Scandinavia lived up to its cold, wintry reputation in January by delivering snow to us and as I type will last a few more days or even weeks. On the bright side, this time of year we have the annual books sales in Denmark and I have my eye on a few. Books are normally very expensive here because the population is only 5 million and the authors, book shops, publishers and translators all have to make a living. Looks like Brexit could be an issue in terms of export, especially the big amount of products we ship to the UK which may be in jeopardy if England decide to import from commonwealth countries in the future. Worrying times.
Anyway, on to January’s films. What have I been watching?
The Stranger (1946) (Orson Welles)
Orson Welles is a good actor yet a pity he doesn’t sound German at all. There’s a four minute-long take between Kindler and Meinike in the woods which is surprisingly longer than A Touch Of Evil’s famous opening sequence (three minutes and twenty seconds). The climax is over the top but mostly a well told noir. Always reliable Edward G. Robinson co-stars. Oscar nominee for Best Writing, Original Story.
Alice in the Cities (1974) (Wim Wenders)
Has been compared to 1973’s Paper Moon. A road trip movie with a melancholic Leonard Cohen-look-alike (Rüdiger Vogler), a writer/journalist faced with new circumstances. Searching for inspiration, Philip’s America trip led to cynicism and loneliness. He doesn’t belong and as mentioned at review site Monumental Pictures, Philip’s journey has a very contemporary feel, foreshadowing today’s obsession with documenting everything. The encounter with the little 9-year-old girl allows him to get out of his head and go on a different path than he had expected, looking after an abandoned child and the responsibility that entails. The scene in the bathroom when he reads all the German city names is funny and sweet. An innocent, heartwarming movie that probably would not get made in our hypersensitive times because of the friendship between an adult and child. As in Wim Wender’s later film Wings of Desire (1987), there’s a music interlude, on this occasion with Chuck Berry in concert. The first chapter of Wenders’ “Road Movie trilogy”. The film was scored by the German band Can.
Muriel’s Wedding (1994) (P.J. Hogan)
An Australian comedy-drama with a heart. About a young, unemployed social outcast. The story has lots of charm and lots of ABBA. Toni Collette’s lead performance is brilliant.
A Star Is Born (2018) (Bradley Cooper)
Nominated for 8 Academy Awards. The powerful performance by Lady Gaga is probably what this movie will be remembered by. She has good chemistry with Cooper on screen. Gaga put a portion of her own rise to fame into the role, especially about not wanting to lose herself when making the music. However, the singer has admitted she is very different to Alley in terms of confidence. Shallow is a great song though the film feels designed to win awards while having not much new on its mind. As has been said by a few reviewers, the films “inability to practice what it preached and actually say something” is problematic. My favorite scene is when the two of them just hang out together in the parking lot.
The Favourite (2018) (Yorgos Lanthimos)
I prefer the screenplays Lanthimos co-wrote with Efthymis Filippou which I find more inventive, though The Favourite is entertaining, well-acted and everything you could want from a period-comedy. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards.
On a side note, I read about Filippou’s new Greek weird wave film Pity (2018) (also known as Oiktos) available to stream on Mubi.
Custody (2017) (Xavier Legrand)
Watched via the free streaming service my library provides. Check this one out if you are a fan of the films by the Dardenne brothers. Realistic psychological French drama/thriller that is almost a horror film. Starts off quite ambiguous as to who is to blame for the break-up and I had empathy for both sides. Tough for the kids to have to deal with, not just the parents. The last act is probably the most memorable sequence from a visual standpoint though I did feel was not tonally consistent with the aforementioned ambiguity. Would have been subtler if had maintained the vagueness. I was waiting for the side story about the daughter to be resolved but didn’t happen.
Still, a promising debut by writer/director Xavier Legrand. The acting and camera work is top notch so I felt I was in the shoes of the characters. The build-up of tension also works well.
Studio 54 (2018) (documentary) (Matt Tyrnauer)
Studio 54 was considered New York’s definitive disco nightclub in the late 1970s. Broke down barriers between provider and consumer, every guest was a performer in the show. Although not easy to get in, once you were inside, the club was a place of freedom, decadence, and non-prejudice. But the two managers didn’t have it all their own way with the lack of a liquor license, drug raids, and visits by the IRS for tax evasion.
While the documentary is never boring, the number of new celebrity interviews is a bit limited. Strengthened by having Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager open up although he doesn’t remember everything as it’s so long ago. Maybe a more fitting title would have been: The life and times of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell.
Cold War (2018) (Pawel Pawlikowski)
Nominated for best Foreign language film and Best Director at the upcoming Academy Awards. Well shot but forgettable. An autobiographical love story about the director’s parents on-off relationship. The lead actress is beautiful and looks like a young Kim Basinger but with lots of scenes that didn’t go anywhere the film became a chore. The ending is powerful yet isn’t enough to safe a film I found quite boring.
