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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2019.3

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 Putin Interviews E03 (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.

This episode begins with intensified discussions of Ukraine. Putin mentions that, while there were talks for 17 years about Russia’s entry into the WTO, for purposes of trade, Ukraine’s deal with the EU was greenlit immediately, letting the West run roughshod over Russia’s trade alliances, but not vice versa. He may be lying, but damn if that doesn’t sound like something we would definitely do.

When asked about Yanukovich leaving Kiev, “abandoning it”, as Stone says, Putin responds,

“Yes, that’s the version used to justify the support granted to the coup. Once the president left for Kharkov, the second-largest city in the country, {…} armed men seized the presidential palace. Imagine something like that in the U.S., if the White House [were to be] seized, what would you call that? A coup d’etat? Or say that they just came to sweep the floors?


“Everything can be perverted and distorted, millions of people can be deceived, if you use the monopoly on the media.”

In further discussions of surveillance and anti-terrorism, Putin delivers the same pablum as the US: we have to get them before they get us. On other topics of international import, he’s quite open and honest about and knowledgable about the realities of terrorism and state terror. He discusses the likelihood of a missile shield kicking off a new arms race.

They discuss Syria and ISIS extensively. Putin goes into detail about the oil pipeline run by ISIS. Russia works directly with the US military, where possible, not NATO. Neither one of them is legally in Syria, though. Unlike Russia, which is there at the behest of the Syrian government.

They go on to discuss the US and NATO provocations in the Black Sea and along Russia shores. Putin is proud that his generals have not risen to the provocations and avoided war so far. He is a “cautious optimist”.

Stone: This seems to be a very tense presidency you have.
Putin: (Sighs) And when was it simple? Times are always difficult.”

The Punisher, S02 (2019) — 8/10

Frank Castle is on the road, bouncing from place to place. The best thing about this show is that the Punisher is a force of nature. Jon Bernthal is excellent as the taciturn Frank Castle. Ben Barnes starts off slowly, but does well as Billy Russo, who makes his grueling way back from the monumental beating Castle gave him at the end of the previous season.

This season goes up and down a bit, but overall, I think it’s quite good—carried on the strength of Bernthal’s performance—and, eventually, Giorgia Whigham’s as Rachel/Amy. Amber Rose Revah as Madani is pretty uneven, but overall better than in the first season. Karen Paige shows up for an episode, which is nice. Jason Moore as Curtis is pretty good, too. Josh Stewart’s steely-eyed Pilgrim was more annoying at the beginning, but became more bearable once he showed vulnerability.

As in the first season, Castle takes an unbelievable amount of punishment—I thought he punished other people, but in this show, he seems to be punishing himself. Bernthal carries it well and makes it as believable as possible—it works for me. His character is developed quite well—a tortured soul with an unswerving morality, just like in the comic books.

The plot carries Castle and Russo inevitably toward each other—the unstoppable force and the immovable object. Somewhere in there, there’s Pilgrim still trying to kill Amy/Rachel as part of his mission. The amount of damage he takes is also pretty impressive.

The final couple of episodes take it up quite a notch, tying together many of the open threads. Madani clinches with Krista, Billy’s psychiatrist and lover. Billy, who’d actually kept his promise to Krista to leave it all behind and run away with her. sees Krista’s demise—at Madani’s hands. Dragged back in again, because he’s got nothing to lose, again.

Norm McDonald has a Show (2018) — 9/10

Norm McDonald continually surprised me, even when I’m expecting surprises. This is a low-fi talk show with various hi-fi guests. Norm is an open and honest interviewer who clearly only has guests that he admires deeply. It shows in his interview style—which, if you know Norm, you wouldn’t expect to be at-all linear or in-line with a talk-show interview style. Norm is a good inquisitor, but in his own elliptical, inimitable style—a style with which his guests, to their credit, roll quite well.

I’ve liked most of the guests and most of the interviews, but the stand-outs so far have been Jane Fonda and Billy Joe Shaver. Both were truly moving and interesting. Shaver, in particular, is, for me, a heretofore unknown wonder of Americana, a country-and-western singer with a laconic gravitas and pathos and humor that he has in both word in song. His recorded material is good, too, but his live renditions of Black Rose, Old Chunk of Coal and Georgia on a Fast Train on this show were better—stripped of all artifice and production, gravelly, delivered in a powerful whisper.

Ray Romano: Right Here, Around the Corner (2019) — 8/10
This is Ray’s first recorded special in 23 years. His standup is still rock-solid and funny as hell. His on-stage persona is wonderful, laid-back. He talks about getting older, dealing with his older mother, being married, men-and-women—standard topics, but really nicely done. Somehow real and funny, even though his material would feel dated to many today, he’s damned funny. It’s not sexist, it’s just jokes about traditional roles—women do this, men do that. He talks about his own relationship, though.
La Haine (1995) — 10/10

Vincent Cassel is a revelation in this. He’s a Jewish teenager named, not coincidentally, Vinz, with two best friends: a black guy, Hubert and an Arab, Saïd. Hubert is the “thinker”, Vinz is looking to make a name for himself and Saîd lives in his brother’s shadow, talking big but just making noise. Vinz is a loose cannon—he hasn’t done anything yet, but he’s convinced that he has to do something.

