Please excuse my busy schedule this week, but a non-domestic travel arrangement severely hampered my movie-watching agenda. The couple of movies I did see are miles apart from one another.
Movie of the Week:
- Harvey (1950): Long festering on my watchlist, I gor around to watching this Jimmy Stewart showpiece by pure randomness. The night before the event, I endured my favourite football team squandering a gazillion chances to save their asses from a relegation play-off, which still happened later in the week, but the initial 2-1 home advantage was nightmare inducing. So when I awoke at 5 am and was bereft of any desire to rest any further, what else could have been more advised than checking out Stewart and his imaginary rabbit-friend? Well, it took some time getting used to the idea, but once that was achieved, I enjoyed Harvey. Its utterly optimistic approach to mental illness – to an almost frustrating degree – is more allegorical than rooted in practical nit-pickings and, of course, Stewart makes it work. Funnily, Josephine Hull, playing his irritating, conniving, selfish sister (but kind, oh-how-kind) ended up with an Oscar for her performance, in what was one of the only stand-out roles of her career. 7/10
- Alien Resurrection (1997): TBH, maybe I only watched two movies so that I could put an Alien on the MotW list. Wish I was this premeditated – I only saw AR because I plopped my ass on a couch and there it was, running on one of my underused TV cable channels.Resurrection has this bad rap of being somehow the worst Alien film of the quadrilogy. Alien 3 gets a hall pass because Fincher has proved to be such a great director and, supposedly, the director’s cut sorts out all the damage done by studio interference on the original cinematic cut. I disagree – while 3 is watchable and coherent, it lacks personality. Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Resurrection is more of a wild bet, with Jeunet at the bottom of a long list of directors who refused the opportunity to work on the fourth Alien movie. As scriptwriter and nerd darling Joss Whedon disowned the execution of the film (“They said the lines but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong they could possibly do.”), it isn’t all too difficult to see shortcomings in AR. While I agree it could have been better and some scenes do come across ridiculously, I feel Resurrection is more enjoyable than Fincher’s third iteration of the series, primarily because you’ve got many memorable scenes, awesome one-liners and the final ‘boss’ battle has a weird, disturbing emotional heft to it. Sure, most of the casting doesn’t work very well (except for the ever-awesome Ron Perlman), the new Ripley is not particularly likable and it’s just plain lazy to set a movie 200 years into the future but keep it artificially identical in visual style to the original story. But AR is the last Alien movie that still felt like an Alien movie, which matters a great deal to me. 7/10
In a week so full of tennis, there was little time and energy left for the movies. A few still managed to be squeezed in and they weren’t even half bad.
Movie of the Week
20th Century Women (2016)
Some day last week:
- Airplane (1980): I somehow forgot to write about this – which is understandable, considering I caught it just after Saturday lunch, a pleasant no-memories-get-stored period of my week. It wasn’t the first time I saw Airplane either and I’m quite the fan of the early work done by Abrahams and Zucker, especially the TV series Police Squad and its associated movie The Naked Gun (1988). Their particular brand of deadpan, literal humour has found a second coming in a recent series, Angie Tribeca, which does a good job in carrying the torch, but lacks some freshness. It all really got off with Airplane, one of the cornerstone parodies to have graced cinema screens, which does a balanced job in being ironic and amusing without feeling like a bunch of reels stuck together of the various movies it pokes at. A fun fact I just came across is that the Airplane is a sort of remake based on Zero Hour! (1957), as they share the same plot: food poisoning on a commercial flight wreaks havoc. Not much else in common as far as style is concerned, though. Long story short, if you’re interested in a different kind of comedy, give it a shot. All goes well – you have some material to go through and laugh yourselves silly. 7/10
- 20th Century Women (2016): For whatever reason, it took me a while to get into 20thCW. The first part of the movie felt slow and a tad pretentious, as a complex assortment of characters drifts into the frame, led by Annette Benning’s Dorothea Fields, a single mother worried about providing a rounded character-building youth to her son, Jamie. As the story progressed, or rather the personal intricacies deepened, I felt myself being taken in by a what proved to be a touching tale of motherhood, of womanhood, that manages to stay away from the obvious, the inauthentic, the political. There’s this beautiful, nuanced subtlety to 20thCW, in how it explores its themes, and that’s priceless. 8/10
