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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2019.2

Published by marco on

Updated 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 around 1400 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.

The Orville S01 (2017) — 8/10

I kept waiting for Seth McFarlane to mess this up with his trademark Family Guy quips and non sequiturs—but he didn’t. This show is a pretty straight-up homage to the classic Star Trek series, with a humorous twist.

The twist is that the crew talks and interacts like people do today, instead of in the more stiffly formal style common to the innumerable Star Trek series. It’s not exactly bathroom humor, but the crew does use the bathroom, unlike the other shows, where you never see anyone ever act human at all.

When the shuttle takes off, they all buckle their seatbelts.[1] Or when the enemy commander comes on screen and he’s way to the left, the captain asks him to move to the center because his framing is too distracting. It’s pretty amusing so far.

McFarlane is Captain Mercer, Scott Grimes is his helmsman, Mercer’s ex-wife Grayson is his first officer. Penny Johnson Jerald comes over from Deep Space Nine to play Dr. Finn.

It’s also a nice mix of state-of-the-art CGI[2] and down-to-Earth tech that looks like the original show. For example, the quantum-bubble generator is a metal cone with a few wires hanging out of it. It’s perfect as a prop, though.

The first show manages to introduce the crew, show them working together and solve a mission with a cool trick—just like the old shows. The rest of the season continues in this vein, more of less. There are many moments when I can’t tell whether McFarlane is messing with me: is this show being ironically lame? Is it almost deliberately ignoring that aliens—and even humans—couldn’t possibly be this well-versed in 20th- and 21st-century culture?

They say that science fiction is about today, but set in the future. This show embodies the hell out of that maxim. There are a few shows that are so on-the-nose that it’s almost a bit painful. Some characters could use a bit more stoicism rather than just discussing their feelings all the time, as if there were nothing better to do on a spaceship.

Overall, it’s an entertaining season. I’m still not sure whether I’ll watch season two, but Kelly Grayson is pretty easy on the eyes, so what the hell.

The Incredibles 2 (2018) — 6/10

I expected more of this movie, though I suppose it was silly of me to expect a Disney movie to be more subversive. I’d heard that it was a great movie, but—so far, one hour in—it feels very cookie-cutter and trite. The kids are insufferable and the Dad is a giant pushover who commands no respect. The Mom does everything—even the hero-ing, when they attempt their comeback.

And, of course, there’s a gazillionaire bankrolling their comeback—we have to be taught that nothing ever happens without a rich person financing it. Does anyone in the family question their newfound bounty? Do they consider that perhaps all of the luxuries they’re given aren’t free? That they’re perhaps not just given to them because they’re so “incredible”? No, they’re egotistical enough to all just jump at the mansion unquestioningly—they clearly deserve to be there and no price will be exacted for it.

When Mom calls Dad and asks him, without saying hello first, “weren’t you going to call me?”, pretty much everyone’s “crazy girlfriend” alarm should be going off—but the Dad doesn’t blink an eye. He just sputters and makes excuses. His wife steamrolls him just like his kids do. He is, after all, just an oaf with too many muscles, without the finesse to get anything done without breaking everything. This is clearly a movie for the 21st-century mindset—men are barely tolerable, stupid and need to be corralled, like cattle.

Are husbands and wives doomed to be depicted as adversaries? Or is the lack of such competition in a relationship seen as a sign of weakness in both parties? His children are absolutely terrible, haranguing their Dad with their bullshit until he explodes. This is a 2-hour advertisement for not breeding.

The voice talent is decent, although Holly Hunter’s speech defect is far more charming accompanied by her face—it seems a bit odd as a disembodied voice. Craig T. Nelson is Mr. Incredible, Bob Odenkirk is billionaire Wilson Deavor with Catherine Keener as his sister, Samuel Jackson is Frozone, Jonathan Banks is Rick Dicker, and Isabella Rossellini is the Ambassador.

Elastigirl’s mode of transportation in an urban environment is wonderfully animated, and reminded me of Spider-Man. The subsequent fight scene with Screenslaver was nicely choreographed, as well. Edna Mode’s scenes are also very nicely done. The story itself is a bit predictable: it just keeps hammering on stupid males. Having a Y-chromosome means that you only ever do something well by accident—or you get trapped as easily as a monkey with his hand in the cookie jar. Who remembers how to track Jack-Jack? Not Dash. Too dumb. Too dumb to even notice that he’s too dumb. Violet knows immediately, though. She’s a grrrrll.

It was OK, but the original was much better. The long-awaited sequel was a bit disappointing.

