Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2018.7
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 and. let’s be honest, level of intoxication. YMMV. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.
- Hap and Leonard S01–S03 (2016–2018) — 9/10
This is a three-season faithful adaptation of the first three Hap and Leonard novels by Joe Lansdale. James Purefoy (from Altered Carbon) and Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire) are the eponymous leads, respectively.
They are principled and poor and forever getting dragged into complicated matters that have them playing the reluctant heroes. The dialogue is good, the acting is great and the stories are really fun. The stories are set in 1980s America. Leonard went to Vietnam; Hap refused and did time in Leavenworth. They are as close as brothers (we find out why in season 2). They practice martial arts and can handle themselves in both fisticuffs and shootouts.
The first season is a get-rich-quick scheme involving Hap’s ex-wife, the second is about a child-kidnapping case that extends over decades and the third is digging up a lost friend from the most racist town ever, with (female) officer Reynolds giving Woody Harrelson from Rampart a run for his money as most racist movie-cop ever.
The show boasts not only the two leads, but a collection of meaty roles for actors like Christina Hendricks (Hap’s ex-wife from season 1; famous for having played Joan in Mad Men), Brian Dennehy (Sheriff from season 2), Louis Gosset Jr. (Bacon the cook from season 3), Andrew Dice Clay (DJ from season 3) and Corbin Bernsen (Sheriff Cantuck from season 3).
A hidden gem—highly recommended. It’s a pity that it was canceled after three seasons; Lansdale has written plenty more novels. I’ve heard that it’s on Netflix in the States, if you’re looking for it.
- Predestination (2014) — 8/10
This was a cool time-traveling movie. It reminded me a bit of 12 Monkeys or Looper since those movies also addressed the paradox of meeting yourself. This movie goes much further than that, though. I felt vaguely throughout the movie that I knew the story. I found out why on Wikipedia: the movie is based on an old Robert Heinlein story called “—All You Zombies—”, which I must have read about 30 years ago.
I honestly don’t want to spoil the paradox. The two leads Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook are excellent. Recommended.
- Blackkklansman (2018) — 9/10
I’ve seen idiots taking Spike Lee to task for suggesting that the police could be part of the solution. Or that white people could be part of the solution. This is a much more mature picture of the future: a feel-good movie suggesting that the police could be part of the solution to the race war.
It doesn’t matter that this movie isn’t “realistic”. It matters that it’s fun and clever and has good acting. The good guys win a victory—the cops, whites and blacks together. What’s the problem? Isn’t what we’re striving for?
I could understand if this were in a newspaper, where propaganda is more hidden. But this is a movie by Spike Lee—he can hardly be accused of kowtowing to the man, the police or the white race. So give him the benefit of the doubt that he did something more subtle here and perhaps more hopeful. He co-opted the blacksploitation film for himself. The KKK is a bunch of low-IQ fools. They blow themselves up because they can’t even figure out how big a mailbox is. Lee got in some digs at the current administration in a relatively subtle manner.
Unlike Kwame says in the movie, the race war is not coming. It’s long since begun. The question is whether we’re going to start fighting with the same vehemence as the other side. There’s still a long, long, long way to go. The neat thing is that Patrice is epitomous of the idiots who think they’re “for the cause” today: they can’t see anything but their own involvement and see everything else as appeasement. Ron’s involvement literally saved her life and thwarted a Klan attack, but she thinks her half-hearted rallies are more important and that he has to choose one or the other.
Ron Stallworth was clearly in charge of the investigation, he was smart, skilled, eloquent and hilarious. This was an update to the classic blacksploitation movies of the 70s, with a heroic lead character. Based on a true story, which is even better.
John David Washington was brilliant. Adam Driver was excellent as well. Topher Grace was excellent as David Duke (he even looked a bit like him)
I guess the coda kind of makes sense, but it felt strange. I guess Lee included it for those who couldn’t see the subtext of the rest of the film, artistically rendered. The coda, in relation, was like a cudgel: it’s still happening today. No shit.
- Secretary (2002) — 8/10
Lee’s umbrella is broken. She’s stoop-shouldered. Her father is an alcoholic, her mother has nothing better to do than wait for her daughter to finish work—five hours later. At the same time, Lee is seeing Peter, who’s not a very confident person. His whole body language suggests that he’s very similar to Lee, personality-wise. At least for now.
He goes through so many secretaries that “Secretary Wanted” is part of the sign, with lights, like a no/vacancy sign. It’s pretty obvious from the get-go that this is a sexual relationship, a courtship, rather than a boss/employee relationship. He alternates between calling her Lee and Ms. Holloway.
