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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2020.8

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.

After Life S02 (2020) — 8/10

The first season was excellent. Season two continues with most of the same characters. It’s a bit more maudlin than season one—especially the closing credits music, which is so deliberately sad for most of the six episodes that I usually cut it off rather than listen to it.[1]

Ricky Gervais reprises his role as Tony, a man struggling to see the point in going on after his wife dies of cancer. He has good days and bad days. He wakes most mornings to videos of his dead wife; he falls asleep most nights with a bottle wine and the same videos.

He tries to stop drinking for a while, but doesn’t see the point. He makes peace with his odd postman (Joe Wilkinson) and then sets him up with Roxy (Roisin Conaty). They seem to hit it off. Tony tries to see his father’s nurse (Ashley Jensen) romantically, but he’s not ready yet.

Co-worker Lenny (Tony Way) starts seeing the mother of one of the newspaper subjects. The boy is in a local theater club that Tony’s newspaper also covers. Sandy’s unhappy because she’s 30 and still living at home with her parents. Tony’s brother-in-law and editor Matt (Tom Basden) is in the dumps because his wife wants to leave him. They turn it around by the end of the season, though, and stay together.

Tony’s cemetery friend Anne is also lonely, so Tony sets her up with the new owner of the newspaper—a millionaire who Tony convinces to keep the newspaper going. It’s all a bit maudlin, but has some good writing. It’s also quite believable and held together by a funny, but earnest Gervais. Season 1 was funnier (I thought Gervais was funnier when bitter), but this season went in a different, but also interesting direction.

Planet of the Humans (2019) — 4/10

This is a pretty sloppily made and slipshod documentary about a very important topic. It relies too much on hot takes, visual clickbait, and gotcha editing. The first 12 minutes are boring as hell, completely light on information, and don’t really advance anything of note. You can read into this film what you want, which means it doesn’t serve very well as a documentary.

Some will see it as a wake-up call telling us to beware of green hucksters shilling for large corporate interests and subsuming activist vigor into ecologically useless directions. They will see it as a call to focus on real green policies instead—without really mentioning what those might be, because every alternate-energy avenue available was painted as an utter fraud.

The topic is greenwashing, a process whereby energy put into fighting for the environment and against climate change is subsumed and rerouted to climatologically damaging solutions promulgated by the same companies that have been inflicting fossil fuels on us for over a century (e.g. BP).

It’s the same old story: we need to do something vastly different than what we’re doing now, but capitalism has ensured that only those who benefit massively from the current system continuing unchanged have the wherewithal to do so, and they are only willing to change at all if there is enough political pressure and they can reroute the initiatives to pour even more money into their coffers.

They really don’t care how it’s done: fossil fuels have given them a money-making machine that is unparalleled in history, but they will happily trade it for another such machine as long as it’s just as lucrative for them and if they get some annoying bad publicity off of their backs. They are not willing to do anything that involves their money spigot being turned ever-so-slightly in the direction of “not overwhelmingly torrential” and they couldn’t care less about the future of humanity.

That these companies throw around a lot of clout and cash and also talk a good game—by hiring the best PR people with said scads of cash—has gone a long way to drawing the less-serious—and even very serious, but gullible—green activists and groups into their sphere of influence.

The system almost doesn’t allow for anything else to happen, to be honest. Activists who don’t kowtow, at least in part, are left with meager/starvation budgets and nearly zero effectiveness outside of the small sphere of people who are already true believers and would be convinced by data and for free.

Activists who try to ride the edge of support from the enemy are massively outgunned and often don’t even know when they’ve been turned until it’s too late. They can try to steer a better course afterward, but the stain remains on their history, to be sniffed out and used against them to obviate anything else they’ve ever done. Which is only fitting, considering the time frame we have left to do anything about an event that, if not quite extinction-level, will be deadly for a large part of humanity and very uncomfortable for anyone unfortunate enough to have survived.

