|<<>>|1 of 118 Show listMobile Mode

Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2021.8

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 1600 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.

Big Mouth S05 (2021) — 7/10

More of the same as the previous seasons, perhaps even a bit raunchier. Episode 7—”I F**king Hate You” was quite good. The show is explicit and sometimes feels a bit over-the-top, but it also purports to bring the innermost thoughts of pubescent teens into the real world. In that, it does a great job.

They bring back the old classics: The Shame Wizard and Depression Kitty (my absolute favorite). They also introduce some new characters: Love Bugs and Hate Caterpillars. These work quite well as rhetorical devices as well. Missy gets a Hate Caterpillar, as does Nick.

Michael Che: Shame the Devil (2021) — 8/10
I took a point off for a very rocky start. He got going, though, and moved on to material that was funny without being pandering. He stopped so many times in the first ten minutes for clapping that it was tough for him to get any traction. After twenty minutes, he’s doing just fine. Hold out for it.
“What did we get last summer? Let’s see…we got Aunt Jemima fired. That’s something.”
“Donald Trump was on Saturday Night Live. He was nice to me! He even gave me a nickname…’One of the good ones’,”
“Democrats are like condoms. We’ll use you, but, you know, it doesn’t feel good. We just want to prevent some other shit from happening.”
“Trump’s like, ‘you know the FBI’s setting up niggas.‘ And white people say, ‘no they don’t’. And black people like ‘welllll…’. It’s just because Trump said it. It’s a great thing to say, but it’s the worst possible person to be saying it.”
“From now on, I only use two pronouns: ‘this nigga’ and ‘that nigga, as in, ‘that nigga Caitlyn Jenner killed someone with her car.’”
“I had a girlfriend, she was so jealous, I’m not saying it’s her fault I cheated on her, but she gave me the confidence…she believed in me.”

After he said “retarded” in a joke, he said “I know that’s not a nice word, but I said it to make you laugh.” So many levels.

“We don’t diagnose black people with shit. When I was growing up, we just had ‘crazy’ and ‘ain’t nothing wrong with that nigga’ Now we got ‘autism’. I feel like that’s progress.

“Yeah, we don’t diagnose mental health for black people. I know some girls, they bipolar and they like ‘ain’t nothing wrong with me, I’m a gemini.‘ ‘Get the fuck outta here, Lakeesha, you just bit me.’ …Flava Flav wears a viking helmet and a clock. Every day. That’s not nothing.”

“Now they’re saying on Sesame Street that they got the first autistic puppet. The first? They got a nigger on that show called ‘The Count’. Now, I’m not a doctor…”
“And then there’s crazy. You don’t get any help when you’re crazy. You just get a nickname. It’s whatever your name is…with the word ‘crazy’ in front of it. It’s not to help you; it’s to warn others.”
“Depression is the most privileged disease of all. White people hate when I say that. Depression is privileged because it implies that your life is something that you shouldn’t be sad about. Black people usually don’t have that. I don’t know if ya’ll are history buffs…but I can’t imagine two slaves standing in a field and one says to the other ‘What’s the matter? Something got you down?’”
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) — 8/10

This was a super-solid Marvel movie, definitely top ten, maybe top five (I haven’t thought about it that much). It has wonderful fight choreography, it’s well-filmed, with nicely pulled-back cameras and no quick cuts: they practiced this until it looked glorious. Simu Liu moves really well (it’s him!). The stunts on the bus could have been a Jackie Chan movie (e.g. the way he moves over and around the bars, or the jokey way he pulled the “request stop” cable, or how he saved the two women from falling out of the bus).

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is an awesome guy: he lives in a garage, with his laundry strung up along the door. His friend Katy (Awkwafina) is a great balance and comedic sparring partner. I really like the way they show multi-lingual households, how everyone understands all of the languages, but everyone speaks the one they’re most comfortable with. This has been my experience as well.

They are parking attendants in New York when his father Xu Wenwu’s (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) henchmen come to town, including Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu), who has a giant laser blade instead of a right forearm. Shang-Chi fights them off while Katy drives the bus to safety because that’s her superpower/skill: driving. It will be important later, obviously.

Shang-Chi travels back to Macau to look for his sister and to warn her about their father. His sister Li (Fala Chen) is a bad-ass in her own right, having started a high-stakes fighting ring after having run away from home at sixteen. Shang-Chi ends up facing off against her there—and losing. Xu’s henchmen follow them there, but they escape with their skins, but not their jade necklaces given to them by their mother. The jade stones are keys to unlock the map back to to their mother’s kingdom.