Sebastian Maniscalco: Stay Hungry (2019) — 6/10
He’s got pretty light and obvious topics, but he does them well. I really like his body language and facial expressions—it adds a lot to his routine. He talks about his life, working out, having a baby, fighting and much more. Of course he appeals to me: he’s about my age and he’s got a great American-Italian accent. Of his cited influences, Bill Burr and Andrew Dice Clay are the most obvious. He’s pretty clean, swears occasionally, but it doesn’t feel like he’s avoiding it. Unfortunately, he flagged quite hard in the second half/last third. I liked his other special better (Aren’t You Embarrassed?).
Kaya Yanar: Reiz der Schweiz (2017) — 8/10
Kaya was born in Germany to Turkish parents and made his career in Köln. He moved to Switzerland 5 years ago, to live with his Swiss girlfriend in Zürich. He’s learned a lot about our little corner of the world since then: separating trash, making neat piles of recycling, working with a recycling/garbage calendar, odd words, Swiss dialect, skiiing, tourism, food and much more. He’s very amusing, especially if you live here and have an open mind about our customs. Recommended.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) — 9/10

I really like the aesthetic of this corner of the Marvel Universe. The Guardians are a rag-tag, eclectic small group of aliens from all over the galaxy. They fly in a slightly broken-down but extremely capable spaceship with an esthetic reminiscent of the original Star Wars movies.

The Guardians themselves have well-rounded and interesting characters. Their group dynamic seems to exist outside of the film—with the film offering only a glimpse into a world that exists independently of the film. That is, we are allowed to view one of their stories, but it feels like these beings exist.

The plot of the film is interesting enough—Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father (Kurt Russell) has returned from the stars and has invited him to live out life as an immortal on his planet (which turns out to be him, a Celestial). Yondu (Michael Rooker) is back (Quill’s adoptive father, more or less), with his awesome arrow and whistle. Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) is better than ever, as is Drax (Dave Bautista). Sylvester Stallone has a small role, but does well with it. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) also have an interesting dynamic. Pom Klementieff as Mantis was funny. especially with Drax.

The finale was extravagant and over-the-top and it still somehow worked. The colors and set design and many of the shots were wonderful. I’m happy to see that there’s a third installment on the way. I think the sequel was even better than the original.

Mad Men (S05-S07) — 9/10

There was a bit of slump in the middle somewhere, but they ended quite strong, in my opinion. Roger Sterling (John Slattery) is brilliant, as are Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks). Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is a complex character, equal parts creative and interesting and utterly reprehensible.

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Betty Francis (January Jones) are also nuanced and reprehensible. The story arcs and characters are great. Have I mentioned how funny and charming Roger Sterling is? He is really a constant source of at least some form of principle—and, if nothing else, entertainment. His dialogue is, nearly without exception, delightful. The others—especially in the second half of season 6 and the first half of season 7—subside into a muck of backbiting, spite and senseless egotism, but not Roger.

Season 7 clawed back a bit from the backbiting, cleaning up a few character arcs and delivering the agency into the arms of McCann—a place that Don had been avoiding for the first 6.5 seasons. It’s hard to feel sorry for any of them as—similar to so many other shows—this is a show about the rich. These people have problems largely of their own making; were they to just be happy with what they have, all of their problems would go away. Hell, at the point in season 7, they’re all millionaires in a world where most people make about $5,000 per year.

Still, overall, it’s a masterful series of 7 quality seasons and more than deserving of its role as pretender to the crown of “best U.S. television show”—right up there with The Sopranos (even-more-horrible people) and The Wire (still the best). They did a great job of wrapping things up in a nice way for the important characters without being overly schmaltzy. Roger ended up with Marie, Don joined a cult, Peggy finally relaxed just a smidge (with Stan), Joan started a business, Pete got his family back, Ken was happy at Dow, Harry was still a miserable bastard, but he deserved it, and we didn’t have to see Megan anymore.

The Putin Interviews E02 (2017) — 8/10

Oliver Stone interviews Vladimir Putin about his life, his career and his politics in this 4-part mini-series. The interviews take place over the span of over two years, from June 2015 to September 2017.

In the first part of this second episode, Putin and Stone discuss the dismantling of the ABM treaty—what Putin called the cornerstone of international detente—and the effects it has had in the last decade. Putin knows that his country is surrounded by hostile forces that only “pretend” to be defensive; he is fully aware that they can be switched “in hours” to be offensive.

Stone asks whether America could win a “hot war”. Putin responds “No. … No one would survive a hot war”. After that, the conversation turns to Dr. Strangelove and they end up watching the film together, because Putin has never seen it. Hopefully, they watch S.T.A.L.K.E.R. together next.

