Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2017.8

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.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) — 5/10

I’m too old for this movie. This movie is all about distracting, shiny gadgets. It is only incidentally about Spider-Man. Spider-Man’s suit is now the star of the show, providing one Deus Ex Machina after another in lieu of actual plot. Peter Parker is a whiny bitch at a ritzy school (with a mass spectrometer). It’s nice that they made the rest of the school look like a Benetton ad and that they made everyone so open and friendly with each other. That there are no tensions to speak of between students at all. Hell, everyone loves Peter and thinks he’s the smartest guy in the school—and they love him for it.

His suit protects him from all damage, it provides him with all help, with company when he’s stuck—is this advancement? That female roles are now disembodied voices in the form of AI PDAs for men?—there is no conflict and Parker never seems to be in danger. The sensors and gadgets are God-like in their abilities: it predicts structural collapse of buildings, elevators, etc. down to the last second. This is ridiculous: technology doesn’t work like that. Even if it did, it makes a shitty movie because there’s no tension when magic solves everything.

Imagine the Harry Potter movies if Harry just waved a wand and fixed everything immediately. That’s what it’s like for Spider-Man. Literally nothing is left over that made Parker/Spider-Man endearing: he’s no longer poor, May is no longer old, he doesn’t have to cobble together his own tech, he doesn’t have to really hide his identity, he never gets hurt, he doesn’t really have to worry about his studies, the whole tension between his studies and making enough money and saving lives is gone. When he completely flakes on a school competition in Washington D.C., the team wins anyway and, instead of being mad for flaking, the girl he adores is worried about him. She likes him back. Dude can’t fail. Boring.

There’s no tension: even in the big Staten-Island Ferry scene, nobody got hurt. Iron Man showed up with millions of dollars worth of fancy rockets which took no logistics to put together and could be deployed instantly. Also, every boat near NYC showed up within seconds to come help the ferry. This is ludicrous.

He has unlimited webs, a parachute, wings, a super-computer with human-like AI, 100% HD 24-hour surveillance and an unbreakable skin. It was already bad enough, but now Spider-Man is also afraid of heights? And his Spidey-Sense is non-existent? And he doesn’t care at all about damaging stuff? That’s not Peter Parker. He bounds through a neighborhood, damaging cars, houses, treehouses, fences, grills … everything. Didn’t seem to care. Destroys Flash’s car. Didn’t care. I guess he just figures everyone’s rich and insured? Just like every privileged person is at his privileged school?

This movie is so over-the-top open and accepting: do schools really have giant posters of Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and Nikola Tesla in their detention halls now? Is this representative? He’s 15 but everyone keeps talking about what he’s going to do after graduation—and nobody thinks it’s weird that he has an internship. Is this normal, now? Also, he lives in Queens but he already test-drove a car in parking lots at 15? That is possibly the most unbelievable thing in this movie. 30-year–olds in NYC don’t know how to drive. Is it supposed to be adorable that the smartest kid in Queens needs to ask his friend to Google how to turn on the fucking headlights in a car? Is this a triumph? SMH.

It’s a shame because I like Tom Holland as Spider-Man. I like Michael Keaton as the Vulture. I like Bokeem Woodbine as the Shocker. I like Michael Chernus as the Tinkerer. I’m kind of sick of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark—but he plays the character to a tee. He’s just as insufferable in the comic books.[1] I like Marisa Tomei, but not as Aunt May. Why is Peter’s aunt no longer old? And why is Tooms, as the Vulture, no longer old? I mean, he kind of is: Keaton is 66, but he has a high-school age daughter. I guess that that’s the new, enlightened normal?

And, at the end, (spoiler alert), where is everyone else? Why are Tooms and Parker alone for so long. When the Staten Island Ferry is attacked, Stark is there in 10 seconds. When his own plane full of his most-precious artifacts crashes into Coney Island, he’s nowhere to be found? Just for good measure, they eliminate the last remaining bit of tension in the old Spidey’s life: Aunt May discovers his secret identity in the last second. Sweet setup for the sequel, dude.

