Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2015.6
These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of over 900 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood. YMMV.
- Everest (2015) — 7/10
Kath and I went to see this in an actual theatre, complete with 3D glasses and everything. We’d read the book on which it is based waaaaay back when Jon Krakauer’s telling of that summer of 1996 on Everest came out in 1997. The movie stayed quite true to this story, although they did take a few digs at Krakauer, making him out to be an unhelpful chickenshit. Given the conditions, it just made him look smart, but he apparently took issue anyway.
That has nothing to do with the movie, though, which was quite lovely and did a great job of conveying the sheer cold and inhospitality of Everest. What came through for me, though, was that, while some people—the amateurs—had a very tough time with Everest, there were plenty of people around who could handle Everest with aplomb, going back and forth between camps, from 5500M to 7800M to 8300M, carrying large loads of oxygen bottles while their clients struggled to go up just once. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but there are some people who are much more adapted than others. Jake Gyllenhall played well, though he was restricted by a smaller role; Jason Clarke was very good as Rob Hall. The visuals were lovely and the CGI imperceptible. The 3D didn’t really impress, except in a few places, like zooming in on the tents in the large camps. Within the tents, at close quarters, however, it was more of a distraction. Recommended.
- The Martian (2015) — 9/10
- This movie could have been terrible and jingoistic and ill-done but instead it benefited from Matt Damon’s fantastic performance and Ridley Scott’s steady hand at the tiller (as director). The science and logic are paramount; emotions have little place. The story is of a mission to Mars that must scramble to scrub their mission in the face of a gigantic storm that threatened to destroy their ride home. One of their members is swept away and they leave him behind. There’s a bit too much military bravado on Jessica Chastain’s part, but I expected no more from her. There are inconsistencies in behavior (nobody ever seems to fight) but a lot of the shortcuts are understandable given the distances and time-delays that a more realistic approach would entail. Damon is really, really good. I could have done without the ending (the final minute; it could have ended on him looking at the tiny sprout between his feet). I read the book after having already seen the movie and, though I did really like the last ¾ of the book, I actually liked the movie better. Highly recommended.
- Fargo S01 (2014) — 8/10
I liked this 10-part series. The acting was very good (Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Allison Tolman) as was the dialogue and the story. Netflix is really producing some high-quality entertainment.
Spoiler alert: The show ends in a murder, an extra-judicial killing of an unarmed and incapacitated man. America loves this kind of vigilante justice, though. It doesn’t even occur to most people that people don’t deserve killing: they deserve to be brought to justice. And the guy who murdered the man in cold blood gets a citation for bravery and his wife—an otherwise commendable police officer—is “proud of him” instead of pissed that she couldn’t question the guy who’d committed so many murders. A happy ending all around, justice American-style.
- The Theory of Everything (2014) — 7/10
- I liked this biography of Stephen Hawking much more than I expected to. Hawking’s life started off fairly normal and ended up decidedly not normal as ALS took over his body, though not his mind. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are excellent as the main couple, him as a cocky young scientist, full of oats to sow and she as the dedicated and head-over-heels-in-love wife. Recommended.
- Narcos S01 (2015) — 7/10
- This is a semi-biographical film about the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar’s Colombian drug empire, as narrated by one of the primary DEA agents on the case. The acting is quite good, most of the dialogue is in Spanish and it’s a decent history lesson for those who don’t know what happened, at both the low level on the streets as well as in international politics, where the pressure to extradite to the U.S.—where it was automatically assumed that suspects would get a real trial rather than the corrupted/bought-off-and-bribed Colombian court system. I’ve only watched about half, but what I’ve seen so far is pretty good. I can feel my colloquial Spanish getting better already—Hijo de puta!
- Kill the Messenger (2014) — 7/10
- Jeremy Renner plays the tragic reporter Gary Webb, who cracked the CIA involvement both in Iran-Contra and in selling drugs in the U.S., primarily in black neighborhoods and primarily crack cocaine. Renner plays quite well and Webb’s story would turn out to be almost 100% true, notwithstanding protestations by the standard speakers for power. CIA reports and investigations have corroborated nearly everything. He committed suicide in the end, after years of harassment and hounding by the press. He wasn’t exactly an easy guy to live with, but he wasn’t wrong. Recommended.
