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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2019.12

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.

IT (2017) — 7/10
This is a reboot of the 1990 TV movie starring Harry Anderson, Richard Thomas (John Boy/Frank Gaad) and Tim Curry as Pennywise. It no longer matches the book’s timeline. It now takes place in 1989 instead of 1960. The kids come together pretty much as in the first book (except the subterranean gang-bang has been elided, so not really) to fight Pennywise. Jump scares are good; effects are good; locations are good; actors are pretty good. I took away a star because I feel that I would have enjoyed it a bit less if it wasn’t a familiar story to me. Unlike the 1990 version and the book, they didn’t mix the past with the present at all. Chapter 1 has just the kids and the initial vanquishing. Chapter 2 is out now.
Barry S02 (2018) — 8/10

We pick up just past the end of season 1 finale, catching a glimpse of Barry confronting Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), but its just a part of intro. Instead, we pick up a few days later, with a devastated Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) who’s lost Janice. Barry rallies the school and Gene to keep going, giving up a story about Afghanistan to convince them that he’s serious about acting.

The next day, everyone is telling fantastical and maudlin stories about their upbringing. Sally tells about how she’s only getting shitty roles—to which Cousineau replies that at least she’s working (unlike anyone else in the class). But Sally is focused on being the star she knows she is and still can’t talk about anything but being shafted. She whines that she only gets “weak woman” roles, then says they don’t fit because she’s a strong, independent woman. (A) She’s wrong because she seeks support and validation everywhere, dropping anyone who helps as soon as she’s gotten what she wants and (B) If she’s such a great actress, then she shouldn’t need roles that match her personality.

Cousineau is so enthralled by the “realness” of Barry’s confession that he builds a show around it, ordering everyone to get real shit too (seemingly also missing that they’re supposed to be acting, not telling real stories).

Fuches is on the run and Moss’s former partner Loach (John Pirruccello) is hot on his heels. He gets Fuches over a barrel and make him help catch Barry. Barry, though, turns Fuches away without revealing anything incriminating.

Fuches continues to meet up with Barry, half-trying to entrap him, half-trying to keep the cop on his ass off of him. Sally is writing a screenplay about her previous abusive marriage to Sam, then calls a friend to corroborate her confabulation and only hears what she wants to hear. Her friend tells Sam about it and he shows up.

Barry fails to carry out the hit on Esther (Hank’s Cambodian rival for Cristobal’s affections) and Hank decides he needs to kill Barry. The hit is laughably bad, taking place during the day, from an open rooftop, while Barry is at home with Sally, who’s so self-absorbed that he doesn’t even have to work to cover up the fact that his apartment has bullet-holes in it.

Barry catches Hank and his super-shitty assassin but, instead of killing them, he offers to square up by training Hank’s army. This also goes laughably poorly, but continues. Fuches tries not to entrap Barry, but Barry walks right into it anyway. Turns out Loach isn’t interested in catching Barry—he wants to hire him to kill his wife’s lover.

This hit goes spectacularly wrong: Loach’s wife’s lover is an pothead, but he’s also got a house full of Tae Kwan Do trophies and medals. Also, he’s tough as nails, nearly zombie-like. Also, he’s trained his daughter thoroughly—she’s like a feral karate-kicking mongoose when she arrives and discovers Barry’s killed her father (or so they thought). It’s a spectacular hit that goes all kinds of wrong, but ends up in so many details balanced against one another to, once again, absolve Barry.

Barry ditches Fuches for good—or at least he thinks he does. Fuches finds Moss’s car and schemes to pin her murder on Cousineau, to make Barry suffer. Barry and Sally do a phenomenal scene together, with Barry doing much better; they both get auditions, but she turns her down for not being “artistic” enough, whereas he deliberately tanks his because Fuches had called him just before. Barry will probably get the role because men are supposed to be aloof. Sally gets an even bigger shot and changes her scene/story again—becoming successful this time by lying about her “art”.