The film is shot in black and white and takes place over 24 hours after a riot, in which the police beat a young man quite badly. Tensions are high and it’s expected that another riot will break out. The cops themselves aren’t all bad—some of them seem to be genuinely concerned and feel pushed into the role of adversary whereas others take to that role with gusto, viewing the youth as criminals-in-waiting and nothing more.

During the melee, a cop drops a gun. Vinz ends up with it and the possession of it alone lends him power and confidence. He brandishes it, playing gangster. Hubert bows out, leaving his two friends on their own—at least for a little while.

Hubert soon joins them again. They hear the story of Grunwalski is a wonderfully deep non-sequitur—it reminded of the kind of interlude common to more surrealist pieces, like Le Charm Discret de la Bourgeoisie, which I just saw a few days ago.

They head to a fancier part of town to meet a friend of Saïd’s who owes him money. The police pick them up upon exiting the building, with Vinz getting away on foot. The other two stay in custody until it’s just too late to catch the last train back to their banlieue. Vinz meets up with them again in the train station. It’s after midnight and the next train is in the morning. They wander the city, bored and philosophical and getting slowly stoned.

Much of the discussion and spontaneous bits of plot center on Vinz’s gun, which only gets him into trouble. Hubert provokes him, in the end, to shoot a skinhead, trying to get him to see how stupid a gun is. They part ways, Vinz handing the gun off to Hubert and Saîd talking shit and telling stupid jokes, just like always. Vinz responds, as always, that he’d heard that one before, but it was about a rabbi.

“[…] jusqu’ici tout va bien, jusqu’ici tout va bien, jusqu’ici tout va bien.
Mais l’important n’est pas la chute, c’est l’atterrissage.”

The black-and-white film, lovely cinematography and framing, pacing and locations combine to deliver a lovely, moving, timely and sobering film.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2018) — 8/10
Season 4 comes back strong from a season-3 slump with a very strong last few episodes. Jon Bernthal has a cameo as an Israeli agent posing as a love interest for Titus, Kimmy gets a payout from Giztoob, Titus gets a dream role in Cats—but in a bizarre way. All of the main characters end up very nicely and it’s quite plausible that this is the last season, for real.
Red Sparrow (2018) — 6/10

Jennifer Lawrence plays a Russian ballerina named Domenika, whose career is ended by a malicious accident. Her understudy was sleeping with her ballet partner—so they hatch a plan to have him land on her leg, breaking it horrifically. She learns what happened and takes them out in the sauna, beating them to within an inch of their lives.

Her uncle, high up in the Russian secret service, saves her from prison by faking her death and enlisting her in his employ, to pay off her debt. She ends embroiled in a plot with double agents, top-secret papers and even ends up as a double/triple agent herself.

Lawrence plays well, but the plot wasn’t very gripping and the movie felt much too long.

Boxing Helena (1993) — 4/10

There are so many things that could have made this an interesting movie: it stars Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey from Twin Peaks), it’s directed by David Lynch’s daughter. On the other hand, Bill Paxton’s in it—and he’s more awful than I’ve ever seen him. Julian Sands in the lead role as Nick gives him an absolute run for his money, though.

The movie’s about a highly skilled and successful doctor (Sands) who becomes obsessed with Helena (Fenn). Helena is a bit of a vamp, but not really obviously the target of obsession (although director Lynch does her damnedest to play up Fenn’s strengths as much as possible).

Nick finally manages to get Helena to his house, but she leaves, walking backwards and comes under the wheels of a truck. True to form in this movie, this part is just as unbelievable as the rest. Segue to a few days later and Helena’s at Nick’s house—sans legs. Nick has “saved her life” by amputating.

This is supposed to be the clutch scene, but it’s absolutely anticlimactic. We see Helena humiliate Nick and Nick deal with his nosy coworkers. We also see heavy allusions to cutting off Helena’s arms soon.

It’s weird, poorly acted and poorly directed. Julian Sands is just such a wooden, weird actor. Spoiler alert: they take the edge off of the entire weirdness by making it “all a dream”. Not recommended at all.

Ken Jeong: You Complete Me, Ho (2019) — 4/10
Ken Jeong seems like a nice and funny guy, but his material is quite thin and derives exclusively from his having been a doctor before having done Hangover and his being ethnic Asian. There are a few good jokes in there, but they’re few and far between.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018) — 7/10

This is an interactive movie that is self-referential and breaks the fourth wall. In that sense, perhaps it was trying to do too much at once. It’s good enough and reasonably well-acted. The story is of a young man who’s trying to break into writing video games in the 80s. He wants to base his game on a seminal book by an acid-tripping author. The game should be choose-your-own-adventure, just as the book was.

The movie is also choose-your-own-adventure and, as it progresses, you realize that the young man’s mania is caused by the audience’s interaction with the film, which is a clever conceit.

There are several endings and permutations, from utter failure to fading into the background, to killing his father and getting caught, to not getting caught, to fighting his therapist, to getting the game contract, to not getting it, to getting a shitty review, to getting a great review.

It’s a nice treatment of a concept that will probably get much more traction in the years to come.