- Man of the Year (2006) — 6/10
- Robin Williams is a comedian president-elect of the United States. Louis Black is his chief of staff; Chistopher Walken is his manager. Laura Linney is a highly placed employee of the election-machine manufacturer that produced every machine for the most recent election—and which swung the election for Robin Williams. It’s kind of standard fare, with a decent amount of critique of the American political and electoral system, as given voice by the hyperkinetic Williams.
- Grudge Match (2013) — 6/10
- Stallone and De Niro are former light-heavyweight champions that come back in their sixties for a grudge match. Stallone is coached by Alan Arkin, who is fantastic; De Niro is coached by his son, played by John Bernthal, who’s quite good. The lady that started the feud is played by Kim Basinger. De Niro’s not bad, but he plays the same asshole he always plays, which isn’t exactly a shout-out to his acting ability. Stallone plays the same nice guy he always plays but seemed to me to be the better actor. Not recommended, but entertaining.
- Bad Neighbours (2014) — 7/10
- Better than expected. Rose Byrne is hilarious: “Milk me!” Seth Rogan is pretty good, Dave Franco is also good. Byrne and Rogan are a very good couple. Zac Ephron and Franco are also a very good couple. This is actually a much better movie than expected, on the strength of the actors. The screaming match between Ephron and Franco was fantastic. And Rose Byrne is really good. Dave Franco is definitely the better at this whole acting thing than his chronically stoned-looking brother, James. Recommended?
- Gone Girl (2014) — 7/10
- Though this movie was pretty well-done, Kath and I watched it after we’d both read the book (which was very well-written, by the way), so a lot of suspense was gone during the film. Affleck did a decent job, and Rosamund Pike was very good. The film stayed pretty true to the plot of book, which I will do my best not to spoil here. It’s a very entertaining thriller with a couple of twists, though the twists came out better in the book than in the film. Recommended.
- Jurassic World (2015) — 6/10
- This is a pretty decent entry in the series, with Chris Pratt lending his bonhomie to make it better. Everyone else in the movie is pretty forgettable except maybe Vincent D’Onofrio as the bad guy from NGen. But Bryce Dallas Howard, who I’d never heard of before, was pretty bad, at least for the first half of the movie. The dinosaurs are lovely and the dino fights are pretty well-staged. Recommended if you just want a decent action movie.
- John Mulaney: The Comeback Kid (2015) — 8/10
- I’d last seen Mulaney in a special years ago and, while it was good, this one is much better. His material was tight, his delivery great, moving between different styles—straight one-liners, stories, surrealist, callbacks. It was really nice to see him having grown and gotten better. Recommended.
- Anthony Jeselnik: My Thoughts and Prayers (2015) — 7/10
- I haven’t watched a one-liner or straight set-up comic in a long time, maybe since Mitch Hedberg. Jeselnik is pretty good at this. The first two-thirds of the show is these kind of jokes, some with longer setups, some with a lot of foreshadowing. Many are clever, but few are hilarious. The final third of the show is more modern and has the best material. He was good enough to make me want to check out his TV show, The Jeselnik Offensive. Recommended.
- Doom (2005) — 5/10
- This movie has a terrible rating, but is actually quite true to the original game, capturing the feel quite well. Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike and Dwayne Johnson lend it some gravitas, as far as that goes. The effects are pretty well-done, including the makeup for all of the mutations for the various scientists and soldiers. The final run where Urban moves to first-person mode is very reminiscent of the game, including the giblets flying everywhere. The final stand-off between the Rock and Urban is better than expected. Recommended for anyone who played the game.
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay − Part 1 (2014) — 6/10
- This penultimate entry in the 4-part trilogy was too drawn-out and obviously milking everything it could from what has become a story with a solitary note. The war between the Capital and the Districts is a classic class war—and the echoes with our own society are obvious—to me, at least. I just wonder how many of the people who watch this movie and cheer Katniss on are also aware that they spend the rest of their lives cheering on the real-life version of the Capital? Anyway, Philip Seymour Hoffman played out one of his last roles and Jennifer Lawrence is good, as usual. The script just doesn’t offer them very much material and you can feel it stretching to leave some material for the next installment. A pity, because so much more could have been done with these themes with a bit more bravery. Not recommended … unless you, like me, just need to see everything in the series. Or if you need to see Jennifer Lawrence being cool and sad.
