Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2019.7
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 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.
- Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) — 4/10
- Anthony Hopkins is a British robot expert who’s also peerage. Mark Wahlberg is Cade Jaeger, the last knight, chosen to fight the last fight. The story was something about an artifact, about some old generations of transformers that used to fight with humans (during the crusades?) and then a planet-sized ball of transformer technology trying to consume the Earth. Also there’s Merlin, King Arthur, a round table of Transformer knights—and I kinda lost track of it. Utterly forgettable.
- D.L. Hughley: Contrarian (2018) — 8/10
- He started off kind of slowly, but picked up speed and settled intoa a pretty great routine. His outfit was outrageous but appropriate. He talks about his family and people. I can’t remember any of his jokes, but I laughed out loud a few times.
- Aquaman (2018) — 5/10
So many things were just off about this movie. The best thing about this movie—and I expected this—was Jason Momoa as Aquaman himself.
How the hell did Black Manta fall unconscious into the water in a metal suit and then roll up on a piece of wood? His helmet’s smashed—how did he not drown? He’s just human, right? And are we supposed to care about him and his desire for revenge for his dead father? A father who was killed while trying to kill Aquaman? After he and his father had killed a bunch of members of the crew of a sub while trying to pirate it, his father died because Aquaman refused to help him (because the dad had shot him point-blank).
The underwater scenes were in the uncanny valley. Most of the CGI looked somehow cartoonish, as well, unfortunately. And those scenes took up a lot of the movie, with an epic battles between forces we hadn’t been taught to care about, at all. The story was a cookie-cutter plot about ascension and wasn’t particularly interesting. Nicole Kidman, as Aquaman’s mom, was seriously de-aged in most of her scenes.
Even the end-credits music was so lame—some wavering female voice crooning away.
- Crazy Rich Asians (2018) — 8/10
This movie was better than expected. It’s the story of a couple—Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding)—living in New York —I’m not going to say “Asian” couple because (A) it doesn’t matter and (B) everyone in this movie is Asian and rich (see title)—who are invited to his best friend’s wedding, to take place in Singapore.
Rachel is just professor-at-a-NYC-university-well-off while Nick’s family is “comfortable”—meaning that they are the richest developers in Singapore and, thus, Asia. So we are treated to phenomenal displays of wealth. Michelle Yeoh is a lot of fun, as always, as Nick’s mother.
Nick is portrayed as down-to-Earth, preferring to hang out with his best friend, to taking part in the excessive bachelor-party festivities.
Rachel is a professor of economics and game theory while Nick … does stuff. Rachel exhibits her smarts once at the beginning, then spends most of the movie having her feelings hurt by mean people who all seem to be better at game theory than she is. Only her saving throw at the end exhibits her brains rather than her beauty—but it’s a nicely written saving throw.
- Dead to Me (2019) — 6/10
Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate star in a show about two woman, Jen and Judy, living in Laguna and Newport Beach. Jen lost her husband 6 months ago—and Jen is the one who killed him. They meet at a grief-counseling group, where Jen claims that she’d also lost her husband, but was really grieving for having broken off her engagement and having had five miscarriages.
That’s the basic setup: they grow closer and closer. Judy is a flighty painter who somehow fails to make any money off of her pretty pricey paintings. Jen has anger-management problems (at one point, she assaults a man in his own home, for which she’s roundly applauded for standing up for herself). She loses her partner in her real-estate business, she has an actively hostile son who she mysteriously fails to punch. He’s cartoonishly hateful with no character build-up at all to make it believable.
Her mother-in-law hates her (understandably), but the mother-in-law, like nearly everyone else in this show, is either batshit or reprehensible. Oddly no-one has any hesitation about blabbing all sorts of relevant information at all times, in patently implausible ways. Nick’s pretty good. I actually kind of like James Marsden as Steve, even though he’s just another rich guy, contributing nothing.
