Seven more movies – January 2019

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Here’s a roundup of a bunch more movies I’ve seen this month. There’s no real duds this time around. While there are some spoilers nestled in this post there’s nothing too major.

The Disaster Artist (2017) stars brothers James (who also directed) and Dave Franco as the mysterious Tommy Wiseau and aspiring actor Greg Sestero. When they meet in an acting class they become friends and travel to Los Angeles to chase their dreams of stardom. Problem is neither of them are really that talented. After a series of knock-backs they decide that the way to bereak through in Hollywood is to write, direct, produce and star in their own film. Thankfully Wiseau has the money to make their dreams come true.

Based on a true story, the film within the film (‘cult classic’ The Room (2003)) is as the title suggests a complete disaster. In The Room a woman has an affair with her fiancé’s best friend. Scenes are played out within The Disaster Artist line for line and the building tension between Wiseau with his head in the clouds and the struggling Sestero is well presented. James Franco’s characterisation of the oddball Wiseau is hilarious and it’s nice to see the interplay between the Franco brothers on more than just a YouTube sketch.

Mean Streets (1973) is a Martin Scorsese film which had somehow escaped me until a few weeks ago. Quite how this came to pass I don’t know. I sat down to watch it, in the mood for some more Scorsese after The Irishman, for what I thought was the second time but soon found I had absolutely no recollection of seeing the film before. Mean Streets is the gritty story of Charlie a small-time hood (Harvey Keitel) trying to work his way up the ranks of a local mob scene despite the damaging antics of his gambling friend Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro).

De Niro is brilliant as the devil may care Johnny Boy and while Keitel’s performance is relatively downbeat in comparison it is no less solid. There’s a bunch of familiar faces from other mob dramas such as The Sopranos, some great music and some familiar scenes which have been ‘referenced’ by other filmmakers. For example the celebration in the bar was recycled by Guy Ritchie in his dark comedy London gang film Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. Mean Streets is a great film in Scorsese’s canon of work and I’m still scratching my head as to why I’ve managed to overlook it until now.

Berlin Syndrome (2017) is about an Australian photographer Clare (Teresa Palmer from zom-rom-com Warm Bodies) who travels to Berlin and gets into a holiday romance with Andi (Max Riemelt from Sense8) a local man. She stays over at his flat and finds that after he has gone to work (he’s a school teacher) she can’t get out of the flat. He comes home, apologizes and leaves her a spare key. The next day, he leaves and when she tries the key she finds that it doesn’t fit the lock on the front door. It soon becomes apparent that she is being held as some kind of sex slave by Andi.

Directed by Black Widow director cate Shortland, the film is very atmospheric uses a small selection of locations within Berlin as a good moody backdrop for what could have essentially been a ‘one room’ drama. What is interesting about this film, apart from the excellent performance from Teresa Palmer, is Clare’s resolve, patience and determination to navigate a pathway through the predicament she has found herself in. I was truly impressed by the way what is essentially a fairly simple story was played out on the screen.

Destroyer (2018) stars an almost unrecognisable Nicole Kidman as an alcoholic LAPD detective seeking closure on an undercover job that went disastrously wrong and also seeking to fix her busted relationship with her teenage daughter. It’s a gritty and unforgiving crime story also starring Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes in the MCU) and local boy Tony Kebbell who has been in all sorts of movies and is instantly recognisable as ‘that guy from that film, you know the one about the gangsters…’

Destroyer is directed by Karyn Kusama who has a good track record with strong female characters not least in one of my ol’ fave sci-fi films Æon Flux. While I am getting a little tired of films based in New York and Los Angeles, this film does a good job of showing us a seedy side of the America in which criminals want to take a violent shortcut to the American Dream.

Booksmart (2019) marks the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde (Tron Legacy), and it’s a great debut telling a comedy story form the point of view of a couple of swotty American school soon-to-be-graduates who realise that they have spent too much of their time concentrating on their studies and far too little time having fun with the schoolmates. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein star as Amy and Molly and since I only vaguely recognise them and recognise none of the rest of the cast (apart from Diana Silvers from Split and Lisa Kudrow) it made for a great watch.

There is a great chemistry between all the actors and despite the very formulaic storytelling it still had enough laughs and original set pieces to become an instant house party classic. There are some truly memorable comedic performances and situational humour all told through a feminist coming of age lens while the girls are intent on partying hard on their last night together before graduation. A definite feel good movie currently available on Amazon Prime.

Prospect (2018) is an enjoyable sci-fi story principally starring Sophie Thatcher (who was in the 2016 remake of The Exorcist) and The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal. Shown recently on Film Four in the UK, the well-acted movie tells the story of a girl and her father who drop down to an alien moon from an orbiting space station aiming to dig gems out from a strange life-form that grows under the toxic forest floor. The father is soon killed as a result of his greed and the girl is forced to team up with their assailant (Pascal) to stay alive and get a ride home.

Writing and directing duo Christoper Caldwell and Zeek Earl have done a grand job of presenting us with a believable sci-fi world with some tropes but no real cliches. The attention to detail in terms of the costumes, sets, music and languages used in the film actually seems comparable to the likes of much bigger budget sci-fi films such as Star Wars and it was great to watch something unique and not crushed by the weight of a previous set of films or fan expectations. Prospect is a great genre piece and a must-see for any sci-fi film fan.

Last and perhaps least, Sisters (2015) is directed by Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) and written by Paula Pell (Wine Country). It’s based on the fairly simple comedy premise that two adult sisters (Pell’s buddies Amy Poehler and Tina Fey) throw a house party in their old family home before their parents sell it. They invite a bunch of old school friends and the film very much follows a rather farcical and formulaic template toward a predictable ending. That said, it is very funny.

I’m a big fan of Amy Poehler and it’s hard to not enjoy it when she’s joined by Tina Fey. the star of the movie for me though was their Saturday Night Live buddy Bobby Moynihan who plays a guy we all know who tries to hard to be funny and then just goes completely bat-shit crazy as the night’s events unfold. I like stupid comedies as much as I like clever comedies, so with a few beers and low expectations, I was happy.

 

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