- The Million Pound Note (1954) — 6/10
- Gregory Peck plays an American down on his luck in England. He is taken in by two eccentric millionaires, who give him a million-pound note to see how far he gets in London. The story is by Mark Twain. The concept may be familiar to those who’ve seen Trading Places, which has a similar premise, placing Eddie Murphy in nearly the same situation.
- Alien3 (1992) — 8/10
- This movie is 23 years old and the production values are still extremely good. The effects—especially the sets—hold up extremely well. As far as the plot goes, it’s pretty easy to see where Doom got its inspiration. This movie looks so good, though. The machines and the alien blend together in a baroque, technological amalgam, with ducts, pipes, readouts, valves, bundles of cables, partially covered in water, calcite and spiderwebs. Giants circular portals which look like airlocks, hexagonal hallways and long brick-lined hallways—all of this was built—no CGI to speak of in 1992. The only thing that’s a bit dated is the Alien itself, when it’s fully visible. The plot is decent enough, with Ripley’s ship crash-landing on a planet populated only by a small band of former prisoners-turned-Biblical-zealots. They discover that the beast has hitched a ride along not only in the ship but also in Ripley. It almost doesn’t matter, though, because the environment plays the starring role here. Recommended.
- R.I.P.D. (2013) — 5/10
- This is an action movie about the undead in the same way Men In Black was about aliens. Ryan Reynolds plays the Will-Smith role while Jeff Bridges takes Tommy Lee Jones’s place. Some of the undead look kind of interesting. Kevin Bacon is in this as his typically nasty self, playing both Reynolds’s partner and also the undead ringleader trying to bring about Armageddon. Mary Louise Parker has her moments as the chief of the undead police; Stephanie Szostak is the incredibly bland, boring and nearly shockingly under-fed mourning wife of the recently undead Reynolds. Bridges plays Roy, a Wyatt-Earp–like marshall who’s been in the PD for centuries. They thwart Bacon’s horrific plan and the duo end up liking each other. The end. Or is it? Probably it is, because this movie didn’t make enough money for the studio to build on the world they build in this first one. Recommended for fans of Reynolds and/or Bridges.
- Furious 7 (2015) — 7/10
Paul Walker’s last ride looks a lot like several other of Paul Walker’s rides, but I guess you don’t mess with a formula. The cast fits well together, with the exception of Jordana Brewster, who’s been hollow and weak in all of the other movies, as well. Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez were phoning it in worse than the other movies. Ronda Rousey was not needed in this film. However, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, , Jason Statham, The Rock, Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei from Game of Thrones) and, of course, Walker all do a good job with what has become nearly its own genre.
The best scenes are really the ones where they’re driving; the fisticuffs are OK, but too drawn-out and waaaay too over-the-top. They’re not superheroes, but nothing seems to hurt them. Crowbar to the head? Not even a mark. I’m prepared to suspend disbelief for one thing per movie. In these movies, it’s cars. The indestructability of the characters constantly lifts me out of the moment.
Seriously, though, there are some sweet action set-pieces here, although some of those go beyond what would be needed as well. At 02:20, I thought it was a bit long. Enjoy, if this is your thing. Despite its well-choreographed but finally frustrating fight scenes, it gets an extra point because most of the cast is endearing.
- Fantastic Four (2015) — 6/10
- Better than I expected, although also quite a bit slower than expected as well. It’s a science-buff movie that tells the story of how Reed Richards and Benjamin Grimm started working on a inter-dimensional teleporter in the fifth grade. They finally completed a successful teleportation with return journey by the time they left high school. Victor von Doom was performing very similar research for the Baxter Foundation, but had not yet been successful. When Richards joins the team, along with Sue and Johnny Storm, they succeed in making a much larger version that can carry people to another dimension. The story is considerably different than the original origin story, but holds together quite well. With a lot of drunken courage, they take the first journey themselves rather than letting NASA do it and it ends poorly, with each of them getting their powers in the ensuing debacle and von Doom disappearing entirely. Forty-five minutes in and we finally see them with their powers—Johnny Storm is really well-done. Victor von Doom after he gets back is also decent, but not as cool as the Doom from the comics.
