation. The patriarchy gets its share of the blame, but the movie shines in how it tears down the protective shields of its characters, to unearth the people hiding behind them. O’Sullivan puts in a heck of a performance, as does seven year old Ramona Edith-Williams, playing the kind of precocious youth you’ll see more in movies than reality, but playing her really well. 8/10

How to Build a Girl (2019): It’s rare to find a movie so relentlessly quotable as How to Build a Girl, but this is just bad ass. A funny, irreverent and abrupt coming of age story starring Beanie Feldstein as Johanna Morrigan, geeky loner turned rock critic sensation Dolly Wilde, it proves a perfectly enjoyable romp through the British music scene of the 80s. While familiar in its narrative arc, the energy Feldstein brings to this fiery performance is something else, in a story that alternates between exuberance and social realism effortlessly. 7/10

Extraction (2020): For a movie about teeth, Extraction would be an immensely ominous title. For a movie about Chris Hemsworth going on a redemption bonanza to extract and inadvertently bond with a kidnapped teenager of some Indian crime lord, it’s…adequate. For an action romp, it will do fine, with solid set-pieces and grunty masculinity oozing from its frames. For anything else, it’s a “seen this, seen that” kind of situation, with little emotional reward and an ending yearning for a sequel. I mean, I could always do with more Hemsworths in my life #JustWatchingSeasonTwoOfWestworld. 6/10

Ordinary Love (2019): It’s rare for a movie to treat cancer as a part of life, rather than the destination, but this is what Ordinary Life tries to do. The ups and downs, the highs and lows, as reflected in the experience of a tightly knit couple, portrayed by an exceptional Lesley Manville and an almost equally impressive Liam Neeson. The movie manages to draw and emphasize the line between those who are committed (to the illness), and those who are just involved, the frustrations stemming from this uncross-able divide in spite of our best efforts and intentions. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but you’ll probably still feel enough to appreciate it. 7/10

Movies of the Week #18 (2020)

Hustlers (2019): I wasn’t sure about Hustlers, which I thought might be another Widows (2018), i.e. an Ocean’s 11 template movie with all female leads that everyone liked, but me. Here, they’re making a living in a strip club and end up…hustling their clients to even the playing field. It’s all familiar stuff, but it finds just enough nuance to be relevant, with the ups and downs of workplace camaraderie in full display. Perhaps I liked the fact that Hustlers is more pulp, it takes itself less seriously and actually manages to create dramatic tension between its leads. Jennifer Lopez steps up in a big way, puts your fitness level to shame and looks like the actress she always/never promised she could be, depending on who you ask. Steeped into the good, old days of the subprime crisis in the late 00s, this proved a fun ride. 7/10

Just Mercy (2019): If you’re up for (yet another) movie about the crass inequalities of the American justice system, have a treat. Coming from director Destin Daniel Cretton, who created the exceptional Short Term 12 (2013), Just Mercy captures the (in)humanity of its subject matter and is deftly acted, but fails in shaking up the formula. The true story goes that an African American man, Walter McMillian, got the death sentence so that local police could close a high profile case. It helped that he was black, even though the evidence against him was practically non-existent and the whole trial lasted less than the time it takes Amazon to send you an order. Expedited. Although I liked it for the most part, the fact that it doesn’t look for the complexities of how a young Harvard educated lawyer like Bryan Stevenson would tackle the subject beyond community outreach and handling police harassment is a letdown. Clemency (2019), though I rate them similarly, at least had the ambition of finding a different angle. 7/10

Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf (2017): A small find thanks to my girlfriend, this unlikely documentary about the art of garden design was free to watch at the end of April. While the movie has moments of dullness, Piet Oudolf’s passion and commentary end up highlighting some important concepts about art, beauty and the life and death of flowers through a lens that most of us will not have come across before. Something about the eye of the beholder, but not really. Reframing, if jarring and off-putting at times, is something we could do more with nowadays. 7/10

Rust Creek (2018): Rust Creek seems like a run of the mill movie about a girl getting lost in the forest while trying to escape an assault – anxiety riddled, menacing and predictable. In the middle of it, the twists and turns actually prove fruitful, thanks in no small part to Hermione Corfield’s restrained performance. Ultimately, survival movies so intently focused on one character live or die on this. I guess it’s up to you to find out how chemistry makes an entrance… 7/10

