Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2017.7
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.
- Star Trek: Discovery S01 (2017) — 8/10
- This is the latest series in the Star Trek universe, starring a whole new cast rife with decent-to-good actors. The story is quite interesting and has an overall arc as well as staying true to the classic format of having one lesson/mission per episode. This series takes place at the same time as when Spock joins the Federation, focusing on his human stepsister Michael Burnam instead. The starship Discovery is a science ship but becomes the most important vessel in the war against the Klingons when they invent a new form of propulsion based on manipulating a universal mycelium substrate (or something like that). In the second half of the first season, they spend a good deal of time in a completely alternate universe.
- Okja (2017) — 7/10
- This is a film about a giant food corporation that genetically engineers a new animal to satisfy consumer demand: the super-pig. It’s the size of a hippopotamus and it produces very little ordure (although gas seems to be a problem). They create a program to raise ten such pigs around the world and see how they fare. One is in Korea, with a little girl and her grandfather. She raises the pig nearly single-handedly until the corporation shows up to film it—and take it away. She gives chase and teams up with the ALF—led by Paul Dano. Jake Gyllenhall is the goofy safari-photographer face of the super-pig program, Tilda Swinton plays the two sisters that run the corporation. Okja is eventually rescued but so many pigs are not. The film has a definite anti-mass-food-production bent. Watched it in English and Korean with subtitles.
- Bad Moms (2016) — 8/10
- This movie was a lot more fun than I expected it to be. It broke out of the one-joke mold, buoyed by great performances by Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, Kristin Bell and even Christina Applegate, who played the real bad mom. It made it clear that this was an escapist, fantastical film and stuck to its guns.
- Twin Peaks S03 (2017) — 8/10
- What to say about a TV series that starts its third season 25 years after it ended its extended second season, that went off the deep end and into a bizarreness theretofore unseen on network TV? It was brilliant, entertaining—nay, captivating—and left viewers wanting more. Those viewers stuck around for 25 years—prophesied by Laura Palmer herself, from the Black Lodge, near the end of season 2—as did the actors, all of whom returned if it was at all physically possible. All of them reprised their roles. This extra-long season explained a lot and opened up whole new avenues—episode 8 will be especially challenging for most—of ideas, thought and ways of interpreting what came before. Nothing is explained, but things become clearer. There are some new protagonists and some new antagonists. Most characters pick up right where they left off. Truly a work of art—it has some rough edges, but Lynch and Frost deliver a unique bit of well–though-out, extended cinema. Rumor has it that Lynch filmed all 18 episodes at once, editing it all at the end. Truly a cinematic achievement. It’s 18 shows, though, so it can be a bit of a slog, at times. So, overall an 8, but with some 9/10 moments.
- Absolutely Anything (2015) — 5/10
- This was a disappointing bit of dreck starring Simon Pegg, about a down-and-out guy (think Run, Fatboy, Run) who is given omnipotence by evil alien beings intent on proving that Earth is a backwards civilization, incapable of handling the power of galactic citizenship. It’s all a bit murky, but it stars the always-alluring Kate Beckinsale as well, else it would have been even less entertaining. It seems like it was made to appeal to children.
- GLOW (2017) — 7/10
- The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling “documents” the rise of the short-lived league of women wrestlers from the early 80s. Marc Maron as the author/director of the league is a revelation, as are Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and many of the other lady wrestlers. The first season takes us from failing personal lives and acting careers to a somewhat triumphant and last-ditch effort to saving the budding league in its first show.
- Fargo S03 (2017) — 10/10
- The third season is possibly my favorite one so far. I really liked the other two seasons, each unique in its own way, but hewing to the base aesthetic. This season does so, as well, but pulls in even more star power, with Ewan McGregor playing twin brothers, one of whom is a parole officer and the of whom is a local parking-garage maven. Carrie Coon as Officer Gloria Burgle follows in the tradition of Fargo of portraying police officers as eminently human and competent people just trying do a job, moral beings with a moral compass. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nikki Swango plays a perfect foil to David Thewlis as V.M. Varga, a nearly supernatural foreign millionaire and super-criminal of unknown origin and seemingly unlimited power. The plots twists and turns, as expected, but derives much of its momentum from a feud between the Stussy brothers over a rare and precious stamp. Varga wades in and takes advantage—though his motive in getting into Minnesota parking garages is unclear, unless he’d exhausted all other possibilities for evading taxes and laundering money. A tale well-told and well-acted. Highly recommended.