Gave it an extra point for having pretty decent effects, but took it away again for being way too damned long.

The Dark Tower (2017) — 8/10

Idris Elba is Roland Deschain, Gunslinger. Matthrew McConaughey is Walter, the Man in Black, a Wizard. Roland is the last remaining defender of the Dark Tower. Walter and his horde of evil beings have all but won the war to conquer and destroy the Tower and let in the demons that reside outside the universe. They can already get in, where they have worn thin the places between their world and ours.

There are portals between the worlds. There are similarities between Earth and Midworld, where Roland exists. There are interesting threads between the myths of the world of the Dark Tower and our own myths—they serve to anchor our understanding of this at-first alien world. Roland’s guns are forged from the steel of Arthur Eld’s sword: Excalibur. Roland Deschain is of Eld. There is a neatness to this battle at the end of time.

There are changes to the original story, changes that I can’t help but feel are more cinema-friendly. The monster that bites Roland is not a crab on a cold, dark beach, but a ravening, slavering monster from another dimension. I liked the lobsters better. But that’s a different movie, it’s not a Hollywood blockbuster. The vision of a dark beach with an aged and ailing Gunslinger being nearly bested by alien, flesh-eating lobsters from across the cleft of dark dimensions worked well in the book, but would only have worked with perhaps Tarkovsky at the helm, who always seemed to have a knack for eliciting majesty from mundane sci-fi. The final scene between Roland and Walter was more ethereal and mysterious and abstract in the book than the movie depicted. In the film, it was more prosaic, with Walter using bits of brick as magical shields, which detracted a bit from the potential majesty of the moment. If you know the mythology of the books, the “face of my father” mantras are pretty cool.

Some of the original source material survived. Roland is eerily, magically fast and accurate with his gun, he can sense and hear and find targets like no-one else. But he does it in a way that adds rather than detracts from the story. It’s believable. Perhaps this can be chalked up to Elba’s ability to sell the role. The major gun-battle scene was a marvel of choreography and felt just like Roland was depicted in the book.

There are some nice homages to Stephen King: I saw a dilapidated, Pennywise carnival ride in a forest and there was a Rita Hayworth poster on a brick wall in the basement of a gun shop. There’s a sign on a wall that says “Chambers” something-or-other (Jake’s last name).

Strong acting from Elba; decent stuff from McConaughey; excellent work by the kid (Tom Taylor).

Shin Godzilla (2016) — 6/10
It’s hard to believe that this movie was made in 2016. Reasonably entertaining. A bit chatty. Watched it in Japanese with English subtitles and you had to pay quite close attention, as the titles were coming at you quickly. It’s the story of a giant, mutating Godzilla, with more science than just “bombs made it big”. This Godzilla is explained by biology and single-minded evolution as well as a need to feed on energy, but is just as unstoppable as any other Gozilla—perhaps more so.
War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) — 6/10
Too much monkey for me. This movie was way too long, indulging in their CGI extravaganza and playing all of the standard tropes. It wasn’t too hard to be on the side of the apes since the humans were nearly unilaterally evil—beyond all ability to empathize. Nature was going to make them win, one way or another anyway, as the virus that nearly wiped out mankind (and simultaneously smartened the apes) is now infecting the remaining humans, regressing them to a primitive state. The CGI is impressive, but it felt like watching a Disney/Pixar movie at times.
30 Minutes or Less (2011)— 4/10
I took a chance on this because it stars Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Michael Peña and Danny McBride. Eisenberg is a pizza-delivery guy with no prospects, who’s sorta-kinda in love with his best friend’s (Ansari) sister. McBride is a spoiled son of a rich former Marine (Fred Ward) who’s a giant douchebag and who becomes the target of a patricide. Peña is the hired killer, but his fee is higher than McBride can afford. So he hatches a plan to coerce Eisenberg into robbing a bank for him by strapping bombs all over him. It’s as stupid as it sounds. I can’t even really remember how it ended.
Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) — 5/10

This movie started off nostalgic and devolved quickly into a super-cheesy version of Starship Troopers that takes itself seriously. On a side note: movies in the future are boring. This is because pretty much everything is possible. There are perfect translators, AIs, replicators, virtual realities, drive systems, time travel, galactic travel, whatever. You can’t make a movie that’s interesting for humans because every problem is solved by magic—and it’s believable because the premise is that technology can do anything. There is no tension.

