Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2017.3

Published by marco on

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 almost 1200 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. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.

Ip Man 3 (2015) — 8/10

This is the third in a pretty satisfying Kung Fu film series. It continues the focus on Ip Man’s personal life with Kung Fu featuring in a relatively well-integrated way. Ip Man’s son fights the new boy at school, whose Kung Fu is arguably better than his. The boy’s father, Cheung Tin-chi (Jin Zhang) shows up and meets Ip Man (Donnie Yen). Ip Man is the (nearly) undisputed master of Wing Chun in the region.

Tin-chi begs to differ. Tin-chi is a good man, but poor and ambitious. He fights in illegal boxing for local gangs. He pulls a rick-shaw. He dreams of opening a school of his own.

The local gangs make trouble at Ip Man’s son’s school. Mike Tyson is the driving force behind this agitation—he wants to develop property on the school grounds. Tyson is decent and put to good use, believe it or not. I can’t say whether his Cantonese is ridiculous. His fight with Donnie Yen is quite good.

Ip Man and his Wing Chun acolytes defend the school. Tin-chi comes to help, but receives no credit—instead, Ip Man is heralded in the press, even though he doesn’t want to be. Donnie Yen is an ocean of stillness, as usual.

Ip Man’s wife grows ill with cancer. Ip Man focuses on her. Tin-chi rises to fame, defeating one master after another, finally calling out Ip Man. Ip Man foreits the fight because he has a dancing date with his wife. He never even considers showing up. He continues to care for her, until she tells him to accept the challenge and defend his pride. He does, and wins decisively.

The choreography is wonderful, the cinematography very pretty and stately. No shaky cam here. Recommended.

Clueless (1995) — 6/10
Alicia Silverstone plays the most popular girl in a high school in Beverly Hills. She is not without insight, but she is laser-like focused on fashion and appearance and manipulating her teachers into giving her better grades. She is not as dumb as she acts. Her friends are. Paul Rudd is her stepbrother, with whom she eventually becomes romantically involved. There are typical high-school hijinks along the way. The movie is more tongue-in-cheek and aware of its irony than you would think. It’s not great, but it was entertaining enough.
Christela Alonzo: Lower Classy (2017) — 8/10
She starts a little slow, playing to crowd adulation a bit too much, but quickly finds her groove. Her material is often smart, with good presentation. She talks about being a Latina in America, growing up poor, her fierce mother, buying stuff at Bloomingdales and so on. The final bit was a bit long in the setup—though the punchline was good, it took a long, sad trip to get there, which took a bit of the air out of the room. All in all, a fun set.
Jason Bourne (2016) — 4/10

This movie is an insult to the rest of the series. It was visually confusing, with a mess of quick takes in fight scenes and car chases, and shaky cam everywhere else. It’s one Deus Ex Machina after another. The Greek police label their uniforms in English. Athens busses shows locations in the latin alphabet, their computers have US keyboards and their Google searches in German. The hackers in Reykjavik speak German and English and say even stupider stuff than usual (for Hollywood hackers). Their stupidity is outdone only by the God-like techs at the CIA, who also speak utter gobbledygook.

And I don’t really expect it from an American movie these days, but why can’t we have at least a little guilt about the level of intrusiveness? The movie just assumes that the CIA has access to everything and makes very little waves about it. They’re all just doing their jobs. This movie is just more propaganda normalizing the incredibly invasive U.S. surveillance regime.

The CIA has lag-less, HD eyes on the ground everywhere in a rioting Athens, locating targets from thousands of miles away within seconds. In London, the most-surveilled city in the world, they have no cameras. The CIA is otherwise omniscient, all-seeing, in possession of a seamless panopticon that obeys neither the speed of light nor Shannon’s laws.

Jason Bourne is no longer careful at all. Neither he nor his associates exhibit any basic computer security. They plug foreign USB sticks into their machines, while connected to the network. The CIA can connect to any device in the world (like a phone) and jump the air gap to a hardened laptop. Bourne doesn’t even shy from large, open windows. The head of the CIA cyber division sends him a “secret” message over the phone line that the CIA was just using to talk to Bourne. Bourne trusts her immediately. He takes a device from her, not suspecting at that she might be trying to track him. He loses control for no clear reason. He doesn’t pluck the earpiece from his contact’s ear until really late. He’s just dumb now. It’s sad. He walks into traps and gets out by luck.

Why doesn’t the CIA pin the murder of their director on her? It was a bullet from her gun that killed him. They know this.

Bourne is shot, but it doesn’t hurt him (not like the other movies). Neither does getting shot hurt his opponent, who is superhuman. HIs powers are exceeded only by the SWAT truck he steals, which does not obey the laws of physics. It plows through no less than 30 cars without slowing at all. Or scratching. Or triggering an air bag. Bourne’s car also has no air-bag trigger. Until the car is smashed into a tiny box from he crawls, unscathed. His opponent also doesn’t feel car crashes.

