Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2019.1
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.
- 36.15 code Père Noël (1989) — 8/10
This movie is French, but it screams the 80s. It actually came out a year before Home Alone—and the subsequent film seems to be a shoddy ripoff of this French original.
Thomas is a young boy living in a mansion with his mother and grandfather and dog. He has an overactive imagination and too many toys—we see him prepare himself elaborately for war within him home against his dog with tons of toys. He looks like a mini-Rambo. This is just to before breakfast.
His mother announces that she won’t be back until late that day. She runs the large, local shopping center. He amuses himself with contacting Santa Claus on his computer. Santa Claus on the other end is a man we saw at the every beginning—trying to take part in a snowball fight with children. His motives are currently unclear.
This film is an 80s’ kid’s dream come true: he’s got all of the equipment we all so dearly wanted: toy guns, computers, cars—he knows how do everything already. He can fix a car; he can hack a computer; he can drive the car. He makes a 3D model of his home, complete with integrated camera coverage (something we barely have today). We even see he can view the live footage on his arm-computer. It’s a complete child’s fantasy.
Meanwhile, the odd man pretending to be “Père Noël” with Thomas online is fired from being a mall Santa by Thomas’s mother. He slapped a child for telling him that he wasn’t the real Santa Claus. Things get a bit more sinister now—the guy hijacks a mall delivery-truck and is headed to Thomas’s house.
Thomas wakes to see Santa coming down the chimney—but his dog gets wind of it and attacks Santa. DID NOT SEE THIS COMING: Santa f%#$ing kills the dog, right in front of Thomas. Total 90º turn!
Thomas rescues his grandfather and they take his secret passages to the garage and get into the car—Santa is waiting. The car starts, but doesn’t stay running. Santa is off the f$%#ing rails—he head-butts the windshield, then goes to town with a sledgehammer. This ain’t no Home Alone.
Thomas and Papi retreat to his giant playroom and prepare for war (this is similar to Home Alone). Thomas’s mother is heading home. Santa is roving about the mansion with murder on his mind. He discovers the cameras—and takes them out.
Thomas refuses to wear shoes in an old mansion in the middle of winter. Kids are stupid. It catches up to him: he’s forced out onto the roof, replete in his plastic knives and grenades and suction-cup darts, crying for his mother. She’s on her way—driving and phoning in a snowstorm.
Thomas is not out of tricks, though: he sneaks back into the house and sends his friend a fax. I shit you not. Too late for grandpa, though, as Santa has discovered the hidey-hole—and Grandpa can’t see. Thomas gets there in the nick of time. He lures Santa into the steam room and traps him there, turning up the heat considerably.
They’re trapped in the house now, though, because Thomas had dropped down security panels on all doors and windows (I know, right?) and now his arm-computer’s broken, so he can’t open them again.
Mom crashes the car (out of the game; condition unknown) and Santa manages to break out of the steam room. Thomas is using a welding torch now—I shit you not. He gets the doors and windows open. But Santa has recovered and he manages to stab Thomas. Pilou (his friend) shows up and lures Santa away.
Now it’s montage time. He splints his leg. He buries his dog. The end of the movie is more like the part that Home Alone copied—but overall, this movie is so much darker. They killed a dog! Santa killed a dog! Right in front of the boy! In a Christmas movie!
Thomas is more like Rambo in this part: he builds real grenades out of his fake ones. He lights Santa on fire with a suction-cup dart. He tries to blow up Santa with a toy train carrying said grenade, but Santa turns it around on him and tries to kill Grandpa with it, instead. But, yeah, Santa looks very much like Joe Pesci in Home Alone.
So much happens: a cop shows up and Santa kills him. The boy trips over the cop’s body in the woods, but finds his gun. He shoots Santa—but Santa keeps coming. Thomas goes back the mansion to free his grandfather and give him an insulin shot. He resuscitates him—and Santa’s back, staggering through the main door. This time Grandpa gets the gun and—even though he can barely see—finishes Santa off.