Xu had found her and faced off against her long ago when he he’d been looking for her magical village. She was the only one over centuries who’d even been able to defeat him, despite the 10 rings he wears and wields as weapons. Years later, after she’s died and the children had left, Xu becomes obsessed that she was calling him to rescue her from her village, where, instead of being dead, she’s trapped in a cave. He is deluded but adamant and extremely powerful.

Li, Katy and Shang hunt down their father and confront him, but he takes them prisoner. With the help of Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley, reprising his role as the Mandarin from Iron Man 3), they escape and head into the bamboo forest to seek out their mother’s village before he can find it. With Trevor’s little faceless friend Morris (a denizen of the fairy realm from which their mother came) as navigator and Katy as driver, they make it through and meet their aunt Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh). She trains Shang-Chi to confront his father. Katy practices archery. Li is already awesome enough.

Xu breaks through to the village and joins battle with them. He goes to the wall in front of the cave and starts to break it down. Instead of releasing his wife, he’s releasing demons. They attack everyone in the village, not recognizing a difference between Xu’s forces and the villagers. These forces team up against their common demonic enemy. Xu manages to release the big-ass, bad-ass monster while Li has found a friendly dragon under the lake to assist them. A giant battle ensues, taking place mostly in the sky. Shang-Chi defeats Xu. Xu sees the error of his ways, then sacrifices himself to protect his son from the monster he’s released. I have no idea if there’s a metaphor in there.

Shang-Chi and Katy return to New York, but are soon whisked away by Dr. Strange’s right-hand man Wong (Benedict Wong). Li sets up shop in her father’s demesne.

Dune (1984) — 8/10

Paul Atreides (Kyle MachLachlan) is the scion of House Atreides, which begins the film on its home world of Caladan, a very watery planet. When his father Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow) is “promoted” to oversee the desert planet of Arrakis (Dune), he travels with the whole retinue, swordmaster Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan). master-at-arms Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart), Mentat Thufir Hawat (Freddie Jones) and, of course, his mother Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis). Doctor Yueh (Dean Stockwell) betrays the family, but was forced into it by House Harkonnen. He almost gets his revenge, but his plan goes awry.

The House Harkonnen is classic Lynch, from the grotesque Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan), with his half-mad doctor (Leonardo Cimino) and his own mentat, the evil Peter De Vries (Brad Dourif). The Baron’s nephews Feyd Rautha (Sting) and The Beast Rabban (Paul Smith) chew the hell out of the scenery (Sting flexes his little muscles in an interesting codpiece in one scene).

Paul’s sister Alia (Alicia Witt) is basically Fremen, whereas Chani (Sean Young) is only half a role, even in this rendering. The Shadout Mapes (Linda Hunt) gets a little more screen time, but not much. Doctor Kynes (Max von Sydow) is the liaison with the Fremen, a man of science who has converted considerably due to his long time on the desert planet.

There are a lot of Lynch’s favorite actors as well: Stilgar (Everett McGill) and Nefud (Jack Nance) are both played by actors from Twin Peaks. David Lynch himself plays a role as a Spice Worker (uncredited). He communicates with Duke Leto from the spice harvester whose ornithopter heavy-lift vehicle is not coming in time to rescue it from an incoming sandworm.

The Emperor Shaddam IV (José Ferrer) plots with the baron to destroy House Atreides. The Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen) is basically window dressing. The plotting is a bit jarring, with large gaps of years skipped over too quickly. Paul becomes a messiah, leading the fremen to victory against House Harkonnen. Paul masters a sandworm, Jessica gives birth to Alia, who grows up quickly, already blue-eyed because she was in the womb when Jessica took the spice to become a reverend mother.

It should have been two parts—or a much longer movie—but it … wasn’t. The final cut is something only someone who’s read the book can follow. Luckily, the production design is fantastic. Also luckily, I have read the books. Twice. The characters are fascinating. Some of the design choices are so bizarre that you can’t help but respect them anyway. I liked it.

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) — 8/10

The story is about the K-19, the Soviet Union’s first nuclear-powered submarine, which was behind schedule and not up-to-par in its construction or supplies. The original captain Polenin, after several failed drills and lagging behind in the schedule, is replaced by the higher-ups with Vostrikov, a man who is the Navy’s most decorated submarine captain—but whose father was a hero of the revolution, but ended up in a gulag.

I’m pretty sure that this movie could only have been made in the two brief decades between the fall of the Soviet Empire and the rekindling of the cold war by the U.S. I can’t imagine that a film depicting Soviets or Russians in such a humanizing manner could have been made while I was growing up…or now.