And even when they don’t do that: why the hell is everybody still driving prosaic cars that run out of gas? Why are they still wearing glasses? And where the hell do they get all the metal to build their giant machines? Just because you can conjure up anything you like with CGO doesn’t mean we’re not going to notice that you’re using ten planet’s worth of metal to build these installations.

Oh, and all of the young actors are terrible. The effects are spectacular, truly amazing, but the people keep talking.

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989) — 6/10
This movie stars Antonio Banderas as a young man, a psychiatric patient, recently released. He is in love with an adult film star, Mariana. Mariana has just wrapped a movie with a lecherous director. Her sister is in the mix, as well. Banderas kidnaps Mariana in order to make her fall in love with him. Long story short: she does. The end. There are some neat scenes not exactly related to the plot, but the premise is ridiculous and hard to get past. The acting is decent. One of the bit parts is wearing a Barcelona 1992 T-Shirt exactly like the one my wife got me when she was in Spain then.
Ghost in the Shell (2017) — 7/10

This one looks like a fucking game demo, too. No soul, no passion, no organic feel. Again, there’s no limit to what the film can do because of technology but they make the robot communicate vocally with its handler because they need to anchor the audience somehow. And why does she need to wear goggles? She’s a robot. Meanwhile, the scene is interleaved with Michael Winship (sounding a bit less gravelly than usual) boasting of how his four–year-old daughter became fluent in French in minutes thanks to enhancements. Whatever it means for a four–year-old to be fluent in anything. Feels like a bad knockoff of Blade Runner so far.

They’re putting a brain in a robot warrior. So, literally Robocop. Why the fuck do they make the robot breathe? So they also literally hammered home for us why the movie is called Ghost in the Shell in the first five minutes. Juliette Binoche has never been so fluent in English.

The aesthetic is pretty nice when they finally settle down and focus on smaller than city-wide vistas, when the story becomes a more prosaic, cloak-and-dagger police procedural. The story isn’t breathtakingly new, but it serves its purpose as scaffolding for a decent group of agents—in various states of cyberneticization. The core story of the the orphans finding each other and saving each other was actually pretty good. The final scene where Major takes out the giant robot was done pretty well. I feel like the original cartoon was much better, but this was better than expected.

Where to Invade Next (2015) — 9/10

Michael Moore goes to Italy to learn about socialism in (guaranteed vacations, maternity leave, long lunches, regular working hours), then about school lunches in France, then the best students in the world in Finland (little to no homework, 20-hour weeks for younger kids, including lunch and playtime). Then it’s on to Slovenia, where university is free. He covers the protests against tuition hikes in Slovenia, Canada, Germany, France, Finland and Norway (and actually England as well, though it wasn’t mentioned … maybe because they failed miserably).

Many of the Italians and French spoke their native language, but all of the students in Finland, Slovenia and Germany spoke fluent, nearly unaccented English. Then it’s off to Germany to learn about unions and worker participation on boards of directors.

Also to learn about how a country teaches its people to never again do what their predecessors did. “They don’t whitewash it. They don’t pretend it didn’t happen. They don’t say ‘hey, that was before my time. What’s this got to do with me? I didn’t kill anyone.‘” The Germans really do live like this. I know many of them. I’ve been to Berlin. I’ve felt the rueful sadness in that city.