Wiktor is supposedly old enough to be Zula’s father and that may have been what held me back from rooting for the relationship. The age difference between the actors playing the leads is much smaller. Joanna Kulig is surprisingly thirty-six, only five years younger than Tomasz Kot. I don’t know how they managed to make a woman in her mid 30s look like a teenager. I’m naming 2018 the year of self-indulgent films and this one belongs on that list. Evidently many others love Ida (2013) and Cold War (2018). Pawlikowski’s storytelling just isn’t for me.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) (Bryan Singer)
While there are wild parties and we also see in-band arguments, I’ve heard this biopic is a sanitized version of the Queen story. The scene standing in the rain was the most moving and of course the Live Aid show is an epic moment. That ending gave me chills though doesn’t beat the performance by the real Freddie. A lot of the movie feels a bit tv-movie-ish. Oscar hopeful Rami Malek is convincing as Freddie Mercury and impressed me with how he spoke, though the lip-syncing seemed off in the final concert. Mike Myers is unrecognizable as their manager. A good-but-not-great movie with an award worthy performance by Malek. Alright for a one time watch.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018) (David Slade)
About a young programmer who starts to question reality. Takes place in 1984, I liked the 80s music and retro aspects. Tonally the story is all over the place and has the production value of a tv-movie. I admire the effort that went into the innovative interactive multiple choice. I didn’t have that option available so just saw as a standard watch. Most memorable is the “joint” sequence when Colin talks to Stefan about pacman. New Order isn’t on the soundtrack although their 1983 flower-themed album sleeve plays a part.
Not a great film, the concept is more interesting than the story. But may turn out to be a look into the future of movie making. Reminded me of Famous Five adventure game books where you choose for yourself step by step how the mystery goes. Apparently I’m not the only one who noticed similarities as Netflix has been sued for trademark infringement by Chooseco LLC, the book publisher that owns the rights to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark.
Lean on Pete (2017) (Andrew Haigh)
Very different to the director’s previous work 45 Years (2015). Are films getting longer in general? Lean on Pete is another recent film that could do with some trimming. A simple yet gripping story which allows the audience to empathize with an isolated boy who goes on a journey with a washed-up race horse. It’s evident the film is making points about the treatment of race horses, youth unemployment and poverty. At first, the lead actor Charlie Plummer annoyingly reminded me of Hayden Christensen (the voice) but I was won over by Plummer’s performance as the film progressed. Chloë Sevigny does her best in a supporting role as a female jockey but unfortunately her character is too one-note in the script. Steve Buscemi is good as the seasoned trainer whom the boy works for. A movie that reminds viewers other people have it worse than you and makes you thankful to have a family. A contemporary tale but in line with storytelling from long ago.
Roma (2018) (Alfonso Cuarón)
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards. Roma is a slow-paced, self-indulgent project based on the director’s past. Follows the life of a live-in housekeeper to a middle-class family in 1970’s Mexico. I’m fine with personal, memory-based filmmaking, as it allows you to see the world through the eyes of others. But you can’t just do it for yourself and has to have value to the viewer. I was won over by the framing, lighting and cinematography, domestic tasks such as driving a car into a narrow driveway or taking a shower are elevated. Arguably the beautification of everyday events has to do with Alfonso Cuarón fondly remembering rather than how these times actually were. I was confused by Cuarón’s agenda as the aesthetic distracts from and lessens the suffering. Obviously if you hated this era you could make a film that is totally different visually. The director chooses to present both the good times and hard times in exactly the same visual style. Despite the hype, awards and critical praise, a polarizing arthouse film that won’t have a wide appeal due to the languid pacing and limited plot. Roma isn’t among my favorites of 2018, and I think would have a bigger appeal to nostalgic Mexicans. The cinematography is the reason to watch. Stand outs scenes include a forest fire, sitting in the back of a cinema, and going to the ocean. Probably needs to be watched on the big screen for maximum impact. I watched on the small screen.
Under the Silver Lake (2018) (David Robert Mitchell)
Isn’t out until the spring in the US and UK. For a change they have to wait and we got it early here in Denmark.
From the director of It Follows. Very unfocused and trippy, Neo noirish story involving animals, chasing girls and going to parties, a billionaire who has been kidnapped, references to music and old movies such as 7th Heaven (1927).
Starts promisingly, but drags in the second hour. Without spoiling, the main character is so messed up that he becomes annoying in his pursuit of unimportant things and conspiracy theories. Could be the film’s agenda, to show a man who has lost his way, doesn’t know what he wants, and just goes with the flow. Looking for answers and meaning in all the wrong places, neglecting priorities.
The question about “how’s work” is pretty funny. Although the skunk joke is overused. The supporting characters are rather forgettable and thinly defined and I don’t understand why Andrew Garfield is naked so often. Has been written the film is a look at the lack of mystery in modern times and the need for it. Also how pop culture references are used in our society and whether they have value.
Despite not loving the film, it did hold my interest. We should embrace and support these type of experimental, polarizing films which are becoming rarer each year, as the big corporations continue to bombard us with mindless blockbusters.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome. My top 10 of 2018 will be posted soon.