Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2019.6
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.
- Moritz Neumeier: Hurra (2019) — 9/10
YouTube bubbled up this special in my recommendations list and it was delightful. His style is very elegant and reserved. He speaks very quickly, intelligently and is a wonderful raconteur. He mixes a bit of English (very little, but a few words) into his German.
He told of his meeting his girlfriend and knocking her up after only six weeks. They stayed together and now have a child, of whom he tells many tales. He is not a starstruck father, to say the least.
He tells a wonderful, long story of a trip to Burghausen, on the border of Austria (due east of München) with his friend Paul, a fearless Greek God of a man who drinks like a fish. Moritz is more of a pot guy because he can’t hold his drink, but drink he did on this evening. Burghausen, though a provincial town, offers up comic delights like a gay bouncer and a whole cellar full of Neonazis willing to believe Paul when he tells them that Moritz is a General Major in the hidden army and that they are planning to invade Austria in the morning on a secret mission.
Neumeier’s also got some sharp political humor and some sharp words for fools. Highly recommended. Only available in German, obviously. I listened to it twice.“Ein bisschen Schwund muss sein.”
- Support the Girls (2018) — 7/10
As many other reviews have mentioned, Regina Hall acts well in this move about a Hooters-like bar-and-restaurant in Texas. I also think Haley Lu Richardson is a revelation, with her nearly boundless energy and infectious optimism, she reminded me of early Dolly Parton.
The story is of a single, long say at the restaurant, during which the cable goes out on the day of the big fight while Hall deals with all sorts of issues in both her personal life and her job. Her boss is kind of a dope, but decent enough, although he does let her go. Her employees, upon hearing this, also sabotage their jobs and are let go. They all end up interviewing at another restaurant called the Man Cave, a national brand doing the same thing as the local restaurant, but corporatized.
That’s just kind of where it ends up: the story meanders and really just strings together a bunch of character essays with some decent acting.
- Ozark S01 (2017) — 9/10
Jason Bateman stars as Martin Bird with Laura Linney as his wife Wendy. Martin is a money launderer for one of the largest Mexican drug cartels. Things go well for a long time, until they go … not so well. Marty is forced to flee Chicago with his family and move to the Lake of the Ozarks, where he claims that he will be able to launder a tremendous amount of cash to rich tourists.
This saves his bacon temporarily and his employer allows him to take his 8 million and try to launder it within 3 months. As he and Wendy (who’s in on the whole deal) set up shop, they encounter many locals, some willing to help and others trying to take advantage of the outsiders throwing a lot of money around. The Langmore family (especially Ruth) features heavily, as does the Snells, local poppy farmers with a business of their own to protect.
Martin is also hanging an affair over Wendy’s head, one that he only found out about at about the same time as their money-laundering business in Chicago went south. The two have a couple of dopey kids, one boy Jonah and one girl Charlotte. As you can imagine, Charlotte is a useless narcissist who can’t wrap her head around sacrifice, even after being told (quite quickly) what her parents are up to. That just becomes background noise to her pressing FOMO problem.
Jonah is quieter and seems to be drifting into becoming a bit of a demented backwoods Missouran.
It’s a pretty damned good show with some really fine acting. Linney and Bateman are standouts. Highly recommended.
- Moritz Neumeier: Stand Up (2016) — 8/10
This special is a few years old, but Neumeier’s style was already well in place at the time. He was married, but he hadn’t had a kid. It’s possible that this is a different wife, since he claimed to have met and impregnated the wife of which he spoke in the 2019 special within 6 weeks
Anyway, this special is also quite good. Watched it in German.
- Star Trek: Discovery S02 (2018/2019) — 8/10
Spock shows up, which is cool. Burnham’s character spirals down into a whiny, illogical, over-emotional mess, which is not.
This season deals with Time as a hostile force. The red angel is a time traveler who makes repeated trips to the past in order to try to shunt the universe (prime) onto a course that does not end up as a wasteland devastated by an AI called Control.
