Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2014.6
- Lee Camp: We Are Nothing (2014)
- Lee is a pull-no-punches political comedian who started with his A Moment of Clarity podcast. This eventually expanded to a longer format, then moved to YouTube as a multi-episode and community-sponsored video series. He’s since been picked up for his own show on RT, called Redacted Tonight. In this standup special, he started out with his weakest material, but warmed up quickly to much better and stronger material, which he delivered with his typically honest and open and pleading manner. Recommended.
- Godzilla (2014) — 6/10
- This is a decidedly better outing than the abysmal remake from 1998. Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston lend their gravitas for only a very short while, with both of them out of the picture within 10% and 30% of the film, respectively. After that, we’re treated with Army-is-awesome fare that wasn’t quite as bad as The Battle of Los Angeles but also wasn’t very riveting. Godzilla was good—his secret weapon was well-choreographed, especially his finishing move—and Rodan and mate were decent, though almost too mechanical-looking. Maybe that’s the effect they were going for though. At one point, the camera swept over a Mothra decal so I’m sure there’s a Godzilla 2 in the works. They destroyed a lot of city but somehow didn’t do it in as convincing a fashion as the Jägers (robots) and Kaijus (monsters) of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. The plot was only mildly interesting and it was entertaining enough—some of the visuals were quite nice—but it didn’t knock my socks off.
- Game Change (2012) — 7/10
- This HBO movie is a fake documentary of the McCain/Palin campaign in 2007. Julianne Moore is absolutely perfect as Palin, as is Woody Harrelson as McCain’s campaign manager. It’s quite well-done and you almost find yourself rooting for McCain’s team until you catch yourself that they are all working as hard as they can to get someone too stupid to button her shirt to be in the second-most powerful seat in the country. Her notorious arrogance and self-interest is nicely managed, showing through only at times, but getting worse as the campaign progresses. It quickly becomes obvious that she is a bit power-mad. The film makes John McCain look much more principled than he would turn out to be. A good movie about a terrible person?
- The Hunger Games (2012) — 8/10
- Start off with a lullaby. That’ll win me over. It’s starting off kind of shaky, with a lot of cuts, a lot of close-up camera-work and my nemesis “shaky cam” everywhere. They’re trying to show the uncertainty and fear engendered by the government in the people of the banlieues. Not to be dismissive, but this is essentially The Long Walk by Stephen King with a bunch of country mouse/city mouse/Elysium thrown in. Also reminded me a bit of Ender’s Game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Jennifer Lawrence is beautiful and acts well. Woody Harrelson is less beautiful but he positively steals almost every scene he’s in. Action scenes are definitely too shaky, almost impossible and very disorienting to follow. They’re clearly trying to film action while covering up the fact that no-one really knows how to fight. I understand why they did it that way, but the fight scenes are incomprehensible. And it I can’t help letting it irritate me that in a game about extremely tight resources, she never collects her arrows. It was better than expected but the end was not unexpected.
- Central do Brasil (1998) — 6/10
- If I was generous, I’d say that this is a story of a woman, a former schoolteacher, who’s fallen on hard times. She uses her writing skills to write letters for the illiterate and to enhance her income. One of the letters is from a woman with a young son. She writes to his father because the son wants to meet him. The son has learned from the streets how to behave. He’s rough around the edges. His mother is killed in a bus accident and circumstance soon find the former schoolteacher on the road with him to find his father. They both learn a lot about themselves and … oh, I can’t do it. I don’t know how this movie got an 8.0 rating on IMDb. The boy is annoying and obnoxious and the woman is base and petty. Rio is depressing and the poor are portrayed as grasping, stupid and small-minded. The boy is given every leeway, presumably working on his good looks, as he likely would be forgiven his horrific attitude in real life. They are transformed by their journey toward his father, but it’s really hard to see why. Love and the everlasting hopefulness of the human spirit, I guess. The movie picked up a bit with the introduction of genuinely nice guys: the boy’s two much-older brothers. Saw it in Portuguese with English subtitles. Not recommended.
- Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) — 6/10
- This is the third in the by-now seven-part—and soon to be eight-part, in 2016—series of zombie movies based on the video game and starring Mila Jovovich. This one finds Alice with super powers, engendered by the evil Dr. Isaacs (played by Iain Glen, who you may know as Jorah Mormont from The Game of Thrones). Zombies show up and are killed in droves. Alice discovers something new (clones of herself!), defeats the virologically enhanced Dr. Isaacs and moves one step closer to her ultimate goal: destroying the board of directors of the Umbrella Corporation. Saw it in German.
