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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2020.10

Published 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.

Battlestar Galactica: Razor (2007) — 8/10

This 100–minute movie is set in the BG universe and tells a bit of the backstory of the Pegasus and that of its erstwhile commander Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes). We meet her former number two Kendra Shaw (Stephany Jacobsen). These two, along with Starbuck spend much of their screen time proving that stupid, macho posturing looks and sounds just as stupid coming from women as it does from men. They are all truly terrible people who should be nowhere near command positions, if there was any justice or morality. The military pretends to neither, which is lucky for these ladies.

The story was pretty interesting, though, and I quite like the universe of BG, so it paid off in the end. You either get used to the rough edges and enjoy the bits that are enjoyable or you leave off watching entirely. I personally like a bit of a sci-fi setting and I think the overall story arc of Humans, Cylons, and their relationship and history is quite interesting. The quasi-religious aspect is understandable in light of the apocalyptic situation for humanity and not-at-all off-putting.

Even Admiral Adama reveals a bit more of his backstory: he was the one who discovered the laboratory where the Cylons were building their “next step in evolution”, a Cylon/Human hybrid. This original experiment was whisked away before the humans could destroy it and has spent the long interim wandering space, guarded by the original Centurions. It (for lack of a better word) can see the future and knows much more of the past than any of its counterparts.

In the interim, there have been other attempts—Athena and Helo’s child Hela, for examples—at crossing the streams, as it were. It remains to be seen where that leads. The hybrid reveals to Shaw that he sees Starbuck as the harbinger of the apocalypse for humanity—just before Shaw blows them both to kingdom come. Starbuck, unfortunately, escapes.

Better Call Saul S04 (2018) — 9/10

The fourth season picks up with Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) in one story line, picking up after Chuck’s death (Michael McKean). Howard (Patrick Fabian) thinks he’s responsible for Chuck’s suicide and wastes no time dumping this news on Kim and Jimmy, leading to an even greater break between them all.

Jimmy continues his journey to becoming Saul Goodman while Kim gets her job back as a high-powered attorney, making money while Jimmy waits a year to get his license back. He spends some time looking for a job—which is really amusing and which involves a few petty crimes, spreading his wings, as it were. He finds a job in a cell-phone store, selling nearly exclusively to shady characters who are interested in burner phones.

Ignacio or “Nacho” (Michael Mando) carries out an attack on Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), nearly killing him and putting him in the wheelchair we see him in in Breaking Bad. Unfortunately, Nacho stays in the thrall of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), who threatens to kill Nacho’s father if he fails to help him take down the Salamancas. Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) shows up to help his uncle and run his empire for him, tangling with Fring and Nacho and Mike.

Mike (Jonathan Banks) heads up a project for Fring, leading a team of German tunneling specialists to build an underground super-lab (the one we would see Walter White take over in Breaking Bad). He befriends Werner, the head of the crew, but Werner ends up … disappointing him.

Jimmy manages to get his con-man mojo back in time for his reinstatement hearing, convincing the initially reluctant council to grant him his bar license back. He uses Chuck’s name to win them over—then turns around and changes his lawyer name to Saul Goodman. Kim is taken aback because she’d actually believed his spiel about Chuck and was disappointed to see that he was going back to his old ways. This wouldn’t last long, though, as she too is drawn to the dark side.

As usual, the season starts with a flash-forward to Goodman’s life in modern-day Kansas, where he works at a Cinnabon and suffers a heart attack and fears that his cover is blown. We learn precious little, but enough to tantalize. He has left the hospital, but still worries that his cover has been blown and that old enemies will find him.

This is a very strong season, with an excellent and interesting plot as well as strong performances from nearly all of the actors. As usual, the camerawork and direction are captivating. Recommended.

Space Force S01 (2020) — 8/10

The season starts with General Mark R. Naird (Steve Carell) being promoted to four-star general. He is elevated to head up Space Force, which is very much like NASA, but for the military. He meets the heads of the other military divisions, Navy (Jane Lynch), Marines (Patrick Warburton), Air Force (Noah Emmerich), and Army (Diedrich Bader), which is a rogue’s gallery of supporting actors who chew the hell out of the scenery.

The Space Force team consists of several civilians, like PR hack F. Tony Scarapiducci (Ben Schwartz; the “F” stands for “Fuck”), science chief Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich) and his right-hand man Dr. Chan Kaifang (Jimmy O. Yang). Captain Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome) and Obie Hanrahan (Owen Daniels) round out the recurring characters for the military side and John Blandsmith (Dan Bakkedahl) is Naird’s connection to POTUS, acting more as a mouth of Sauron for a President who we never see, but who is clearly as mercurial and unreasonable as Trump.