At first, the Russians sailors are kind of depicted in the same way that an American crew would be, with the same jokes, etc. Perhaps there was a bit more emphasis on the shoddy craftsmanship and supply logistics, but it didn’t strike me as over-the-top jingoistic. The Soviets would admit that this is kind of how it was; one had to make do with cut corners in a place without near-infinite wealth ready to hand for the military.

I may be reading too much into it, but there is an interesting dynamic between Capt. Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) and Capt. Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), representing bottom-up, rule-from-below communism and top-down, rule-by-iron-first, hierarchical capitalism.authoritarianism. Vostrikov gets lucky with his bold attempts to exceed boundaries a couple of times—until his luck runs out. In the end, he follows Polenin’s advice to let the sailors/men decide for themselves whether they want to die for their country.

Posed this way, Vostrikov’s “order” gets a resounding confirmation and he sees the error of his ways. Fate saves them all from being captured by the Americans when a Soviet boat shows up just in the nick of time—just as they were about to surrender to a nearby American destroyer. I don’t know whether this is to reward Vostrikov’s change of heart in how he commands—his capitulation to a more “communist” way of running things—or whether this is how the story really went.

According to the Wikipedia article, the script is almost 100% true-to-life. The original crew was consulted and they had a strong influence on changing the original script—which was likely much more jingoistic.

The movie was directed by one of America’s most jingoistic directors, Kathryn Bigelow, so I can only imagine that I’m interpreting it differently than she intended. At any rate, it’s a pretty good movie and Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson act the hell out of it, as far as I’m concerned. I actually thought the final scene, in the cemetery, was quite touching. The aging makeup was very good. There are other good bit characters: the atomic technician who’s too clever by half, etc.

Charité intensiv: Station 43 (2021) — 8/10

This is a four-part, two-hour series filmed in the ICU of the Charité hospital during the winter of 2020/2021. The scenes are sobering and heartbreaking, but well-worth watching.

There are scenes with young patients lying on their faces to free up their lungs more. There are others whose lungs no longer work at all, who are oxygenated for weeks with an ECMO—a machine that oxygenates blood outside of the body. We see a few journeys of the ECMO ambulance as they make pick-ups.

The doctors and nurses are compassionate, intelligent, understanding, and complex characters who are truly the best of us. When a patient must be let go, they are nearly as devastated as the families. They despise losing patients. At the end, we see one patient who’d been there for nearly two months leave the ICU, headed for physical therapy to try to put his life back together. A ray of hope.

I cannot imagine what it looks like there, now, one year later, and with much, much higher case numbers.

F is for Family (2021) — 8/10

This season finds the Murphy family “mourning” the loss of Frank’s father. Sue takes the opportunity to make amends with her own father, who’s a right bastard. She recalls how she was the one who outed her gay brother Louis to her dad many years ago. She also wants to patch things up with Louis. She tries to get them all to attend a Thanksgiving dinner to come together as a family again.

Frank, meanwhile, searches feverishly for “Box 16”, mentioned in his father’s last, whispered breath. Vic is trying to raise his infant son on his own because his baby-mom leaves them. He turns to Sue for help. He and his other affluent friends—all of whom are parents by now—are enough to support a fledgling business for Sue, who’s always searching for meaning—and income—outside of the home.

Mohican Airlines, meanwhile, fuses with another, making Ala-hican Airlines. Frank’s new boss is a bit passive-aggressive. The finale is at the airport, where a drunken stuntman is awesome, but in the wrong way so that no-one is happy, especially not Ala-hican Airlines, who’d paid for him to be there. However, Rosie manages to get the better of the crooked mayor and the local mafia boss, who’ve been trying to destroy his district in order to build a highway.

This might be the last role played by Michael Kenneth Williams (as Smokey Greenwood, the neighborhood vending-machine refiller/condom dealer). One of the greats. RIP.

Office Christmas Party (2016) — 8/10

This movie has lots of good one-liners, witty repartee, truly inspired party situations, and a whole cast of comedic talent. It’s not meant to be anything for than it is—an R-rated distraction.

A software company branch is about to be shut down, but their boss Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) throws a huge bash to try to save morale and maybe save the business. He’s courting genius developer Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) with the help of manager Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) and hotshot developer Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn). His sister and CEO Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) is on the way there to pull the plug on the whole branch, but finds a rager going when she gets there and notices that her brother might just swing it.

Rounding out the cast are a developer who gets a prostitute from Trina the pimp (Jillian Bell), HR head Mary (Kate McKinnon), Jeremy (Rob Corddry), Fred (Randall Park), and Allison (Vanessa Bayer), whose roles at the company escape me but who are essential to the film. The party gets incredibly huge, with the pimp kidnapping Clay because she’d heard he had $300,000 that he could get her—but he can’t because he’s too drunk and high to do much of anything except drive them through the streets of Chicago at top speed, trying to jump the river on an open drawbridge.

