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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2015.7


<n>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 <a href="">the list</a> of over 900 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 <i>genre</i> and my mood. YMMV.</n> <dl dt_class="field"> Police Story 3: Supercop (1996) --- <a href="">6/10</a> <div>This is a decent farce action/adventure through several countries with the action team of Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh, both very young (it was 20 years ago). There's a lot more gunplay and a lot less slapstick fighting than I'd expect in a Jackie Chan movie. The best scene so far is actually where the Buster Keaton-esque side of Chan comes out: he's trying to keep away from his girlfriend (Maggie Cheung) while on an undercover mission at a spa---but she sees him with Yeoh and is on the hunt. The scene is way too short and devolves into a typically stupid scene in which Cheung has to be reminded 12 times that Chan is <i>undercover</i>, as if it's never happened before (in <i>Police Story I</i> and <i>II</i> presumably). Yeoh's outfit is the height of 80s/90s ugliness. I saw it in Cantonese and some Mandarin as well as a few lines of English (bizarrely, some of the high-level police meetings in China as well as a trial in Malaysia were in English). Not really recommended; there are better Jackie Chan movies out there. There are better Michelle Yeoh movies out there. Unfortunately, I think this is the only one with both of them together---and the final battle is decent. And, as always, the outtakes during the credits show just how much real effort and pain and stunts are involved: MIchelle Yeoh <i>falls out of a car moving down the highway.</i></div> Dieter Nuhr -- Ich bin's Nuhr (2005) --- <a href="">6/10</a> I really like this German comedian and he was good in this special, but I feel that he's gotten much better in more recent shows. He plays very clean, talks about relationships and the foibles of humanity, all delivered in a very understated, breathy delivery. I would recommend watching more recent stuff. Saw it in German. R100 (2013) --- <a href="">6/10</a> <div>This is the story of a Japanese businessman who signs up for a year-long program of "surprise" domination. For one year, a dominatrix can appear out of nowhere and start in on him. Not knowing when is part of the pleasure. The settings and visuals are quite surreal: we see one such episode play out, then we see a flashback to when he signed up for the plan, where he rides a carousel in the middle of a multi-level round room, with dominatrixes in little niches all along the walls. The movie plays with color palettes, going from nearly black & white to very sepia-toned scenes in his office, to even more sepia in the restaurant. The switching palettes reminded me a bit of <i>The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover</i>. From the washed-out palette and the overall look and feel of the scenes, it's hard imagine that this movie was really made in 2013. It's actually a comedy: the scene in the sushi bar where the dominatrix shows up and smashes all of his sushi before he can eat it is quite hilarious. I'm not quite getting the weird effect where his eyes go all black and ominous music plays after each humiliation. Is this the movie's way of showing his pleasure? At any rate, the story unfolds that his wife has been in a coma for 3 years. When he sees his father-in-law lamenting his comatose daughter, it depresses him---and then he's further depressed when an absolutely awesome dominatrix attack fails to trigger his ... pleasure reaction. Now he can draw no "joy" from life at all, nothing to distract him from his boring job and his all-but-dead wife. The absolutely best part is how all of the passersby in the movie pretty much ignores the sometimes very public attacks. When he wants to back out of the contract because it's no longer working for him? Too bad, buddy. When a dominatrix shows up in the hospital room with his wife, he's upset---but then he finds his mojo again, which upsets him even more. Not unexpectedly, he needs ever-increasing levels of humiliation to "hit the spot" as the Queen of Voices puts it. The handoff from her to the Queen of Saliva is not a scene for everyone. She dances around, mixes frozen cocktails to add flavor---all while he's trussed on the floor and his young son is trussed up in a swing, also bound and gagged. The Queen of Saliva expires when her girth proves too much for the railing and she falls from the second floor to her death. The S&M organization wants to take revenge for what they are calling her murder. After showing several people sitting around in what looks like a hospital lounge, we discover that those people are somehow involved with the filming and things get meta. They discuss how the 100-year--old director could possibly make a movie that weird, then head back in to watch more. Then things get weird: the Queen of Gobbling takes out his comatose wife, the CEO of the S&M organization shows up and rages. Then she leads a full-on battle against Katayama, with him blowing up her ninja army with a briefcase full of grenades he found. The penultimate minutes are spent in a very good montage and then we go utterly off the rails just before the credits. No idea what the intended symbolism was. The first half was much more amusing, to be honest. Saw it in Japanese with English subtitles.