Bourne finally does something halfway clever in the last two seconds, but it’s far too late for this movie. Will not watch the obvious sequel. Not recommended.

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) — 7/10

We follow Jesus Christ’s life in a rock-opera musical adapted from the stage. The stories are familiar to anyone who knows a bit about the Bible New Testament. Some are about Jesus’s life—water into wine, money-changers, etc.—but the focus is on his association with Judas, both starting there and ending there.

Some of the pieces are pretty catchy. The main, thumping bass and electric-guitar refrain that opens the film and reprises in Trial Before Pilate (Including the 39 Lashes) is pretty sweet. King Herod’s Song (Try It and See) is an irreverent, rocking cabaret tune. The title song Superstar is classic 70s kitsch rock that ramps up to a manic pace, again with a strong bass line. Likewise for the free-jazz piano/bass/drum combo in The Crucifixion. Mary Magdelene’s tunes are mostly pretty lame.

Judas is good. Pilate’s not bad, a bit extravagant. The costumes and props are partially period and partially anachronistic (obviously coming from the 70s). Pilate’s praetorian guard is equipped with lavender tank-tops and machine guns. Gave it an extra star for the songs and for Judas and his backup dancers’ costumes during his heavenly comeback in the final number.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) — 6/10

This is one of the classic star-packed 70s disaster movies. It stars Gene Hackman as a shouty priest, Ernest Borgnine as a shouty former police detective accompanied by a former prostitute (Stella Stevens), Red Stevens, Roddy McDowell, Pamela Sue Martin and, of course, Shelly Winters. The Poseidon is a boat on its farewell cruise, on its way to its new owners in Greece.

The captain (Leslie Neilson) wants to take on more ballast to compensate for the heavy swells, but the new owners forbid it, telling him to make full steam to make up for already lost time. An undersea 7.2 earthquake directly in their path triggers a giant oceanic wave—that, for reasons unknown, breaks in the middle of the ocean, just in front of the ship—that capsizes the boat completely, leaving it upside-down and killing most of the passengers and crew immediately.

The movie focuses on a good-sized group of passengers in the main dining room in the upper decks—now the lower decks—who fight about whether to sit tight and wait for rescue or to climb to the hull and find a way out. A young boy who knows everything about the ship because he was a nosy little fuck for the whole ride tells them that the hull is the thinnest—one inch thick—near the propellers.

Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine shout about this a lot, but eventually head in that direction. They climb a Christmas tree to get out of the dining room, just before a large part of the group is drowned by inrushing water. They continue to climb, to fight amongst themselves and to suffer massive attrition, leaving a group of only six at the end, who bang without rhyme or reason on the hull until their rescuers cut a hole in the hull and save them. The end.

BoJack Horseman (2014) — 9/10

This is a cartoon about an alcoholic man/horse (horse/man?) who lives in Hollywoo(d) named BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett). His star shone briefly and brightly in the 90s when he starred in a sitcom called Horsin’ Around—the residuals from which he seems to be able to ride indefinitely. He is a sad husk of a man, looking for meaning in the shallow pool of Los Angeles and finding, again and again, that he is fundamentally broken—but also being OK with that.

He lives with Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul), a stoner who washed up on his pathetic shore an unknown amount of time ago. Princess Caroline (Amy Sedaris) is his agent, a pink cat with confidence and morality issues of her own. Diane (Alison Brie) joins the group as a ghost writer hired by BoJack’s publisher, a disconsolate penguin named Pinky (Patton Oswalt). Diane is human, Vietnamese and also fraught with emotional baggage, though convinced she rises above the rest of the flotsam in the show.

Mr. Peanut Butter (Paul F. Thomkins) is a dog who’s not bright but basically nice and who had a career arc that aped BoJack’s nearly to the letter. Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) is the former child star Horsin’ Around who blows in and out of BoJack’s life, leaving a wake of drug-infused and -addled terror behind (she’s kind of like Lindsey Lohan). Wanda Pierce (Lisa Kudrow) is an owl who awakes from a coma, not having seen any of the nineties. She briefly moves in with BoJack as his girlfriend.

It’s also a rogue’s gallery of cameos, with many lasting several shows: Angela Bassett, Keith Olbermann, Maria Bamford, Stanley Tucci, J.K. Simmons, Alan Arkin, Olivia Wilde, Keegan-Michael Key, Wendie Malick, Wyatt Cenac, Stephen Colbert, John Krasinski, Melissa Leo, Weird Al, Christine Baranski and many more.