Next up is Portugal for May Day and to learn how to fight the war on drugs by giving up and treating instead of fighting. Also, he steals the idea of having police officers who think human dignity is above all. Next, he goes to Norway to see how their prisons work, based on rehabilitation. Of course, the murderers and rapists and employees at the prison are all bilingual and speak fluent English. They have normal jobs, working in kitchens with knives, with no locks on the doors, freedom to swim and walk the open grounds. Even at the maximum-security prison, it looks more like a university.

Then it’s on to Iceland to focus on women’s rights and equal representation. Also, it’s one of the only countries to have prosecuted its bankers after the financial collapse in 2008. Then it’s back to Berlin to talk about 1989 and the fall of the wall.

Better than some of his other work. Recommended.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) — 9/10

I’d actually forgotten that this movie was coming out at the end of the year and I almost never go to movies in the theater, so I went in pretty much completely cold. I’d seen a trailer, so that I knew that Rey and Finn and Poe were back. That is, that the movie was the second part of the third trilogy, part VIII. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they’d gone to the effort of writing a non-linear plot with new characters (some with quite predictable arcs) but by fleshing out existing characters with non-obvious fallibility to keep things interesting.

Poe is a hothead and he gets punished for it—not directly, but by seeing the consequences of his actions, not once, but twice. The first time, Leia drubs him with it—the second time, it’s not as obvious and nobody’s in the mood to blame him, but … if he hadn’t second-guessed everyone and sent Rey and Finn and token Asian girl/love-interest to the Dreadnought, then they probably could have avoided a whole bunch of pain and suffering. Of course, then there wouldn’t have been the pretty fantastic closure on several levels that awaits us in the final scenes, but at least they added that complexity.

This tale is paralleled on our world as the superficial world in which most people live versus the deeper world of science and logic, the knowledge of which transforms so much magic to mundanity.

Rey, too, is portrayed as a simplistic hothead if you look for it. When Luke discards the light saber: he has realized that this is the crude toy of a child, that the Force is much more powerful without such crude tools. It explains Luke’s look of disappointment when Rey still didn’t understand that the light saber isn’t anything compared to the true power of the Force. In a sense, these are all religious stories.

The effects are fantastic, as ever, mixing used-feeling equipment on the Rebels’ part to create a very WWII aesthetic that I’ve noted in the other two films in this trilogy. It’s 2.5 hours, so brace yourself for a long ride, but it’s definitely worth it (especially for fans). I think the first half of the movie was a bit too front-loaded with Disney-style child-like jokes and character-introduction (Laura Dern and Benecio del Toro!), but those are minor quibbles. Some of the jokes land really well.

Also, the use of color and effects was more noticeable, with a real Korean/Japanese/Chinese crime-movie feel to it (e.g. Snokes throne room was so ornate and red and the scene of destruction in it afterwards was sublime) (also e.g. the scenes in the desert with the red-salt traces tracing the scene of the battle, down to each stance-shift in the final battle.) For a blockbuster film that’s 8th in line with God knows what expectations, they did a great job.

A very satisfying entry that I would watch again. Recommended (highly for fans of the series). Saw it in English with German/French subtitles and in 3-D.

Rick & Morty S03 — 10/10

This show just goes from strength to strength. Complex, interwoven and self-referential but still consistent plotlines that stretch across infinite universes combine with several strong characters from which anyone should be able to pick a favorite. Season 3 was probably the best so far, I think.

From episode 7 (YouTube):

“There’s a Rick that held a factory hostage after murdering his boss and several co-workers.

“The factory made cookies. Flavored ‘em with lies.

“He made us all take a look at what we were doing.

“And in the bargain, he got a taste of real freedom.

“We captured that taste, and we keep givin’ it to ‘im, so he can give it right back to you.

“And everybody who buys the new freedom-wafers selects.

“Come home to the unique flavor of shattering the grand illusion.

“Come home to Simple Rick.”

Also “Pickle Rick” in episode 3 was a masterpiece. No wonder it took 18 months to make 10 episodes.