- 1984 (1984) — 8/10
- This film is very true to the source material. The aesthetic matches exactly the world limned by George Orwell and the plot follows the book meticulously. The story is of a future totalitarian state where thought is outlawed, goods and services are rare, as is good, healthy food, media is always fake and Big Brother is everywhere. Winston is unwittingly drawn to a fake rebellion, because of love for a fellow rebel, who turns out not to be a rebel, or maybe she was a rebel and the State lied—either way, in the end, Winston capitulates, gives up anything and everything to save his own worthless, joyless and hopeless life and Big Brother wins. “A boot stamping on the face of humanity, forever.”
- Judah Friedlander: America is the greatest country in the United States (2017) — 8/10
- Judah is a stand-up comedian with a tongue-in-cheek, gung-ho, ironically and quasi-jingoistic, America-first on-stage persona. He is pretty well-informed, which makes his two-way barbs for and against America clever. I was expecting much less, but had already noted that I’d liked him more than expected in his appearance on Showtime’s Green Room many years ago. He has a good delivery, works the crowd well, extemporizes well and has a good set.
- Wonder Woman (2017) — 6/10
- ““Wonder Woman” is the best modern superhero film by a substantial margin, in large part because it shrugs off the supposed common wisdom that’s become encrusted around the genre and dares to be straightforwardly idealistic, giving its title character strongly held values and testing them and forcing her to adjust or re-frame them without losing them—a deeper struggle that’s more resonant than the physical struggles she faces in the course of the story, which are impressive in their own right. In theory, every superhero movie is, or pretends to be, about believing in something larger than oneself; but this message often gets lost amid narcissistic personal melodrama. This is never the case with “Wonder Woman.””
I’m not sure what they mean by “modern” superhero movie, but I just off the top of my head, I can think of The Watchmen, Unbreakable and Logan. Yeah, I know that of those, only Watchmen even starred any women. But that’s not really my first criteria for a movie, to say nothing of a superhero movie. They made Wonder Woman just as insipid as they always make women, but they gave her a backstory that explains it. Congratulations.
- Se7en — 9/10
- This is a detective movie directed by David Fincher. It stars Morgan Freeman as a detective on the verge of retiring. He’s highly intelligent and accomplished, but he never quite fit in to his department. He is weary of the sin and suffering that he sees every day, both in his private life and on the job. Brad Pitt is a young detective who transferred to the big city in order to work with Freeman. Pitt’s wife, played by Gwenyth Paltrow, is not at all excited to be in the big city. Freeman and Pitt quickly converge on a case of a serial killer who MO is to kill his victims by the seven deadly sins. The murders are stylized, but the killer leaves clues for them to follow. He wants to be caught. The killer is played by Kevin Spacey, who turns himself in after the fifth victim, with anger and envy still outstanding as motifs. Spoiler alert: the clever bit is that Spacey is envious of Pitt’s relationship with his wife, so he killed her (envy … although it was Spacey who was envious, not Paltrow, so it doesn’t quite fit with the other murders), chopped her up and shipped her head in a box to Pitt at a predefined location in the middle of a field. He guides the pair there to meet the delivery truck. Spacey’s piece de résistance is to coerce Pitt into killing him in anger, completing the septet.
- Deray Davis: How to Act Black (2017) — 7/10
- He was decent, but nothing out of the ordinary. Some good, original material; some hackneyed material. Lots of very black-focused humor with lots of inside jokes, most of which I understood, but some of which didn’t resonate (for obvious reasons: I didn’t grow up in any form of ‘hood, as he did).
- Brian Regan: Nunchucks and Flamethrowers (2017) — 5/10
- He’s a pretty harmless comedian with a very clean act and a somewhat odd and forced stage presence. He doesn’t seem very comfortable, shouting a bit in a “Dad’s here” kind of way. His best jokes were from his parents, his father in particular.
- Craig Ferguson: Tickle Fight (2017) — 6/10
- I was looking forward to this special as he’s been very funny in the past. This one was OK and he had a couple of interesting insights and new jokes, but a lot of the material felt rehashed and his delivery didn’t seem very natural. He shouted quite a bit when it didn’t seem necessary. Maybe I just need to see it again in a group?
- The Punisher (2017) — 10/10
- I loved this show, mostly because of the way that Jon Bernthal inhabited the role of Frank Castle, the Punisher. This first season follows Frank as he uncovers who was really behind the death of his family. He teams up (kind of) with Micro, another agent who is more technical and less violent, but who has also been maligned by the same organization, separated from his family (although they still live). This is a nearly uniquely violent show, with the Punisher taking a ridiculous level of punishment (especially in the latter episodes). Still, the character is wonderful, so I gave it extra points. Would watch again. Highly recommended, but not for the squeamish.