- Super Troopers (2001) — 5/10
- This movie is a comedy/farce about the Vermont State Police. It has its moments—testing the bulletproof cup at the firing range—but it started very slowly and picked up speed only in the last third. Brian Cox as the chief is great. Jay Chandrasekhar was also pretty good. Overall a bumpy ride, but it ended up OK. It would be fine to add to a rotation of movies you watch when you’re drunk and/or overtired, but definitely with friends.
- Super (2011) — 6/10
- To continue in the vein of movies that start with the word “Super”, this one is about a regular guy—kind of a loser—whose wife leaves him for his drug dealer. He turns himself into a superhero because, well, because he’s depressed? What recommends this film is the cast, which stars Rainn Wilson as the schlub (Dwight Schrute from The Office), Kevin Bacon as the dealer, Liv Tyler as the unfaithful wife, Ellen Page as the new friend, André Royo as a friend (Bubbles from The Wire). Michael Rooker (very good as Yondu, the bounty hunter ship-captain in Guardians of the Galaxy), Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks), Nathan Fillion (captain in Firefly) and many more recognizable faces fill out the cast. This movie gets a good deal darker, with real violence and a bizarre scene where 90-pound Ellen Page rapes giant Schrute. But she’s all-around nuts bordering on amoral. Then shit gets horribly real for Bolt Girl. Plus rabbits. Weird flick. Quirky, I guess?
- Jupiter Ascending (2015) — 7/10
- This movie got a much worse rap than it earned. This is at least as good as Guardians of the Galaxy. Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum are decent; Sean Bean survives a whole movie and Eddie Redmayne is deliciously evil. The story isn’t half-bad and the special effects are absolutely spectacular and absolutely rock-solid. The story and feel kind of reminded me a bit of the Dune movies (especially Lynch’s version), mostly due to Redmayne’s character. I enjoyed it more than I expected and it’s worth seeing, if only for the fully rendered and pitch-perfect CGI world they envision. The refinery on Jupiter puts anything in Revenge of the Sith to absolute shame for realism.
- Iliza Shlesinger: Freezing Hot (2015) — 7/10
- She put on a decent set about the usual topics. The middle 60% was the best, so don’t get discouraged about the beginning. She’s just warming up. Some bits fall a bit flat, but others are really good. Not sure where she was headed with that bit about the Satan as a girlfriend, but she followed up with something a bit better to end the show. You can’t watch this with your parents or non-cool co-workers ‘cause of some amusing but potentially cringe-inducing pantomime. Would watch again.
- Jen Kirkman: I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) (2015) — 8/10
- I liked Jen Kirkman better than Iliza Schlesinger, although I have no idea why either one of them feels the need to wear those ridiculous high-heels on-stage. Kirkman’s routine was very solid from start to finish with no real lulls or mis-steps. The best bits were about dating a 20-year-old drummer at 37, about being single around married people, about being married (and divorced) and about other people’s kids and the insufferability of modern-day parents in general. Basically the whole thing was pretty good and you can definitely watch with family, if they’re not too squeamish about regular adult talk about genitals with cursing. So, basically, as long as they’re cool. There’s no potentially offputting pantomime as in Schlesinger’s show. Recommended.
- Shaolin Soccer (2001) — 6/10
This is a super-campy effects-laden movie about a fallen group of Shaolin monks who form a soccer team and excel with their amazing and zany Shaolin powers. This movies is absolutely as insane as it sounds but if you’ve seen any of the director Stephen Chow’s other movies, this shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
The plot is the same as for every other sports movie ever made. The team is terrible until they believe in themselves (find their Kung Fu in this case), then they kick unbelievable amounts of ass, until they meet the evil team in the finals. They’re down and nearly out by half-time, including their heretofore impenetrable Bruce-Lee lookalike goalkeeper (he actually shows up in the yellow suit from Game of Death).