Whereas they did a decent job with the idea of a super-dimensional hyper-mycelial network in the previous season, they’re having more trouble when it comes to time. The rest of the crew (or, more precisely, the writers) don’t know how to understand what the real implications of a time traveler are.
For example, they assume that the events they witness—as forward-only passengers of time—occur in the same order as they would for a traveler. So, at one point, after they’d captured and then lost the red angel, they say that a subsequent event that would ordinarily have been triggered by the red angel (a red energy signature) could not have been caused by her because her suit no longer has a time crystal. This is not true. The red angel could easily have made the trip to cause the event before she was trapped, even though the two events are in the other order for those who experience time linearly and unidirectionally.
They also play very fast and loose with space and communications distances. I mean, they don’t even pretend that the speed of a light is a factor. When they travel physically, they acknowledge that it “takes time” to get there. But they have instantaneous, lag-free communication with far-off systems. Their sensors are sometimes blocked, but most times mysteriously unblocked. They seem capable of reading the most ephemeral and obscure data across time and space (e.g. % data downloaded to Control). And everything looks so close and human-sized. Planets are never gob-smackingly huge. We just saw our first picture of a black hole: the entire solar system fits into the black bit at the center. When the Discovery enters a new system, all the planets are right there. All of the ships are close enough to see. If a ship has been scuttled, its crew is visible and floating in the void, all right next to each other, all conveniently human-scaled.
The graphics continue to be top-notch and much of the acting is quite good. Tilly (Mary Wiseman), Captain Pike (Anson Mount), Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Saru (Doug Jones), Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) and Spock (Ethan Peck) are all pretty good and well-written.
But Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is all over the place. She’s the main character and was raised by Vulcans and is hyper-intelligent and logical—except when she’s not. For the first half of the season, she was good and for the second half, she’s stupid and emotional. She knows things on faith and asks stupid questions about things she should know.
The second half of the season spends ½ of each episode dealing with emotions and human shit. But they go too far. It’s still interesting and relatively well-written, but there’s more tedium to get through than in the first season.
- Iron Fist S02 (2018) — 7/10
Danny, Colleen, Ward, Joy and Davos are back in the second season. Danny is still denying his job at his inherited company, while Ward runs Rand Corp. Joy splits away from them both, hating Danny for mostly stupid reasons. Colleen is an occasional vigilante, but no longer runs a dojo, living in the place with Danny instead. They’ve appointed it nicely, living in quite a bit of opulence if you know anything about NYC real estate.
Which is where things get a bit difficult: the story is about three billionaires (Danny, Joy and Ward), none of whom really act the part very much at all. Ward goes to NA meetings as if he’s a normal human being. Danny works for a moving company in Chinatown. Joy lives in opulence on the Upper (East?) Side.
Davos is a spectacularly bitchy and sulky and determinedly un-fun character. He manages to swipe Danny’s iron fist from him, then sets about doing with it what Danny never could.
Danny Rand is actually better than in the first season; his fighting is definitely better. Still, he’s pretty stupid and lets his anger get the best of him constantly. I thought he was the one who meditated and stupid and had all the Chi?
Joy is spectacularly self-centered, outbidding even Ward in that regard. Colleen is still pretty good. Misty Knight is an annoying cop—her smugness and complete disregard for procedure really gets old. Mary Walker is the most interesting new character, played well by Alice Eve.
- Hereditary (2018) — 9/10
This is a slow burner of a horror movie. It’s a psycho-horror movie that leaves you right up until the end, wondering how much was actually real and how much was mental illness and who did what to whom. The story is full of unreliable narrators. There are several shots that are Kubrickian (the one where the camera flips upside-down midway through a track) and several scenes that make use of light, mirrors, sound, music in a way reminiscent of Tarkovsky.
Toni Collette is Annie, a seemingly reasonably successful miniature artist. She is married to Steve (Gabriel Byrne). It is completely unclear what Steve does. They have two children, a daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and Peter (Alex Wolff). Everyone does their part, but Collette and Wolff really knock it out of the park.