- The Young Zlatan (2015): My fascination with football biopics is a fact, as exhibited in the reviews on another couple of similar movies, Messi’s disappointing re-enactment and C. Ronaldo’s flamboyant, narcissistic ride. One would expect a player of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s stature, coming from a complex immigrant background in Sweden, to have an interesting story on its own merits, which indeed is the case. Constructed from archival footage, a surprising amount of it, we get some insight into Ibrahomvic’s move from Malmö FF to Ajax Amsterdam and the age-old struggle to fit in, rise to the occasion of being more than just a big fish in a small pond. Although he appears in most scenes, sometimes even unguarded, it’s hard to see beyond the cocky boy that Zlatan seemed to amount to in those days and get an understanding of the man. Nonetheless, I would argue this docu works well as a sort of cautionary tale towards talented youth anywhere, but particularly in sports, of how even someone who would end up being one of the best at his craft needs to overcome this particular type of adversity, show resilience and a willingness to endure. Also, you can see Zlatan playing some old-school Hitman, which is always fun. 7/10
- Baywatch (2017): For whatever reason, I thought the first Baywatch trailer was fun and nostalgic – not that I had ever followed the series, but just as an afterthought to a bygone age. While the next couple of trailers seemed less inspired, I stuck to my initial gut feeling and went to check out this Dwayne Johnson – Zac Efron bonanza – hey, I had already seen and not totally hated Dirty Grandpa (2016), so how bad could it be? Truth is: it’s not all that bad. You get what you expect – manly men, generically beautiful female characters with no personality, absurd concerns of seeming politically correct in spite of this, a TV-level plot, somewhat surprisingly TV level special effects, and a wallop of good banter between Johnson and Efron. I guess you can see the shortcomings right there. I did, however, have the occasional laugh and in spite of an almost ungodly two hour runtime, didn’t get bored. Just cerebrally anesthetized, which can be a healthy thing. 5/10 (P.S. You just know most of the special effects budget went into making Pamela Anderson look like she was forty again)
- Hidden Figures (2016): I like to thing I’m reasonably sized on most things NASA, so even delaying to watch HF for so long was shameful. The story conveying the importance of African-American women in the space-race of the 60s, a double whammy for the segregated American society of the day, is pretty much by the numbers. What elevates it into something pleasurable are the performances, especially those of the three female leads ( Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe), while even Kevin Costner’s phoned-in good guy part makes you feel at home. Other than that, HF is the opposite of 20th CW in regards to how it flaunts its socio-political convictions, with little nuance and focusing on the absurd situations arising from a dysfunctional society. Pretty much your template Oscar movie, for better or worse. 7/10
Not the best week quality-wise, but we’re good on quantity. And you know what they say, the more you do it, the better human being you are. I was bemused by the Netflix ratings system, which seems confused due to the fact that both I and my mother sometimes use it. Consequently, although we like some similar films, we get horrible recommendations – stuff like ¿Qué Culpa Tiene el Niño? (2016) gets five stars and Anvil: The Story of Anvil! (2008) gets two. Shame.
Movie of the week:
High Fidelity (2000)
- High Fidelity (2000): Re-watching HF was something I wanted to do for a while now. It’s probably the third time seeing it, as I recall one occasion where I just couldn’t remember John Cuasck’s name until literally three seconds before it popped up on the end credits. I’ve read some of Hornby’s books and seen a lot of his stuff that’s been put to film, but HF is my favourite (yes, even ahead of About a Boy (2002) or An Education (2009), where he penned the screenplay; Brooklyn (2015) I have not yet seen). It’s this sketch of the frustrated, egotistical, clueless young male that got to me, a self-enlightened anti-hero who envisions himself playing both the persecuted and the persecutor. Yet, we sort of like him, a) because it’s John Cusack and b) because he’s trying and conscious about his shortcomings, if unconvincing in his attempts to improve. So yeah, it’s a solid rom-com with a lot of music and pop-culture. What else can you want? 8/10