The story arc over the first two seasons is remarkably coherent and simultaneously deep, dark and poignant—much more so than I expected. It’s a pretty well-written and interesting show with interesting points to make about society. If you like Archer, you’ll love this show. Recommended.

Sherlock S04 (2017) — 9/10

Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson), Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), Una Stubbs (Mrs. Hudson) and Mark Gatiss (Mycroft Holmes) return for a fourth season after a long hiatus. The first show was fine, but a bit all-over-the-place and a bit too self-referential and self-indulgent, but the second and third shows more than made up for it. Each of the episodes comprises 90 minutes, focusing on a case—more or less. It’s like watching a movie with two sequels, all at once.

The first case focused on Watson’s wife Mary’s darker past. The second was about a serial killer acting with impunity, Watson and Holmes’s rift due to what happened in the first episode and Holmes’s seeming dissolution in the face of it all—though is it all planned? And, if so, by whom? The third picks up threads from the second episode and takes them in wholly unimagined but not trite directions—though parts of the antagonist’s behavior are a bit extreme and contrived. All the while, the specter of Moriarty wends its way throughout the plot.

The season ends in a relatively satisfying manner, though somewhat conclusively. It’s not clear that a fifth season is in the offing, despite its apparent success—mostly, I would imagine, due to the nearly unstoppable film careers of the two protagonists. In my opinion, the overall direction of the series to imbue Holmes with more humanity, while satisfying on one level, detracts from his appeal on another. Highly recommended.

Out of the Furnace (2013) — 6/10

This movie is jam-packed with talent. Christian Bale is a relatively honest steelworker Russell Baze. His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) is an Iraqi war vet who doesn’t know what to do with himself and gets into John Petty’s (Willem Dafoe) bare-knuckle boxing ring to make back money he lost gambling. Woody Harrelson is Harlan DeGroat, a dangerous player as well. Forest Whitaker is the town’s police chief. Zoe Saldana is Russell’s ex(-wife?) Russell gets into a car accident after drinking too much (with Petty, who he was paying for Rodney’s gambling debts) and serves a few years in prison.

Rodney continues his slide, taking up fighting and going to Jersey for the big money, but also where the big danger lies, in the form of Harlan DeGroat. When Russell finds out what happened, he swears silent revenge and heads to New Jersey to hunt and kill DeGroat. He does so, right in front of the police chief—and damn the consequences.

The cast promised more than the movie and script deliver. Not recommended.

Bill Burr: Walk Your Way Out (2017) — 7/10
I expected more from Bill Burr. He had some good jokes. He definitely had original material. But he seemed a bit angrier than usual—he seemed to be missing something. Maybe he played the material too long before recording it. The Stalin/Hitler thing was interesting, but too long. Gorilla was kinda funny, but too long. The fat-shaming was just too long. The cruise-ship depopulation scheme was inspired and had a lot of nicely woven and recurring punchlines. Overall, not his best, but, even at this worst, better than most.
John Dies at the End (2012) — 7/10
This is a comedy by the writing duo of David Wong and John Cheese, who started the website Pointless Waste of Time—one of the cleverer and more well-written of the comedy web sites of the early 2000s—and now work at the helm of The movie is based on Wong’s book of the same name. It’s about a mind-bending drug that allows the user to see other dimensions, other beings and other realities/timestreams. Time bends like putty. Awareness spans alternate realities. Monsters break through the thin places. The scenes are built of flashbacks and flash-forwards. The dialogue and concepts are pretty clever and quite funny and cool without being pretentious (IMHO). The film doesn’t take itself too seriously—because how could it? The drug is a seemingly sentient black goo that opens your mind to other dimensions. It infects the protagonists and gives them otherworldly powers to fight the extradimensional would-be conquerors of Earth.
Kung Fu Hustle (2004) — 8/10

This is Stephen Chow’s tongue-in-cheek but clearly loving tribute to Kung Fu films. It stars himself as Sing, a young man, down on his luck, looking to get in good with the powerful local gang, the Axe Gang.

He is essentially good, but wants to be bad because of a bad incident when he was young. He spent every cent to buy a book about Buddha’s Hand Kung Foo from a homeless swindler and believed every word in the book, training every day. When he tried to use his powers to rescue a little deaf girl from being beaten up by a gang, they throw him to the ground and pee on him. She, however, retains the lollipop they were trying to steal from him.

Fast-forward two decades and he’s given up on goodness and failing at badness. He steals ice cream from a street vendor—only to discover that its the little girl he rescued when they were children. She kept the lollipop and worships the hero who’d saved her. He wants to know none of this and lashes out. Frustrated, he attacks the inside of the traffic light where he lives with his chubby, hapless and also basically nice buddy (yeah, I know that sounds odd, but it works in the film), denting it baldy—giving us a hint that there might be more to Sing than meets the eye.