Judy and Jen are all striving for a life beyond their means. Jen, in particular, wants immediate and eminently satisfying answers. They’re deluded about how life works, and absolutely deliriously entitled, upbraiding the police in ways that one has to note anyone but a white, upper-class woman would be imprisoned for. And yet we’re supposed to root for Jen, I guess? Judy’s nuts and a sociopath. Jen is an egomaniac with delusions of grandeur and a seriously violent streak that goes largely unpunished.
It started off OK and has good actors, but it’s lost the thread for me a bit. I’m not heavily investing in finishing season one. It’s a frauen-power show full of enablers of sociopathic behavior and/or easy targets for “frauen-power” moments. It’s not particularly subtle. As always, it helps that money isn’t really an issue for anyone in any meaningful way.
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) — 10/10
The Coen Brothers deliver a sextet of stories set in the West, chock-full of excellent actors, both well-known and less-so. The episodes are lovingly crafted, with excellent, nearly flawless sets, costumes and hand-crafted dialogue.
Tim Blake Nelson stars as the titular Buster Scruggs in the first story, unseated from his throne by Willie Watson as “The Kid”. This episode is more comical than dark.
James Franco is most excellent and rugged in the second story “Near Algodones”. He holds up a bank run by a crafty teller played by Stephen Root. Root covers himself in pans to avoid being shot. Franco is sentenced to death but escapes thanks to an Indian attack. He is swept up again and sentenced to another hanging. This one takes.
The third story “Meal Ticket” stars Liam Neeson as the “Impresario” of a traveling show. Harry Melling is the titular character in the form of “The Professor”, an armless, legless man who quotes and cites from the entire pantheon of English literature. Sometimes he is well-received, other times not. As winter approaches, the crowds dwindle. The crowds are huge, though, at another show, where a chicken picks out numbers. The Impresario buys the chicken and trims his retinue by one at the next bridge.
The fourth story is nearly a solo act by Tom Waits, a prospector who discovers an idyllic valley—an owl soars, an elk drinks from a stream, small fish flit in shoals, butterflies flit. The prospector begins his work, digging and staking out his claim, making unsightly holes everywhere. He finds his lode, but almost has his claim jumped. The other man is a poor shot and the prospector turns the tables and survives. He takes two bags of gold, then leaves the valley to the animals.
The fifth story “The Gal Who Got Rattled” is the longest one. It’s about a brother Gilbert and sister Alice on a wagon train. They are accompanied by his dog, President Pierce. The brother dies of an illness; the dog remains but is too noisy. Billy Knapp, one of the drivers, with Mr. Arthur, of the train takes a shine to Alice. He offers to take care of (now) her yapping dog. He lets it go instead. After a lot of intricate and lovely dialogue, they agree to marry. The next morning, Alice wanders off to find President Pierce, who has followed the train. Mr. Arthur seeks her out and finds that she is being tracked by Indians. He sets up to fend them off, giving her a gun with which to kill herself should he be taken or killed. At it turns out, he drives all but one of them off. That one takes him by surprise and fells him, but Mr. Arthur plays possum and turns the tables on him. He returns to find President Pierce presiding over Alice, who’d followed Mr. Arthur’s instructions to the letter.
The sixth story “The Mortal Remains” finds five travelers in a coach, hurtling toward the Fort Morgan. The Trapper, played by Chelcie Ross, starts off with a long soliloquy about his life in the wilderness. Next up is Tyne Daly as the Lady, who is on her way to meet her husband, from whom she’s been separated for 3 years. She is followed by Saul Rubinek as The Frenchman, who regales them with tales of his gambling exploits. Then speaks Jonjo O’Neill as the Englishman, with excellent elocution (as had the others) and a fearsome mien and manner, staring penetratingly at the others, as he tells them that they he and his colleague the Irishman (Brendan Gleeson) are bounty hunters (of sorts). Gleeson sings a heart-rending and lovely dirge just before they arrive at the Fort. This will be the last voyage for most of them.