Nope: next up is Putin playing ice hockey with the Russian national team in an exhibition match. He started playing at age 60. After the match, they discuss the homosexuality-propaganda law, which forbids evangelizing alternate sexual lifestyles to minors. This law stems from the primitive mindset that homosexuality is a choice that adults can make. Putin defends it, making his social politics as behind the times, but not out of the mainstream. Putin points out that there is a need to support families, to sustain a replacement birthrate, but I think he’s just being cagey about it. He admits later that his opinion is strong on this, but he seems to see the limit to legislation and the likelihood that the Russian population diverges with him.

Stone: “There is a macho tradition in Russia, a pretty strong one.” Putin agrees, but says that it’s not nearly as strong as in “certain Islamic states”—or possibly even in the U.S. You’d have to be utterly tone-deaf to not notice that there’s more than a bit of a macho culture in the U.S. as well. The coasts think they’re beyond it, but they’re utterly and tragically wrong.

It’s true that Russia has regressed since the revolution, when things were initially very egalitarian—leading the world, in fact. This part goes on for quite a while, belying the claim that Stone didn’t pressure Putin hard enough on this topic.

Their next topic is Ukraine and U.S. involvement in that coup. Putin: “I cannot say we welcomed this change in the government … and yet we maintained cooperation with the new leadership.” Talk about an understatement. Putin: “The philosophy of American foreign-policy in this region consists in preventing, by all means necessary, Ukraine’s rapprochement with Russia.” Putin is very passionate about the obvious U.S. plan to make Russia everyone’s enemy; he is quite eloquent and knowledgable about all of the steps taken to get where we are today.

The next stop on the history train is Georgia and the twisted Western narrative surrounding its incursion into Russian territory. I had no idea that Mikheil Saakashvil was western-educated—he’s quite fluent in English.

Next, they discuss surveillance—and Putin jokes that Russia is “better” than the U.S. there because they don’t have nearly the money or resources to be as “bad” as the U.S. It is at this point that we discover that Putin does speak and understand some English.

Following this—now in a car, with Putin driving (of course)—they discuss Edward Snowden. Putin says that, at first, he wanted nothing to do with Snowden because the U.S./Russia relationship was already fraught. Snowden’s appeal to human rights, he says, fell on deaf ears (he admits that this shines poorly on his initial reaction). When asked, though, if he hates what Snowden did, he responds firmly in the negative: “Snowden is not a traitor. What he did was not against the interests of his country. [..] He did it publicly.” He disagrees with what he did, but defends his right to have done it. But, he says “he’s a courageous man […] and has great character.”

Finally, when asked about the upcoming American election (in 2016), he says “I believe that nothing’s going to change, no matter who gets elected.” He goes on to say:

“The force of the United States bureaucracy is very great. And there are many facts that are not visible to the candidates until they become president. And the moment one gets to real work, he or she feels the burden.”

When asked whether he would support a given candidate, he replied,

“Unlike many partners of ours, we never interfere within the domestic affairs of other countries. That is one of the principles we stick to in our work.”
Conan the Barbarian (2011) — 6/10
The action scenes are pretty decent and I like Jason Momoa. The story is pretty complicated, actually, but many of the actors are either wasted or not very good. Stephen Lang is the baddie, Zym, who killed Conan’s father. Rose McGowan is sinister as the daughter/protege, Ron Perlman is Conan’s father and Morgan Freeman does the voiceovers. The beginning is stronger than the middle bits. It’s all a bit predictable, but the aesthetics, sets, CGI and set pieces are better than I remember, so I give it an extra star or two. I have a soft spot for the original, but have to admit that its effects would suffer in comparison, especially with the depiction of the monsters. That’s not to say that the original wasn’t good, but that the remake wasn’t as bad I’d thought it was.
Johnny Handsome (1989) — 7/10

This is the story of a disfigured man Johnny Handsome (Mickey Rourke) who’s a heist planner. He’s well-known for his skill, smarts and caution. His best friend Mikey (Scott Wilson) is way behind on his payments to a loan shark. Mikey’s trying to keep his restaurant afloat but is far behind on his payments. He asks Johnny to do one more job with him.

Sunny Boyd (Ellen Barkin) and Rafe Garrett (Lance Henriksen) are also on the job and they’re loose cannons—literally. They kill Mikey on the jewelry heist, leaving Johnny behind to get arrested. Detective Drones (Morgan Freeman) is on his ass, waiting for him to screw up. While Johnny’s in jail, Rafe and Sunny (on the outside) hire two guys to try to have him knifed to death. Their attempt fails and he’s put into a program at the hospital with Dr. Fisher (Forest Whitaker) to rehabilitate his face.