</div> Chinatown (1974) --- <a href="">8/10</a> <div>Jack Nicholson plays a private detective hired by Faye Dunaway to find out if her husband is cheating on her. Her husband is the chief engineer of the power authority in California. It's the middle of a drought<fn> and Nicholson is soon embroiled in a much larger drama than an affair. Roman Polanski directed it and his imprimatur is immediately obvious in the lurid photos Nicholson shows to another customer in the first seconds of the film. Plus, about 1/3 of the way through the movie, Polanski shows up in a cameo, a small speaking role. Nicholson oozes, as always, a somewhat threatening charm. The film is set at the beginning of the 20th century, so everyone is dressed to the nines all the time---even on an all-night stakeout in the dunes at the California shore, Nicholson wears a three-piece suit and still looks as sharp as ever the next morning. Did they really wear suits and ties when boating on a lake in a park? Two guys in a boat? That was innocuous? Nicholson's pin-neat appearance devolves over the film as his nose is cut, his sunglasses shattered, and he's otherwise beaten up, but he is unflappable in his professionalism. The suit, though? Unwrinkled. As he learns more and more and is more and more sure of himself, his appearance improves again. This movie has aged extremely well: the cinematography and pacing are great for a thriller. The outdoor scenes are lush and beautifully lit---I'm thinking of the scene outside in the riverbed. Otherwise, the time period of the movie provides nice atmosphere: there are so many things that they do that we don't do anymore. For example, when Nicholson goes to the hall of records: the records are public and can be read by anyone, but they can't be checked out, you can't make copies (no copier), you can't take pictures (no cell-phone, no camera), so Gittes has to ask for a ruler, so he can cleanly rip out a page from one of the books. Also, there are no security cameras to catch him in the act. Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson are great. The story is quite good with interesting plot twists. Still not sure why it's called Chinatown, other than that Gittes used to work there. Unless it's meant to be ironic---the crimes had nothing to do with the Chinese and everything to do with rich, white people with cavalier attitudes toward genetics. <iq>She's my sister! She's my daughter!</iq> Recommended.</div> Lawless (2012) --- <a href="">8/10</a> <div>This is a Prohibition-era film about a moonshining family starring Tom Hardy, Shia Lebeouf, and Jason Clarke whose control is challenged by city-slicker and special deputy Charlie Rakes, played in deep cover by Guy Pearce---I barely recognized him, he'd changed himself so much from the wise-cracking soldier in <i>Lockout</i>. But I did see echoes of his character Felicia from <i>The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert</i>. Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska were the love interests. They all played quite well and made what could have been a bad movie a relatively riveting one instead. The movie moves at a stately pace, appropriate for the setting and the time (1917 or thereabouts). The story is based on real people and based on the autobiography of one of the brothers, Jack, I believe. Not the immortal one, Forrest, played by Tom Hardy. Lebeouf played very well and is a consummate actor. but Hardy's mumbling, stolid juggernaut was really well-played as well. He contrasted well to the ticking time bomb of Charlie Rakes, played by Pearce.</div> Apocalypto (2006) --- <a href="">7/10</a> <div>This movie is about the end-days of the Mayan kingdom and tells the tale of the powerful Mayans as they hunt through the jungle, brutally attacking local tribes for slaves and sacrifices. It starts by depicting the life of one such tribe. They appear to be primitive and quite brutal---until the Mayans show up and show us what brutality really is. Bodies are littered everywhere---children are left behind to starve. The huts are burned. Kind of like My Lai. I've no idea how historically accurate this movie is: nearly everyone has tattoos and piercings everywhere. Wherever they're not pierced, they're scarred or painted or hennaed. Hairdos are very elaborate. People are painted white or blue. In the Mayan city, there's this one guy covered in tarantulas while behind him are dozens of iguanas or chameleons hanging by their tails, still alive. They seem to have no honor, no principles, no kindness---just brutality. The mass grave beyond the field of sport is hard to believe; any even somewhat-advanced tribe/civilization would not allow such putrefaction near their cities and fields. Jaguar Paw goes full Rambo in the end---poisoning them slowly with hornets, then quickly with frog-poison darts. The ending gets it an extra star: the point is nicely made that, should you think that this was the height of brutality, the Spanish galleons in the harbor are there to prove you wrong. Well-made, incredibly brutal. Not for everyone.