On the personal side, Naird’s wife Maggie (Lisa Kudrow) is serving what amounts to a life sentence for an unspecified crime and he’s left to raise his daughter Erin (Diana Silvers) alone.

The Space Force feuds with the Air Force in mock maneuvers, but their main beef is with the Chinese both in space with dueling satellites and also on the Moon, where both nations establish bases.The season ends with both nations having destroyed the other’s base.

It’s a pretty funny show with Carell turning in a nuanced performance and Malkovich and Yang doing excellent work, as well. Bakkedahl always plays the same character (he did the same schtick on The Daily Show and Veep), but he’s damned good at it. I’ve got a soft spot for Ben Schwartz, who always plays an asshole that you can’t help laughing with (he had a similar role as Jean-Ralphio in Parks and Recreation). Recommended.

Better Call Saul S05 (2019) — 9/10

The fifth season shows a bit more of Saul’s current predicament, where he’s just been released from the hospital, but he’s now been made. He calls Robert Forster for an exit, but backs out at the last minute, preferring to “fix it himself”.

In the past again, we meet Saul Goodman, making his debut as a reinstated lawyer, giving away cellphones to “skels” that are preprogrammed to “call Saul”. He also stages guerrilla-news moments to drum up interest in his fledgling business.

Gustavo and Mike have finished cleaning up the mess left behind by their handling of the Werner Ziegler escape, but they still have to deal with Lalo Salamanca. Mike is on “downtime”, drinking heavily to forget about what he had to do to Werner, with Fring engaging Nacho to spy on Lalo. Their plan involves framing Lalo for murders he didn’t commit, then having Jimmy spring him on a huge bail—forcing Lalo to flee back to Mexico.

Mike is mugged by a gang of local youths and wakes up in a village in Mexico. Meanwhile, Hank and his partner at the DEA make the scene and are entwined in the plot to frame Lalo. They are led to pre-planned dead drops that Gus gives up in order to sell the story.

Kim tires of working for Mesa Verde and Schweikart, finding much more interest in her scams with Jimmy and her pro-bono work. One of the long scams is to get Jimmy on board as the lawyer for a homesteading holdout on land that Mesa Verde wants to build a call center on. Kim enjoys tweaking Kevin, the arrogant boss of Mesa Verde. In the end, she convinces him—rightly—that the clusterfuck is his own fault for having ignored her advice every step of the way and instead giving way to pride.

With Kim at home, Jimmy rides out into the desert to pick up Lalo’s $7 million bail. He, of course, gets ambushed. He is rescued by Mike and his sniper rifle. They travel two days and a night through the desert until they reach civilization. Kim is worried sick, but only slowly learns of what really happened. Despite Jimmy’s misgivings, Kim wants to stick by him and continue working with him instead of finding “real” work.

Lalo forces Jimmy to drive him back to the desert, discovering that things didn’t go down the way Jimmy had described. Kim tears Lalo a new one, convincing him that Jimmy isn’t lying (which he is, of course). Lalo returns to Mexico with Nacho, only to head straight into an ambush planned by Don Eladio and Fring. Lalo is craftier than the supposed super-assassins, taking them all out and surviving, but forcing the remaining assassin to report in that he’d been killed.

There’s so much visual and auditory goodness in this show. Vince Gilligan is the Tarentino of television. His characters are rich, his storylines fascinating, his composition and shot-selection top-notch.

Captain Marvel (2019) — 8/10

This is the origin story of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson). We meet Vers (also Brie Larson), a Kree warrior who is part of special forces that attack and take out Skrull strongholds. The Kree and Skrulls are locked in an age-old war, with the shape-shifting Skrulls as the sneaky and devious enemy to be routed.

The story is told as a series of flashbacks, in which Vers remembers another life, apparently on Earth. It turns out that Vers used to be Carol Danvers, a test pilot who’d supposedly died in 1989, while testing a faster-than-light engine that had been developed by Dr. Wendy Lawson, who turns out to have been a Kree hiding on Earth named Mar-Vell.

As the story progresses, we learn more about Danvers and more about the Skrulls, who (spoiler alert) turn out out to be the good guys, hounded to the ends of the galaxy by the imperialist Kree. Danvers discovers that her not-inconsiderable powers are being restricted by a Kree suppression device stuck to her neck.

She also re-learns her own history, remembering how she’d gotten her powers in the explosion of the FTL-engine explosion. She’d destroyed the engine to prevent the Kree from having it and somehow ended up absorbing the energy before ending up in a coma. The Kree gathered her up and collected her as a weapon for themselves, brainwashing her into thinking she was one of them.

