Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2018.3
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 and. let’s be honest, level of intoxication. YMMV. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.
- Lost in Space (2018) — 6/10
This series had really good effects and a decent concept, but it was let down in the end by very uneven characters, repetitive writing and phone-in plotlines. The boy is a useless pain in the ass who just fucks up one thing after another, to drive the plot along. His Mom is barely any better, but at least she’s a decent actress—she’s just not given much to work with.
Posey Parker is decent, but how many chances can you give her evil ass over the course of ten episodes? Again, the show had a destination for season one and they were going to get there, come hell or high water. It was tedious to see things happening again and again, against the grain of common sense or logic.
The effects were really good and Ignacio Serricchio as Don West was a welcome respite from poorly written characters. I won’t be watching season 2.
- Enissa Amani: Ehrenwort — 8/10
- I’d never heard of her before, but this Iranian-German comedian was pretty good. Her natural milieu is talking about her upbringing in an Iranian family in Germany. Her style is pretty clean, with a focus on storytelling rather than one-liners. Saw it in German.
- Kevin James: Never Don’t Give Up — 8/10
- I was pleasantly surprised to see Kevin James not suck at stand-up. I couldn’t remember whether he’d ever done it before since I only knew him from King of Queens (presumably after he was a stand-up) and his truly abysmal movie career. Still, he pulled it off and had a lot of reasonably original material and a good delivery.
- John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City — 10/10
- This man’s performance was superlative from start to finish. He’s so confident and funny. His set is super-tight and obviously ridiculously well-rehearsed. He brought down the house and deservedly so.
- Altered Carbon (2018) — 9/10
I don’t know how I haven’t heard more buzz about this show—because it’s really good. It’s good sci-fi, well-acted and well-told with great and relatively subtle effects. It feels like the world of Blade Runner with its own twist.
And then there’s the middle 3 episodes where they forget about the main rule of visual storytelling: show, don’t tell. There’s a lot of exposition and a lot of story to tell and a lot of background to impart, so it’s kind of understandable. Still, it would have been better to leave more of the backstory unsaid or just hinted at rather than driven into the ground.
The final third picks up again and the whole series is buoyed by the stalwart and truly charismatic Joel Kinnaman in the lead as Takeshi Kovacs. It’s worth the effort because the story is really good and the world in which people live in their “stacks” rather than in their bodies (“sleeves”) is one filled with possibility. Recommended.
- The Last Movie Star (2017) — 9/10
I have always been a Burt Reynolds fan, for nearly as long as I can remember. I watched and liked Deliverance a few years ago and am a fan of Archer who is a Burt Reynolds super-fan.
This movie is about an aging action-movie star who is lured to a small-time movie-awards ceremony run by rabid, but extremely young fans. He goes because he’s got nothing better to do and he just buried his canine best friend.
He is predictably ornery and borderline alcoholic and pretty funny, but meaner than he needs to be. He has his driver—the organizer’s younger sister—drive him to all of his old haunts in the area, revealing more about himself to her while inadvertently helping her with her messed-up life.
It sounds like it could be kind of lame, but it wasn’t. Reynolds shines in an absolutely age-appropriate role in which he doesn’t try to hide anything. Recommended.
- Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives (2018) — 8/10
- Hari is a very smart comic with a lot of clever bits about his immigrant family. He likes wordplay and he’s got an interesting take on current affairs as well as some original jokes and set pieces. He’s got a good style and he’s filthier than you’d expect him to be, which is a very good thing.
- Jim Jeffries: This is Me Now (2018) — 8/10
- I’ve seen a bunch of Jim Jeffries specials and he’s really grown on me. He’ll have a couple of jokes that flop terribly, but there were far fewer of them in this special. The set felt tighter and more practiced and rehearsed than others. Although, Alcoholocaust was pretty good, too, though he was drinking the whole time. He’s still a raunchy, super-clever, irreverent Australian who’s probably spent too much time in America by now. He’s divorced and has fewer jokes about Hank (his son). If you watch his show on British Comedy Central, you’ll be familiar with some of his material—or at least the main thrust of it. Recommended.