</div> Stalag 17 (1953) --- <a href="">6/10</a> This is billed as stark WWII drama about a Stammlager (Stalag) in Germany with bunch of American sergeants who are trying to pass the time while hatching plans to escape. It's not very serious, though. It's more of a farce. Question: how can you tell the difference between a WWII movie and a Vietnam movie? Answer: the Vietnam movie has black people in it. This is a movie about prison camp where the sergeants pick the one sergeant they don't like---Sefton, played by William Holding---blame him for espionage and collaboration, beat the shit out of him and take all of his stuff, then wander around the barracks singing "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again" and "Oh Come All Ye Faithful". America, fuck yeah! During the dance on Christmas, when one of the guys can't get a dance partner, he dresses himself up as a lady to make himself more attractive. Was this really so innocent even in 1953? Out-and-out farce. Second half better than the first, once they settle down and get to business. Not recommended, but if you decide to watch, stick around for the second half to make it worth it. Memento (2000) --- <a href="">10/10</a> I have to write down what I just saw before I forget. Imagine if you had no short-term memory. Imagine if you had no idea whether what you knew was real or a lie. Imagine if you nonetheless believed that certain things were true, because you had to believe in something. You would be like Leonard, played by Guy Pearce in an absolutely masterful performance. Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano (both of whom would next star in the Matrix) round out the main cast. The movie is composed of short scenes, each the length of Leonard's short-term memory, interspersed with black-and-white scenes that are supposedly the truth. What is the truth? What we perceive? What we think we know? Can we ever un-know something? So that it is no longer the truth, replaced by something or nothing? Christopher Nolan as writer and director makes us think about all of these things in a movie put together perfectly to represent the fractured landscape of not only Leonard's mind---his "condition" affects us all, perhaps to a lesser degree, or perhaps to the same degree, but we are just so much less aware of how little we know and how much we believe and take on faith than Leonard. Highly recommended. The Wind Rises (2013) --- <a href="">8/10</a> <div>Miyazaki's last film, hand-drawn. Unbelievably gorgeous, detailed, ambitious. Everything is in motion, every detail crisp, every animation fully realized. The wind is constantly blowing, the grass waving, small bits of detritus flying through the air, waves crashing, smoke blowing, people milling, clothes rippling. Where there is fire, there is destruction, buildings sagging under their own weight, windows shattered, pillars and joists sticking out, cracked and broken, masonry crumbling and falling. The flames wave about as the firehoses spray inadequate water, leaks springing all along the hose, rivulets coming together to cascade down the majestic front steps of the university. The waters reflect buildings and trees as the train races along its track. This is the story of Jirô Horikoshi, the boy who started with dreams of making beautiful planes as an aeronautical engineer and ended up designing planes for the Japanese air force. It is, of course, set in and around WWII. It is, of course, about the fire-bombing of Tokyo. The war is, of course, represented as a supernatural monster that consumes everything. These metaphorical concepts are, of course, wonderfully and intuitively and movingly brought to screen. The movie is not without social critique, mostly of Japan: Horikoshi's colleague says <iq>Poor countries want to buy aeroplanes and pay us lots of money to design them.</iq> and <iq>In order to work hard at the office, one needs a family at home. Strange, no?</iq> When they travel to Germany, the engineers on both sides speak and understand both German and Japanese; I wonder if that's really how it was? The movie is about pride and jealousy, technology, science, advancement, the clash of cultures, the backwardness of Japan, the supposed advanced state of Germany, with their Schubert and heating registers instead of fires. The contrast in the end between the joy of engineering and horrific purpose to which the planes were put is depicted nicely. A bit long, but recommended.<fn></div> Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) --- <a href="">10/10</a> <div>Yeah, that's right. I gave it a ten. I debated it, because it's probably a nine (but a solid nine) but dammit it was a very solid movie from start to finish. I might drop it to a nine on re-viewing, but then again, maybe not. It has a great story that nicely dovetailed with what we'd already learned in the other movies and presented new information and characters and worlds in the same exciting way that <i>A New Hope</i> had done. In many ways, it was a soft reboot of <i>A New Hope</i> but that was more than fine with me. Watching this movie felt like the first time I picked up a Terry Pratchett novel after nearly having given up all hope that Douglas Adams would ever write another book. It gets an extra star because it failed to disappoint. It gets another one on top of that because it was actually better than the originals in some ways. It was definitely better than <i>Return of the Jedi</i>. This is a great space opera with some old characters and some new---and the new ones are <i>really good</i>. Some spoilers ahead, but not too bad. I saw this movie