The story starts with Annie and her family burying her mother. Inklings of bad blood and bizarre behavior ooze out through the dialogue, a comment here, a vague suggestion there. Charlie is a bit…off. She is not very social—but Annie is no prize either. Peter seems quite understanding and accepting for a teenage boy.
Without spoiling too much, the affairs of Annie’s mother—and her friends—begin to impinge on the whole family. Charlie’s fate is shockingly rendered and one of the best-made moments of an already well-made film. The house looks almost like a miniature itself. Annie’s new friend is … odd—and not really a friend. Annie is distraught and desperate. Steve is resigned but worried. Peter’s life spins out of control. They drop, one by one, until the final, real purpose is revealed—horrifying and nearly impossible to predict.
There are shades of early Shyamalan in the storytelling (also had shades of The Shining) and, as noted, Kubrick and Tarkovsky in the direction. Those are solid pedigrees for a first-ever effort by writer/director Ari Aster. I highly recommend it, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
- Simpsons S30 — 7/10
- Like the previous season, this one has its ups and downs—there seem to be two distinct teams writing these shows. Some are really clever and nice while others are just a pile of time-wasting non-sequiturs and uncoordinated half-jokes. Episodes 14, The Clown Stays in the Picture, 17 E My Sports and 18 Bart vs. Itchy and Scratchy each had their moments.
- Mother! — 9/10
To call this a horror movie is to miss a rich world of metaphoric possibility. I’ve read comparisons to Begotten because of “religious themes”, because Jennifer Lawrence said in an interview that the movie represents the “rape and torment of Mother Earth”, which I honestly didn’t get at all. Begotten has a stronger claim to such themes, but its black-and-white filmmaking, graininess, droning, bee-like soundtrack and complete lack of comprehensible dialogue makes the comparison extremely weak.
Mother!, on the other hand, is a beautifully made film, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Mother and Javier Bardem as the Poet (or “Him” as he’s listed in the cast). The film starts with him placing a crystal in a stand on a charred mantle. From this crystal flows outward a wave of healing, repairing the house around it from a blackened husk to a house under renovation. The camera cuts to Lawrence waking up in bed, in the morning.
They live together in his childhood home, at a great remove from everything and everyone else. She has restored and renovated a large part of the home after a fire. He is trying, and failing, to write.
He receives some strange guests, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer (who is especially good). Mother wants nothing to do with them. They are nearly cartoonishly—but still believably—rude and intrusive and prying. More of their family follows. The house fills up with people. The Poet loves it—he loves the attention. Mother is appalled at the casual destruction and forwardness of the guests.
There is an incident (one of their sons beats the other to death with a doorknob), followed by a funeral and then, a wake—in the house, of course, for people they hardly know. They are all rude and completely and seemingly deliberately ignore Mother’s admonitions about being careful and respectful of the home. Two guests break a sink she’d warned them about—and she flips out and throws everyone out of the house. Pfeiffer glares deliciously as she sails toward the door, right to left.
At around the same time, she discovers a bleeding hole in the floor, which leads to a runnel of blood on a wall in the basement, which she digs open to discover hidden catacombs—with a fuel-oil heater.
After this first incident, Mother and the Poet fight, then make up with one another. She wakes up the following morning and declares herself pregnant. He is delighted and simultaneously rediscovers his muse, leaping from bed to begin writing.
Fade out and in and he has finished his book, his poem, and lets her rad it. She is moved to tears, but is shocked to discover that his publisher has also already seen it. She thought it was for them alone—at least for now. He seeks the admiration of others before her. He needs their adoration more than he needs her—because she is a sure bet.
Once again, the house begins to fill with people, this time his admirers and hangers-on storm the house, starting a debauched party and tearing her home apart, invading everywhere. He is revered as a God; she is very, very pregnant and either ignored or shoved around. She gets him off to herself, in a room, after she tells him that the baby is coming. She has the baby on her own, in the house, with the wild party ongoing. He looks on, happy but distracted and seemingly thinking about something else.