- Game of Thrones S08 (2019) — 8/10
This is the final season and it’s time to tie up all of the loose ends. The Night King approaches Winterfell, where the forces of the North are gathered. The Unsullied, the Dothraki, the Free Folk and the families of the North wait for the icy hammer to fall.
The buildup to the battle between the forces of Light and Darkness is good, with lots of nice moments with all of our favorite characters. The knowledge that Jon is really the true king of the Seven Kingdoms slowly spreads. Bran is fantastic as the Three-eyed Raven. That guy’s going places, but it’s unclear what’s happening with him.
The first battle is fine, but fought terribly by the North. They knew their enemy, yet they let them approach right up to the walls, so that all the fallen can get right back up and fight again. Their trenches were pathetic (I know it’s winter and they don’t really have any good shovels), the Dothraki charge was useless (and wasn’t at-all suspenseful), they were pathetic with their dragon strategy. Thanks to Arya, they won. That scene was amazing.
Next up is some more banter with the survivors—they didn’t lose too many in this first battle—and preparations for dealing with Cersei. Cersei sticks in Daenerys’s craw because … well, … how dare she claim to be queen when Daenerys is the rightful heir to the seven kingdoms. It’s also eating her alive that Jon is actually the rightful King.
They make their way south very ineptly, getting all of their boats sunk due to an utter lack of reconnaissance. They also lost a dragon to an admittedly lucky shot. The iron fleet wiped them out, showing us how well the unsullied swim in leather-plate armor (spoiler alert: they swim really well).
Daenerys is a terrible general. Every idea she has is not good, ending in massive sacrifice. (Because maybe she forgets that not everyone has dragons?) But she’s always been more about quick and efficient strikes and not really well-suited to the long grind of war or that pesky planning or ruling. Jon doesn’t seem to be using any of his military genius, Tyrion gets dumber by the show—season 8 is a new low, sadly. Varys is the only one who seems to still have his head about him. For now.
They regroup and visit Cersei at the walls of King’s Landing, where she executes Missandei. Daenerys takes it super-well, as does Grey Worm. They set up the attack on the city, with the dragon as the primary weapon. The “scorpions”—massive harpoon guns that killed its brother—are utterly useless this time because … magic. Drogon basically single-handedly defeated her enemies for her. The city had fallen; they’d surrendered.
But Daenerys isn’t done. She lays waste to the entire city, killing tons of civilians and losing the loyalty of Jon Snow. Too little too late, Jon. In the penultimate episode, many, many characters meet their end: Cersei, Jamie, Euron, Sandor, Gregor. Bran, Arya, Jon, Daenerys—all still alive.
Maybe Daenerys and Drogon could have flown straight to Cersei’s tower and taken her out? Too boring, probably. Much better to lay waste to the city, as a warning to the rest of the kingdoms.
Maybe Bran could have warged into Drogon and stopped him? Maybe he saw farther and realized that this is the best way, the only solution that works (akin to Dr. Strange looking at 14 million possible futures in Avengers: Infinity War). Once you have someone who can see the future—though he says he spends most of his time in the past—you kind of have to trust that he’s choosing the best path through a wasteland of bad choices. Maybe it’s the only way.
And here we are after the final episode and I kind of called it, above. Daenerys’s eschatological act was the only thing that could loosen Jon’s oath’s hold on him. He’d sworn his loyalty to her if she helped defend the realm from the Night King. She was true to her word and took grave losses. But he could no longer be her lover, which destroyed them both. It then took Dany laying waste to King’s Landing to get Jon to shake off the cobwebs, but he eventually stepped up.
After the sacking of King’s Landing, Tyrion resigns and Daenerys sentences him to death. Jon is backed into a corner. He visits Daenerys in her shattered throne room—foreshadowed way back in season 2—and nearly begs her for mercy. She knows best and will show neither forgiveness nor mercy. It is all he can bear. He kills her. Drogon melts the throne and takes his mother away, but leaves Jon intact—whether because he’s a Targaryen or because the dragon understood his mother was evil is left up to debate.