Misbehaviour (2020): For a movie about one of the key moments in the women’s liberation movement, Misbehaviour feels distinctly one-note and dated – not for a lack of trying to find nuance, it just rarely does. We get a dish of a familiar story, familiar discourse and familiar characters, the latter mostly so generic that you couldn’t tell them apart by the end. That being said, there are a few standout moments where Philippa Lowthorpe’s movie does resonate emotionally, thanks to Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s performance. Alas, that’s about it. 5/10

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

Movies of the Week #16 (2020)

In the Line of Fire (1993): In what feels like a John Grisham/Tom Clancy political thriller of the 90s (but is actually an original screenplay by Jeff Maguire), I was reminded by the times when the US actually treasured its presidents to such a degree, that they often required saving or protection in big movie productions. Here, Clint Eastwood stars as Frank Horrigan, a secret service agent who is still struggling to cope with his inability to save Kennedy back in the day, when the president is targeted once more. Naturally, Frank wants to redeem himself, and is pitched against Mitch Leary (John Malkovich), anything but your run-of-the-mill presidential assassin. Their rivalry is exciting to watch, in a more nuanced take on the subject matter, which builds up to a satisfying finale. Maybe a bit on the long side, with a few predictable twists, but overall a perfect genre piece, thanks to the dynamic between its two leads. 8/10

The Gentlemen (2019): Guy Ritchie doesn’t break the mold with his latest movie, but he finally produces something that feels reasonably fresh and entertaining. To be fair, I didn’t mind The Man from UNCLE either, but The Gentlemen is Ritchie’s bread and butter – a mob movie. Thanks to his solid cast, and particularly Hugh Grant’s performance, there’s fizz and kapow to this chronologically challenged story about marijuana, Anglo-American joint ventures and Chinese interference. That’s all I ever asked for, which is why some of the narrative excesses can be forgiven, as can the less than surprising twists and turns. So, lo and behold, a Guy Ritchie movie worth recommending. 7/10

Deathgasm (2015): For whatever reason, I thought Jason Lei Howden’s flair (of recently reviewed Guns Akimbo) might have a better showcase in his previous movie. Ultimately, though, the main thing that separates the two is blood and gore – present in GA, in holy abundance here. Also, maybe you get a teensy liking for the characters, as Brodie, metalhead, is forced to move in with his religious aunt and uncle, and just craves to find some semblance of acceptance and empowerment…which leads to him summoning a demon intent on taking over the world. Or something. High school sure is tough in New Zealand. Definitely a staple for the blood and gore connoisseurs, in the direction of Evil Dead/Shaun of the Dead, but lacking the wit of either. 6/10

Kedi (2016): So how do you like your cats? Kedi is a charming and enjoyable journey around the streets of Istanbul, “the city of cats” due to the vast numbers roaming about. This documentary captures the…frequently demure joie de vivre of our (second) favourite household pet, as it does the particulars of one of the world’s most identifiable cities. It didn’t impress itself upon me greatly, but I was in a grouchy mood watching the thing, maybe asking more of it than it set out to do. 7/10

The Meg (2018): I was fooled by the slick trailer to give this Sharknado spin-off a shot, but it turned out that no matter how big you make a shark, the returns are marginal. The best I can write about The Meg is that it’s a well-oiled trope machine – filled to the brim with cliches and inane dialogue, one moment waxing dramatically about the death of some of its characters, the next fronting a ten year old to play cupid. Not even Statham’s two dimensional charm can keep this one afloat, both because of some ill chosen casting decisions, and because all characters are as flat as their one-liners. The movie never clicks, making it beyond saving even by all the splashy effects that fill the narrative void. 4/10

Movies of the Week #15 (2020)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020): It’s difficult for any movie to break new ground re: teenage pregnancies and abortions. That being said, NRSA finds the perfect pacing to let the pain and sorrow of its characters seep out, avoiding melodramatic or dogmatic pitfalls. And, of course, the movie isn’t as much about the pregnancy, as it is about the environmental factors and sexual…pressures that the two girls featured here (and many more like them) have to endure, manage, cope with – as if nothing’s happened. Interestingly, my mother commented that this may be painful to watch in a present day context, but the kind of risk women were exposed to in communist Romania (see Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days) doesn’t bare comparison. Indeed, our perception is steeped in contemporaneity. 8/10