Hank and his army escape from Esther’s trap, thanks to Barry’s training. They return to take over Esther’s temple, but Cristobal and Esther track them back there. Fuches shows up and talks everyone down and into a truce. Hank tells
Barry that “Fuches has fixed everything”. Barry goes into a blind rage and cuts a near-total swath through the temple, taking out everyone except Hank and Fuches (who escapes).

It was a decent season and I like Hank and Barry. Fuches is decent, but one-dimensional. Sally is a horror-show, a well-depicted caricature of a terribly egocentric person but it’s like enough already, we get it. I’m not sure that I’m invested in another season of Barry, to be honest.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel S01 (2017) — 10/10

Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is an upper-west-side JAP married to a man she met while at Bryn Mawr college (at a mixer, of course). They have two kids, he works for his father, he’s an aspiring comedian, she takes show notes and care of everything else. He’s cheating on her with his pinhead secretary, he’s an awful comedian with a thin skin and no prospects of his own. He decides to leave her. He’s gone through all of their finances and his father takes back the apartment. Her father is livid because he always knew the boy was useless, but he wants him back because his daughter needs a man.

She reacts to his leaving by drinking a whole bottle of wine and heading downtown to the comedy club and tearing a hole in the sky. She swears, mimes ball-tickling and shows of her bosoms. The police quickly show up to arrest her for profanity and public lewdness. This will be a show about the stifling mores of the time as well as the poor handling of communists and women. The proprietor of the coffee house, Susie (Alex Borstein) bails her out.

That night is Yom Kippur and the two families face off at dinner. Things explode and Midge heads back downtown for another ribald, spontaneous set and another arrest. Susie gets her a famous civil-rights lawyer, who, after a couple of hitches gets her off—but she has to apologize. She bails out Lenny Bruce and he returns the favor. They hang out at a jazz club and get stoned with the band—so stoned that Bruce can’t go back on, so we get to see her third set, another wonderful off-the-cuff routine.

That’s how things start for Mrs. Maisel, but they don’t stay so rosy. Her parents are unable to conceive of her as anything other than something to care for and marry off. Moving back home regresses them to where they treat her like a 16-year-old girl. She needs her own money, she needs a job.

Joel tries to get her back (he asks) and she turns him down flatly. He moves in with Penny, to his parents’ disapproval. Oh, they try; they all go to dinner and all seem to be enjoying themselves, but both parents just. Say. No. Joel, the whiner, the mealy-mouthed, spineless ass who thinks the world owes him something, is devastated. His father sponsors his new apartment and a better job. Thinks aren’t that bad for Joel. There’s only so far you can fall when you come from money.

Midge gets a job as a perfume girl at a department store and keeps working on comedy at night. Her kids she leaves with her mother. That’s going to end well, I’m sure. She bombs a couple of times—really stinks up the joint. She has no material and her spontaneity dries up on her. She’s got to find the spark that lets her perform at her capacity without booze or drugs or rage. She buys jokes from Wallace Shawn and it goes predictably disastrously. Susie is frustrated, as is Midge. Midge has no patience and no stomach for failure—no matter how temporary.

Susie and Midge blow up and Midge continues with her life without comedy for a bit. Susie eventually comes round to collect her apology and they start up again, this time working more patiently to get Midge a “tight ten”. She gets it and gets a chance to work with an icon of the comedy stage Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch), who plays a rough-hewn Queens housewife. She is not like that in real life, though. She is richer than Croesus. She takes to Midge, but, though she remains unfailingly polite, it’s clear that Midge doesn’t think that they will be best of friends.

Susie sets up a show at her club for Sophie Lennon’s manager Harry Drake (the inestimable David Paymer) but Midge, being Midge, goes off-book and tears into Sophie Lennon’s foibles instead of doing her tight ten. Drake scorches the earth for her and Susie in New York. They still have a few dates at super-shitty clubs (strip clubs) but Drake manages to squash those too. In fact, he even gets the owner of the Gaslight to move Susie to the door and forbid anyone from giving Midge stage time.

Midge misses Joel and they get back together for a night; she gives her father hope that they will reconcile. Her mother can’t know yet, until it’s true.