Tyrion is hauled before a tribunal of the remaining lords and ladies, with Jon in jail and Grey Worm sulking about. Tyrion delivered several masterful monologues in this show—it felt like he had 90% of the dialogue—but his nomination of Bran the Broken as king was a master-stroke. It makes sense and is possibly the outcome that the three-eyed raven had been steering toward. He claims not to want the throne, but perhaps he doth protest too much? Only Sansa does not pledge her fealty, keeping the North separate from the other realms.
Tyrion is one again Hand of the King, Sam represents the maesters, Bronn is minister of coin, Davos of the navies and Brienne presumably represents the white knights. Jon is once again banished to the Wall, but reunited with both Tormund and Ghost. Arya sails of for the unknown West under a Stark banner. The Stark family—noblest and most principled of all the families—won in the end, across the board. What a comeback!
What’s art without some quibbles here and there? The overall arc was true to the other seasons and all-around well-executed. I don’t know what haters were expecting. Dany ruling benevolently? Hardly. Daenerys Was Always A Narcissistic, Power-hungry Colonizer People just love to love a dictator. She felt she deserved to rule because her family used to rule. If you’re on Team Targaryen, then you should really re-examine your politics. I’m not surprised most of “liberal” America loved her so much—it reflects to a tee how they respond to their own country’s military machinations and manifest destiny without examination or critique.
Jon “I don’t want it” Snow as King? No way: he’s thrown off every title he’s ever gotten.
We got the best outcome for the realms: a non-successive semi-republic with an elected ruler. The best ruler doesn’t want it (and also hasn’t killed people). Varys was right and he also ended up winning—the realm was much better off than it has ever been.
Too many people waste energy trying to steer a good story to surprise them but only in the way they were expecting. No sense of irony. It belies the fear of spoilers many claim to have: if it actually ends differently than they know it should, they’re up in arms.
I was entertained and found it to me a masterful ending. If it wasn’t so damned long, I would watch again from the beginning, to see how much of the ending the writers knew as they were writing the earlier seasons. Expectations were high and the delivered a masterpiece unlike anything the world has seen before. It wasn’t perfect, but art never is. It just is.
- Fleabag (2016) — 8/10
Phoebe Waller-Bridge stars as the eponymous lead. She also writes all of the episodes. The writing is clever and cheeky and sometimes quite refreshingly filthy. She is happily single and hooking up and running a failing café without her very best friend, who’d recently died in a bizarre traffic accident. Her guinea pig remains.
Fleabag is not a good person, but she’s not particularly bad, either. She’s refreshingly honest and down-to-Earth and easy-going. Her sister is much more successful, but also much more stressed and uptight.
The main gimmick is that we hear a lot of Fleabag’s internal monologue. She also breaks the fourth wall nearly constantly. It’s quite entertaining so far.
The first season reveals more about what happened to her best friend and partner. It reveals that Fleabag is darker and more complicated and a worse person than we’d hoped. She is easily outflown by her father and sister, who betray her deeply in their devotion to their respective and reprehensible partners. In the end, it’s the bank officer who’d been accused of sexual harassment who ends up being the only one who forgives her her transgressions (that led to her friend’s suicide) and gives her another chance.
At the end of season one, her sister has reneged on her promise to help her out with her café but it looks like she’ll get the loan she needs. Her father useless and her stepmother is vicious. Looking forward to season 2—a very funny and dark show.
- Jean Claude Van Johnson (2016) — 9/10
Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as himself, but in a world where his entire film career was a cover for his life as an international spy. At the start of the show, he returns to the game in order to get close to the love of his life (with whom he used to work).
It’s tongue-in-cheek, cleverly filmed, very well-written and JCVD is brilliant. There are a lot of in-jokes about his movies and about how they made movies in the 80s and 90s vs. how action movies work today. I’ve only seen the first two shows so far, but it’s gold. His driving stunt made me laugh out loud.