Sea Fever (2019): Back at my monster-feature proclivities, Naesa Hardmina’s movie falls a bit short in the end due to a lack of focus. Its slow pace will also be trying for some, but it wasn’t a problem for me, as I am partial myself to its Alien-esque rhythm. Out of the several themes the movie wants to tackle, it strikes gold given the health crisis we’re going through, posing questions about isolation and quarantine to its untrusting characters. Punctuating its course with just the right amount of gore and drama, I declare myself quite content with Sea Fever. 7/10

Grâce à Dieu (2018): Expecting a movie that was more about the lives of people who had suffered sexual abuse from clergymen and not about the fight to make the church take a stand on said abuse, Grace a Dieu was at time tedious and fragmented. In a way that was the point, because we get to meet people from very different walks of life, brought together by this terrible event. Based on a true story, the whole thing is too focused on indictments, when those are never really the point at this time and place in cinematic history. It still works well enough, thanks to its flurry of characters, but just isn’t as memorable as I’d hoped from director Francois Ozon. 7/10

Five Feet Apart (2019): There wasn’t much to like about this teen tragy-drama about kids with Cystic Fibrosis, enduring their affliction an the hospital equivalent of a five star hotel. Or let’s put it another way, for the most part it was an alright ride, soppy and predictable, but well executed, before hitting the teen angst moment towards its end, which tipped it towards the obnoxious. Beyond that, beautiful mid-to-late-twenty-somethings playing suffering teens seems popular right now – hey, it’s always been popular – if only it were interesting as well. 5/10

We Summon the Darkness (2019): I wanted to like this ritualistic thriller, but it was too much to demand of me in the end. Outline: “Three girls embark on a road trip to a heavy-metal show, where they bond with three dudes and head off to one of the girls’ country home for an after-party.” It’s hard to find the words to put some thematic meat around that dire plot, but think of cultism playing dress-up as satanism, add some twists and violence, and you’ve got…something that feels a lot like a rehash. 4/10

Movies of the Week #13 #14 (2020)

American Factory (2019): The Academy Award winner for best documentary feature, Steven Bognar’s and Julia Reichert’s movie is at times exactly what you would expect, while proving surprisingly surreal in key moments. More than that, it finds the complexity at the intersection of social, cultural and economic priorities showcased by both the Chinese owners of their new US factory and the people working there. By the end, it becomes a commentary on the exploitation of the working class, a tale of yet another bad employer (by Western standards, anyway), but it also foreshadows the greater challenges people now working in the Ohios of this world will face with the increase in automation. American Factory is a mix of treats, that finds good objectivity, as well as good cinematography, recreating an age-old-tale of free market capitalism and modern industry. 8/10

Vivarium (2019): This is so typically me, I am really harsh on Underwater (see below) and here you’ll read me praising a mess of a movie that you can’t make heads or tails of. In Vivarium, a couple is trying to find a new home and their path leads them to a strange estate agent, who in turn leads them to an even stranger neighborhood of identically looking houses. When they realize they are stuck there, their relationship is quickly tested by the appearance of a baby in a box. There’s a lot of commentary on family life to be picked out from Tom and Gemma’s struggles, which makes for good contemplation during times of isolation. It’s funny that I read an article a couple of days ago about how men don’t want to do the lion’s share of household chores, be they physical or emotional, and here was this movie about a guy obsessing (over digging a big hole in the front yard), while the girlfriend needs to keep a handle on the bizarre baby-child creature that’s popped up in their lives. Vivarium probably sounds better on paper, but what made the movie stand out to me, was how it just got under my skin by the end, in an existentially uncomfortable way. Which says a lot about it. 7/10

Clemency (2019): This exploration of the (in)humanity of carrying out death sentences in a US prison is more personal, than dogmatic, which is a good thing. Alfre Woodard’s exceptional performance as warden Bernadine Williams goes a long way to making Clemency memorable, because other than that, the movie doesn’t throw narrative loops around you. It’s also not quite as focused as it could have been, with bits and bops of social commentary that add little to the viscerally harrowing experience the movie conjures up in its best moments. 7/10