This kid’s not bad, actually. His acting career went nowhere, but he became a big-time visual-effects producer (and I mean “big-time”: Independence Day, Avatar, San Andreas and many more. He must get so much shit about this movie from his colleagues).
It was decent, more interesting in an anthropological way. Also, that 90º turn when Santa first shows up is worth an extra point.
Saw it in the original French.
- The Big Sick (2017) — 9/10
This was a lovely movie about a budding relationship between Kumail (Kumail Nanjani) and Emily (Zoe Kazan). They both live in Chicago. Kumail is a second-generation immigrant—his parents moved from Pakistan with him and his brother. Kumail’s brother toes the line; Kumail only pretends to. He pretends to pray, he pretends to be signing up for the LSAT. He drives an Uber to support his budding standup career. His parents are depicted as what everyone expects Asian parents to be.
Emily is in school, getting her master’s in Psychology. She wants to be a therapist. We meet her parents later.
Emily and Kumail meet and date, but ultimately break up because Kumail has not told his parents about Emily—and Emily discovers the box of marriage candidates that Kumail’s mother keeps introducing him to.
Fast-forward a bit and Emily falls terribly ill. Her friends all have exams, so they call Kumail to sit with her. Emily’s parents show up—Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, both spectacular—and they grudgingly form a triad of support for Emily. Kumail gets to know them and they him. Kumail is finally forced to tell him parents about Emily. Kumail also has a chance at a big comedy festival: he’s qualified for the final tryouts. He bombs terribly because he has a breakdown on stage about Emily.
Emily wakes from her artificial coma—the doctors have found out what’s wrong with her and it’s manageable. Emily, however, was asleep during Kumail’s growth. She doesn’t care about him—to her, he’s still the asshole who wouldn’t tell his parents about her and with whom she has no chance.
Kumail accepts her decision and moves on, in a way. His friends are moving to New York City and they want him to go with them. He agrees to go. Emily, though, has a change of heart after having seen his breakdown on stage and also his revamped one-man show, in which he took her advice to tell more about himself. He’s moving, though, and they once again pass like ships in the night.
Things work out, though, don’t worry. It’s unorthodox, but it’s a romantic comedy after all. All of the leads are very funny (Kumail’s 9/11 joke was brilliant) and it’s sweet and believable. Recommended.
- Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (2014) — 7/10
This movie is a hodge-podge of deleted and extended scenes from the Twin Peaks movie and the series. Some are interesting; some are surreal; some are both; some are neither. Some others could be shown at the Whitney in New York and no-one would notice. Some of those are repeats, even within this film.
David Bowie as Phillip Jeffries is in a couple of them. In one of them Miguel Ferrer as Albert is there, as well. It’s nice to see Pete Martell and Jocelyn Packard and co. from the original series.
Laura Palmer’s in several of the scenes: in one of them, we see her getting into a truck cab and offering sex for cocaine (which was mostly just hinted at in the series and movie). Many of her scenes are quite good—they stand on their own, providing richer detail. There’s several scenes with Laura and Bobby that illuminate things considerably. On the other hand, the original show managed to convey everything without ever showing Laura at all.
In fact, a lot of these scenes were clearly dropped because Lynch and Frost felt that they were too obvious, that they gave away too much, that they explained too much of the mystery too soon.
For fans of the show, it’s nice to see all of the characters in new scenes. For anyone who’s not a fan—or hasn’t seen the show—this movie will be quite confusing.
- Zerkalo (The Mirror) (1974) — 10/10
I always enjoy the ride with Tarkovsky. There’s just something about his direction that makes you pay attention. He makes passages that would be boring seem intriguing enough to follow minutely. It’s a combination of his languorous camera movement—always in motion, rotating about his subjects—his loving focus on nature, his visual storytelling, hid auditory storytelling, using silence so effectively, and never, ever telling when he could show. His sets are meticulously constructed, colors, buildings, costumes, effects. Rain is where he wants it to be, as is fire. It’s almost as if he can even command the wind to blow across an entire field when he needs it.