- Hellraiser (1987) — 6/10
- This is one of Clive Barker’s first movies and establishes his horror/gore/fantasy aesthetic. It is the tale of a little puzzle box that opens a gateway to a horrific dimension of pleasure, pain and eternal suffering. Frank is the first to find his way to the mysterious Chinese shop that sells him the box. He is the first to open the gate and meet Pinhead and his cohort, the Cenobytes. He is the first to be trapped there. Years later, his niece finds the box and is ensnared, at least to a degree. Her mother—and Frank’s lover—learns of Frank’s return to the corporeal plane. She finds him as a half-man, skeletal with no skin, but alive, in tremendous pain, in the attic of their home. He needs to feed on the lives of others in order to complete his transfer to this world. She provides him victims by trolling airport bars for one-night-stands. Her daughter learns of this and fights them both in horror. In the end, the daughter vanquishes both Frank and her mother and reverses the puzzle box to banish the Cenobytes back to their dimension.
- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets — 6/10
- The visuals are spectacular. But there’s so much, so fast, that there’s no way to enjoy any of it. I did not like either of the leads: Cara Delevingne or Dane DeHaan. I love the hell out of the director, Luc Besson, but he’s trying too hard to recapture the magic he had with The Fifth Element. I know that this movie is based on popular comic books, so that might explain some of the pacing, plotting, story and dialogue. But there’s really no excuse for the wooden delivery: Delevingne acts like she’s in a high school play. There is no way to predict anything in this movie because I don’t know anything about any of the characters. So what’s really wrong? Obscure, unpredictable plot, childlike characters and bad actors. The effects are lovely but it had no cohesion, it didn’t describe a world. Instead, it felt like watching a graphics-card demo loop.
- Kong: Skull Island (2017) — 8/10
I was pleasantly surprised at how pretty this movie was and how cleverly they hid skulls everywhere. The set design of the island was fantastic, the effects were quite convincing, the monster design was good, the actors were pretty decent (John C. Reilly was very good) and the movie felt like a movie. It had cohesion. It was better than the last Kong movie.
The monsters are overwhelming, gigantic and people die by the dozens. Sam Jackson’s Colonel Packard re-fights Vietnam with Kong as a proxy. Kong is actually the protector of the island, the only thing keeping the really evil monsters in check. It’s the 70s, so Packard is fighting Vietnam again, delighting in killing Kong with napalm. He is the living embodiment of American arrogance, brutality and peevish ego. And he will, of course, be proved spectacularly wrong, but not before he does more damage than he should be able to. Always the same story. I guess we get to keep hearing it until we actually learn our lesson. Good luck with that.
Solid soundtrack, nice cinematography. Recommended.
- End of Watch — 7/10
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are a couple of beat cops in South LA. Gyllenhaal films everything for a class he’s taking. They are a couple of cowboys but essentially good cops. They make a few lucky busts—one because they’re following up on a lead that they shouldn’t have been following. They find about 50 people held in absolutely filthy captivity, which is good, but are warned by ICE that they’ve now run afoul of the cartels. To top it off, they respond to a welfare-check call and find squatters with a giant cache of drugs.
The cartels have had enough and order a hit. The two guys manage to escape for a bit, but the reach of the cartel is long. Pena bites it. The two leads (as well, as the their wives, Natalie Martinez and Anna Kendrick) are charismatic and fun. The bad-ass Latino gangsters were a bit over-the-top.
- Atomic Blonde (2017) — 9/10
Charlize Theron as a British super-spy in 1989 Berlin. She goes to a movie theater showing Stalker in the original Russian. They kind of ran the scenes together, though, but who am I to quibble? When she walks into the theater, they’re showing the scene with the mangler (?) where there are all of the humps of sand. Then, 30 seconds later, the men are huddled before the room itself.
The soundtrack is all 80s tracks, lovingly selected. Til Schweiger plays a watchmaker working at Carl F. Bucherer. There are Trabants everywhere (even one cop car, which the museum said was not in Berlin). The other car they get is a Volvo, which checks out: those were the cars favored by the high-ranking members of the DDR. The fight scenes are visceral and hyper-realistic. They’re bloody and damage is definitely done.
James McAvoy and John Goodman round out the cast.