It has it’s moments and it’s quite goofy and funny and feels more like live-action anime, but gets a lot of tropes of the genre right, mixing the melodrama of Chinese movies with over-the-top but good effects as well as a lot of the gags associated with movies like Airplane. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re not ready for how goofy this movie is, you’ll turn it off nearly immediately, but some of the actors—especially the star, Stephen Chow—are quite charismatic. You don’t want to miss the power of Iron Leg’s final kick. Just carnage. You can guess the end.
- Oki’s Movie (2010) — 6/10
This is a Korean film about a movie director/cinema professor. It’s a simple movie, mostly dialogue-driven, but there are some nice subtleties. For example, when Oki meets the photographer (his future wife, it turns out) in the park along the river, she enters the frame with her back turned to us. She stays that way nearly throughout the scene, turning to profile only once or twice and only briefly, at that. The director did this a few more times.
This was a difficult movie to follow because it jumped around in time over about five years (I think) and the narrator kept changing and the pieces were out of order. The final segment of four was interleaved with two very similar visits to the same park, with different lovers, one year apart. I saw it in Korean with English subtitles so there was a lot of culture and language to bridge for me, and I don’t think I quite made it. I’m not sorry I saw it, but I don’t think I got as much out of it as the creators put into it.
- The Day He Arrives (2011) — 7/10
I followed up Oki’s Movie with this movie by the same director. This one is again heavily dialogue-driven, with the same somewhat awkward conversational style between relatively innocuous characters. It is again winter in Seoul, this time filmed in black and white. This movie was made in 2011, but depicts a world in which a mostly not-famous film director meets some young fans in what looks like a much-older restaurant—the black and white helps, of course, to make it look like it happened in the 60s, but the young guys don’t even mention StarCraft once, which is odd.
This movie is easier to follow: the young guys mimic their idol, the director and he, in his drunkenness, flips out at them. As in Oki’s movie, drunkenness plays a large role. As does stalking, because the director next heads to the apartment of an old flame. As in Oki’s movie, there are recurring themes—there are multiple segments, the group ends up at the same bar at the end of several of these, the group (regardless of composition) drinks a lot. Again, I might be missing something, but this feels like the South Korean version of a Mumblecore/Millenial movie about film students and actors and petty human foibles. Or maybe it’s a Korean Woody Allen movie.
But despite that, it grew on me: the people are concerned with sadness and insecurity and love, but in a less superficial and perhaps more philosophical way than in the movie I watched next (Side Effects, reviewed below). Also I’m starting to get used to the director/screenwriter’s zooming in for effect and his use of repetition of tropes and entire scenes with different dialogue. The repetition layers “what if?” scenarios and plays out the same handful of scenes again and again—hinted at only once or twice that they even (or least “he”) even notice. I’m sure I still missed a lot (the cultural and language barriers I mentioned in my review of Oki’s Movie above), but it was more interesting than I expected it to be from the first ½ hour. Some themes even recurred from Oki’s Movie (like him meeting a photographer and not liking to have his picture taken). Recommended.
- Side Effects (2013) — 6/10
Rooney Mara plays the young wife of Channing Tatum, an executive/trader who went to prison for four years for insider trading. She’s depressed, even after he gets out, and tries to commit suicide. Jude Law is her new psychiatrist; a stunning Catherine Zeta Jones is her former psychiatrist. I also saw David Costabile (Gale from Breaking Bad).
Everyone is beautiful and rich and depressed and addicted to quick fixes for becoming happy. It’s ostensibly a thriller but there were really no twists or turns to the plot—or at least none that you couldn’t see coming a mile away. The actors played well, but the script was kind of boring, maybe because I didn’t end up caring about any of the people at all, especially once these mostly stupid people started inelegantly examining the ideas of consciousness, responsibility, etc. but they get stuck on their own raging egos and making sure that they themselves are in the clear.
Law plays quite well, as usual. It was also a bit long for the material that they had, lingering over details that were obvious in the first few seconds. Perhaps the contrast to The Day He Arrives was too great, because while I wouldn’t rave about that film, at least it didn’t feel overly slick and designed-by-committee like this one. The final twist is decent, but a bit predictable and under-acted. Not recommended.