The story unfolds non-chronologically (big surprise there). It focuses on a woman who, in the present, lives alone in the countryside. Windows to the past reveal a husband, a larger home somewhere else, children.
Some scenes are in black and white, others in color—I think this might suggest chronology. Tarkovsky loves rain as much as Kurosawa in Rashomon.
We cut back and forth through time, with Natalya playing both herself and the Mother. At times, particularly toward the end, we feel that she gazes at herself, across time. But the film is narrated by Alyosha, both as a child as an adult. There is stock footage of soldiers trudging through water, dragging boats of supplies along shorelines. Other stock footage shows the raising of a giant Soviet balloon.
The scenes each stand on their own, each exquisitely planned and shot. Each telling its story with a minimal of exposition. In one scene, boys are learning to shoot. The squeaking snow tells the story of the col. One child’s mittenless hands tell the story of his poverty. That they don’t notice tells of their resignedness to suffering.
This is scattering of memories and some dream sequences, flitting about, crossing, starring sometimes the same people at different ages, sometimes the same actors playing different people. Always with voiceovers or careful audio, tuned to contribute to the mood, if not the story. Especially in this film, there are always mirrors reflecting the scene from another direction. And spindly plants, more stark in the black-and-white scenes of the past. The glowing coals with the mirror in it; the warm scenes with first, after so much rain and wet. This seems to be a mirror held up by the director, showing himself.
I don’t know what it is about it, but I’d watch it again. There are the one-sided conversation where the second speaker is forever off-screen and the camera is locked on only one half of the conversation. Inconceivable but there it is, again and again. And it’s mesmerizing. Maybe partially because it’s so different from everything else. The film demands your attention and rewards you for giving it.
It’s like the condensation of an entire culture, of generations over the last 100 years. The mood, the pacing is lovely, but alien to me. The storytelling is Lynchian, hinting at deep meaning convincingly. The art direction is in a league of its own. There are certain scenes where you could see one still and know immediately who’d directed this film.“[…] even in my dream i become aware that I’m only dreaming it. And the overwhelming joy is clouded by anticipation of awakening.”
- The Predator (2018) — 8/10
I only heard about this movie from the video essay, The Unloved − The Predator by Scout Tafoya (Vimeo), in which the author made a plea for finally appreciating Olivia Munn’s acting chops. He turns out to have been right. This is a solid action movie, with funny writing, interesting characters and—lo and behold—no emphasis made on gender roles. Munn is neither a shrinking violet nor femme fatale; neither is the wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) of another lead Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, whom I first saw in Narcos and who’s only grown on me since).
Munn is completely believable as an evolutionary biologist who gets pulled in to study the Predator they’ve captured. She’s also funny (we knew that from the Daily Show) and doesn’t back down from a fight. The plot is kind of incidental, actually. It’s the smooth action, good characters and funny dialogue that make this action film stand out. When the predators show up, they even kind of get in the way of the back-and-forth. That doesn’t happen a lot in this kind of movie.
In scene after scene, they make it funny and utterly fail to make Munn look weak. She rescues herself—just like all the rest of them.
The hodge-podge band of soldiers are better than the typical group—they’re far less macho and a bit smarter than usual. This is also a nice turnaround. Thomas Jane has Turret’s Syndrome, Alfie Allen is bit off the deep end, as is Keegan-Michael Key who delivers three ruthless yo-mama jokes. Trevante Rhodes and Sterling K. Brown were solid.
You are actually end up caring about each of them—you don’t want any of them to die, even though you know it’s a Predator movie and it’s only a matter of time. When the time comes, they die well. Oh my God, Olivia Munn out of fucking nowhere with the flying attack—and then keeps up the pressure until she’s captured her space pet—and then Quinn puts it out of its misery.
Overall an enjoyable action movie with a surprisingly witty and interesting script. I think we have Shane Black to thank for that, at last partially. He’s made a few witty action movies before. It’s nice to see him fix up the to-date mindless Predator films.