He wants to show the child to his adoring fans. She refuses. He stares at her, waiting until she falls asleep before snatching up the child and bringing the fruit of his loins to his fans to adore. They crowd-surf the child away, to her absolute horror, finally snapping its head off in their ardor and fervor. She desperately claws her way through the crowd, until she finds the child’s ravaged corpse on a sort of altar. She flips up—understandably so—slicing people left and right. She is beaten to the ground and horribly assaulted, taking several savage blows to the head and breast.
The Poet rescues her briefly, but she wants out of the house. She’d tried before, but was thwarted at every turn, much as one is in a dream. She finds the lighter of the Man (Ed Harris) that she’d previously hidden and makes her way to the oil tank. There she makes her stand, blowing up the whole house. She stands, Joan-of-Arc-like in the flames.
We cut to Him, completely unscathed carrying her charred, but living body from the debris. He lays her down and asks her for one last thing—her heart. She grants him this because she has given everything else. She cannot refuse him—and he is driven to use up every last bit of her. He needs her heart, in order to squeeze it into the crystal from which the cycle starts again, this time with a different woman in the role of mother.
The metaphor is relatively clear—and he states it quite clearly in the last few lines of the film—she is one in a long line of muses. He uses each to spark his creativity and create a work of art. But he uses them up each time and the leave, making room for the next. His process requires it. He takes her heart at the end, crushing it to a diamond that fuels the next cycle. It explains why he was so upset when the crystal was broken by the Man and Woman—he knew the cycle had entered another phase, one that he knew would lead to his creativity coming back, but that would lose him his latest muse. The film is a metaphor for this cycle. All the pieces fall into place when viewed in this light.
As with other Aronofsky films, attention and thought is required in order to get anything out of this film. It was well-acted all around. Jennifer Lawrence is very strong in the main role—up until the desperation at the end, where she didn’t act quite mad (insane) enough to match what the situation warranted. She’s almost too strong to really lose her shit entirely.
- Kim’s Convenience (S01-s03) — 9/10
This is a delightful sitcom from Canada. I like all the characters; not a useless whiny asshole among them. It is the literal opposite of This is Us. Ok, Mrs. Park is kind of an asshole, but so hammed up, it’s not like you consider here a real person. Although I’m sure many Mrs. Parks exist. She’s also so over-the-top snooty that you can’t really take her seriously. Mr. Chin is nice. Most of the customers are nice. The family mostly treats each other nicely. The parents demand and get respect and are very funny and modern, though also very traditional.
It is the story of first-generation South-Korean immigrants, Umma and Appa (literally Mama and Papa) or Mr. and Mrs. Kim. We don’t know their first names. They own a convenience store in Toronto. They have two children: Janet (20) and Jung (26ish). Janet lives at home in the first season and moves out in the second. Jung lives with his cousin Kimchee and has done so for years because he moved out over a rift with his father. The rift continues deep in to season two.
By season 3, the rift is at least partially healed. Janet rolls with her own inadequacy and youth and inexperience. Jung does a bit better, but also makes mistakes. Mr. and Mrs. Kim are rocks.
The show is delightful and entertaining and funny and nice. Recommended.
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) — 6/10
This was a goofy movie with some fun moments, but overall the plot was all over the place and there were some jarring emotional investments with no explanation. For example, Hope Van Dyne’s obsession with getting back to her mother—even though she hadn’t seen her in 30 years and would have clearly been much more over it by then. She seemed to think that going-to-the-quantum-realm-and-getting-her-out was a clearly defined viable plan. It didn’t strike anyone as odd that no-one had thought of it before, if it really was so simple.
The plot was basically that Scott Lang was trying not break his final days of house arrest while at the same time helping Hope and Hank Pym get Janet Van Dyne back from the quantum realm. They needed his help because he was the only one who’d successfully returned from that realm. Also, Janet had somehow planted a message/antenna in Lang’s head while he was there.
No explanation is given for how Janet survived down there. No explanation for how she aged so much. Nor for how she avoided madness. Or was she only there for hours? (as, e.g., Lang’s five hours ended up being five years in real-world time?)