Meanwhile, Mary, Tracey, Carol, and Josh have joined forces to rescue Clay and are hot on their tail in Mary’s minivan. They stop at a Russian club where Carol reveals that she not only knows Russian, but jiu jitsu or some shit and just takes out several people on her own. After they find Clay has left, they give chase. Hilarity ensues and they all crash and stuff. Clay crashes into the main trunk line of Internet connectivity for the whole area. Afterward, they return to the office to find a Boschian hellscape—some truly inspired set design reminiscent of Bachelor Party.

Tracey, genius coder, figures that she could put a plan she’s been meaning to try into action, to use a “cool trick” to get the network back online and provide the city with mobile connectivity with their company’s technology. To no-one’s surprise, they succeed and save the branch and everyone is friends and they get Clay from the hospital and promise his doctor that he won’t get any alcohol, which he totally will, because they’re all going out for a celebratory breakfast. The end.

Pretty much everyone is great in this, but Bateman, Aniston, Miller, and Munn stand out. McKinnon is also very funny. Recommended.

Shazam! (2019) — 8/10

This is a fun movie about a teenager Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who is granted super-powers by an otherworldly wizard (Djimon Hounsou). Billy becomes Shazam! (Zachary Levi) when he says the magic word that is his name. He is an orphan who ends up with a family with a bunch of other kids, including Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who’s a wise-cracking kid with an encyclopedic knowledge of superheroes.

In another thread, we learn how a Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) became the evil man that he is, and how he became obsessed with the power of the wizard. He follows the whispers of the seven Sins, otherworldly beasts who want to defeat the wizard and rule on Earth. He acquires their power for himself, working with them.

He eventually joins battle with Shazam!, kidnapping his family and being all sorts of dastardly until Shazam! and Freddie and the other kids figure out a plan to stop him. The plan results in them all getting Shazam!-like superpowers, which is a neat twist. All’s well that ends well.

I was surprised at how entertaining this movie was, The cast was good, the characters sympathetic, and the script was quite funny (the scene where Shazam! can’t hear Sivana’s supervillain speech as they hover, blocks apart, in the high winds of the city, is quite funny).

Saw it in German.

Taken (2008) — 7/10
The original and still the best one. Liam Neeson plays in hardcore-dad porn where he tells his ex-wife not to let his daughter go to Paris, then caves, but gets her to agree to conditions, then she’s kidnapped anyway because she and her friend are nimrods and do exactly the thing they were told not to do. Liam jumps in, makes his famous speech about hunting down everyone involved, then flies to Paris to begin the hunt. He hunts, he kills, he has minor setbacks. He dispatches them. He gets closer. He’s almost there. He has a bigger setback. He dispatches that one, as well. He hunts his daughter down to a yacht, where he slaughters everyone on board and rescues her. She is grateful but has likely learned nothing. Liam is humbly triumphant in his ex-wife’s face. Her milquetoast husband is forced to thank him. The end. Saw it in Italian.
Don’t Look Up! (2021) — 10/10
“The truth is much more depressing. They’re not even smart enough to be as evil as you’re giving them credit for.”

Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is a doctoral candidate in astronomy, working with Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), when she discovers a comet headed straight toward Earth, with impact in six and ½ months. They immediately contact Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. The data checks out, they’re all horrified, and they get a meeting with the president of the United States (Meryl Streep). She and her son Jason (Jonah Hill) receive them and then totally blow them off.[1]

The three decide to break security clearance and go on the country’s most popular morning show The Rip, hosted by Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry) and Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett), who … also blow them off. But Brie is enchanted with Dr. Mindy and starts an affair with him. The world mocks, the world doesn’t care, the world ignores. The satire is thick and inspired and fun and interesting and dark. There are a lot of quick in-jokes and snappy repartee and side bits filling this movie to the brim. I really, really like Jennifer Lawrence and Jonah Hill (who calls her “Boy with the Dragon Tattoo” and tells her “Thanks for dressing up” when she visits the White House in a hoodie and jeans).

The White House eventually gets confirmation from “their own Ivy Leagure scientists” that the comet is real and, for some reason, want the original astronomers to be involved in the project. This wouldn’t make any sense whatsoever—neither would trying to “sit” on the news, as if the rest of the world doesn’t have telescopes or the Internet—but that’s the point: the response is childish and incredibly politically driven. They’re all self-involved morons with too much power and money and too little brains—possessing only a singular talent for self-aggrandizing and failing upward.