Buffaloed (2020): A critic called this “The She-Wolf of Wall Street” and he wasn’t far off. Zoey Deutch brings a lot of energy to this uneven movie about a financially struggling young woman, who keeps searching for the easy bucks. And for me that was really enough, because while Buffaloed tries to offer some deeper criticism of the social and regulatory structures within the US of A, there’s no pretense about its desire to entertain. You won’t find the best characters here, nor the best plot, with a wrap-up so absurd it will take some acquired tolerance to push through. However, there’s fun to be had, high-octane fun, an endearing guilty pleasure. 7/10

Underwater (2020): The Kristen Stewart deep-sea creature feature is an underwhelming piece of work. With a generic Alien-esque crew set-up and no patience at all in building suspense, or any interest in character development, there’s little to grab and keep your attention. An even more generic final boss with lots of sharp teeth and plenty of tentacles, aided by its sperm-like offspring, won’t blow your mind either. However, in spite of its shortcomings, Stewart’s energetic performance saves the movie from the cold place in hell where unimaginative sci-fi horrors go, but it doesn’t keep it out of purgatory. 5/10

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

Movies of the Week #11 (2020)

The Lost City of Z (2016): What better way to spend social isolation, than to watch a lush jungle adventure with Charlie Hunnam? The movie had been on my watchlist a long time before I realized it was the work of director James Gray (who recently helmed Ad Astra). It then suddenly became important to catch up. If anything, Ad Astra has a lot going for it in terms of pure cinematic quality, which is what The Lost City also has to show. The strong acting performances of its leads (Hunnam, Pattinson, Sienna Miller) iron over some of the harsher notes of the story, and its jarring timeline leaps. Other than that, it’s a transporting movie about real ambition, father-son bonding and the dreaded splendor of exploration. Not unlike Ad Astra, but more historically sprawling in mostly interesting ways. 8/10

Little Joe (2019): This quirky little genre piece is labelled as a horror movie, but I would hardly lump it in that category. It’s rather a sci-fi with heavy allegorical dashes, which are spread with enough flair for you to forget that they could mean anything or nothing at all. Alice, a plant breeder, creates this genetically enhanced plant that you need to talk to and care for, and you get rewarded with a pump of oxytocin to your brain. Happiness. This might all have something to do with the fact that she faces the turmoil of adolescent years with her son at home, or maybe, as things go awry, it might have something to do with the pieces of self some are willing to sacrifice in order to attain a state of…mental liberation. Whatever it speaks about to you, Jessica Hausner’s movie transcends its more predictable moments, to create, at the very least, a subject of conversation. 7/10

Big Time Adolescence (2019): In an unusually somber buddy comedy, young Monroe is close to walking into the footsteps of his sister’s ex-boyfriend Zeke, currently Mo’s bff – much to everyone’s dread. But Zeke isn’t just the alcohol infused, drug riddled, zero prospects twenty something, serial-cheater, he’s actually got redeeming qualities. And Mo isn’t just a cautionary tale with a happy ending, his fate proves more true to life than you’d think. The movie doesn’t break new ground and it’s neither satisfying, nor fleshed out enough to be truly memorable, but it picks its guns well and sticks to them. Kudos for that. 7/10

Taylor Tomlinson: Quarter-Life Crisis (2020): Netflix aggressively pushing stand-ups finally pays off, with this inspired performance from Taylor Tomlinson. The 25-year old (I guess?) gives a lashing to modern day romance, the struggles of the average quarter-lifer and her parents. Growing up in a devoutly Christian family was always going to provide good material and Tomlinson doesn’t shy away from the subject, while emphasizing that she doesn’t fault her parents for it. That’s quite refershing in itself. Not all jokes will have you in stitches, but I literally lol-ed a couple of times, while smiling amiably most of the time. In times of crisis, a good laugh is always welcome. 7/10

Papi Chulo (2018): Talking of laughs, there none to be had here. Matt Bomer stars as a weatherman facing some sort of existential drama involving an apparent break-up (as well as an on-air breakdown). To remove the dark memory left by a paint-less stain on the terrace of his sumptuous home, he ventures out to hire a Latino day-worker for the job, only to forcibly befriend him in order to fill his own emotional void. When the movie isn’t outright tactless, it’s simply not funny (nor somehow emotionally resonant), which makes for dire watching. So don’t. 4/10