- War Machine (2017): The much touted Netflix production with Brad Pitt is an underwhelming, been-there, seen-that kind of affair. Being parodic about the bureaucracies of war and some inherent structural flaws in the conception of military leadership works for a while, but there’s usually no end game, just a bunch of familiar truths and platitudes. Ultimately, you are better off watching Lord of War (2005) or Buffalo Soldiers (2001), a pair of flawed movies also riding on the charm of their leading men, which have the simple advantage of having been there first. 6/10
- ¿Qué Culpa Tiene el Niño? (2016): As I was intimating, Netflix fooled me here. This Mexican rom-com starring the gorgeously long-legged Karla Souza (How to Get Away with Murder) has its charms, but doesn’t quite deliver. You sort of know what kind of ride you’re going to get once the premise – a rich, talented woman in her late 20s gets pregnant after a one night stand with a hopeless guy in his early 20s – becomes apparent. The to and fro, the wannabe amusing side-characters, the I-can-provide-shtick, the spontaneous evolution, the odd surprise; nothing’s new here, but it’s reasonably well executed. Until the ending, that is, which felt completely off due to the, erm, moral implications of how it’s presented. I fought against my better judgment to let it slide and choose a simpler, if less logical, interpretation of events, which eases my cerebral suffering and replaced the ending with the kilobyte equivalent in images of Souza. But, really, come on people! What the heck. 6/10
- Table 19 (2017): Because I don’t know when to call it quits, I doubled down on rom-coms with the uninspiring Table 19. It’s weird that the movie doesn’t work, given the many agreeable actors gathered in front of the camera (Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, Stephen Merchant) and behind it (written by Mark & Jay Duplass, directed by Jeffrey Blitz, of Rocket Science (2007)). Alas, it doesn’t, probably because the characters are bland and do not gel together well, mayhaps due to some ill-advised casting decisions (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson together?). There’s also a bizarre moment with a potential alternative suitor for our leading lady, which is then left unresolved, as if it didn’t happen at all. And the conclusion, well, I really couldn’t care less. 5/10
- Wonder Woman (2017): I have enough experience by now to know that superhero movies going in the 90% on Rottentomatoes, or even mid-high seventies on Metacritic, are guaranteed to be competently executed, yet distinctly un-riveting. The same goes for WW, which I initially didn’t even want to go watch, as Gal Gadot failed to impress my acute sensibilities in Batman v Superman (2016). Good reviews changed my mind, in spite of the knowledge I claimed to have gathered through experience, and, sure enough, I was entertained, but not excited. There is talk of the importance of having a strong female character, who happens to come from an exclusively matriarchal society, but what helps WW stand out is that it doesn’t try too hard to build you up for whatever new cross-franchise mash-up they’re going to release next year. There was even a moment, about three quarters of the movie in, that I felt something unexpected and insightful might be occurring, but it didn’t last long before the usual order of things was resumed and we moved on to a finale with big pow-wow effects. Which was all fine and good, if it’s what you want. 7/10
- Their Finest (2016): It made sense to stick to the feminist movies, this time with a more overtly feminist one in TF. Starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Calflin and Bill Nighy (the latter, as himself – well, not really, but haha), it tracks back to the second world war and the integration/acceptance of women in scriptwriting. So, yeah, there’s this trend now that’s being ridden, emphasizing the involvement of women in as-of-then out-of-bounds domains, with the likes of Hidden Figures (2016) and even The Imitation Game (2014) offering similar insights. I’m not good at liking movies with such socio-political agendas, but what really undoes TF is its slow pace. Other than that, the movie is both sensitive and sensible, with the one big flaw of not having caught much of my interest and attention. 6/10
To be honest, this isn’t really about weeks #19 and #20. The only movies seen in that petty time frame were Alien Covenant (which, as a true fan, I even revisited last week) and a rewatch of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Then again, given that Eternal Sunshine is one of my favourites, I guess it does matter. Anyway, I managed to get back into some groove during the last few days, so there’s something to talk about.