The president at first ignored the comet because mid-terms were coming up in three weeks, but, a week later, needs to cover up the scandal where she sexted a picture of her nether regions (her “cootch”, as Kate put it) to her porn-star lover. Pivot to saving the planet, I guess.

They put together an incredible effort to intercept the comet with a refurbished space shuttle. It is piloted by Benedict Drask (Ron Perlman). It takes off wonderfully, accompanied by a dozen other rockets (for whatever reason), but the president is forced to abandon the mission when one of her billionaire, platinum-level donors Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), who runs a giant tech company, tells her to call it off.

Instead, they’re now putting together a mission that will rescue the benevolent comet because it has tremendous value (trillions!). They will break it apart into a smaller pieces and then harvest the minerals from the ocean floor, wherever the pieces fall. None of this is scientifically vetted or peer-reviewed. It is just assumed that it will work because tech billionaires are super-smart and surround themselves with super-smart people who are definitely not sycophants pretending to be experts in fields about which they know nothing in order to get filthy rich for themselves.[2]

About a quarter of the population of the U.S. no longer even believes in the comet, while many are mad at anyone who wants to stop it from hitting Earth because then we would miss out on all of those delicious resources. Kate is now working at a grocery store as a check-out girl, where she meets Yule (Timothée Chalamet), with whose anarchic group she throws in. Dr. Mindy is having an affair with Brie and is now the president’s chief science advisor. He is unnerved that so many colleagues are being sacked and unsure Bash’s plan will work.

We hear that a comet-smashing effort by the Russians, Chinese, Indians, and Europe has failed, exploding on the launchpad in Baikonur. They do not mention whether there was sabotage, but the possibility is left hanging there. The Bash “Beads” are the only hope now. They take off, not without problems, some exploding on the launch pads, but manage to get 24 of the autonomous robots to the comet, where they set their bombs. Some crash into each other up there, but some attrition was expecected. But the plan doesn’t work and the comet proceeds unscathed. The mission-control teams abandons Bash headquarters forthwith.

But, of course, there is a backup plan for the people who matter. Isherwell and the president have spots on a fallback ark that they will use to escape the planet. She invites Mindy to join them, but he declines. He returns home to his family. Kate and Yule show up. Oglethorpe shows up. They are all enjoying a dinner together when the comet hits and does what the science said it would do.

The ark travels through space, with a lot of attrition, but finally depositing the escapees—the last remnants of humanity—on a planet with a breathable atmosphere. The president and Isherwell are still alive and failing upward—until they … don’t. They are all standing around naked, congratulating themselves on their luck, when the local fauna falls on them.

I loved this movie. I would watch it again. Thanks, Adam McKay, for a worthy successor to Idiocracy.


[1] They wait interminably long with a three-star Air Force general, who offers to get them snacks and drinks, bringing them back and then asking for them to pay for them. Kate discover, at a later meeting, that the snacks and water at the White House are, of course, free. The general charged them anyway. She would continue to obsess over this at various times throughout the movie, an excellent running gag.
[2]

David Sirota (Story) and Adam McKay (Screenplay/Director) kind of had their work cut out for them in that they didn’t have to mention anyone specifically. They just had to capture the mood of things as they are today. I’ve seen a few other reviews now that try to claim authoritatively which parties and real-world groups correspond to which groups in the movie, but that’s all projection. They’re all fools. It’s kind of like South Park—everyone is excoriated, except for the rational and compassionate and non-self-obsessed.

For a real-world example, I just saw the article Elon Musk rejects claims his satellites are squeezing out rivals in space by Richard Waters (Ars Technica) in my newsfeed, a couple of hours after having finished watching the movie. It tells us that “SpaceX founder points out that space is “extremely enormous,” satellites “very tiny.”” While I fervently hope that this is a satire article, I assume that it’s all too real. The article sagely notes that “Some experts challenged Musk’s claim that satellites in low Earth orbit could safely match the density of cars and trucks on Earth.” Telling both sides of the debate! Good for you!

This was in response to,

“China complain[ing] this month that two Starlink satellites had forced the Chinese space station to take “preventive collision avoidance control” measures in October and July to “ensure the safety and lives of in-orbit astronauts.””

You can read about that in China upset about needing to dodge SpaceX Starlink satellites by John Timmer (Ars Technica). In that article, China was already being called a nerd for writing “impossibly formal 110-word-long sentence” (in Idiocracy-speak, the Chinese author “talks like a fag”) that “pointedly notes that signatories of the treaty, which include the US, are responsible for the actions of any nongovernmental activities based within their borders.” The Chinese think words mean things! What a bunch of losers! They deserve to have us take their lunch money! ELON FUNNY. HUR DUR.

We are doomed.