Meanwhile, the Axe Gang attacks a poor ghetto, only to find it stalwartly defended by three Kung Fu heroes who’d retired there. The Axe Gang hires two super-killers—not the best, but very good—to take care of the problem. They do so, mortally wounding or outright beheading the three warriors, but wake the beast of two Kung Fu masters who also live there—the crotchety old landlady and her henpecked husband. All of the Kung Fu powers are cartoonish and wonderfully depicted in convincing and comical fashion.

Sing gets his entry into the Axe gang and gets his first mission: spring the world’s #1 killer from prison in order to take care of the two masters. This man’s powers are truly awe-inspiring and even more unbelievable than all of the others. The two masters show up to take out the Axe Gang and the three masters agree to a fight. The two masters win, at first, but the #1 killer cheats and wounds them. Sing finally protests, stands up to him and is pummeled into a cartoonish but nonetheless nearly lifeless pulp.

The two masters flee with him and help him convalesce with traditional Chinese medicine—wrapped up like a mummy. They are astonished to find that he has healed miraculously quickly and has emerged from the chrysalis transformed into a Kung Fu Master unlike any other.

When the #1 killer comes calling with the Axe gang in tow, Sing tells the two wounded masters to relax and strides out to confront the horde alone. He annihilates the gang before starting the final fight in earnest. #1 and Sing trade blows in various styles, decimating part of their surroundings with the power of their Kung Fu. The final move—the hand of the Buddha—is truly inspired.

A funny, beautifully shot and rendered and lovingly made Kung Fu film. Recommended.

Chris Rock: Never Scared (2004) — 9/10
The first couple of minutes are a bit tough, but Rock quickly settles in to a great set. He starts off talking about strippers—clear heels!—strip clubs, people that go there, people that eat there, people that can’t stop going, etc. It’s got a lot to say about politics and about the state of the country—ideas that have still not been addressed to this day. He’s very, very funny, with a great delivery that works well, more often than not. He ends with a long run about relationships, men and women, his family, cheating on your partner, etc.—very much like previous shows, but with all-new material. Highly recommended.
Short Circuit (1986) — 4/10
The only redeeming thing about this movie is the relatively realistic movement of the robot. For the 80s, that thing moved a lot better than the original Terminator or the antagonist at the end of the original Robocop. Steve Guttenberg is terrible, Fisher Stevens is an insult to all of Southeast Asia and Ally Sheedy is dumb and uninspired. Stevens dresses up in brown-face to play an Indian scientist whose grasp of the English language is supposed to be funny, but is horribly racist and sad. The plot is as predictable as can be. Not recommended.
Team America: World Police (2004) — 10/10
This is Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s puppet masterpiece. It depicts America’s super-secret spy team deployed around the world to save it—by destroying it. I’ve seen this movie a couple of times before. Love it. Best theme song ever: America Fuck Yeah! More relevant than ever. Saw it in German this time around.
Dressed to Kill (1980) — 7/10

The movie starts off with a full-starkers Angie Dickinson in a shower, fantasizing both about watching a man much more attractive than her husband shave himself with a straight razor and also about being attacked from behind in said shower by an unknown assailant. The scene jarringly shifts to an unsatisfactory and banal morning copulation with her boring husband. To limn her life further, we next meet her son, who’s a computer genius, working all night on his home-built computer.

She meets up with her psychiatrist, Michael Caine, then goes to a museum, where she doesn’t try very hard not to hook up with a random, handsome stranger. On leaving, she realizes that she forgot her engagement ring in his apartment and heads back up to retrieve it. In the elevator, a large, blonde woman attacks her with a straight razor, killing her. A high-priced escort named Liz (Nancy Allen) sees her, but can’t save her.

Caine, Liz and the son are interviewed by Dennis Franz, the local cop. He doesn’t know whom to suspect, so he suspects everyone. The blonde from the elevator starts to stalk Liz. The son stalks the blonde with a hidden camera that he built (that’s why we need to know that he’s a computer genius). Liz is chased onto the subway by both the blonde and a gang of youths. Just before the big blonde attacks Liz, the son shows up to save her. They head back to her place from the subway.

They work together to entrap the killer, perhaps suspecting that the killer is actually Caine, in drag. Whaaaaaat? I’m sure the movie was racy and edgy for its time, but it hasn’t aged amazingly well. It’s still pretty good, but not as amazing as I’d heard. The movie ends incredibly abruptly after one final, violent and nudity-infused scene (this time it’s Allen) that reveals itself to have been a nightmare. Saw the unedited version—which the MPAA wanted to rate X, for whatever reason. Recommended for film buffs, who should see this for historical reasons. Or for anyone who wants to see what counted as titillating almost 40 years ago.