In the end, Captain Marvel routs the Kree, sending them packing, while simultaneously protecting the remaining Skrulls. She accompanies them on their journey to find a new home planet.

There was also a cat that was really an alien being that ate the Tesseract, scratched out Nick Fury’s eye, and then puked the Tesseract back up many years later.

It was a decent romp—better than expected and way better than Black Panther.

Broken: Deadly Dressers — 4/10

This is a documentary that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It starts off with a story of people whose children have pulled dressers down on themselves. It moved on to Ikea and its forestry practices in Romania and then quickly returns to the dearth of regulation in the States and the glory of tort law that will help that poor handful of people who lost a child to “Deadly Dressers”.

Since the documentary focuses laser-like on them, we learn too much about the people leading the charge for more regulation of furniture-construction practices. I am not making this up.

These people are clearly completely unable to accept any responsibility for their own homes. It’s clearly the manufacturer’s fault because they (A) bought the cheapest thing they could find and (B) don’t know how to put things together or follow instructions and (C) left their children unattended.

They also probably consistently believe in a worldview that thinks it’s perfectly fine to have everything as cheap as possible, while getting rid of all tradespeople. They buy and build their furniture themselves and have no idea what they’re doing. It doesn’t even occur to them that doing this kind of thing is a job that requires training. They think that they can do anything—that they have to if they want to afford the finer things—and if something goes wrong, it’s someone else’s fault.

They also let all government and regulation languish in the name of freedom, then cry when their children are victims of their selfish mindset and voting practices. This is uniquely American: they have no regulations, no tradespeople, and everything as cheap as possible, addressing any possible problem with tort law rather than a functioning civilization or social-safety net.

Europeans just get the wall anchors and ignore them, because almost no situation calls for it. A house with adults won’t have furniture tipping over. They kept talking about the dressers as if they’d attacked the children. As an adult, I don’t want a dresser with drawers that barely open just because six kids died over five years in America. WTF. It’s like those crippled-ass car windows that only lower ½-way because some dipshit fell out of one once.

I thought the short segment about Austrian companies logging on protected, national lands in Romania and then selling the wood to Ikea was a good start, but it ended too soon and devolved quickly back to a sixty-minutes/Hard Copy-style commiseration with people who’d lost children, but really didn’t have a legal or rational leg to stand on.

Song of the South (1946) — 7/10

This movie tells the story of kindly old Uncle Remus (James Basket), a “field hand” on a plantation in the South who tells the stories of Br’er (Brother) Rabbit, Fox and Bear. The film mixes animation and live action that was both quite convincing and also quite ahead of its time.

This is the Disney movie no-one is allowed to see anymore. Disney never distributed it on home video in the U.S. because it was seen as offensive because of the idealized depiction of black life on the plantation in the antebellum South. Not only that, but all of the black characters speak in a very local and uniquely Black vernacular. This stands in stark contrast to the stodgy and quasi-British-sounding American spoken by the white cast.

On the other hand, it’s a very diverse cast—especially for the time—and the strong dialect doesn’t really strike someone who lives in Switzerland as odd. If Spike Lee had made the movie, it would be considered to be a brave and bold move to let its characters speak the way they’d spoken at the time.

It’s not that they speak poorly—just in a strong dialect. For example, Remus tells Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) at one point that he’d better behave “before I’s gets fractious!” This was not only amusing, but it’s a pretty high-brow word that most people don’t even know, much less use in day-to-day conversation.

The plot is relatively simple, with Johnny the city boy visiting his Grandmother on her plantation. He’s sad because his father is away so much, but he befriends local boy Toby (Glenn Leedy) and they spend the summer playing with frogs and stuff. They also befriend Uncle Remus, who tells them the by-now famous stories of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby, the Briar Patch, and the Laughing Place.

There’s a bit of drama with other local boys, a bull being a bull when it knocks Johnny clean off of his Little-Lord-Fauntleroy-looking feet, and a bunch of singing. It’s not my favorite Disney movie (that would be The Emperor’s New Groove), but it’s not half-bad.

The Outsiders (1983) — 7/10

Francis Ford Coppola directed this adaptation of the YA novel. The Outsiders are the “greasers”, a gang comprising the three brothers Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell), Sodapop (Rob Lowe), and Darrel Curtis (Patrick Swayze) as well as Dallas (Matt Dillon), Johnny (Ralph Macchio), and the brothers Two-Bit (Emilio Estevez), and Steve Randle (Tom Cruise). Diane Lane plays Cherry, a “Soc” (pronounced “Sosh”)—the rival gang, from the “right” side of the tracks—who takes to Johnny, ignoring Dallas’s coarse advances.