- Murder on the Orient Express (2017) — 8/10
This is a very lovely movie on a train, starring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective. The rest of the cast is also pretty good, ranging from Johnny Depp to Daisy Ridley to Leslie Odom Jr. The case is quite unsolvable by the audience, but clever in the end nonetheless. The writing was good, with Poirot delivering some very nice lines.“Every day we meet people the world would do better without and yet, we do not kill them. We must be better than beasts.”“If it was easy, I would not be famous.”“I see enough crime to know that the criminal is an anomaly. It takes a fracture of the soul to murder.”
- Iliza Schlesinger: Elder Milennial (2018) — 10/10
- I was super-pleasantly surprised to find myself laughing out loud at this latest installment from Iliza. I liked her first show and was entertained by her second one, but this one was tight. Not a wasted word or gesture; everything she did contributed to the story she was telling, very much like Ali Wong, actually. She talks about getting engaged and married at 35 and claims her role as the Elder Millennial (because she’s just within the Millennial window). Highly recommended.
- Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life (2018) — 8/10
- I like both of these guys but Martin Short manages to steal whatever show he’s in. Steve Martin is very funny, but takes himself more seriously now. He’s an excellent banjo player, but his performance looked a bit staid next to Short’s mania. Martin Short is a revelation, still a whirling dynamo of comic effervescence.
- Tig Notaro: Happy to be Here (2018) — 7/10
- Tig is a craftswoman, building a lot of humor out of what seems to be very little material. She’s a storyteller comedian, relatively tame. Her stories are about everyday life. Her best bit is about her wife’s non-sequiturs.
- Black Panther (2018) — 6/10
Just because you make a movie filled with black people doesn’t make it a black movie. This movie is about the leader of Wakanda, a hidden nation in Africa. It hides its technological splendor behind a shield powered by Vibranium. Its borders are closed. Its people live inside, while others live the charade outside, presumably in a squalor that is acceptable to the powers that otherwise rule the world. It’s a right-wing paradise, with closed borders and royalty and no democracy.
Chadwick Boseman is T’Challa as the Black Panther. He is the ruler by birthright or, rather, by having fought in hand-to-hand combat to win the throne when his father dies. It seems that black people still need to fight like apes even though they are the most technologically advanced country on the planet. They have no sign of democracy, just a royal family. They have a ton of science and technology, but only one scientist—in the form of T’Challa’s teenage sister. How is no-one else seeing that this is demeaning?
Everyone else runs around like an extra in Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, fighting with spears (I am not kidding). They have trained rhinos with high-tech helmets. One of the tribes is apart from the others. They hoot like gorillas and live in the snowy heights, but aren’t smart enough to invent hats or scarves. It’s good that it doesn’t seem to be cold up there, despite all the snow, ice and wind.
They even make one of the heroes of the story Martin Freeman, one of the few white actors in the film. Without him, Wakanda would have been lost. He’s a CIA officer, FFS.
Michael B. Jordan was the best thing about this movie. He’s very charismatic and easy on the eyes. He did what he could with his role as the quasi-socialist, but ultimately overly murderous revolutionary. This film felt very co-opted and wasn’t at all the revolutionary vision I’d hoped for.
Edit: On a second viewing (with a friend), I was no longer so impressed with Jordan’s character. Instead, he felt very one-dimensional and pig-headed. His quasi-socialism was overtly mixed with violence in a way that intimated it wasn’t actually possible to be socialist—that one could only want to switch roles and be on top for once.
- A Quiet Place (2018) — 6/10
I expected more consistency and cleverness from this movie. I liked that they couldn’t make any noise. But they made the mistake of showing how many days had passed since the noise-detection aliens had arrived.