That final look, where she’s following his car, as it drives to work. She looks up, definitely breaking the fourth wall, daring the viewer to judge her.
- Venom (2018) — 7/10
Thomas Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a renegade video reporter working for a big newspaper in San Fransisco. A billionaire mogul Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) is the enemy here, subverting Brock’s work at the newspaper (because Brock is investigating him). Also, Brock’s girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams) is a lawyer and works indirectly for Drake.
Drake’s company gets ahold of alien beings called symbiotes. When Brock sneaks into the labs to get the scoop, one of these symbiotes escapes and bonds with Brock. The being is called Venom and purports to be a “good guy” from his race. In fact, “kind of a loser”, like Brock himself. They team up to kick all sorts of ass and to thwart Drake’s plan (whatever that is). Venom/Brock are pretty amusing, but otherwise, the movie’s a bit thin.
- Reds (1981) — 9/10
This was a pretty fantastic and inspiring depiction of the lives of John Reed and Louise Bryant. John Reed (played by Warren Beatty) wrote 10 Days that Shook the World, a book about the dawn of the Russian Revolution. John Reed came back with the book and a fire in his belly to effect a similar revolution in America. He’s blocked from working with with the Russian Communist Party because the American party split into two factions.
Meanwhile the U.S. government is as anti-Bolshevik, anti-Communist and anti-worker and Facist as you can imagine. They plague him and Louise. Reed is ill and still travels, his work interferes with his relationship with Louise, played by Diane Keaton. The film shows wonderfully the tremendous amount of passion and energy.
Diane Keaton is amazing—her dialogues with Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill are fantastic. He’s a cynical bastard, comfortable in his position in the American society. Meanwhile, Reed is underway in Russia and is arrested for trying to flee Russia (after having met with Zinoviev) through Finland. The U.S. denies any association with Reed because he’s an enemy of the State. This kind of reminds me of Edward Snowden’s plight. I’d read Reed’s book earlier this year, but didn’t realize what had happened afterward.
In prison in Finland, he gets scurvy. Louise travels to rescue him and makes an overland journey through the Finish winter. Reed is finally released thanks to the help of Bolshevik Finish professors. Lenin was also involved in his release. Reed is ill, not only with scurvy, but also a kidney disease, which had already taken one of his kidneys.
John is in exile. He meets with Emma Goldman in Russia, also an exile from the U.S. for being a communist. She advises him to think long and hard about calling Louise to meet him in Russia, as she would be exiled as well—and for a cause that she doesn’t believe in nearly as strongly as he does.
Out of prison and back in Russia, Reed represents America at the committee meetings, but he can only speak a smattering of Russian, German and French and they don’t want to accept English as an official language. He quits in frustration. He discusses the situation with Emma Goldman, who tells him of the real-world dangers facing all revolutionaries. She reminds him that the Bolshevik system has already failed 4 million people that have starved over the winter. He tells her that it’s not going the way they’d planned or the way they’d imagined, but that it’s moving forward. He can’t ignore that. He rejoins the committees.
When Louise finally gets to Russia, Emma Goldman runs into her at the train station, just before she gets into even more trouble for not having the proper traveling papers. Reed is in Turkey, traveling with the Bolsheviks to visit other worker’s parties of the world. Zinoviev changes his speech to say “holy war” rather than “class struggle” before it’s translated to Turkish. Reed confronts him, saying that revolution is nothing without differing opinions, without dissent, without individualism. It’s not just the single opinion of the party.
His heart and mind are more than in the right place, but so many obstacles stand in the way, not the least of which are all of the most powerful people and nation-states in the world. This is a story of a missed opportunity.
John Reed died of typhus in Russia because the Allies had blockaded all medical supplies during the war. He dies on October 17, 1920, exactly three years after the end of the revolution. He was buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, alongside other fallen heroes of the revolution.
Watched it in German.
- Tomb Raider (1981) — 7/10
This reboot leads us through a new origin story for Lara. We find her in London, working as a bicycle messenger. She has refused to take her father’s inheritance, because she doesn’t want to acknowledge that he’s died. Instead, she takes up the adventurer mantel and follows him to Japan, where’d he pursued a supernatural power embodied Himiko, the Witch Queen of Japan, who’d been marooned on an uninhabited and quasi-uninhabitable island in the Devil’s Sea.
She takes his lore and still refuses his fortune, hocking her mother’s ring to get traveling money to go to Japan. There she finds Lu Ren, the son of the fisherman who’d taken her father to the fated island. They follow their fathers into the teeth of a storm and shipwreck on the island. They are captured by the men against whom her father was fighting and forced to work on the slave crew that is trying to find Himiko.