Large groups, like the Sierra Club, have long since grown to a size that they benefit from the status quo in a way that makes it impossible for them to effect meaningful change, as such change would saw off the branch that they’re sitting on. Some of these groups have long since adopted such a corporate structure that the battle between members who want to actually effect change and top-level members who want to turn a profit have long since been settled in favor of the latter, which leads to the larger groups essentially managing the giant pile of membership dues like a hedge fund.

The actual members themselves are happy to give up a minuscule part of their fortunes/incomes in exchange for a clean conscience. Others contribute money or time because they genuinely feel that they’re making a difference in the right direction. Sometimes they kind of are, but a lot of times, they’re also kind of being duped by the marketing and PR arms of these large organizations, which prey on its members’ gullibility and lack of introspection into what’s really going on.

These members really aren’t educated or informed enough to determine that what they’re supporting is neither very “green” nor very sustainable or scalable. There is a ton of misinformation in both directions—some of it in this documentary, which plays even-more fast-and-loose with the facts than Michael Moore himself typically would.

One of the main points in this film is that solar panels are made of stuff that comes from the ground. This isn’t shocking for people with a science background—or any sense in their heads—but it is definitely very much at-odds with the message these so-called green titans of industry are sending and that their members are eating up because, quite frankly, it makes them feel good and they’re absolutely not informed enough to even suspect that it might not be true.

It’s a good idea to show people how solar panels are manufactured and that we’re not nearly where we want to be yet, despite assurances from companies who want your money in exchange for a clean conscience. But the implication seems to be that, were we not to use solar panels, we would stop using all of the materials that go into them. They go on to teach us that solar panels and wind turbines can be managed poorly and go to seed. Also, deserts have sand in them. Scandal.

The scandal is, rather, that they have our attention on this movie and fail to get the message across that it’s our lifestyles in the first world and particularly in America that rely on so many exotic materials and multi-layered industrial processes and enormously long and complex supply chains filled with fossil-fuel-driven transportation and manufacturing methods.

Instead of using our remaining oil for important things—building the next generation of fossil-fuel-free energy sources and (maybe, though doubtfully) grids—we’re still reliant and happily duped that nothing really has to change. That’s the message the film should have hammered home—and that, according to the interviews I’ve seen with Jeff Gibbs, it thinks it hammered home—but that got lost in “eating their own”.

Most people believe so many laughably false things before breakfast that believing that solar panels and Teslas magically create themselves doesn’t even register a blip on their radar. I hope no-one ever tells them how their smartphones are made—hint: rare-earth metals and shocking amounts of electricity, distilled water, and what amounts to slave labor.

The fossil-fuel-based economy is a prerequisite in order to produce these relatively sophisticated bits of technology. The fossil-fuel economy produces 90% of our energy and fossil fuels are currently the only way of bootstrapping a non-fossil-fuel economy in any realistic scenario. It’s true that companies are deliberately papering over these facts in order not to ruffle the feathers of their sensitive donors—because those donors are paying good money for a clean conscience and there’s no room for nuance or the messy complexity of a realistic plan.

All of that is exceedingly interesting, I think, but it’s not obviously in the movie. That is, I don’t believe that the director did a good job of getting this message across because he included so much distracting gotcha bullshit, interviews with weirdos with weird ideas, and footage of animals dying and earth being torn up.

Instead, they allude to this all the time and generally pinpoint Bill McKibben as a major purveyor of greenwashing propaganda, which is, frankly, gobsmacking, if you’ve read absolutely anything by him at all. He’s done more for awareness of climate change than anyone, but they mercilessly eat their own in this “documentary” with no context or nuance given to spare McKibben the opprobrium he ended up getting afterward.

That’s when the Twitter-history–scouring hordes of virtue-signalers and purity-testers and know-it-alls show up to torpedo anyone who was ever useful for ever having been slightly less than perfect in careers that have often spanned decades of struggle and hardship. What has this horde ever done? Why, nothing, but that’s neither here nor there. Their justice is swift and merciless, their appetite for feeding on the only ever-so slightly misaligned ally boundless. They don’t even notice when their ostensible enemies (the climate-trashing internationals) manipulate their insatiable sense of outrage, wrath, and dopamine addiction into burning one potential ally after another in their service.