American Hustle (2013) — 6/10
I like Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. I honestly have no idea what year this movie was supposed to have taken place. It’s about an FBI agent trying to set up a sting by manipulating a couple of small-time hustlers that he caught into helping him catch bigger fish. He’s after politicians, even if he has to entrap them or make up their crimes out of whole cloth. I gave it an extra point because Jennifer Lawrence was a blazing, alluring pile of crazy and Christian Bale sold the end very well. But I thought it was too long and boring.
Baby Driver (2017) — 6/10

This movie stars Kevin Spacey as a guy who runs heists. He uses a different crew every time—or at least a different mix of people from a larger group. One constant in his crews is “Baby”, who’s a preternaturally gifted getaway driver. The driving scenes are pretty nicely choreographed, though many of the cooler bits were featured heavily in the main trailer. A pity. Another pity is that Jon Bernthal (of The Punisher) is only on one of the crews and his participation is limited to about 5 minutes of screen time, maximum. Jon Hamm is more a part of the film and plays his usual, rambunctious self, paired with the sultry Eiza González in a bizarre and somewhat disturbing relationship.

Baby wants to get out of his obligation to Doc (Spacey). Things go sideways, Baby’s new girlfriend gets embroiled in everything, Hamm’s character gets superhuman, but finally succumbs and Baby is finally arrested, though put away for a paltry sentence (he’s white, dontchaknow), after which he is picked up by his girlie and they all live happily ever after. The end. Directed by Edgar Wright without a lot of his usual visual panache.

I really like director Edgar Wright and his style was somewhat evident in this film, but much more suppressed. The cast was pretty strong—I always like Jamie Foxx and Jonathan Hamm—but the movie had a lot of filler between the song-driven chase scenes. Edgar Winter Group’s Frankenstein was an inspired choice. Jon Hamm’s weapon firing on the beat was a nice touch. Jon Bernthal (Frank Castle) wasn’t in the movie nearly enough. Eiza González was sexy, but was in it too much. Radar Love was another nice song choice. Kevin Spacey seemed to be channeling a pale imitation of Gene Hackman.

Nightbreed (1990) — 6/10

The acting is, in general, pretty bad. The story is kind of interesting. The makeup, sets and practical effects are fantastic. It’s like a smörgåsbord of every nightmare Clive Barker has ever had.

The story is about Aaron Boone, who dreams of the Nightbreed in a place called Miridian. He finally ends up there, discovering that the Nightbreed are a collection of the ancient peoples of Earth that have been all-but eradicated by humanity. They are freaks and they are undead.

His psychiatrist Decker (played by David Cronenberg) is a serial killer bent on finding Miridian. He frames Boone for all of the murders and gets Boone executed by an entire posse. Boone had been bit by a Nightbreed, though, so he comes back as one of the undead, now named Cabal. His girlfiend Lori refuses to give up on him and they try to save the Nightbreed. The giant posse, armed with military hardware, takes out the Nightbreed’s underground lair.

The lair itself is a marvelous set, equal to the many masks and twisted bodies of its inhabitants—it looks like the Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights brought to life. Quite a vision. Recommended if this sounds like your thing.

Logan Lucky (2017) — 9/10
A lovely little stress-free and fight-free heist movie, as Soderbergh does. I liked most of the cast: Adam Driver and Channing Tatum as brothers living in West Virginia, Riley Keough and Katie Holmes as their respective interests and integral and indispensable participants in the heist. Also along in the heist are a transformed Daniel Craig, as Joe Bang, the explosives expert. Their plan is fun to watch unfold, with relatively little muss or fuss. Recommended.
Russell Howard: Recalibrate (2017) — 6/10
Russell’s never really been my cup of tea and this special was OK for me, but not great. His comedy is a bit broad and well-explained and forced, waiting for laugh lines and so on. He’s a skilled performer and has some funny bits, but I didn’t really get into it as much as I’d hoped.

[1] As @ExistentialComics tweeted: “Batman and Iron Man teach us that it’s good for billionaires to build advanced weaponry to use extrajudicially to keep the existing social order stable.”