- Babylon A.D. (2008) — 6/10
- Vin Diesel stars in what seems like a remake of The Golden Child in a post-apocalyptic future. And the golden child is played by Melanie Thierry and accompanied by Michelle Yeoh. Or a remake of The Matrix. With a bit of The Fifth Element thrown in. Watched it for Vin Diesel and some Michelle Yeoh ass-kicking; got both. Recommended for fans.
- Immortals (2011) — 5/10
- This is a movie about Greek myths and legends, starring Henry Cavill as Theseus, John Hurt as “Old Man”, and a delectably evil Mickey Rourke as King Hyperion. The aesthetic is very much 300, with a brown palette and a surfeit of oiled and heavily muscled flesh. Rourke is in his element as the cruel Hyperion—he pontificates about taking a traitor out of the gene pool as one of his henchmen readies a giant, wooden mallet and takes aim at said traitor’s nether regions. He’s not done yet, though. He also has three traitorous would-be oracles cooked alive in an iron bull. For a coup de grace, he squeezes out the eyes of a loyal man before he can become a traitor. The film aesthetic is similar to the world of the Necromongers in The Chronicles of Riddick. The fight choreography is brutal and well-done, especially the one where Mickey Rourke as Hyperion brutalizes Theseus. Although I knew they would make Theseus win, I was rooting for Hyperion. Not recommended, though.
- Man on a Ledge (2012) — 5/10
- Sam Worthington plays an ex-cop serving a long sentence for having stolen a diamond. Elizabeth Banks is a police negotiator who’s down on her luck since losing a jumper a few months before. Spoiler alert: it ends up being a heist movie. Jamie Bell plays his brother, who, along with his girlfriend (fiancé?) played by Genesis Rodriguez, tries to actually steal the diamond that his brother never stole. The diamond is in the possession of a megalomaniacal billionaire played by Ed Harris. Worthington serves as a distraction from the heist while trying to convince Banks to go along with his plan to take down Harris, etc. etc. It was OK, but not recommended.
- Last Night (1998) — 6/10
- A movie about various intersecting lives on the last night on Earth. As the time creeps toward midnight, people take care of their last wishes and dreams. At the same time, we notice that the sun doesn’t seem to be setting, nor do shadows get any longer. It was kind of interesting, but nothing to write home about.
- 12:01 (1993) — 4/10
- A clone of Groundhog Day that is more closely based on the original story about a time bounce. This is standard 80s-style love story, hijinks comedy. With Jonathan Silverman, Jeremy Piven, Helen Slater and Martin Landau. Nobody’s career was launched with this one. Unless Danny Trejo used his role as “prisoner” to lever up to Machete. Not recommended.
- Bronson (2008) — 7/10
- Tom Hardy plays Michael Peterson, Britain’s most violent prisoner, who goes by the alias Charles Bronson. He was initially sentenced to seven years in jail and ended up moving to several prisons and spending over three decades in solitary confinement. Echoes of A Clockwork Orange in the soliloquies. Bronson was involved in the production and praised Hardy for his physique and his portrayal. The man is single-minded and while perhaps not evil, certainly focused laser-like on mayhem. Even in solitary, he kept up his physical regimen and even published a book on how to use bodyweight exercise to stay fit in the absence of any exercise equipment. Even when they Thorazine him to the gills, his rage still finds a way. Hardy’s portrayal is fascinating. And Refn’s direction and script makes no attempt to explain Bronson, it just shows him but doesn’t try to explain how he came to be. There is no origin story, there is only an embodiment of physical violence and joy in rage, the more the merrier. He is a force of nature, incalculable and unpredictable. The finale is a literal work of art: Bronson kidnaps his art teacher, paints him and portrays him like Magritte’s Son of Man, strips, paints himself with charcoal and prepares for his next battle with dozens of armored guards. After a tremendous beating, he appears again briefly, horribly bloodied and bruised, locked in a coffin cage within a solitary cell. His mobility has been taken from him. Interesting. Recommended.
- Spring Breakers (2012) — 5/10
James Franco only shows up for a few seconds in the first half an hour. Before that, the movie plays like a drug-hazed music video advertisement for Spring Break. Lots of boobs and booze and not a lot of cohesion. If I was 25 years younger, I would probably have been a lot more interested than I was now. Unfortunately my lens and emphasis has shifted somewhat and I need a bit more than an insipid plot with insipid people who want to “party, bitches”.