Almost a year and a half and they’re still telling each other to be quiet? They all learned sign language but they didn’t figure out how to make a soundproof shelter? They get pregnant? How the hell did you think that was going to work? I don’t like watching movies about stupid, lucky people who don’t have any other redeeming qualities. I don’t care that the deaf girl is played by a real-live deaf girl OMG.
Also, please suspend my disbelief enough that I don’t notice the grave transgressions against physics. These aren’t superheroes, are they? First of all, how did they harvest so much corn without making any noise? Why do they sink into the corn inexorably, seemingly being sucked down and then suddenly the boy can drag her out one-armed, just because he’s on a piece of metal? Then the alien jumps in and they both dive in and hide under the metal, but no longer sink? Even when the thing is standing with its considerable weight on the metal?
I don’t ask for much. I’ll believe in aliens. I don’t believe in variable physical parameters unless you give me a reason to. And they really, really pushed how brave the woman was for being pregnant and then being the bad-ass bitch who would avenge her husband and family—and humanity. OMG GO GIRL. Yawn.
- Suicide Squad (2016) — 7/10
- I gave this movie an extra star because it was better than expected. Will Smith was quite good as was, surprisingly, Margot Robbie, who imbued the role of the psychotic Harley Quinn with more pathos than expected. I kind of liked Jared Leto’s Joker. I also recognized Joel Kinnamann (of Altered Carbon) as Rick Flag. Some of the other characters were a bit odd and seemed superfluous, like Croc. Still, it was reasonably entertaining and looked kinda nice.
- Bert Kreischer: Secret Time (2018) — 8/10
- Bert’s got a lot of good stories and he tells them well. He’s got a bit of the squirm-inducing level of detail about his and his wife’s own sex life that Louis C.K. did—I hope she’s OK with that. It’s not possible for him to think we don’t see the similarity between his saddest blow-job-in-the-world bit and Louis C.K.‘s saddest-hand-job-in-the-world. Still, the story about the rope park was pretty good.
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018) — 8/10
This movie packs a lot of characters into a single film and has a truly impressively large story arc. In almost three hours of film, it’s only setting up the sequel. Thanos collects the infinity stones. Various heroes and teams of heroes try to stop him, all to no avail. They fail gracefully and with a lot of CGI aplomb.
Chris Evans is noble as the Captain, Josh Brolin is actually brilliant as Thanos. Chris Pratt and the Guardians of the Galaxy more than hold their own in a film with so many other threads and plots. Iron Man is boring and Spider-Man is reduced, but they have one brilliant moment: “The kid’s seen more movies” (a reference to Spidey having called Aliens an old movie and building a plan around blowing another alien out of an ad-hoc airlock).
Marc Ruffalo is fun, but never turns into the Hulk. Chris Hemsworth is there as Thor, knocking it out of the park, just like he did in Thor: Ragnarok. Benedict Cumberbatch moves from strength to strength as Dr. Strange. There are so many others, but they weren’t as memorable for me. If you’ve seen the other movies, then you’ll recognize dozens of characters—but it’s stitched together much more capably than I’d expected.
The main quibble I have is the wildly inconsistent levels of power of the various characters. Thanos has an infinity stone and can beat both Thor and the Hulk with just one. When he gets a second one, he’s the most powerful person in the universe. When he’s got four, the Captain can still catch and hold his fist. The Vision has one stone and gets bitch-slapped from one end of the room to the other by Thanos’s children, but Black Widow and the Falcon show up and wipe the floor with them. I don’t care that Iron Man and War Machine seem to have an infinite supply of mass in their armor. That’s OK. It’s a comic-book movie. But they should make the levels of power a bit less arbitrary—it was pretty distracting.
I like the way the film ended; it was surprising to see a 2.5-hour, American blockbuster end on such a dark note. Thanos snapped his fingers with the Infinity Gauntlet and wiped out half of the universe. The end.