The surgery is successful and he enrolls in a work-release program. He meets Donna (Elizabeth McGovern), who works in accounting at his new job. Though his face has changed, he’s still Johnny—he wants revenge and he wants to rob the shipping company where he and Donna work. He gets Rafe and Sunny to go in on it with him, though they don’t recognize him. Johnny plans a double-cross, but it goes horribly wrong.

The heist goes off without a hitch, but they betray each other, with Detective Drones mixing things up, until their Mexican standoff ends with all of them dead, save Donna. Walter Hill directed and he’s got his own style.

Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie (1972) — 8/10

This is an odd movie about a group of upper–middle-class friends—three women and three men. It was conceived and written by Luis Buñuel, a Spanish filmmaker and contemporary of Dalí, both heavily involved in surrealism. The plot is a bit loose, consisting of many scenes centered around a group of middle-class friends trying to organize a dinner date. It’s not as plotless as Zerkalo by Tarkovsky, but it’s close. Many of the scenes (at least four) are revealed to have been dreamt by members of the group, in a sort of layered reality reminiscent of Inception, but without the burden of actually trying to make it logical or sensible.

The main character seems to be Raphael, a diplomat from the fictitious Latin country of Miranda—a man remarkably devoid of diplomacy with a spectacular self-regard. His friends are not much better, dropping remarks about how the other half lives with not-unrealistic regularity. The film purports to be absurd, but depicts interactions and behaviors that are, in fact, how real people act. At least those of a certain class, say, the bourgeoisie.

There is much left up to interpretation, but many of the characters are fun and funny, like Florence (Bulle Ogier)—a bundle of pithy non sequiturs—or the eminently foxy Alice Sénéchal (Stéphane Audran). It’s surreal, so the film is at least as much about what you bring to it as about what it presents, but it’s a good time and well-acted. It’s certainly unique and won’t “remind you of another movie”. It’s devil-may-care desire to impart something other than a feel-good ending or interpretable plot that makes it interesting. It’s not only a fun ride, there’s room for interpretation and discussion.

This film has quite a pedigree—it was one of Roger Ebert’s favorites—and has received no small amount of attention from students of cinema, as in The Picaro in Paris: ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ and the Picaresque Tradition by Julie Jones, which describes the film as a picaresque, following in a Spanish storytelling tradition:

“In the classic picaresque novel, the protagonist (usually a he) often does not know where he will get his next meal. Yet, despite his extreme poverty, he has social pretensions. Aware that hard work will do nothing to advance his cause, he relies on disguise and trickery to improve his station. He keeps on moving to stay ahead of the law, which brings him to a variety of settings and in contact with social types who often tell him their stories. The picaresque novel, then, takes the form of a pseudo-autobiography, loosely structured to accommodate any number of episodes […]”
Don’t Breathe (2016) — 7/10

This was a decent “scary” movie with a few nice twists and turns. None of the people were worth knowing, but that made it easier to see them getting beat up and/or killed. That was the intention, I’m sure. Just like it was the intention to telegraph that the young lady would win, by showing her promising her younger sister that she would take her to California.

An American movie would never leave us wondering what that poor little girl would do should she find out that her sister had been murdered while trying to rob a house. She’d be left knowing that she would be doomed to grow up in that horrible home without her big sister and only her alcoholic mother around, asking her whether she’d started blowing guys for money yet, even though she was only 8 or so years old.

A Japanese movie would do that, but that’s why Japanese movies are, generally, darker. Korean movies, too, from what I’ve seen. No risk, no fun.

This one didn’t do that—the little girl was saved from her life of misery by a sister who was suddenly a million dollars richer, even though she totally didn’t deserve it any more than the horrible man who’d gotten it from the family of the woman who’d run over and killed his daughter and whom he’d kidnapped in order to punish her because the criminal courts wouldn’t do it. Her punishment included being impregnated by him in order for him to replace his child. As I wrote, not uninteresting twists and turns.

He was a veteran who’d been blinded in the line of duty, so he escaped (mostly) unharmed, despite the aforementioned socially unacceptable peccadilloes. Also, the giant Rottweiler was neutralized in a way that didn’t injure it whatsoever. The movie could have been a bit darker, to match expectations.

[1] This arguably turns out to be a salient plot point.
[2] Some of the long shots look almost painted, actually, but I wonder if that’s deliberate? Were they going for the look of the backdrop effects of older science-fiction shows?