And don’t even get me started on “Ghost”, the enemy with whom we’re meant to sympathize because she’s been driven to being a selfish asshole by her constant pain. Her power is a semi-controlled quantum-phasing in and our of reality—and also being really angry and unsympathetic all the time. She was played pretty poorly by an unknown but female/biracial actress, which was probably the point. They spent about ten minutes of Morpheus-storytelling explaining to us why we should care. I did not end up doing so.
If you need to see the whole canon, then go ahead and spend two hours watching this one. The mid-credits scene (or post-credits one?) explains part of the plot of Avengers: Endgame. Otherwise, you can skip it.
- Avengers: Endgame (2019) — 9/10
This was a worthy finale to a 22-movie story arc. From IMDb, it “ marked Chapter Ten of Phase Three in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” The ending of Infinity War gave us a universe with its population cut in half, courtesy of Thanos. We pick up from there at the beginning of this film. Tony Stark is stranded in space with Nebula, “1,000 light years from home”. Instead of dying in space, though, Captain Marvel shows up to drag his ship to Earth, saving them all.
Tony’s a whiny shit, though—as usual—yelling at everyone that the only reason this all happened was that they were too concerned with their precious freedoms and that they had failed to capitulate to his unparalleled genius and given him control of the world and his all-encompassing space shield. This wouldn’t have stopped anything, but there’s no talking to some people—especially arrogant ones.
Happily, they drop this plot direction pretty quickly, although they immediately pick up with “let’s go kick Thanos’s ass”. It is unclear why they think this is a plausible plan; it didn’t even come close to working the first time, so why would it work now? Anyone who raises an objection is treated like a traitor.
Still, they all jump in a spaceship to find Thanos farming on a garden planet. Thor kills him. The end.
Just kidding. That was the first 15 minutes of a 3-hour movie.
There were a few places where the writing got a bit lazy, with little care given to consistency, motivation or physics. Most of them could be papered over and weren’t noticeable during viewing. They only come up afterward, when you think about it for a bit. In no particular order, here are a few questions:
- Deus Ex: Captain Marvel is a Deus Ex Machina in tight pants. Whereas it seems initially plausible that she would have to fly off to take care of the many other planets in the universe affected by the snap, you quickly ask yourself: are any of those planets also believably going to undo the snap? Shouldn’t she be helping out Earth the most? If she can fly 1000 light years in an hour, can she travel through time? Or visit the quantum realm? I know it’s more interesting without her involvement—but then why even have her in the first place?
- Quantum Time: Janet Van Dyne spent … how long in the quantum realm? She looks to have aged as much as Henry Pym, but did she really spend 30 years down there? How did she eat? Or breathe? Or at least avoid doing insane? Or did she actually spend about 30 hours down there, akin to the 5 hours that Scott Lang spent in the five years after the snap? If so, why is she so much older? It’s either one way or the other, no?
- Post-apocalyptic?: When Scott got out, it was to a world wasted by neglect, post-apocalyptic. But there was a security guard at a run-of-the-mill storage facility? Why? Where are people getting food and clothes and technology in a world with 50% of the population gone? The economy would have completely collapsed back to the iron age, more or less. But Tony Stark’s kid has all the toys and clothes she wants? Is it because he’s a billionaire? Why would that matter in a collapsed society?
- Defenseless and insensate: Why didn’t the Avengers base have any defenses against Thanos’s missiles? None at all. He just ripped them apart as if they were a housing complex. Why didn’t they sense him coming? They could sense his second snap all the way across the universe, but they can’t detect him right above their base?
- Stones: Why was Stark able to wield the stones on his armor when they spent so much time building the first glove (they needed a neutron star) and the second one (in the lab). If it was that easy, why didn’t they just do that in the first place? The Hulk nearly lost an arm, but so did Stark? Wouldn’t the energy burst have just incinerated him?