- The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018) — 9/10
At long last, Terry Gilliam managed to finish this film that he started almost three decades ago. It is the story of a film director Toby (Adam Driver) who’s returned to the place in Spain where he filmed his breakout student film—a partial reimagining of Don Quixote. At that time, he’d gotten a local girl—the daughter of a barman—to play Dulcinea (Joana Ribeiro) and a local older man—a cobbler—to play the titular role (Jonathan Pryce).
His new film production is running into problems—the pressure is much higher now that he’s an auteur. He discovers that the current filming location is close to where he shot the original film. He finds Dulcinea and Quixote, whose lives he’d pretty much ruined. He becomes embroiled in local intrigue, but mostly the plot devolves into a self-referential and highly stylized re-telling of the story of Don Quixote, but also a telling of the making of the movie that we’re watching, a parable of Gilliam’s career, a satire/castigation of modern-day movie-making and Hollywood, as well as serving up a large portion of Gilliam’s usual philosophical musings about the nature of reality, the reality of the mind’s ravings and whether there is magic in the world—even if it’s not real magic, maybe your believing that it is, is enough.
In the end, Toby kills his Quixote, but reincarnates him in himself, leaving the production and pursuing his new mission as an errant knight.
I honestly enjoyed the hell out of this movie, as I do many of Gilliam’s films. I thought he’d done a masterful job of finally making the movie he wanted to make, while staying true to the thread along which his other films are strung. There were weak bits, to be sure—and the film was a bit on the long side—but it’s not a movie like any other you’ll see and the intense layering of fantasy on fantasy is always intriguing to unravel. Óscar Jaenada as the Gypsy was also an excellent interlocutor and partial narrator.
- The Man in the High Castle S01 (2015) — 8/10
This is a story set in the world posited by Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name. It is a world in which the Nazis and the Japanese won WWII and divided up the United States into a Japanese west coast, a neutral zone, and the remaining 2/3 of the country, from South Dakota to the East Coast belonging to Nazi Germany.
The show picks up in 1962, following the lives of a Nazi spy from the East Coast (Joe Blake, played by Luke Kleintank) as well as a rebellious Julianna (Alexa Davalos) from the west coast. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Nobusuke Tagomi is amazing as the Japanese Trade Minister.
Intrigue abounds and the central plot line involves films that depict a world in which the Nazis lost the war, films that appear out of nowhere, but supposedly produced or delivered by the man in the high castle. The provenance of the films is unknown, but their effect is powerful—especially on the various rebel factions whose embers still glow in the former US.
The Germans and Japanese have everything well under control—this is not a story about an imminent uprising. The rebels are few and far-between and hold out hope for the sake of it and not because they’ve been encouraged by any progress on that front.
The acting is quite good, the writing is good and the rendering of the alternate history is fascinating. Looking forward to the next season.
- Veep S07 (2019) — 10/10
The final season of this spectacularly funny series equaled, if not topped, all the other seasons. The writers were absolutely brutal, delivering scathing line after scathing line into the mouths of their characters. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was magnificent and evil, discarding the last vestiges of her humanity and any pretense at morality to achieve her ultimate goal.
The cast was ridiculously good, with Jonah standing out, but also Ben, whose advice ended up being pivotal to Selena’s victory. There are so many good characters, each carefully written and staying true to the arc they’d established over the other seasons.
- Anna Chlumsky as Amy Brookheimer, the campaign manager (who defects to Jonah’s camp and capitulates to Washington bottom-of-the-barrel morals as well)
- Tony Hale as Gary Walsh, who ends up running part of the campaign, but ends up as a fall guy
- Reid Scott as Dan Egan, who ends up with nothing
- Timothy Simons as Jonah Ryan, a Trump2, if that’s even possible. His campaign made a mockery of the US in how realistic and plausible it was.
- Matt Walsh as the hapless Mike McLintock, who screwed up absolutely everything until he was fired, whereupon he ended up in journalism, where his stupidity helped him quickly rise to the top.
- Kevin Dunn as the brilliant, Asian-woman-chasing, chronically unhealthy and deeply pessimistic and cynical Chief of Staff.