with absolutely no preparation and no idea what was in it, except for a vague notion that (A) a girl/woman played the main role, (B) there was a black stormtrooper in it and (C) Han Solo and Chewbacca were back. The re-introduction of the Millenium Falcon was perfect---c'mon, it's everyone's favorite ship. The parallel between the planet Jakku in this film and Tatooine in the first was welcome: the shot of the multi-sun system was nostalgic. The Angkor Wat-like temple where the new smuggler's bar resided was a mix of Jabba's temple and the old Cantina. The story felt retold, but in a good way. Like the circle of time comes around, history repeats itself, etc. It could have been hackneyed, but I felt it was not. Director Abrams <i>showed</i> us the parallel and let us do with it what we wanted, rather than placing a character in front of to <i>tell</i> us what we should be seeing. It's a smart movie in that regard, not playing down to a dumb crowd.<fn> And it's truly funny---lots of appropriate one-liners and in-jokes and more modern jokes. Like when Lo Ren <i>hulks out</i> on his communications console...or when he hulks out a second time and we see the two stormtroopers just ... walk away. The stormtroopers, while not the stars of the movie, are definitely more in the foreground. Their own clichés are celebrated---like a couple of scenes where they really couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Very funny and warmly nostalgic at the same time. The writers really struck a balance and made a great film. I expected a rollicking, funny space opera and that's what I got. You know how sometimes a movie has such jarring moments that it throws you out of the moment and the mood? That didn't happen. You know how sometimes you really enjoy a movie while watching it, then it falls apart immediately afterwards on reflection? That didn't happen either. You know how sometimes you wake up the next morning and think "meh"? Also didn't happen.<fn> Go into this one one with open eyes---eyes from which the stain of <i>The Phantom Menace</i> has been washed---and you will love it. Highly recommended. Saw in in 3D and in English with German and French subtitles<fn>.</div> El Topo (1970) --- <a href="">4/10</a> <div>This is a bizarre Mexican western, full of symbolism. It starts off with a scene of utter slaughter in a village as the mysterious and dark-haired El Topo (Spanish for "the mole" or "the spy") rides in, clad all in black leather in the hot sun, with a blue-eyed, blond-haired young boy clad only in a moccasins and a wide-brimmed hat riding behind him. A grinding/grating noise pounds through the whole scene---it is uncertain whether it is the sound of hangman's ropes grinding or an animal in pain or something else. The next scene wordlessly introduces 3 weirdos---one makes love to a figure of a woman he outlined with dried beans on a rock, another kisses women's shoes then shoots them off of rocks, etc. They see that El Topo has looted jewelry from the village and ride off to rob him. They meet---again with a grating sound in the background, this time goats bleating. Is this a Mexican-Western homage to <i>The Clockwork Orange</i>? The next group of criminals---the Colonel and his merry band---have taken over a Franciscan monastery. The monks are forced to act as dance-partners/whores for some of the guys. It's just one surreal, nearly wordless, deranged and possibly drug- or alcohol-addled scene after another. The standard scenes of depravity are present, with the bad guys portrayed by Mexicans and the monks, the woman, El Topo and the little boy (still no clothes for him) portrayed by blond-haired, blue-eyed actors. There is method to the madness, but it's a cruel and at-times senseless film that thinks it's more profound that it is. This movie has the production quality and the cast of a 70s porno---with more kids and way more six-shooters. Like what's up with the corral with the hundreds of rabbits that have no clear food source? Speaking of food sources...there don't seem to be any for anyone. Topo wins against all the masters then asks God "why have you forsaken me?" in a pretty heavy-handed Jesus reference. But we're not done yet: next the two ladies shoot all the stigmata into him before entering into a sapphic tryst. The final chapter is the easiest to understand, although it starts really, really strangely: El Topo wakes to find himself among a colony of freaks and outcasts buried in a mountain. He's determined to dig a tunnel to the village outside. The village, however, is an evil place, rife with decadence and slavery. Why even dig? And so on. Utterly disconnected from all that went before. Symbolic movies can be good---for example, <i>Oh Brother Where Art Thou?</i> is good even if you have no idea it's based on <i>The Odyssey</i>. Maybe I'm just tired of pretentious pseudo-Christian symbology. Not recommended.