- The Yellow Sea (2010) — 8/10
This is the story of a down-on-his-luck cab-driver from China, whose wife has left him after he gave up all of their savings for her travel visa to Korea. He is left behind and drowns his sorrows in Mah-Jongg debt. Out of nowhere, a man, Myun, approaches him and offers to buy off his debt if he’ll travel to South Korea to assassinate a man for him. He crosses the eponymous sea in a boat with other illegal immigrants. While in Korea, he not only scopes his target, but also looks for his wife.
This is a well-crafted movie in a thoroughly modern style. It’s interesting to see the themes offered by well-made movies from other cultures. Here we learn that the theme of immigration—and illegal immigration—is universal. There are always those desperate enough to make the trip. There is always gambling and drinking and infidelity and violence. Gu-nam is also told to wear a hat because his hair marks him as a foreigner, which is strange because they keep calling him Joseonjok, which is apparently what they call Koreans who live in China. I was wondering how he was able to speak Korean (not that I’m great at detecting the difference between the Asian languages).
This movie is so modern that it overuses the shaky-cam, going especially nuts and visually incomprehensible in the chase sequence in the middle of the film. The chase scene comes about because the “hit” goes wrong six ways to Sunday. It’s typically divided, in that the first half is much slower and builds a curiosity about the simplicity of the story, which the second half destroys with revelations about undercurrents that you’d only guessed at in the first half. Here the movie is what I would call standard action plot: sad-sack gets involved in something much bigger than the crime he’d intended; cops and criminals shake down immigrant elements. He digs deep and becomes a Jason-Bourne–level fighting machine.
The only difference is that the cops are much more reluctant to use their guns, if they even have them. The criminals also generally don’t have guns—instead their knives and hatchets are far more brutal. They make guns look like the sissy’s way out. The lack of guns changes the whole tenor of the movie—the contrast to American movies where guns are popping off everywhere is stark. It changes how the story is told, and I like it better without guns.
The main gangster boss, Myun, is a relentless force of nature. Gu-nam is no slouch, either, especially for a cab driver. It’s nice to watch a movie that wants to be good without worrying about a sequel: the ending is Shakespearean and Gu-nam keeps his promise.
The violence is visceral; the brutality and fiery destruction unvarnished. The plot was more standard than Old Boy but it reminded me a bit of that, which is a good thing. A bit long and not for the faint of heart, but recommended.
- Gozu (2003) — 5/10
This is a very bizarre and surrealistic Yakuza thriller about a young Yakuza who’s instructed to drive his mentor to the site of said mentor’s assassination. When the mentor appears to have died en route, the young Yakuza is even more surprised to discover that the corpse has disappeared from the convertible where he left him while he ate lunch in an utterly surreal café. He calls his boss to inform him, but the boss is quite busy with other tasks and misses the point entirely.
The focus on bizarre characters and the disjointed screenplay remind me a bit of early Lynch, but the overarching vision is hard to pinpoint. I’m only about ¼ of the way through and the poor guy’s been handed off from a phantom-of-the-opera type guide through the underworld to a hotel proprietress who’s quite forward and armed with her own bizarre peccadilloes. And the weirdness doesn’t stop: the dumb, bald guy is a fake medium, the hotel owner has an unreal fetish with her own breast milk, which she is mysteriously able to continue producing, despite her age.
Then the eponymous Gozu (literally “cow’s head”) shows up and licks our poor hero’s face all over while he’s peering into the bedroom where the hotel proprietress is being milked by her purported medium. Now we’re in a factory/laundromat where people’s skins are hanging like cleaned coats. What. The. Hell. And now his “brother” is back, but as a woman (more Lynchian notes, now with body-changes). This paves the way for the next level in their relationship—although first he has to overcome that (A) the girl is his former mentor and (B) her anatomy is haunted. They persevere, though in what starts off as a touching scene, but ends badly—which I predicted—but there’s no way you could predict how it actually ends. Well, maybe David Lynch could. Or David Cronenberg.
Disjointed and odd and hard to understand. I give it an extra star for effort and because there’s got to be something I’m missing, but I cannot recommend it and watching it once was enough.