Lu Ren helps her escape and she escapes into the night. After many travails, she also finds her father, who’s been living on the island for seven years on his own. Mattias Vogel, the head of the enemy crew, had claimed to have killed him. Her father is played by Dominic West, or Mcnulty, if you’re a fan of the The Wire.
He’s pissed with her because she did not do as he’d asked: she’d failed to burn his effects and led Vogel directly to Himiko.
The action scenes are reasonably well-done, as long as you remember that they’re almost literally from a video game. They’re ludicrous and unbelievable, but they’re from a video game. They make sense in that context. Viskander at least makes it look difficult for such a small person to do all of these feats. Also, nobody enhanced her bosoms for this film, which is good.
At any rate, she leaves her father’s camp and attack Vogel’s camp, kicking ass and taking names. Her father advances on the tomb of Himiko, which Vogel’s explosives have revealed. The expected scene plays out, where Vogel threatens to kill her father if Lara doesn’t open the tomb. Lara opens the tomb’s main door in spectacular fashion, revealing a chasm in to the heart of the island.
Vogel forces them—Indiana-Jones-and-the-Last-Crusade-like—to help him overcome the obstacles. The first is “the chasm of souls”, which is a chasm with literally thousands of skeletons in it. The solution to the almost-literally-copied-from-the-previously-mentioned-movie trap is also very much like a video game. Now, they’re all working together as if they’re not enemies.
All joking and cynicism aside, it’s a really cool set and concept. The twist is also that Himiko turns out to have sacrificed herself for the good of the planet: she was a carrier of a horrific, fast-acting, zombifying disease.
Her dad gets infected and it’s up to Lara to use her less-than-adequate fighting skills to beat Vogel. She really walks into quite a few punches. It’s kind of a Rocky-style fight: you know she’s going to win, but the entire scene says that she shouldn’t. He did shrug off a shot to the nuts as if it were nothing, which also made no sense whatsoever.
It was a total video-game boss-level escape at the end.
- The Assignment (2016) — 8/10
This movie has quite a stellar cast, starring Michelle Rodriguez as Frank Kitchen, a hitman. Signourney Weaver is a genius-level and mad gender-reassignment doctor named Rachel Jane, who’s had her practice closed for malpractice. Frank kills her brother on an assignment. Tony Shalhoub plays Jane’s psychiatrist.
This kicks off a revenge story engineered by Jane, where she has Kitchen kidnapped and turns him into a woman. Frank starts to put the pieces together and slowly reels doctor Jane in. Jane thinks she can outsmart everyone, but Kitchen gets the drop on her, mutilating her but letting her live…without fingers.
An interesting story and well-acted by the leads.
- Stalingrad (1993) — 8/10
This is a German movie about the siege of Stalingrad in 1942. It hits the familiar points of a realistic and semi-honest war movie. Most of the German soldiers are young and naive; the Russians have even-younger soldiers.
The slaughter is senseless and breathtaking. Hundreds die on each advance. A regiment of 400 is left with about 20 men by the first evening. Germans accidentally shoot Germans; Russians are captured and then immediately shot by others who either didn’t realize that they’d given themselves up or didn’t care.
The cold is visceral; it is its own combatant, taking victims on both sides.
Some of the acting is not very good, but then the acting in reality probably wasn’t very good. You can watch the psychological collapse in real-time. At one point, they’re holed up across the street from a Russian encampment. Both sides call a ceasefire to go collect their wounded and take the dog-tags from their dead. You see the soldiers share food and care for their dead. They can barely communicate. The Russian is untranslated and without subtitles. It’s pretty simple, though, “Alyosha, it will be all right. It will be fine.”
However, this temporary truce is broken up by a soldier who claims that he saw the Russians making a move, but who really just wanted to follow the rules about “no contact with the enemy”. The Germans capture a Russian soldier, in the form of a young boy in adult clothing.
They remain holed up in this cold building, unable to move and going slowly crazy from hunger, cold, panic and fear. They investigate the sewers and find corpses, rats and incredible amounts of water. One German captures a female Russian soldier but then falls into the water before she can bring him back to his comrades. She runs off and they find him anyway. The Russians, meanwhile, move about more-or-less with impunity, although they must protect the many civilians that remain in the city.
The Germans make their way back to an infirmary, which looks like Bosch painting. They are arrested for abandoning their post on the front. The German command is ruthless. The tiny remainder are banished to mine-sweeping duty in the tundra, where they are abused by their own comrades, who are now their guards.
The Germans are in a hopeless situation, but will not give up. Now the banished troops are pulled back into active duty as cannon-fodder. On the way, Otto tells of not being able to integrate back home, when he’s on leave, how the more his wife seeks to understand him, the more he hates her.