Susie throws a Hail Mary and begs Lenny Bruce to play the Gaslight to help Midge. He agrees because he, too, is the king of being blackballed. Bruce introduces her and lets her open for him. Once again, she goes off-book, ignoring her tight ten and tearing into Joel and his mistress instead. Joel is there and is deeply wounded because, really, that’s his major personality trait: being thin-skinned and wounded and entitled, the wound being ever-so-much deeper when a woman is the cause, because women are supposed to be meek and useful only in very narrow categories. Still, as he stumbles away from the club, he beats up a heckler who’d called her a bitch, muttering “She’s good, she’s good”.

Midge crushes it. Her first, drunken rant is growing huge in the underground-record scene as “Mrs. X”. Her boost from Bruce and her growing underground fame and whether Joel will be able to take a second-banana role in their relationship will form the basis of the second season.

Highly recommended.

Tuca and Bertie S01 (2019) — 6/10

This is a story kind-of set in the Bojack universe (there are humans an animals evenly mixed in society), but starring two best friends and birds, Tuca (a Toucan, played by Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie (a thrush, voiced by Ali Wong). It’s a bit all over the place, about dating and relationships and sex … and that’s pretty much it. One main thread is that Tuca is a recovering alcoholic.

The shows are all kind of the same: they either deal with Tuca’s alcoholism and insecurity despite her ostentatiousness or with Bertie’s insular insecurity about everything. There are some good jokes, but it’s just kind of OK. I probably won’t finish the season.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel S02 (2018) — 10/10

Rose (Midge’s mother) has absconded to Paris. Midge and Abe go after her. After an initially disastrous and doomed-to-fail attempt at ordering Rose back to New York, Abe capitulates and spends the summer with her in Paris. They enjoy themselves immensely and Rose eventually agrees to return to New York. To her delight, “vacation Abe” seems to have made the trip back from Paris.

Midge gets a gig and makes it work to her advantage, despite the multifarious tides being against her. Joel has officially told Midge that he can’t be with her because he can’t be the butt of her jokes, but he knows she has to be a stand-up comic—because he knows she’s good. Instead, Joel goes to work for his father in the factory—and learns that his father and mother are not running the place well. He joins up for a longer stint to help them turn it around. He’s still living at home.

Midge continues crushing it in the gigs she can get, but Harry Drake’s blackball is still smothering her career. Susie is still on the lam, afraid that Drake’s goons are going to show up to “disappear” her.

The Weissmans head to the Catskills and it’s glorious. Abe is a force of nature; Rose is wonderful; the Catskilliness of it all is breathtaking. Susie joins her and tries to scare up a gig up there. Midge is set up with a loner doctor, who does his level best to disappoint her mother for her. He succeeds by “not rowing”.

In the middle of a hair appointment, she gets a call that she’s been promoted back to the Revlon counter. She heads to New York with the good doctor (Benjamin). She riffs to the news radio and enchants him. They go to a show, they skip out on act 2, they see Lenny Bruce, they meet Lenny Bruce, it’s all so wonderfully done. Midge confesses immediately to Benjamin that she’s a comedian. He’s further enthralled.

Midge gets a gig in the Catskills and has her brother take her back. She kills at her show, despite seeing her father in the audience, which causes her to invent a ton of material based on him. He meets her and Susie after the show and takes them back to the Steiner camp, where he is not happy. He orders Midge to keep it a secret from her mother—only Abe can tell her that her daughter is a comic.

Life goes on with Benjamin courting her and Abe resenting her. Her mother is also very suspicious. Joel is working too hard and his father tells him to move on and do something else with his life. On Yom Kippur, Abe tells Midge to tell her mother that she’s a stand-up comic. This throws Rose for a major loop and she focuses laser-like on getting Midge married to Benjamin, though her hopes are low because she can’t imagine that Benjamin would put up with her predilection (although he’s seen her work and loves it).

He asks Abe for her hand in marriage, but must wait for an answer. At work, Abe runs into trouble because of his son, who is in the CIA and has a much higher security clearance than he does. At Columbia, he is asked to take a sabbatical because he’s getting on everyone’s nerves. At Bell Labs, they are trying to kill his project and accusing him of having blabbed to Midge about his project. He did nothing of the kind—and now he’s pissed. He decides to abandon both Columbia and Bell Labs and get back to being rabble-rouser Abe. We see him meeting the civil-rights lawyer that defended Midge on her first charge.