Movie of the Weeks
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
- Alien: Covenant (2017): People imagining this would be fundamentally different or better than Prometheus just because it’s got ‘Alien’ in the title need to wake up to reality. Thing is, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Covenant being about as inspired as the prequel it sequels. Sure, Prometheus wasn’t a masterpiece and that crew, like almost any space crew in a Hollywood blockbuster, seemed dilettantish; but it took the Alien universe in a new direction, albeit one that’s hard to dig deep into without appearing superficial – the ‘why are we here’ direction. Covenant doubles down on this, which is why I deem it slightly inferior to Prometheus. There just isn’t any elegant way to avoid being pretentious when tackling high-brow stuff in a B-movie frame. Moreover, it goes for a twist ending that it doesn’t even bother to mask properly and then tries to use for shock value, while also being uneven in tone at times. Beyond this however, I enjoyed Covenant, the visuals, the creatures, even some of the crew, and it amounts to a competent addition to the Alien-verse. 7/10
Some other day
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): God, is Eternal Sunshine a truly great movie or what? In Charlie Kaufman’s peak creative half-decade, when he wrote Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2003) and even the not-quite-as-great-but-still-decent Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), it felt impossible to pick a favourite between BJM, A and ESotSM. I guess it still does, because the three are movies are so different in style, thanks to the equally distinctive directors to have helmed them, that they stand on their own beautifully. What I love about Eternal Sunshine is its hopeless romanticism, the idea that falling out of love is not something you can engineer, as well as the equivalent thought that you would be willing to love someone even if you were certain it would fail. And, let’s be honest, that’s what we all do anyway. 9/10
- The LEGO Batman Movie (2017): There was something so cool and breezy about the first LEGO movie that it was hard not to like. This spin-off works in the same spirit, but suffers for being more of the same and lightheartedly predictable. It’s basically a movie getting together most of the Batman do-gooders and evil-doers and then trying so hard to be ironic and self-deprecating, that it inevitably feels overdone. For whatever reason, I guess I took it all too seriously, probably because my bat-senses kicked in, but all-in-all I thought it was a run-of-the-mill affair. 6/10
- Patriots Day (2016): If you’re into real-life re-enactments of modern day tragedies, Patriots Day is right up your alley. The movie about the Boston marathon bombings offers some perspective, by featuring both protagonists and villains, but it doesn’t dig very deep. Truth be told, if you’ve seen one Peter Berg – Mark Wahlberg movie, you’ve sort of seen them all; I personally preferred Deepwater Horzion (2016) and even Lone Survivor (2013) to this one, because I’m not all too big on the rather streamlined American cinematic dialogue about terror attacks, which inevitably revolves around inner strength in the face of absurd injustice and a dollop of patriotism. There’s nothing wrong with either, I have no idea how one could and/or should react to this kind of violence, but its filmic thematization is at best strong dramatically and superficial politically/socially/philosophically. 6/10
- Colossal (2017): This weird-ass movie by Nacho Vigalondo takes Anne Hathaway and places her in the skin of a thirty-ish woman forced into rethinking her party-going lifestyle. In doing so, she goes back home where she encounters her childhood friend, played by Jason Sudeikis. What unfolds between the two looks like the latter pining on the former, but then metamorphosizes into something completely different, when it turns out that Hathaway’s character has the ability to conjure a monster in Seoul if she walks across the local playground in the early morning. The twist of the movie is quite beautiful, even poetic, and I admire Vigalondo (of whom I had previously only seen Los cronocrímenes (2007)) for offering a deeply troubled negative character. Towards the end, Colossal flourishes into something of rich interpretative potentiality, even if it feels like it cuts some corners to make it happen. If you’re into quirky, well worth its time. 7/10
- Mindhorn (2017): I’m quite big on spoofs and parodies, whether I understand them or not. So naturally a British production would attract my attention – hey, I even liked Johnny English (2003)! Mindhorn presents a washed up actor, Richard Thorncroft, whose claim to fame came after starring as the character named Mindhorn in a successful TV series, eons ago. Back in present day, his services are required when a serial killer demands to speak to the brilliant detective character. There’s nothing inherently original or spectacular about the movie, just that its execution is excellent, which counts a lot when your subject matter is fairly rehashed. I’m certain there are some obscure references which I’ve missed, but even so, Mindhorn proved to be quite the enjoyable ride. 7/10
- Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008): I’ve had Anvil on my to-watch list for longer than I can remember. Well, no longer than nine years, I suppose. The documentary about Canadian heavy metal band Anvil, which influenced the likes of Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica (or so Wikipedia claims, I have no clout in the heavy metal world), is quite the rollercoaster feel-good story to replace one of those True Detective episodes you’ve been putting off for a few months now. With their hey-day far behind them, the band still enjoy concerting, but it feels like the world has forgotten them. The movie is carried by Steve “Lips” Kudlow’s energy and boundless optimism, as well as his relationship with band co-founder and best friend Rob Reiner, who is his polar opposite. It’s quite the tale about persistence, finding what makes you happy, the intricacies of doing that when your happiness is contingent on the well-being of others, and friendship. Highly recommended. 8/10
I actually can’t even merge anything from the last two weeks, as week #17 provided zero movie watching opportunities. Not sure when or if this has ever happened before, in the last few years. Nonetheless, I have prevailed from my apathy last week and enjoyed several, very different movies.