The story focuses on Ponyboy’s coming-of-age in the gang. Darrel and Sodapop take care of him after their parents died. The town doesn’t take kindly to this family constellation, conveniently ignoring the fact that it isn’t at all their fault that they’re orphans. The Socs (pronounced “Soshes”) keep harassing the greasers, finally cornering Johnny and Ponyboy in a park, near a fountain. When it looks like they’re drowning Ponyboy in the fountain, Johnny rears up, pulls his switchblade and fatally stabs a Soc to make them stop.

They flee the scene, seeking out Dallas where he lives above a bar. He gives them $50 and tells them to catch a freight train out of town, head out to the country, and take refuge in an abandoned, boarded-up church. They hike out there, then Johnny purchases supplies to feed them and pass the time. They cut and color their hair to stay unrecognizable. This goes remarkably well considering their complete lack of experience and poor supplies.

A few days later—and just before they die of boredom—Dallas shakes them out of their sleep on the old pews and takes them out for something to eat.

They return to the abandoned church to find it not only on fire, but surrounded by people and filled with children. This is utterly inexplicable: how did the children break in? Why were they there? Why are all of those people there? I thought it was an abandoned church in the middle of nowhere? At any rate, the three boys rescue the children, with Dallas and Johnny suffering injuries. Johnny’s injuries are severe—his back is broken and he is severely burned.

The Socs call for a rumble and the Greasers oblige. They meet in a park and beat the Christ out of one another, with the Greasers “winning” (in the sense that the Socs flee). Dallas drives Ponyboy to the hospital to attend to his wounds and they visit Johnny to tell him what they’d done. He’s unimpressed and instead tells Ponyboy to “Stay Gold” (from the Robert Frost poem Nothing Gold Can Stay) before expiring.

Dallas can’t handle Johnny’s death and goes on a rampage in the hospital before robbing a convenience store and getting shot in the process. He wanders into a park, committing suicide by cop by waving his empty weapon at them.

Ponyboy is cleared of any wrongdoing in the Soc’s murder and allowed to stay with his brothers. He discovers a letter from Johnny explaining that rescuing those children was likely the best thing he would ever do—that his life in exchange was worth it. The movie ends with Ponyboy starting to write the report that would become The Outsiders.

It was a decent film, with a star-studded cast, but with the ridiculous-feeling pathos of any movie about the 50s. Coppola’s touch is noticeable throughout.

Leslie Jones: Time Machine (2020) — 6/10

Leslie Jones starts off quite strong.

“This generation’s 20-year-olds are not having fun. They’re so unhappy. What’s the matter? Didn’t you catch your Pokemon? Did Pikachu get away?”

While the first half was pretty strong, the second half used up all of this goodwill and went off the rails. The material ran out, in a big way. Jones seemed to lose control of the narrative and stretched her material heroically but unconvincingly. She spent a lot of time explaining how much fun she was having and how much she appreciated the audience. It was less a comedy show than a self-help group for at least the final 35 minutes.

Im Labyrinth des Schweigens (2014, de) — 8/10

This is the story of how Germany came to grips with its history during WWII. The Nürnberg Trials in 1945 and 1946 addressed some of the high crimes, but a large number of other high-ranking Nazis blended back into society without paying for their crimes. Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling) is a young and ambitious lawyer who wants justice. He starts to dig into the culture of complacency and silence in Germany, with the goal of bringing Joseph Mengele to justice.

He encounters quite a bit of backlash,

“Willst du das jeden Jungen in diesem Land fragt sich, ob seinen Vater ein Nazi war?

Radmann: Ja, das ill ich. Ich will, dass dieses Lügen und dieses Schweigen endlich aufhört.”

When he finds out his best friend and supporter was a guard when he was 17, he says “du ekelst mich an; ihre alle ekeln mich an.” Later, he gets spectacularly drunk because he found out that his father was a Nazi and that his girlfriend’s father was probably a Nazi (he tells her, “frag ihn warum er dauernd sauft.”).

When he returns to the Staatsanwaltsschaft after quitting in a crisis of faith, his boss asks,

“Warum sind sie wieder da?

Radmann: Weil die einzige Antwort auf Auschwitz ist selbst das richtige zu tun.”

It’s quite a good movie and a solid re-telling of how Germany picked up the reins of dealing with its past nearly a dozen years after the end of the war.

One of the former prisoners intones the by-now familiar “Gott war nicht da,” reminding me of the joke I’d heard from both Slavoj Žižek (YouTube) and Ricky Gervais (Reddit),

An Auschwitz survivor eventually dies of old age and goes to heaven.

He tells God a Holocaust joke.

God responds “that’s not funny.”

“I guess you had to be there.”

Saw it in German.