The documentary mixes clips from over 15 years willy-nilly—some of the clips are grainy and look like they were made with camcorders—and doesn’t even do the basics of including names or positions for everyone interviewed. It’s a shoddy hack job with a sensationalist angle, bent on stirring up controversy at all costs. It could have been a much better movie, but it’s not. If it were a blog post, it would have only ended up on crackpot sites because of its slapdash and lackadaisical approach to facts, verifiable data, and references.

So: the idea is good; the problem is real; it’s getting in the way of real solutions. The targets are poorly chosen and the documentary is poorly made and meandering, letting everyone get from it what they want. I feel like most people supporting it or panning it haven’t really watched it carefully. I’ve seen interviews with Jeff Gibbs and with Michael Moore where they provided all of the context that was missing from the movie. This isn’t very helpful as the movie doesn’t stand on its own without two extra hours of director/producer commentary. It’s a documentary, not an art film: it should be clearer.

The interesting problem raised is that, instead of attacking the film for being terrible, its detractors tried to get the movie canceled from YouTube. It was temporarily taken down for a bullshit copyright violation—4 seconds of video lays well within fair-use law—but it is back online now. So the film missed its opportunity to focus people on the very real problems it attempted to illuminate. Then, there was an opportunity to illuminate the very real problems of the modern-day book-burning that is cancel culture—and how that feature of social networks is being weaponized by the very corporate interests that those doing the canceling should themselves be fighting against.

Unfortunately, it has mostly sparked yet another stupid online war where people walk in with their opinions chiseled in stone, don’t watch or read the content, and then just lay waste to as much of their enemy as they can with mean tweets. By now, everyone’s forgotten about the film—which, to be fair, they really should, because it’s not good—but they’re also not thinking about the message it was trying to send.

This would have been important regardless of how poorly communicated it was, because it’s an important message. I assign equal blame to the filmmakers and what the filmmaker saw as his target audience. Gibbs should have realized he couldn’t try to send a message so at-odds with what people already knew in such a lazy and half-assed way. Maybe he doesn’t know how to make any other kind of film, I’m not judging that. But the audience is also to blame for being attention-seeking, brigading idiots without a rational bone in their bodies.

The film can’t really be cited or taken seriously because of its flaws. You can take away a positive message that you should focus on real, useful policies and stop being hoodwinked by fake, corporate environmentalism—but only if you took that attitude in with you in the first place.

Its heart might be in the right place but it failed in its main duty as a documentary: to reliably and truthfully deliver information pertaining to its message.

Never Say Never Again (1983) — 7/10

Sean Connery reprises his role as 007 in an MI6 that no longer looks so kindly on his style of international espionage. They send him to a health resort where he foils an attempt on his own life, but is unable to foil S.P.E.C.T.R.E.‘s plot to steal nuclear missiles. Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) seduces an Air Force Captain, who gets an eye transplant so that he can unlock the weapons as the president of the U.S. She kills him soon after and Blofeld (Max von Sydow) informs that the world that he holds it hostage until he’s paid a ransom.

With the situation changed, Bond is called back to duty. He heads to the Bahamas where he meets up with a bumbling liaison played by Rowan Atkinson and then with Fatima Blush, with whom he goes diving. She works for Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who reports to Blofeld. We are also quickly introduced to the very flexible Domino (Kim Basinger), Largo’s captive/girlfriend.

Bond goes on a dive with Blush (after first sleeping with her), who sics sharks on him and abandons him to his fate. He escapes, of course, and is fished out by a local fisherwoman (Valerie Leon). They come ashore and then back in the hotel room.[2] Blush tries to kill Bond again, but he’s not in his room.

Bond flies to Nice, France and meets up with Nicole (Saskia Cohen Tanugi) and CIA Agent Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey), where they pick up Largo’s trail again.