Movie of the Week:
Donnie Darko (2001) – Director’s Cut
- Donnie Darko (2001): Darko was one of my favourite teenage films and I’m glad to report it’s still pretty awesome. For a while I was torn between watching the Director’s Cut or the Original Cut, with the former more generous on guidance, but also suffering some alterations to the soundtrack. I succumbed to it in the end, only to realize I was incapable of really telling the two apart any more. The angst ridden tale of Donnie Darko, a time-travel movie that doesn’t feel a lot like a time-travel movie, is one of the ultimate high-school experiences. A very young Jake Gyllenhaal stars alongside his sister, Maggie, as well as the likes of Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Patrick Swayze and Drew Barrymore. This glitzy cast does an amazing job in shaping the dark, bitter, yet soulful world that Darko resides in, aided by several great musical pieces, including the (in)famous Mad World. What stood out to me on this screening was how much of the movie is about parenthood and how difficult connecting with your children can be. I’m not sure why this never came across to me before; it’s not like I’ve procreated in the meantime or anything. 9/10
- Tramps (2016): It sometimes feels like there’s a plethora of good indie movies out there which do not dazzle, but prove how to put an average story to film in an above average way. Tramps would fall in this category as it treads the line of rom-crime, in an unusual set-up: Danny has to deliver a briefcase pretending to be his brother; after picking up the ‘object’ from Ellie, he mistakenly hands it to the wrong receiver and the rest of the movie is about the two of them struggling to right the wrong. As their affection for one another grows, so do the background schemes which risk tearing them apart. It’s the kind of movie that lives or dies on the chemistry of its leads and, thankfully, Callum Turner and Grace van Patten work really well together in portraying two honest and authentic characters. 7/10
- Win It All (2017): This n-th collaboration between Joe Swanberg and Jake Johnson (after the modestly unusual Digging for Fire (2015) and the slightly more high profile Drinking Buddies (2013), both of which I’ve seen and found not completely devoid of merit) puts Eddie (Johnson), a small time gambler, in the position of holding onto a lump sum of money for an acquaintance who has to spend some time in prison. It made little sense to me, bestowing a gambler with such responsibility, but after I lodged this thought in the back of my mind, events unfolded more naturally – lose some money, try to get straight and earn it back, then get tempted/forced to reconsider your decision. The movie’s spirit is in the right place, which earns it points in my book and the rather whimsical conclusion made me chuckle. Alas, I’m not big on gambling stories, especially these down to earth iterations, so there were times I felt the action dragged, making me lose some interest. 6/10
- Split (2016): Yeah, I know. What can I say, peer pressure and stubborn people, unwilling to listen to my sage advice. It didn’t get any better with a second viewing either. 5/10
- Der Bunker (2015): Maybe you guys remember I was riveted by The Baby (1973). Well, there I was, early for lunch on a rainy Sunday, and this German flick called Der Bunker was running on Cinemax, reminding me fondly of it. Story goes…erm, I missed the first ten minutes, but this student fellow was spending time with a weird family, trying to write some thesis, by the time I sat down. The mother/father couple had a child who was obviously grown up, but behaved as an eight year old and had apparently only known life in the seclusion of a home-schooling arrangement. Although his parents wished for him to ‘become president’ one day, the youngling was still struggling to learn his state capitals – a key piece of knowledge to any presidential aspirant, as is well known. The student proves successful in teaching young Klaus, so the parents want to keep him around some – particularly on the desire of Heinrich, a former demon (?) lover of the mother who now lives as a wound on her leg. If this outline hasn’t piqued your interest, well, nothing in life ever will. 6/10
- Carrie Pilby (2016): To relax with something mainstream after the earlier alternative experience, I picked Pilby, which seemed vaguely interesting due to its rather pretentious plot: an asocial overachiever (“I started Harvard when I was 14”) tries to find some joy and purpose in her life, while frustrated by the relationship with her father. Although the plot is terribly formulaic, Bel Powley is an agreeable on-screen presence and, by some weird coincidence, once more plays a character to have had totally inappropriate relations while underage – which she had also done in the highly lauded The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015), that I kind of enjoyed. Nathan Lane’s soft touch to his psychiatrist might not be particularly stand-out, yet I somehow felt drawn to him. Too bad that with very low ambitions, Pilby is quite the opposite of what its title character purports to be. 6/10
To appear less shameful in the eyes of the cinematic lord, I decided to merge the past two weeks of movie-going activities. My despondency rises to worrying levels though, as the taste for compulsive movie watching seems to have deserted me this spring, a decade after the Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile (sic). Yes.