The group of girls make it to Spring Break and party like it’s 1999 and meet up with Franco’s “Alien”. He’s decent enough—nearly unrecognizable at first—but the characters are all dumb as dirt. There are some interesting flashbacks and montages—the one to the Britney Spears ballad stands out—and some flash-forwards that keep things more interesting than they would otherwise have been. And they would otherwise have been very boring, despite the attempts by the director to ramp things up with more and more nudity and sapphism as he neared the end. I don’t know what college is like now but when I was in college, we considered spilling alcohol a party foul. In this movie, it seems to be custom to wear expensive booze all over your body rather than drinking it.
I’d read that the movie was bad for women, that it encouraged a rape culture. This is patently not true. Everyone parties. Innuendo occurs. No one is raped. Everything that happens is consensual, if drug- and alcohol-fueled. There are others that claim female empowerment for the film. That, instead of being subjugated, the girls—they do not register as women, other than for their lush adult-female characteristics, but they baby-doll themselves with little-girl backpacks e.g.—are in control of what happens where. But they also spend the almost the entire movie in bikinis, which belies that particular line of argument quite quickly. Perhaps this accoutrement was to serve a moral point, but I fail to see what it was. It served more to highlight in a near-constant manner the aforementioned adult-female characteristics.
A good movie to watch while indoor-biking, where you’re a captive audience. Not recommended.
- Waydowntown (2000) — 5/10
- This is Canada’s answer to Office Space with more trippiness and hallucinations and fewer jokes. The movie centers on a handful of people in a large office complex in Calgary, a complex which spreads over many buildings and tunnels and walkways. This leads some of the characters to make a bet as to who can go the longest without going outside. It was OK and Fab Filippo as Tom was charismatic, but overall a bit uneven and hard to recommend.
- Greg Proops: Live at Musso & Frank (2014)
- As usual with Proops—who does something very similar a couple of times per week in his podcast, The Smartest Man in the World—the show doesn’t even seem so organized or prepared. He starts off reading from notes but quickly has the show flying. It’s almost as if a man so in possession of his craft were able to plan the initial bungling to make the ensuing seemingly stream-of-consciousness but doubtless oft-practiced bits come off wonderfully. The final segment about his first job in the 70s—delivering pizzas from a chicken shack—is wonderful. He has the audience in the palm of his hand. He makes it look bloody easy. He’s in the middle of a diner, delivering almost extemporaneously and slurping one martini after another. There is also a table full of bimbettes directly in front of him, who seem to be laughing uproariously but who are clearly far too young and—dare I denigrate them unfairly? Yes I dares, as Proops would say—undereducated and under-experienced and under-read to get even half of the references he casually tosses like grenades into the audience. I laughed out loud several times, usually when he seems to lose control and spit out some underhanded biting and sarcastic comment. Highly recommended.
- Die Ehe der Maria Braun (1979) — 8/10
This is a story of a German woman in post-war Germany, whose husband of 1.5 days never came back from war. She despairs but finds solace in the arms of an American soldier who also happens to be black. She teaches him German and he teaches her English. They conceive and make plans to bring the child into the world. And then her husband comes back. And they kill the American soldier together. There is a trial, the husband takes the fall and we next see Eva traveling on a train.
She fetches up on the next shore as a translator in a company between the German owners and American partners, where she quickly shows her savvy by closing an otherwise-untenable deal. Nicely filmed, well-acted and well-written—especially Frau Braun. When her boss makes an overture in the office after a night spent with her, she chastises him for mixing his private life into the daily business—“das ist kein private Ort. Das ist ein Büro in ihrer Firma”. When he whines about it, she says “Ich bin wer ich bin. Gestern Nacht war ich Maria Braun, die mit Ihnen schlaffen wollte. Heute bin ich Maria Braun, die für Sie arbeiten möchte.”
The dialogue is very nice and her confidence and savoir faire is a breath of fresh air. Her husband comes out of prison, but meets with her lover—of whom she’d informed him—and makes a deal: the husband will go to Canada if her lover names Maria as his only heir. She teases him to the end, but calls him shortly before he dies to tell him, “Ich brauche jemand der mit mir schlaffen will.” Mourning the loss of her lover of many years, she’s drunk in her house when her husband returns. She has no idea of the fortune.
In their excitement at their reunion, she lights her cigarette, as always, from the stove, but leaves the gas on. It is an odd reunion, with both parties sparring and looking for an opening. When a work colleague shows up at the door with the dead man’s will, she lets him and his wife in, answering the door in a negligée. She realizes that two men loved her; one gave her up to the other so that both could love her for a time. German football plays in the background. Then, boom. The reactions are incongruously poorly acted, but I can only imagine that it was intended. The film ends with West Germany’s winning the World Cup Final in 1954, on the radio. Saw it in the original German. I have no idea to whom I would recommend it.
- Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) — 7/10
- We’re back in Panem, with the same cast of characters reprising their roles. It manages to make the politics almost more interesting than the fighting. Katniss is slowly elevated to the status symbol of the gestating revolution. The plot follows the same basic points as the first movie: selection for the Hunger Games, visit to the nice housing facilities, demonstration of talent in the training area, tearful entry into arena, parting from fashion designer, run to the weapons, teaming up, etc. etc. The best part, as in the first movie, is Jennifer Lawrence’s sarcastic curtsy to the judges. Better than expected. Will probably watch the next one.
- Earthquake (1974) — 6/10
- The setup takes forever compared to a modern movie, but it’s interesting nonetheless. It’s a mystery to me how Charlton Heston ever became such a big star. I guess the gruff, chiseled, but mostly kinda ugly thing was popular at one point. The jewel of this movie is “the big one”. It’s wonderfully filmed, not just for its time, either. It’s really convincingly well-done and possibly more believable because of the realism than all of the CGI claptrap to which we’ve become accustomed. After that, we suffer through a bunch of exposition and meeting characters until we get to see the next big quake. The ending is a bit muddled and kind of peters out with the entire city of Los Angeles in flames.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) — 7/10
- This is a comic-book movie about specialized characters that most of us have never heard of, although I remember a Rocket Raccoon book I had in the early 80s. The movie survives on the strength of its acting, not on the strength of the script. There is a lot of cool space stuff in it, but in the age of CGI, we’re all absolutely satiated if not spoiled with this stuff. Chris Pratt as Starlord sells it well—he’s pretty funny. As is Bradley Cooper as a genetically modified and completely CGI-animated cybernetic raccoon named “rocket”. Vin Diesel voices Groot, who has one line throughout the movie, namely “I am Groot”. It’s hard to know how many levels of irony we’re looking at here. The plot is basically a carbon-copy of The Avengers: God-like extra-dimensional beings acquire untold cosmic power and want to destroy the center of human/non-God civilization. Instead of New York, they attack some city with an exotic-sounding name on a planet far away from Earth. There are some decent moments and I’ve never hated Zoë Saldana less, actually. Recommended.
- Brüno (2009) — 2/10
- A godawful unfunny mess of a movie. Do not watch. Watch The Dictator instead.
- Edge of Tomorrow (2014) — 9/10
- I am so glad I knew nothing about the plot of this movie before I watched it. Do not read the IMDb description; even that gives you too both too much information and the wrong idea. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt have great chemistry as an evenly matched pair of soldiers in a war against an alien invasion. That much is clear. At first I thought I was watching a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day. But then I realized it was much more like watching someone play a very difficult video-game level over and over. It was nice of the Wachowski brothers to let this movie use the Sentinels from The Matrix as the main enemies. That must have saved a lot of money…that was probably spent on Cruise’s salary, ammirite? There were obstacles to overcome along the way and if you missed one step, omitted one balletic move, failed to eliminate one enemy, you were killed and the level was reset back to the beginning. Until…you have just one life left and you have to make it count. A tight, well-realized and gripping sci-fi action flick. One quibble I had was the shaky cam. The fight scenes were decent with the camera staying an appropriate distance back, but shaky cam has got to go. Still, highly recommended.
- Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008) — 7/10
- Michael Cera and Kat Dennings star in a boilerplate, high-school, end-of-year romance. That is an unfair characterization: this version is very well-done and includes a smattering of “innovations” on the theme. Cera’s friends and band-mates are nice, and supportive, instead of morons. In order to make this believable, they are all gay. Except Cera, who is hopelessly in love with a girl who wants him to be in love with her while she goes out with other guys. Dennings says that she could “floss with her”, one of the better lines of the movie. Cera also has quite a few good lines, in his typical understated delivery. Cera drives a Yugo. The plot follows this group of kids through New York on a single night as they chase after an elusive and popular local band, whose shows are always in surprising locations. A fun flick. Recommended.
- American Reunion (2012) — 6/10
- If you liked the first two American Pie movies, you’re in luck: all of the characters return for this reprise. They’re all looking a little older, but behave almost exactly the same. If I’m going to be fair, it wasn’t nearly as terrible as expected. Actually almost as good as the original. I can’t recommend it, but for those of you who would watch it anyway, know that you’re likely not to be disappointed.