Unfortunately, the movie didn’t end at the right time. The boy is variably autistic—sometimes he is and sometimes he isn’t. The final scene felt extremely tacked on—and where the fuck did Olivia Munn go?
- The Last Dragon (1985) — 6/10
This is the story of Bruce Leroy (Taimak), a disciple who has finally outgrown his master. He is loosed into a world to seek the “last level” of enlightenment. He starts in a movie theater showing Enter the Dragon. The audience watches enthusiastically, until Sno’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem (Julius Carry), shows up to demand fealty. He challenges Bruce Leroy, but must sideline several other contenders first.
We meet a few more players—some rich, white people who are probably trying to ruin everything. And then we meet Laura Charles (Vanity) who DJs—and plays Debarge. Debarge, dood. This movie could not be more 80s. William H. Macy is Laura’s agent.
Laura gets attacked and Leroy comes to her rescue. He’s got some of Bruce Lee’s style. This is also not a coincidence. He wears Lee’s yellow suit from Game of Death while teaching his class. The dojo has a lot of the accoutrements of a JKD dojo. It’s also, apparently, a time before guns, which is nice.
Sho-Nuff, Leroy and Eddie (the white guy from before) altercate back and forth. Eddie and his girl Angie fight—this is movie from which Tessa Thompson’s performance-art speech in Sorry to Bother You originated.
“Eddie Arcadian: Where are you gonna go, Angie? Without me, you’re nothing! Without that outfit, you’re just another no-talent dental hygiene school drop-out from Kew Gardens getting by on her tits!
“Angela Viracco: And in the end, Eddie, you know what? You’re nothing but a misguided midget asshole with dreams of ruling the world. Yeah, also from Kew Gardens. And also getting by on my tits.”
Apparently being from Kew Gardens—or, God forbid, returning there—is double-plus ungood.
There’s a melee in which Johnny (a student of Leroy’s) and his little brother kick a lot of ass with Leroy. Decent choreography, actually. Unsurprisingly, Leroy ends up fighting Sho-Nuff. I can’t get over how much Snoop-Dogg modeled his look on Sho-Nuff. Julius Carry is one big dude, like Snoop. Come to think of it: like Wilt Chamberlin, the final boss from Bruce Lee’s Game of Death. That can’t have been an accident.
Better than expected, but still not very good. Extra point for rocking the 80s look so hard. And Bruce Lee clips.
- The Disaster Artist (2017) — 8/10
Imagine a young man in San Fransisco named Gary (Dave Franco), who’s trying to make it as an actor. He’s in an acting class with Tommy (James Franco). Tommy puts on a completely bonkers performance that seems to be from Streetcar Named Desire but the similarity ends at yelling “Stella” over and over and over.
Gary approaches Tommy for help in getting out of his shell. Tommy does just that and Gary hero-worships him a bit, even though Tommy could easily pass for mentally handicapped or foreign or both. He has a completely unplaceable accent that is entirely his own. He refuses to talk about himself. He has a tremendous amount of money.
He offers to take Gary with him to Los Angeles, where he has an apartment. They try to make it as actors but, after a year, it’s not working. Tommy is very frustrated and ready to give up. Gary suggests that they should just make their own movie if no-one will place them otherwise. Tommy’s eyes light up—as far as that’s possible, with his ptosis—and a dream is born.
Tommy does this—as he does everything—very unconventionally. First, he spends three years writing a terrible, well-nigh inscrutable script. Then, he buys all of his equipment instead of renting it. He hires his entire crew with barely an interview.
They’re off and running. The shoot runs way too long. Gary gets closer to his girlfriend and moves in with—out of Tommy’s apartment. Tommy’s jealous—not in a gay way, but because Gary was his only friend. The movie more-or-less wraps, but Gary and Tommy drift apart.