Midge meanwhile, does a telethon, during which Sophie tries to torpedo her career, but Midge of course saves it with a glorious performance. During the evening, she meets and charms Shy Baldwin with her disarming and even style. He sees her show and later asks her to tour America and Europe with her for six months. Susie, meanwhile, is invited to Sophie Lennon’s house, where she expects to have to eat shit for having threatened her for torpedoing Midge. Instead, Sophie admires her Moxie and asks her to be her manager.

At the end of the season, Midge has accepted Shy’s offer. Thinking that Benjamin won’t possibly accept a six-month wait (despite Abe having given his blessing), Midge runs back to Joel for one night before leaving for Europe. Susie doesn’t know what to say about Sophie’s offer.

Joker (2019) — 10/10

This is a fantastic and realistic super-villain origin story. It was beautifully crafted with a great soundtrack.

Hopelessness personified

Think of the simplest object in your apartment that gives you joy. Arthur Fleck didn’t have a single thing like that. His life was a misery at home, a dingy apartment filled with his mother’s madness and sadness.

When I got home from the movie, I dumped my remaining peanut M&M’s into a ceramic pumpkin. It made me think that Fleck didn’t have anything that brought him any joy, not even a little bit. That ceramic pumpkin is a tiny thread in the weft and woof of the fabric of my life. It’s there because I live with someone who decorates my home and, occasionally, puts candy into a seasonal ceramic container (in December, it’s a Santa Claus—head whose hat comes off).

Fleck—and the people he represents—doesn’t have anything like this, even in the tiniest details. Nothing. He got no joy from life, not for lack of trying. The world didn’t care. His home was a claustrophobic reminder of his sadness; the outside world was a tricksome trap alive with real danger around every corner. I live a life of joyous wealth—I’m so used to it that I often forget to count my blessings, to consider how many details contribute to making it very easy for me to not be depressed. Fleck has none of this. He is a raw nerve, a book of matches waiting for a spark.

When life is good, it’s really good. When it’s not, everything sucks and everything that brings joy flees before your bad karma. When you live at the edges of society, the opportunities are not just few and far between, but nonexistent.

It’s not what they say it is

I’m so glad they managed to make it like they did, without conceding to actual or perceived audience demands. I think that making this kind of film into a super-villain origin story allowed the writers to tell the story with less recrimination because they can claim that it was because he was becoming the Joker. The movie, though, is only tangentially related to comic books. It’s not a comic-book movie in nearly in any way.[1]

People would have rather have their psychotics be appealing and charming. To cause a psychotic break like the Joker’s would take some violence. My viewing partner had to swallow hard during Arthur’s assault on the big clown guy in his apartment, but understood that it was necessary for the story. Arthur was a really nice guy and then he…breaks. It has to be sudden and sharp break with his previous reality in order for him to change from a meek, downtrodden man to the devil-may-care joker who “just wants to see the world burn” (to quote Heath Ledger’s Joker of many years ago).

That there are people being paid big money at media organizations to promulgate the idea that the movie exhorts incels and red-pillers just proves that ours is a society that will burn at the hands of a Joker sooner or later. They didn’t understand the movie at all. It’s a warning that in a society as cruel and evil as ours, it is inevitable that an excrescence like the Joker will boil out of the offal bath of our morals. It’s not a question of if, it’s when. In that much, Arthur was right.

Dark Phoenix

Arthur Fleck reminded me a bit of Phoenix’s Freddie Quell in The Master. The heavy use of the unreliable narrator reminded me a bit of Elliot from Mr. Robot. The director was subtle: he didn’t make a meal out of young Bruce Wayne sliding down the bat-pole on the playground. He just let it happen and moved on. Even that scene tried to show what an outside observer would have termed paedophilia—-it wasn’t; Fleck thought the boy was his brother.