Bond sneaks into a spa and gives Domino a massage, pretending to work there. She enjoys the assault, of course, because he’s such a dashing bloke. Later, he meets her in a video-game arcade and buys her a drink. Largo and Blush watches everything from afar. Largo and Bond end up playing a video game that induces pain to the loser. Bond wins, of course, and trades in his winnings for a dance with Domino—a tango.

Domino now knows that her brother is dead and she turns to Bond’s side. Blush kills Nicole and Bond gives chase. A sweet-ass French-city car/motorcycle chase ensues. Bond blows up Fatima Blush using a pen-bazooka provided by Q (a very famous scene), after which Leiter rescues him from the local police (they make a slow escape as a cyclist/boxer pair, edging through the crowd).

Leiter and Bond board Largo’s boat, but are captured. Bond blows Domino’s cover by kissing her, enraging Largo. Largo captures Bond and sells Domino to Arabs[3]. Bond escapes and rescues Domino, naturally. She will be eternally grateful—but that comes later. Because first, Bond once again infiltrates yet another of Largo’s lairs, this time ending up underwater in a spear-gun fight with Largo himself. Domino ends it, taking revenge for her dead brother (and maybe for having been callously sold to Arabs?), freeing up Bond to defuse the ticking nuclear warhead underwater.

Bond saves the world and retires to the Bahamas with a much-younger and eternally grateful Domino who, luckily, has been accustomed to subservience by her previous lover/owner.

Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill (2020) — 9/10

A week later, I couldn’t quote any of the jokes, but he’s such a master of delivery, it almost doesn’t matter what he’s saying. He is clever and observational, but not uniquely so. I compare him to Emil Steinberger from Switzerland: he’s funny, sometimes deeply so, but mostly he’s actually entertaining to watch.

I loved one bit on buffets:

“What is the idea of the buffet? Well, things are bad, how can we make it worse? Why don’t we put people that are already struggling with portion control into some kind of debauched, Caligula-food-orgy of unlimited human consumption? (Emphasis added.)”

I gave it an extra star because he’s such a master of his craft, so in control of every word and movement.

The Living Daylights (1987) — 7/10

Timothy Dalton is Bond, bringing a Russian defector Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) into Austria via natural-gas pipeline. The KGB is hot on his heels and sends a super-agent Nekros (Andreas Wisniewski) to MI6 headquarters to kidnap Koskov back. Bond goes to Bratislava to track down Kara (Maryam D’Abo) who should have assassinated Georgi, but who Bond had spared. She’s a cellist and Georgi’s girlfriend, who’d never intended to kill him.

Georgiy seems to have masterminded the whole thing in order to get MI6 on the trail of Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), the head of the KGB. Bond rescues Kara from the KGB and expatriates her to Austria.

We pick up in Tangiers, where Pushkin is meeting with General Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), a rogue American general turned arms dealer. Meanwhile, Bond and Kara arrive in Vienna, lovely in the spring.

Next, we find Georgi in the company of many young ladies at poolside, with his rescuer Nekros … and, to no-one’s surprise, Brad Whitaker. They’re all in cahoots and trying to figure out how to get Pushkin out the way.

Bond meets with his contact, who’s taken out by Nekros. Bond is pissed, suspecting foul play on the part of Georgi and Whitaker. But first he hunts down Pushkin, who’s staying with his mistress. Bond believes that Pushkin is honorable—so he helps him fake his own assassination. Bond escapes into Tangiers, thinking he’d make it out in the company of two ladies who’d offered him a ride in the bazaar. But they’re working for the CIA and Felix Leiter.

Kara gets the drop on James, still believing that Georgi means well. When she sees what Georgi does to James, though, she helps him escape the prison Georgi sends them to in Afghanistan. Since James helps a Mujahideen leader named Kamran Shah (Art Malik) escape, Shah returns the favor by granting them passage to his village/base of operations.

Kamran Shah turns out to be Oxford-educated (nearly clearly the Osama bin Laden character) and reluctantly continues to help James and Kara. Kara and James escape in a cargo plane, but Nekros tags long. James takes care of him in a hanging-from-a-cargo-net-out-the-back-of-the-plane scene, then turns back to to help Kamran defeat the Russians.