Movie of the Week-merger:
Thursday (the week before)
- Ghost in the Shell (2017): I’ve never really been the biggest fan of GitS, but I did a) appreciate the original anime and b) appreciate its influence on my favourite Game of All-Time (GOAT), Deus Ex (2001). Major, a cyber-enhanced super-soldier resulting from an otherwise life-ending accident, is caught in a web of deceit and forced to question her being and her purpose in the world. The human-in-the-machine concept is weaved poetically enough to stand out of the shadow of Blade Runner (1982) or, let’s say it, RoboCop (1987) thanks, in part, to a fascinating, overpowering visual construction of the future megatropolis. However, while the anime did take the time to mince words and ideas, its 2017 iteration feels shallow in comparison and emotionally sterile. It’s a bit of a shame, because the movie is pretty to look at, conjuring an audio-visual density that both overwhelms and enthralls. Alas, more is needed to be relevant and with cinematic staying-power. 6/10
Sunday (the week before)
- Why Him (2016): There was no obvious reason why I, or anyone else for that matter, should have watched Why Him, the James Franco/Bryan Cranston take on everyone’s favourite courting dynamic: fathers meeting their daughters’s suitors. However, it was Easter, the family was around, so why not a foul mouthed dive into this meet and greet? Turns out there are enough reasons why, reasons which outweigh the perplexed and awkward laughs your aunts and uncles might produce. Firstly, the set-up is run-of-the-mill: smart girl falls for seemingly idiotic guy who owns a tech empire. Secondly, the guy is just an unredeemable, contradictory character who seems to be a walking joke. Thirdly, in spite of a few laughs, you’ve mostly seen or heard them all. Fourthly, it doesn’t even pretend to strive towards some semblance of originality. And fifthly, James Franco is in it. Just kidding. Maybe. 4/10
- Get Out (2017): The hype is real, folks. Jordan Peele’s debut directorial feature puts a twist on The Stepford Wives (2004), while also providing a far superior execution to the idea. I’ve always been fascinated with the concept behind Ira Levin’s book, although I disliked reading it, just as I disliked the 2004 movie. Something just didn’t click in the way the story unfolded and the last third of both book and movie felt derivative. Get Out manages the rhythm and timing much better, while also keeping a tight leash around its characters, thereby avoiding their becoming ridiculous. So when Chris goes to meet Rose’s parents, we’re up for a more nuanced and more unsettling Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), which hits the right notes and plays as a great parable with sci-fi undertones. A lot of the talk will be about the role of implicit racism, structural racism, and rightfully so, but what makes Get Out special is the attention to detail and the sharp irony it slaps its hypocrites with. Also, there’s something just remarkably endearing and relatable about Daniel Kaluuya’s wry smile. 8/10
- A Street Cat Named Bob (2016): I was well aware Bob didn’t particularly suit my tastes. The (true) story of a heroin addict kicking the habit thanks, in part, to a stray cat which stumbles into his newly acquired social housing abode has all the warning signs of a movie that’s bound to fall short. It inevitably feels shallow and sugarcoated, although the overall execution isn’t bad. You just know that this won’t be Trainspotting-caliber heroin despair, or the kind of traumatic stuff from Heaven Knows What (2014). In itself this is no problem, there’s no rule stipulating all drug themed movies need to end in electroshock therapy, but a feel-good approach takes the risk of appearing only half-true, cherry-picking the relatable to drive its characters. If that’s something you don’t mind, then A Street Cat Named Bob might be for you, as it does a good enough job with what it’s got to tell the story of Bob and James. 6/10
Not much to report.