Gary takes up doing theater. Tommy shows up one evening to personally invite him to the opening of The Room. Gary reluctantly agrees, but slowly comes around to friendship with Tommy again, as the evening progresses. The final cut is so awful that it’s good—people are laughing. Tommy is offended., but Gary convinces him to take his successes where he can. He’s made his movie and no-one can take that away.
Not, imagine that this movie is basically a behind-the-scenes retelling of the making of a movie called The Room by Tommy Wiseau, which has become a cult classic and has actually, by now, broken even. Franco’s bizarre depiction is 100% on the nose. They even have a small scene where the real Tommy and Franco as Tommy meet at a party and chat. They’re like brothers.
The Franco brothers do extremely well in making this movie about the making of a terrible movie not terrible. Seth Rogan’s also in and is decent. So are Alison Brie (she’s in everything these days), Jason Mantzoukas (him too) and even Zac Efron.
It was an endearing movie about one of the strangest guys you’ll ever see on screen.
- La Ch’tite Famille (2018) — 8/10
The Ch’ti region of France—in the deep north—is once again features for light ridicule in this sequel by Dany Boon. This time, Boon plays Valentin D., a man who escapes his bucolic roots to become a famous designer in Paris, making uncomfortable furniture at exorbitant prices. The Parisian elite are dragged through the mud at least as much as the Ch’tis.
Valentin has long since established himself as an orphan—he would never have made it very far in the world of French architecture and design if it was known whence he came.
This all comes to and end when his brother hatches a plan to bring their 80-year–old mother to Paris for her 80th birthday, in order to guilt his brother into giving him some money to pay off a debt. This is a comedy and watching mother plow her way through the upper-class, museum party is a treat.
Watching the Parisians feign being completely unable to understand the Ch-ti accent never gets old.
Valentin hits his head and is taken back to his 17-year–old self. He no longer knows his fancy, designer wife (who actually warms up to her newfound family, even if she can’t understand a thing they’re saying). Laurence Arné‘s looks of incredulity at watching her husband speak patois are priceless. It’s even better watching her take “lessons” in the northern patois:
“Constance: Ah, very few words. And … no conjugation?
“Tony: None at all. No need.”
They try to re-acclimate Valentin with pictures, his fancy apartment—where he, too, complains that the chairs are uncomfortable—and with speech therapy, for his horrific accent. The uncomfortable chairs are another running joke—almost every one of their friends of famous colleagues that they meet complains of having sciatica for an unknown reason. Whenever someone is absent—say, a doctor couldn’t make it to surgery—it’s because he’s at the chiropractor.
As Constance learns patois and he re-learns his Parisian manners, they find an ally in each other—and fall in love again. Where before, we saw them both walk by without saying hello to anyone, now the bumpkin Valentin greets everyone he sees in the lobby—as it were a small town.
Back at work, he starts designing comfortable furniture—his flair for design is not gone. I’ve always liked Dany Boon—in almost everything. She starts changing to be more like him than him changing back to his old self. And clearly she loves him more than their career or their business.
- Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) — 9/10
This movie is about a secret organization from England called The Kingsman. It’s very much made in the mold of Mission: Impossible, but very British.
The cast is quite good: Colin Firth, Samuel Jackson, Mark Hamill, Michael Caine, Mark Strong. There’s a bunch of younger actors and actresses with whom I’m not familiar (they were fine, not standout).
So what happens? We see a man die during what looks like a training mission. He was to be a Kingsman, but he died saving the other candidates. We fast-forward 17 years and the same man—Galahad (Colin Firth)—who had recruited this man, now recruits his son, who’s a bit of a chav. This is Eggsy. He, of course, makes it through the training program, as does, unsurprisingly, the girl Roxy, who’s somehow supposed to become a “gentleman” and take the name “Lancelot” to replace the fallen Kingsman.