James and Kara fly on, trying to make it to Pakistan, but they’re losing fuel too quickly. They get into a Jeep and fly out the back of the plane just before it crash-lands. They are uninjured and 200km outside of Karachi. “I know a great restaurant in Karachi; we can just make dinner.”

James meets up with Leiter for a final operation in Tangiers—this time to take down Brad Whitaker, who’s playing war games in his museum. Bond takes care of him just as Pushkin and his troops show up to take out Whitaker’s troops. Georgi goes with Pushkin (“in a diplomatic bag”) and Kara is allowed to “defect” to London, where she plays a concert. Kamran Shah shows up as well.

Kara retires to her room, where James is waiting with two martinis and his sexy self. The end.

Justice League (2017) — 5/10

The best thing about this is movie is definitely Jason Momoa as Aquaman, especially when he’s sitting on Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth. Steppenwolf is a terrible enemy—just laughably bad. He’s ludicrously powerful and yet can still have his defenses penetrated by an essentially powerless Batman.

Superman is back, awakened from his Kryptonian coma by the rest of the Justice League. Jeremy Irons as Alfred is wasted—it must have been quite a payday for him. It’s a toss-up whether Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Henry Cavill as Superman or Ben Affleck as Batman is a more terrible actor or actress. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is the definition of phoning it in. The lines are so wooden and strange—and the words-only scenes last forever. Cyborg is also an absolutely bizarre bundle of powers who’s actually better than the three “main” heroes. The Flash is just weird.

There are some magical boxes that Steppenwolf is trying to use to get all the power in the universe or to end all life on Earth or to gain dominion over all living things…or something. Superman shows up as a Deux Ex Machina, but only after the rest of the team gets its collective asses kicked all over the place. Cyborg even gets his legs ripped off.

Maybe one of the drawbacks is that they do everything with physical brute force and no cleverness in tactics. They just fight like Rocky against Ivan Drago, blow for blow for blow for blow until someone stops. In the end, they vanquish Steppenwolf by making him feel fear whereupon his own minions destroy him.

The ending is, of course, overwhelmingly sappy and cheesy. Of course, there’s a speech that sounds like a commercial for an international conglomerate.

Patton Oswalt: I Love Everything (2020) — 5/10

I thought one of the better bits in the first half was his meta-jokes about how one can’t really joke about the Trump administration. But overall, he’s pandering to the crowd and talking about his family and kid quite a bit. I like his off-beat material better than his Dad stories. YMMV.

In the last ten minutes, he tells a long, rambling story about going to a Denny’s with his daughter, who actually enjoys it because she doesn’t know that Denny’s is “where dreams go to die”. Meanwhile her Dad is thinking:

“Everyone who’s ever left here in a hurry has gone down in a hail of bullets.”

His story in the last ten minutes about the cast of characters on the back of the Denny’s Kid’s menu is finally a return to his dark, surreal form. It’s quite good, but the show overall seemed kind of forced, even though it wasn’t even that long. I’d rewatch Werewolves and Lollipops again before watching this one.

Bob Rubin: Oddities and Rarities (2020) — 8/10

Patton Oswalt recommended this special, which is tacked on as episode 2 of his own I Love Everything. I’m glad I took his recommendation—Rubin’s show was better than Oswalt’s.

Rubin’s style is a shouting, psychotic, meticulously planned stream-of-consciousness routine. It’s a miracle he memorized all of that. His regular speaking voice is quite mellifluous. I really liked the change of pace, unique delivery and pretty damned good bits. Some examples,

“Beware of the flashbacks? If it wasn’t for the flashbacks, the last twenty minutes would have been dead silence.”

On his book:

“Hey, let’s do some cocaine. Steps 1 through 5. Step 6, you’re out of book and it’s morning.”

This one is funny on an abstract, absurdist level, but is funnier if you know that NY went from blue-on-orange to Statue-of-Liberty-on-white back to blue-on-orange over 30 years.