Phoenix was amazing. Watching his broken body straighten and inhale with a heretofore unknown confidence as he becomes. There were so many small details: like his nails were mostly gone, a sign of a chronic nailbiter, but we never actually saw him bite them.

Mother

Fleck’s relationship with his mother was not healthy—for either of them. His mother had very clearly suffered a mental lapse from which she never recovered. I’m almost certain that the adoption story was a lie. There is no way that Penny Fleck would have been allowed to adopt, if only for the reason that she would have been a single mother in the 60s. The child was hers and the father was almost certainly the odious Bruce Wayne, who was eager for any flimsy story to use as broom to sweep Penny under the carpet.

I’ve include more notes and the rest of the review in a separate article.

Atlanta S02 (2019) — 5/10

Jesus, this season is so slow and morose. Everyone’s stoned all the time, including Darius, who isn’t funny at all anymore. Earn is morose, waking up in his storage unit but finally making bank on Paperboi and his dog investment, but then being rejected by the whole world and still treated like shit, even though now he has money and everything should have been different.

It was deeply disturbingly ironic in the episode Money Bag Shawty, but then went completely off the rails in the next episode when Van returns with a vengeance and a gigantic chip on her shoulder. Zazie Beetz speaks German quite well. She speaks with another man right in front of Earn, making fun of him, then getting offended when he asks them to stop. More shitting on Earn (“stuntin’”).

That episode was so painful and the end of a very definite trend in this direction that I would have stopped watching if I hadn’t been on the trainer. As it was, I watched the first five minutes of the next episode Barbershop, where the barber treated Paperboi like garbage for five minutes and I shut it off. I get the point. People are assholes. They are absolute garbage. Still, I don’t need to watch hours of them being assholes when there’s stuff like the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to watch.

Atlanta got too depressing, slow and morose, pot-smoke-filled, filled with ego-drived, self-centered and -pitying assholes. The first season was good, but this one’s feeling like a slog. Maybe I’m missing a big payoff. Too bad for me.

Iliza Schlesinger (2019) — 8/10

This is Iliza’s fourth special in as five years. She digs her material primarily out of her life: in this one, she tells of her recent marriage. She mines some old veins from previous specials, but it’s kind of fan service, so it’s not too bad. She doesn’t linger. She’s very much in control and has some good jokes, though she’s more narrative in style, with some physical comedy mixed in.

She’s somewhat political in the sense that she strikes blows against the current anaesthetisation of comedy by absolutely humorless scolds, something that her male colleagues are less able to do convincingly. That is, they’re convincing, but it’s great to hear a relativized view from a woman who’s never held back and who’s always been fair in distributing her insults. She also discusses what she thinks women need to do to get real equality, weaving this all into the utter madness of what a modern American wedding entails.

At a few points, it felt more like a TED talk than a comedy show, but that wasn’t altogether a bad thing.

Le Mans 66: Gegen jede Chance (2019) — 9/10

This is the story of Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon). Miles was a British mechanic and racecar driver who came to fame in California as a man who could build fast cars and race them. He was a perfect match and foil for the American racecar driver Shelby, who’d won the LeMans in the late 50s but was retired from driving because of a heart condition. He’d since started a racecar company that was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, similar to Miles’s garage, which was repossessed by the bank at the beginning of the film.

Their reputations are well-known, but their success lies in the future. Meanwhile, Ferrari is cleaning up one after another LeMans because they focus on perfection, making beautiful, fast cars rather than focusing on mass-production.

Ford doesn’t know how to make a racecar. Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) comes up with the idea of buying Ferrari—knowing that they’re bankrupt. He flies to Italy, convinced that he’ll pick up Ferrari, leaving them 90% of the race company but picking up 90% of the main company. Ford would retain control over the final say on whether Enzo Ferrari can go to LeMans or not. He calls off the deal at the eleventh hour with a masterful tirade of Italian insults, selling to Fiat instead—a deal he’d already had cooking, but he wanted to drive up the price.

Ford returns to the States with its tail between its legs. The news pisses off Henry II so badly that he swears he will beat Ferrari at the next LeMans. This is nice bombast, but he really knows nothing about running an engineering company—he’s surrounded by marketers and wouldn’t know true quality if it ran him over.