- Deadpool 2 (2018) — 10/10
- Ryan Reynolds continues to knock it out of the park for people of my generation and my sensibilities. He co-wrote this movie and carries it on his back—though this time he’s extremely well-supported by his cast: Josh Brolin as Cable, the excellent Zazie Beetz as lucky Domino. The plot isn’t super-important, but Wade starts off trying to kill himself for having gotten the love of his life Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) killed.
- Cable is back from the future to kill Firefist, who kills his family in the future. But Firefist is just a teenage boy in Deadpool’s present, being tortured by a mutant-hater in a home for orphans. Later, Russell (Firefist) and Deadpool are imprisoned together and escape with Cable’s help. They slowly coalesce into a team and vanquish all. Reynolds’/Deadpool’s motor-mouth is a constant and pleasant accompaniment.
- It’s not really important, but it holds together well, a scaffolding on which Reynolds and the other writers hang a prodigious number of pop-culture references and witty dialogue. I was very, very entertained.
- Pacific Rim: Uprising — 6/10
The sequel was more of a kids’ movie than the original. Amara Namani, Scott Eastwood and John Boyega star as Jaeger pilots in a world in which the rifts have been closed and the Kaijus banished. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman reprise their roles as the Kaiju experts/scientists.
This time around, the plot centers around drone Jaegers that don’t need the often-unreliable drifting pilots. The new Jaegers are built by Shao industries, a giant Chinese concern run by Liwen Shao (Tian Jing). We ignore the seemingly endless supply of resources, metal and electronics required for this effort.
The cast and crew are very international and it’s a decent entry in the YA-kind of robot movie. I liked it better than I expected to because it wasn’t a hoo-rah American movie—the action took place on Asian side of the Pacific Rim, believe it or not. The effects were very good, but that’s no longer very surprising. Decent and fun, but nothing surprising and nothing to write home about.
- Thor: Ragnarok — 9/10
The latest installment of the Thor franchise picks up with Thor escaping from the fire demon Surtur, who is prophesied to bring Ragnarok to Asgard—destroying it forever. Thor escapes and returns to Asgard to find Loki in charge, pretending to be Odin—who has been banished and is dying. When he dies, his imprisoned daughter Hela (Thor and Loki’s older sister and the goddess of death) is released from banishment. She is bent on ruling Asgard and killing Thor (of course).
This is the overall story arc. The best part of this movie is all of the stuff that happens along the way—and Chris Hemsworth’s overwhelming charisma as well as the clever and very entertaining comic writing.
This is, surprisingly for me, a rollicking space adventure with alien planets, alien beings and delightful small- to medium-sized supporting roles, like Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster. Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki, also pretty well-written. Cate Blanchett chews a lot of scenery as Hela, but Mark Ruffalo is great as always as the Hulk. We actually see a bit of the Hulk World series of comics in this film.
This movie is funny and fun and makes sense and is a pretty good segue to Infinity War. That I gave this film a 9 while Deadpool 2 got a 10 is kind of arbitrary, really. They’re both super-fun, aesthetically pleasing movies with a strong lead and a ton of entertaining supporting characters. Maybe because I watched Deadpool with rum and coke?
- Blade Runner 2049 — 7/10
Movies that ride along on the wave of a deus/ex character annoy me to no end. In this case, there’s the especially unstoppable and all-powerful and all-cruel Luv. She gets in everywhere, she finds everything immediately and she moves the plot forward inexorably. She is without any nuance—unlike all the other replicants in this movie (or its infamous predecessor)—and is the center of the plot. She’s like the terminator. All the parts with her in it are terrible. Jared Leto was also pretty one-dimensional, mostly due to just lazy, lazy writing.
It’s an absolutely beautiful-looking and -sounding movie, but the plot is a bit thin, considering how much time it spent on just omnipotent/omniscient killing machines. Maybe I would think differently on re-viewing, but I’m not so sure.
Also, I can’t for the life of me figure out this California weather. Dust storms, heat, then tons of rain, surging oceans and now snow. What the hell is going on?