The wintry foxholes look nightmarishly bleak and cold. The battles are far less flashy and smooth than those in more recent American war films—but one suspects they’re much more realistic. After the seemingly senseless battle (it was in the middle of nowhere), with horrific attribution on both sides, the Germans move on, dragging their artillery by hand. They come upon a village, where other Germans are burning everything and throwing the villagers into the streets. The Russian film Come and See depicted a similar scene its final act.
They are rewarded for their having taken part and are now asked to slaughter Russians in cold blood. Their faces are covered in sores, the snow falls, the Russians stand pitifully, among them old men, women and children. Once again, the high-level command is depicted as merciless and evil (accusing them of refusing commands and “behaving like Jews”).
Three of them desert their post soon after this slaughter, fleeing (albeit slowly) into the wasteland of the Russian tundra in winter. They come upon a giant pile of corpses and find that some of them have tags—tags that they can use to get out of Russia. They get to the airbase; there are bodies and frozen corpses everywhere. Before they can board, though, the plane is commandeered for officers. It would be the last plane to leave Stalingrad.
It’s back to the tundra for them, another overland journey. They return to their colleagues, who look like the walking dead. A feast falls from the sky, dropped by a German plane. The same officer that told them to shoot Russian civilians shows up to demand that they leave it be. He shoots one of them and they kill him. Before he dies, he tries to bribe them with the location of a giant cache of supplies. They head there afterward.
Buried in a back room, they find a Russian woman tied to a bed. They quickly agree that they will go in order of rank and leave the Lieutenant with her. He’s conflicted, to say the least. She attacks him, telling him to fuck her or shoot her, but put an end to it. He does neither and gives her his Luger, telling her to shoot herself because he has no desire to shoot anyone anymore. She can’t do it, though. Neither does she shoot him.
Their sergeant is gravely injured, but tries to get control of them, calling them deserters. Otto is around the bend and says that he’ll take care of himself and blows out the back of his head. A loyal soldier takes his sergeant on his back and heads out into the cold, away from the bunker. His sergeant dies soon after. The soldier sees a line of Germans walking by and tries to give himself up, but they have been captured.
The rest leave the bunker (two remaining German soldiers and Irina), back in the tundra. They walk for what seems like days and encounter a Russian MG nest, which kills Irina. The two remaining soldiers make it a bit farther, but succumb to the weather.
The epilogue informs us that over 1 million people died in and around Stalingrad. Of the 260,000 people in the 6th Germany army, 91,000 were sent to prison. Of those, only 6,100 made it back to Germany.
- Mission: Impossible − Fallout (2018) — 10/10
The movie starts off with a bang with the Apostles—the remnants of Solomon’s gang from Rogue Nation—seizing plutonium. Hunt and crew were there and let it slip through their fingers. Most of the same cast is back with some additions. Henry Cavill is introduced as Agent Walker, a CIA guy who’s along on the IMF mission.
Angela Bassett as the new head of the CIA—and she drops talk of renditions and water-boarding like it’s not even a bad thing anymore. So nice to see that America’s forgiven itself its transgressions and happy with the new normal. Bassett seems to be happy to take a lot of money to play an utterly unsympathetic and one-dimensional asshole.
Walker is also a one-dimensional asshole, with extremely blunt methods. Apparently, Hunt’s methods have too much finesse—Walker is the “hammer”.
This movie has some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in a while. Ilsa Faust is a bad-ass, as is Liang Ying, the guy from the bathroom fight. Scratch that. this movie has some of the best action scenes I’ve seen in a while (Mechanic: Resurrection was pretty good, too). The mission this time is to recover the plutonium, but the team selling it wants Solomon Lane back. So Hunt and co. have to spring him from police custody. This is, to say the least, spectacular and uses very little CGI. It’s only at the end where Hunt gets up from a motorcycle crash without a scratch that it got a bit too much.
Ok, climbing a rope up to a helicopter not once but twice and not even being winded—and then beating up two guys to steal the chopper—that’s more unbelievable. But, still somehow awesome. I like how things fall apart and Hunt’s improvisations start to fail—but “I’ll figure something out”. At least he has the decency to look exhausted at the end.
In case it interests you: Tom Cruise learned to fly a helicopter so he could do all his own stunts. He flew off of a motorcycle and just got up and kept going. OMG and the bathroom fight scene with Henry Cavill and Liang Ying, a guy who I’d never seen before because he’s a stuntman but holy crap is he going to get his own movie after this. Then Cruise swang around on the bottom of a helicopter for what felt like an hour. Incredible endurance. He’s pretty awesome, I have to admit. No man-crush, but respect aplenty.