“I got pulled over for expired tags. My tags are so old, they expired and are back in again.”

A softball, but he tells it well—it’s believable the way he barks it.

“Those sex chat rooms? It’s weird sitting naked at the computer. By the time the guy brings you your latte, everyone’s staring at ya.”

His story about a two-day bender in Van Nuys with his friend is brilliant, absolutely off-the-hook funny and wild.

“[Approximate] We were taking vitamins and then suddenly it was two in the morning. So I ask my buddy if it’s OK if I hang for a bit because the cops are out. Boom, it’s 24 hours later and we’re really healthy by now. So my buddy says, Hey, do you wanna take some acid with you? I got a bunch of sugar cubes in my freezer. The ones with dots on ‘em are either half or double hits. So I’m thinking I’m getting either six or 36 hits. That’s Yahtzee!”
Kim’s Convenience S04 (2020) — 7/10

The whole family returns for season four. It starts off with Janet being horrible to everyone again. It’s actually a toss-up as to whether Janet or her roommates are more horrible. Mr. Kim is still using his serious face and Mrs. Kim performs instinctive sneak attacks. Chung and Kimchi are fine. Shannon is also very egocentric and shallow (in the same class as Janet, Gerald, and Stacie).

The second half of the season got a bit better, but Stacie is still the worst—and it’s completely unclear to me whether it’s intentional or whether the show simply doesn’t notice how horrible she is. Maybe they’re around enough people like this that they think it’s kind of normal for someone to be that egotistical. Anyone I know would have cut off all ties to her, by now. But Janet is not much better, thinking really only of herself for at least 95% of the time. Poor Gerald is stuck between these two therapy cases.

As noted, Kimchi and Chung are decent guys and their relationship is really cool—they’re really good friends and not afraid of showing it. Mr. and Mrs. Kim make this show worth watching. The season ends with Janet settling for an internship in Tanzania because Stacie and Gerald stole her idea to go teach in South Korea. Raj ends up taking an internship in Tanzania, as well, so that he can be near Janet. Gerald is upset because he thought that his kiss with Janet meant something.

If this all sounds terrible, it’s because it is—as noted above, most of these people are really terrible. Mrs. Kim undergoes tests for a worsening clumsiness right at the end of the season. I subtracted a point because of the tedious bits that don’t have the good characters in them.

This Is 40 (2012) — 6/10

Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) star as a couple whose marriage has sputtered badly as he approaches his 40th birthday party. The two are OK, but their comedic talents are mostly wasted on characters who are nearly irredeemable. Both have much better, and much funnier, comedy roles in their careers.

John Lithgow plays Debbie’s absentee father—and his chops show through despite the so-so script and other characters. Lithgow quickly makes you care about learning more about his character. We don’t, not really, but it’s a bright spot in the film.

Albert Brooks plays the same kind of schmuck he’s played a few times before: a Jewish dad who’s a “schnorrer” (moocher) and who’s hit up Pete for cash again and again and again. When Debbie calls him on it, he Aikidos the guilt masterfully. Still, his character is weak compared to Lithgow’s.

Robert Smigel is decent as Pete’s brother, Megan Fox is decent eye candy as Pete’s assistant (in whom he evinces no salubrious interest, thankfully), Jason Segel is mediocre funny as an over-the-top and prototypical LA personal trainer, and a couple of young Apatow girls (presumably the director’s daughters) round out the cast. The kids aren’t actually too terrible, for once, which is a nice change of pace.

Still, this is not in the top five for Apatow—watch 40-year–old Virgin or Knocked Up or Trainwreck instead.

[1] As I generally like to do, enjoying each show the way the artists who created it intended it. Often the choice of music is inspired and worth enjoying. It’s been a lot easier since Netflix introduced the feature that lets me disable auto-play everywhere, so it never auto-plays the next show and also doesn’t auto-play any trailers once I’ve finished watching a movie or season.
[2] That’s a zeugma and I’m damned proud of it.
[3] The 80s were nothing if not super-heavy-handed with propaganda—though we’re not much better today, to be honest.