How did the previous Lancelot die? He was sliced in half by a supremely ridiculous henchwoman of tech billionaire and evil mastermind Valentine (Sam Jackson, playing with a Tyson-like lisp). His henchwoman has prosthetic lower legs with knives all over them. Her name is unironically Gazelle. He’s kind of chaotic neutral because his main goal is to combat climate change, but he’s given up on normal channels—which clearly aren’t working. Mark Hamill is a sad-sack professor who gets in the way.“Valentine: When you get a virus, you get a fever. That’s the human body raising its core temperature to kill the virus. Planet Earth works the same way: Global warming is the fever, mankind is the virus. We’re making our planet sick. A cull is our only hope. If we don’t reduce our population ourselves, there’s only one of two ways this can go: The host kills the virus, or the virus kills the host. Either way…”
It’s almost like Jordan Peterson wrote this; no wonder the young men love it so much.
Still, there’s some nice dialogue,
“Eggsy: So, are you going to teach me to talk proper, like in My Fair Lady?
Galahad: Don’t be absurd. Being a gentleman has nothing to do with one’s accent. It’s about being at ease in one’s own skin. As Hemingway said, “There’s nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”.”
Their time in “Fitting Room #3” seems taken directly from James Bond’s meetings with Q. They each had to pick a dog, during training. Eggsy picked the pug because he thought it was a bulldog puppy. He named it J.B. Arthur (Caine) asks him it stands for James Bond? No. Jason Bourne? No. Jack Bauer. J.B. Has a spectacular underbite. Arthur says that the final test is to shoot J.B. he does not. Roxy does shoot her dog, so she’s in—Eggsy’s out. Obviously, the gun wasn’t loaded.
The church melee set to Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”, where everyone goes batshit, even Galahad, is pretty impressively choreographed. Valentine’s pilot project to drive people into a killing frenzy works flawlessly. Valentine confronts Harry/Galahad as he’s leaving the church—and offs him without telling him his master plan, completely off-script.
From there, we get a standard, but cool, story of the Kingsmen having been compromised and Roxy, Eggsy and Merlin coming from behind to save the day. A bit long, but good action flick. A better James Bond movie than many others. I liked how they took out all of the implants. I didn’t expect it to get so campy and funny, but it pulled it off with aplomb.
- Jack Reacher: No Way Back (2016) — 7/10
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) quickly gets embroiled in a cover-up. He’s no longer in the Army, but he has a contact there, Major Turner (Cobie Smulders). They’ve never met, but he finally asks her if she’d like to go to dinner. By the time he gets to Washington D.C., she’s been arrested and is being held incommunicado. She was getting too close to sordid Army deeds in Afghanistan. Her two investigators were killed over there.
Reacher breaks her out of prison and they’ve on the run. I like how they use Internet cafés, public libraries, public transportation, taxis and Greyhound to travel. They use TracPhones and mini-vans. Low-key and nearly untraceable.
They end up on the run with a 15-year–old girl who might be Reacher’s daugher (her mother had filed a paternity suit against him, at any rate). Fistfights are interspersed with dealing with a scared teenager with all of the unearned confidence, arrogance and condescension that goes with it. Also, with reckless stupidity—she’s like a fucking goldfish; after an hour, she forgets that she’s on the lam.
There’s a ton of beefy mercs in shadowy alliances, all working for deep and secret and hidden governments and unelected powers. Reacher and Turner bust the general who’s been smuggling drugs in weapons shipments and exonerate themselves. However, the ding-dong girl has gotten herself into the super-killer’s crosshairs and we get a second ending.
The final fight was stupid: if you want me to believe that the bad guy can still fight, then maybe you shouldn’t have him fall two stories flat onto his back and hit his head hard enough to make a big blood spot. If you’re going to make him get back up, make it look like he rolled with the fall. I’m used to Tom Cruise surviving everything.
Cobie Smulders is a pretty bad-ass, hand-to-hand action hero. Movie was decent, but it offered no surprises, really.
- How to do you circumcise a homeless guy? Kick Baxley’s mom on the chin.
- If Baxley’s mom’s vagina was a video game, it’d be rated E for Everyone.
- What’s the difference between five black guys and a joke? Baxley’s mom can’t take a joke.