- Demetri Martin: The Overthinker — 5/10
- Demetri likes puns and wordplay. He’s an observational comic with some reasonably clever bits. He’s meta. It’s a bit much for an hour-long special this time round. The bit with the drawings felt very much like filler. It was decent, but went on for too long, for my taste. The material in the second half was also pretty tepid and kind of derivative. I liked his previous special much better.
- San Andreas (2015) — 5/10
I wanted to like this movie more because I like The Rock “Dwayne” Johnson, but … the script is terrible. The characters are terrible. Everyone was a cookie-cutter, bullshit character. You could see everything coming a mile away. Women were in distress. Bold, heroic, muscular, former military men rescued them. It’s all a giant caricature. Obviously, but still. It could have been better. Like, Lifetime-movie-of-the-week-bad.
The only deviation is the Rock’s daughter who is the leader of her little group—only because the two men/boys in it are useless Brits (one’s an engineer rather than former SAS, so he’s just about useless).
The effects are nonpareil, of course. Or maybe pareil, but they’re really good. The Rock is entertaining and charismatic because of course he is. His ex-wife is a nothingburger who, after he rescues only her from the rooftop of a building in a disintegrating Los Angeles, tells him that he “owes her” a discussion of their dead daughter. He owes her nothing.
He’s the worst fireman in the world: he flies over everyone else to rescue family members. Even when he’s not rescuing family members, he’s absolutely reckless with equipment and lives in the first rescue mission we see him on: we’re supposed to be impressed at how he pulls everyone’s fat out of the fire whereas all I could think of was that his rashness was the only reason anyone’s fat was there in the first place.
Then he’s driving along a highway and doesn’t see a giant rift right in front of him. He completely ignores people on the side of the road who look stranded, but who are trying to wave him down to keep him from driving off of a rather obvious cliff. Worst rescuer ever.
Still, I almost want to give it another star for the tsunami/Perfect-Storm/container-ship scene that segues to a 100-foot tidal wave washing over San Fransisco after having taken out the Golden Gate Bridge like it was made of toothpicks. But then I want to take a star away for being so ludicrously predictable and nauseatingly American.
At the predictably rosy end, they all stand in a sunset under a cloud-scudded sky rather than in a gloomy, smoke-palled day, gagging on the stench of death and destruction. Also, nobody notices that Blake has brain damage from having gone without oxygen for so long (she has no lines after coming back from nearly drowning).
- Rampage (2018) — 6/10
The first twenty minutes of this movie are already better than anything in San Andreas. The Rock’s relationship with George is believable. The tech behind George’s mutation is introduced reasonably well. There’s an evil corporation headed by a brother/sister where the sister is the amoral driving force. There are elite, former-military hired killers. The showdown is being set up.
George is a good boy that evil science made bad. Poor George doesn’t mean to go crazy, he’s just hungry and being driven mad by the genetic engineering. It’s going to be predictable, but nonetheless epic.
The action set-pieces are decent, but God almighty is the dialogue weak: Malin Akerman as Clair Wyden (CEO of the evil genetics company behind the experiments) is thinly written and acted. Naomie Harris is awful, but no more so than anyone else in the role of token scientist spouting science bullshit. That she’s positioned as the romantic interest for The Rock is ludicrous. Even the ordinarily decent Jeffrey Dean Morgan just chews the scenery with his exaggerated accent.
Also, if the animals are that dangerous, why don’t they drop bombs on them instead of just shooting them with ineffective bullets? And now they jump straight to the MOAB? There’s really no in-between in American action films, is there? No room for nuance.
Speaking of no nuance, I think really Harris is the worst, so much unearned confidence and talking, but … Akerman is definitely giving her a run for her money. Their acting calibre is about on the level of Lifetime movie-of-the-week. Appalling. I almost felt bad about that last sentence. And then Akerman opened her mouth again. Morgan is also giving her a run for her money. Jesus.
Effects are good, of course. The alligator crawling through the side of a building like it was sponge cake was great. And George is funny. So one extra star.