Iacocca recruits Shelby, who takes Miles along. They start to refine a prototype, but Ford goes back on its word to stay the hell out of it and starts to overmanage and committee the car to death—including switching out the driver. The first year goes poorly and Jr.‘s yes-man try to take a dump on Shelby for it. Damon delivers a glorious tirade/speech and gets an even stronger promise from Jr. to not interfere with Shelby’s company’s efforts to build a race car for Ford.

Miles is back on the team and it goes a long time before the Ford yes-man try again to get rid of him. He wins Daytona and another famous race and is poised to drive at Le Mans. He ends up getting on the team and drives to victory. The victory is robbed at the end, on a technicality, but it’s not important to either Shelby or Miles. “You promised me the ride, not the win.”

The movie was subtle in many ways, utterly a non-American story. I’m stunned it made it out the door as-is after test audiences. Miles didn’t win the big race, but he didn’t care much. He and Shelby immediately started designing the next car. Their focus was on the engineering, the science, the love of racing. They were much more in the vein of Ferrari than that of the team they actually drove for. Miles doesn’t even survive the movie: he dies on a test track the next year, before he can go to LeMans again.

Shelby is distraught and has nothing but contempt for his high-end customers who clamor of his cars and his attention. They think because they have money, they can have what they like. He misses his friend and a man he respected, who deserved to drive his cars.

Bale, Bernthal and Damon ooze charisma and have definitely established a good group of 40+ leading men with real chops and star power. Highly recommended.

Catch-22 (2019) — 8/10

This is 6-episode adaptation of the brilliant book by Joseph Heller about an American air-support base on the island of Pianosa, Italy. It’s a faithful adaptation, depicting the utter absurdity not only of the military but of bureaucracy and, ultimately, humanity.

The main narrator is Yossarian, a bomber who doesn’t want to fly more missions. He tries everything to be declared unfit for duty. If he doesn’t want to fly, then he’s sane and fit for duty. If he does want to fly, then he’s crazy and doesn’t have to fly. That’s the catch-22. It’s some catch.

His nemesis is Colonel Cathcart, who uses his men to get more numbers for his squadron, piling more and more missions on them. The best character in the series—as in the book—is Milo Minderbinder, played brilliantly by Daniel David Stewart. Milo inveigles his way into the role of mess chief, then builds a commercial empire that leads to the establishment of M&M Enterprises aka the syndicate.

It’s directed by George Clooney, who makes a brief appearance at the beginning, as base commander Scheisskopf in California. None of the other faces are familiar, save for Hugh Laurie in a stint as Major de Coverley (that, in the series, as in the book, is cut short when he goes to Bologna in what he thinks is conquered territory).

The rest of the faces are all too goddamned good-looking to be real. You get used to it, but they’re all Hollywood bods. I mean, Orr’s supposed to be ugly, not down-home adorable/handsome. I liked this version: it was well-made and stuck to the original script quite well. There were only a few anomolies: tail-gunner Snowden showed up only in a flashback in the last episode rather than haunting Yossarian throughout (the explanation also came late in the book, but Snowden was nowhere in the episodes before that).

My favorite episode was the one that featured Orr, Milo and Yossarian flying on missions for the syndicate. But all of the main threads are there: Yossarian’s bout of nakedness after Snowden dies, Nately’s falling in love with Clara, the prostitute and then dying before he can propose to her, Orr’s meticulous planning and practice at being a crash pilot, Milo’s absolute magnificence at seeing that business trumps nations and war, Scheisskopf’s madness overwhelming even the evil of Korn and Cathcart. The way that nearly everyone but Yossarian and Milo are gone—and Milo doesn’t fly missions. Orr is the only silver lining: he made it to Sweden. Yossarian has flown more missions than anyone else on Pianosa and is an accidental hero, with a medal but no clothes.

I still like the original movie with Alan Arkin, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, Jon Voight, Orson Welles, Bob Balaban, Normal Fell, Martin Sheen and Donald Sutherland better somehow, even though it wasn’t as faithful to the book.