</div> Zack Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion (2006) --- <a href="">7/10</a> This is mix of about 70% standup combined with piano-playing and a bunch of crowd work. Different parts of the show reminded me of Stewart Lee, Stephen Wright and Andy Kaufman. The other 30% is a mock interview where he plays his twin brother Seth and there's also some man-on-the-street stuff thrown in. Joy Ride (2001) --- <a href="">5/10</a> This is another Paul Walker vehicle---pun totally intended. This time he's on the road with his brother Steve Zahn, who he's picked up from prison. Walker is on his way to pick up Leelee Sobieski, in whom he's very interested. On the way, Zahn and Walker start messing with a trucker by pretending that they're "Candy Cane", a girl who's got nothing better to do than meet up with a random trucker. I wonder how Paul Walker became the guy that you put in a car in every movie? Even pairing Zahn and Walker can't save this movie. Leelee Sobieski is her usual, inspiring self.</sarcasm> Not recommended. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) --- <a href="">6/10</a> I'd seen this movie before, but a long time ago, back in the 80s sometime, probably. At the time, I thought those two guys were the coolest guys ever. But objectively they're kind of jerks. They can't work a day in their lives, they steal way more money than they need and they get by pretty much only on an unnatural surfeit of charm. For example, Sundance cheats at cards and swindles a guy out of all of this money, then threatens to kill him for calling him a cheater. The way out? The guy has to pretty much apologize, after which they take all of his money, but leave him alive. Win-win. Katharine Ross is introduced to us with a striptease induced at gunpoint, but haha it's just a little game she and the Kid like to play. This is the 60s, so he kinda sorta shares her with Butch. Hooray. Redford and Newman are a good team. They spend most of the middle third of the movie running away from a shadowy band of pursuers. When Newman proposes to jump off of a waterfall, Redford refuses and wants them to stand their ground. When Newman presses him, Redford, who's shown himself to be more proficient than Newman in nearly every way other than talkin' and thinkin', protests that "I can't swim!" Newman gut-laughs and finally sputters, "Oh, I wouldn't worry about that! The fall'll probably kill you anyway!" Good stuff. On the other hand, this movie sports not one but <i>four</i> musical montages (including the initial credits), so they were really papering over the cracks in the script. Once they get to Bolivia, they learn pidgin Spanish, do a few jobs and become so notorious that not only does the posse that nearly chased them down in the States follow them to Bolivia, but when they try to go straight to avoid the posse, they end up getting hired to protect the payroll train. I thought the story was ironic enough that they were to defend it against themselves, but there actually is a crew of Bolivians thieves that they have to vanquish. All I remember from the first viewing is the freeze-frame at the very end. I had forgotten the 10 minutes of running from cover to cover against an unseen enemy that immediately preceded it. Still, the two guys save it at the very end, so I give it an extra star for the two leads and for the final few minutes. Saw it in English and Spanish (no subtitles). </dl> <hr> <ft>A movie about a Californian drought seems like a timely movie to watch...or maybe California always has a drought.</ft> <ft>I wonder how much of the more extreme Japanese cinema---I'm looking at you, <i>Gozu</i> and <i>R100</i>---are reactions to the near-syrupy sweetness of Japanese cinema and culture as represented in films like Miyazaki's? They're lovely, but so far removed from the quotidian filth of humanity. Miyazaki shows the girl's chair in front of her easel to indicate that she's near---in <i>R100</i>, Horikoshi would have felt its warmth or buried his snout in it. Almost as a "screw you" to the other, cleansed form of cinema.</ft> <ft>More spoilers here: although I was in a SUPER-dumb crowd. They laughed uproariously whenever the BB8 droid demanded it. Every. Single. Time. Some of the more subtle jokes of this flavor were well-done and well-integrated into the scene; others seemed gratuitous. Also, when Lo Ren calls Vader his grandfather, there was a <i>ton</i> of hushed and astonished whispering along the lines of "but I thought <i>Han</i> was his father?" as if a person has only a single, male parent and as if we didn't know that Leia and Solo got jiggy after the end of <i>Return of the Jedi</i> and as if we didn't know that Leia and Luke were Anakin/Vader's twins. To be fair, that particular revelation was nicely presented and I had a 1/4-second of processing to do because of the tricky way they did it, but the astonishment of my theater continued for way too long.</ft> <ft>I've since read a handful of comments on Reddit and the first and most highly rated ones were disappointed that Terence Malick hadn't influenced J.J. Abrams enough. These people are incapable of enjoying anything for what it is, and have forgotten what they fell in love with in the first place. Star Wars is not about gravitas and long moments of contemplation of the giant and probably tragic and fatal battle ahead. It's a space opera. I went to the movie with the <i>opposite</i> of the folks from Reddit: I didn't know most of my group, but they were much younger and had seen <i>Phantom Menace</i> in the theater when they were ten years old.</ft> <ft>I was actually glad for subtitles during a few scenes where the <i>sotte voce</i> Stormtrooper conversations were impossible to hear in a theater full of excited Star Wars fans. I'm not a huge fan of 3D though and would gladly watch it in 2D instead; it would probably be crisper.</ft>