- Split (2016): Hyped as the first good Shyamalan movie in, I don’t know, a million years, Split seemed to me like just another disappointment. That’s if you can still call anything Shyamalan does disappointing, because it presumes a bar set high by previous efforts and/or expectations. In spite of a cool performance by James McAvoy – and, actually, some more good performances, by Anya Taylor-Joy and the elusive Betty Buckley; I didn’t take at all to Haley Lu Richardson though, whom I previously disliked in The Edge of Seventeen (2016) as well – Split starts off interestingly enough, then strays and becomes rather dull. The story is about a guy suffering from dissociative identity disorder who kidnaps three girls as he awaits the rise/awakening of his 24th persona, an all powerful beast. And, erm, I don’t know, that’s about it. There’s some enjoyable interplay between the personas, but I’m not sure what Shyamalan is trying to do by peddling this idea that every different identity can also alter the biological character of a being (i.e. one might be short-sighted, the other might have diabetes, etc.). Maybe it’s just there for the quirk of it and facilitating this supreme creature. It’s a shame, because the premise of broken people being stronger than those who are whole and unharmed has traction, but more on a figurative level, than a literal one. 5/10
Although I’ve done presentably on the movie front this week, what I really need to dedicate this intro to is 13 Reasons Why (2017). The Netflix series caught my attention (I knew it was for me as soon as I read high-school drama) and I ploughed through it during the weekend – a proper binge, after many binge-less years. Based on a hugely popular YA novel I never heard about, it feels like a mix of Donnie Darko (2001) and Veronica Mars (2004), with more than one musical cue taken from the former. The gist of the plot: a seventeen year old girl commits suicide, leaving behind several cassette tapes explaining why and pointing fingers. While some suspension of disbelief is required, the solid cast, lead by a likable Dylan Minnette, builds some good drama on top of an otherwise atmospheric existential run through the old-school/new-age American high-school. Recommended.
Movie of the Week:
- Life (2017): On what turned out to be one of the most awesome days of my decade, I managed to squeeze in a trip to the cinema for some Alien rip-off. Sorry, homage. Although starring quite the actors (Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson), the sci-fi horror turned out to be quite the disappointment. The movie looks good and feels unnerving, which is great, but its enjoyment hinges, as is often the case with the genre, on accepting some terrifying ineptitudes in the story. Someone put it really well in a comments section around the interwebz: “The story of one of the smartest living organisms in the universe, and the six dumbest human beings to ever enter space.” God, are those characters irritatingly daft. If you’re wondering what about, let’s just say they are sent on the ISS to recover and analyze a Mars soil sample, which supposedly includes a biological thingy. Well, after the thingy is sort of brought to life, the researcher in charge of, I don’t know, understanding it? becomes disassociated with mankind and bonds like a brother with his new buddy. When excrement hits the fan, nobody is surprised – except for those on board the ISS, of course. Anyway, it’s such a shame, as the movie actually manages to be creepy as hell, but all is spoiled by an underused Gyllenhaal and all this other stuff that pissed me off. So, with this in mind, imagine how awesome the day must have been for me to have still rated it so highly. 5/10
- Fences (2016): Directed and starring Denzel Washington and based on the eponymous August Wilson play, Fences offered Viola Davis a platform for her first Academy Award. The story of a disgruntled, middle-aged man in the 50s and 60s laboriously paints a bleak picture of its protagonist: a hard-ass, cynical, arguably self-obsessed father who, in spite of hating his own paternal figure, only manages to emulate it. Verve is probably the best word to describe what most of the dialogue brings with it, managing to bridge a rather lengthy run-time of over two hours. Washington effectively builds up to a finale that is both depressing and somewhat hopeful, which nonetheless made me cry my eyes out for a bit – before I manned up real quickly. It’s just an emotional film, that might take a while to grow on you, but offering a decent payout in the end. 8/10
- Prevenge (2016): Alice Lowe took on all responsibilities as she starred, wrote and directed Prevenge. I was familiar with Sightseers (2012), one of her previous films in which she merely had the lead and co-wrote the script, and knew to expect some dark twists in this one. Unsurprising, given the synopsis: Widow Ruth is seven months pregnant when, believing herself to be guided by her unborn baby, she embarks on a homicidal rampage, dispatching anyone who stands in her way. To be fair, it isn’t just anyone, there is some pattern to the homicidal rampage, which fleshes itself out along the way. What I really took away from the movie was the ironic anti-parenting jabs, the dread of what is to come, of ones own imperfections in facing such a life-changing abomination – sorry, baby. The sense that you are on your own grows into you, as friends and strangers alike fall into certain behavioral patterns in dealing with the situation. So yeah, pretty fun. 7/10