- Hulk: Poor Hulk: he can hold up the Avengers headquarters but has to be rescued by Ant/Giant Man? To add insult to injury, in the epilogue, everyone else seems to have healed whereas the Hulk’s wound seems at least semi-permanent. And he’s the one with vaunted healing powers.
- Power Imbalances: Why was a ringless Thanos able to battle Thor, Iron Man and Captain America to a standstill simultaneously? What kind of powers does he have? He also stood toe-to-toe with Captain Marvel, who ripped a whole spaceship apart with her bare hands, in a single pass. Thanos is as powerful as he needs to be, at any given moment—another Deus Ex Machina.
- Girl Power: If Marvel can rip apart a spaceship, then why was Spider-Man so worried about whether she could get to the van and the quantum tunnel? How would he even have known that was her destination? He showed up so late, he would have had no way of knowing what the plan was. But, really, Peter Parker is otherwise very clever, so why would he waste a second worrying about the ability of Captain Marvel to get through some foot soldiers after having just witnessed her smashing their whole ship in seconds? Was it to set up the moment when all of the womyn backed up Captain Marvel in a grrrrll moment, as if she needed any backup from a lady with a spear?
- Time Travel: How did Thanos, Gamorra and Nebula and all of his minions even get there in the first place? They explained that Thanos learned of the future through Nebula’s quantum entanglement with her future self. Fair enough. But how did Thanos then time-travel his whole ship and armies nine years into the future to confront them after the snap? If he could time-travel (without the Time Stone, mind you), why wouldn’t he have just jumped a day earlier and stopped them from undoing his snap at all? Was there some metaphysical reason why that was impossible? Thanos’s time travel went completely unremarked and unexplained. Unless it just took him nine years to get there, heeding the laws of physics, unlike every other interstellar/galactic trip in all of the other movies. If so, then when did he actually do all of his intervening conquering and gathering of stones and the snap? It’s an unsolved mystery. They just absolutely needed Thanos to show up and try to thwart (or reverse) the unsnapping and have the biggest battle of all time. They did a good job, because I didn’t notice the inconsistency until nearly a day later.
Temporal liberties taken aside, power imbalances aside, everyone involved gets an extra star for not fucking it up. Chris Evans as Captain America was fantastic and got an honorable retirement. Ditto for Iron Man, who was redeemed (a bit) from his raving libertarian/billionaire/fascism of recent films (to wit: just give Stark all decision-making power and he’ll make sure everything’s hunky dory, or the reason why he and Captain America rifted in Civil War).
It was a non-fighting movie for a long time and did well with it, alternating between appropriately maudlin (they had failed to stop the world from being half-destroyed) and goofy. It was a giant build-up to an epic battle—which is exactly how the comic books work.
Captain America passing on the shield to Falcon was a bit odd. I’m also not sure why he aged so much since he’s enhanced with super-soldier serum. Falcon’s not enhanced, though. Did Steve Rogers give him the shield to show that the future of “Captain America” is black?
It was a bit more believable that Thor would hand off his crown to Valkyrie to become Queen of Asgard. Speaking of which, Chris Hemsworth as fat Thor was brilliant. I can’t wait to see what he’s in next.
And there were so many famous people with cameos in this film: it became a regular Poseidon Adventure: Robert Redford, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tilda Swinton, Rene Russo, the list goes on.
From the IMDb page:
“The cast includes 19 Academy Award-nominated actors: Angela Bassett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bradley Cooper, Brie Larson, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Renner, Josh Brolin, Marisa Tomei, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Natalie Portman, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Taika Waititi, Tilda Swinton, and William Hurt. Of those nominated, Douglas, Portman, Hurt, Larson, Redford, Swinton, Tomei and Paltrow have all won at least one Academy Award. Douglas has two Academy Awards, one for Best Picture for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and one for Best Actor for Wall Street.”
Also: “Robert Downey Jr officially surpassed Hugh Jackman’s record for most appearances in film as the same superhero with 10. He set this record in only 11 years, where as Jackman did it in 17.”
Chris Evans played Captain America 11 times. Scarlett Johansson played Black Widow 7 times.↩