- Gary Cole as the robotic Kent Davidson, the Senior Strategist who can only think in numbers.
- Sam Richardson as Richard Splett, who naiveté is somehow allowed to avoid being crushed. He not only sires “Little Richard” for Selena’s insipid daughter and her former Secret Service–office wife, but stumbles his way up the ladder of politics. He is the only thing of worth in this show and they let him actually win, showing that the writers haven’t given up all hope.
- Sarah Sutherland as Catherine (Selena’s daughter), who sets a new standard for insipidity while at the same time espousing the tepid values of the wannabe-left liberals.
- Clea DuVall played Catherine’s wife Marjorie Palmiotti, the former Secret Service officer who was Selena’s lookalike (so many connections … Selena’s lesbian daughter married someone who looks like her mother).
No-one was spared, not Washington, not either side of the aisle, not the media, not voters, not the young, not the old, not any part of US current and past foreign and domestic policy. It was funny because it was true. On Rotten Tomatoes, they wrote “Brash and bonkers as ever, Veep bows out with an unapologetically absurd final season that solidifies its status as one of TV’s greatest comedies,” which sums it up very nicely.
- John Wick: Chapter 3 − Parabellum (2019) — 8/10
The original John Wick was a revelation. It’s sequel was decent, but lacked something from the original. In particular, too much of the gunplay was at ludicrous Eagle Eye–like distances. This sequel to the sequel goes back to the original’s roots, with a lot (A LOT) of gunplay, but also some spectacular and wonderfully choreographed martial-arts fighting scenes.
Reeves is charming as the affable but ludicrously deadly hero. Ian McShane reprises his role as the proprietor of the Continental Hotel (located in the Flatiron Building in New York City). Lance Hendricks is also back in an expanded role as the (now-named) Charon, McShane’s right-hand man.
Halle Berry joins the fun as Sofia, another killer from whom Wick collects his debt. She is pretty goddamned entertaining as well, and is accompanied by two wonderfully trained dogs.
Laurence Fishburne is back as the Bowery King—bowed but not beaten. The Adjucator—a sort of cop from the “High Table”—is a bit of a Deus Ex Machina (it’s unclear why she has such latitude—I mean, the High Table has sway, but most of the people she confronts are nearly in open rebellion of it), but it doesn’t make much sense to dwell on it, to be honest.
There are a ton of other entertaining characters, most of whom will not be in John Wick 4, for biological reasons. Luckily, John Wick is exempt from biological law and can take an utterly ludicrous amount of punishment and keep on moving (think Punisher S01E09 & 10).
Keanu makes it work because you feel that he is going through all of this, not for himself, not for his dead wife, not for his dead dog, but because it’s the right thing to do. There is no choice in the matter, no option for avoiding the damage and pain, because honor is at stake. It works, IMHO.
↩“For those who can’t understand why so many people like action films that are all about killing — and John Wick is definitely all about killing — it can be enlightening to consider these movies. They provide all the fantastical escapism you crave after working your dreary job, or jobs, all week, or suffering from needing a job and not having one, and they find a way to connect the fantastical elements of the film’s “world building” to a common core of shared reality. That shared reality between you and John Wick is getting fucked over by people rotten with power in a dirty system that come at you aggressively when you’re just trying to get by in your life, which is already pretty miserable.”
↩“[t]he hotel is a perfect hotel, dark and luxurious, exquisitely run. It’s presided over by a quietly scary owner with the alias Winston Churchill (Ian McShane) and his impeccable concierge Charon (Lance Reddick). Both are impassive, courteous, steeped in worldly knowledge, and incapable of surprise. They understand everything at a glance.”
↩“Honor culture tends to be quite brutal and regressive. But at least it’s a brutality of a different kind than the malevolent meanness that rules our lives in contemporary Western culture. Honor culture provides heightened meaning along with the harshness, and meaning is the factor we crave. If we must suffer and die, we can’t help wanting to do it in a system of meaning recognized by all.”