Browsed by
Month: July 2019

The Predator (2018)

The Predator (2018)

  • Score: 2/5
  • Genre: 2/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Mildly.
  • Did it move me: No.
  • Rewatch:  Unlikely
  • Art/Pop: I’d like to say neither! (Pop)

Yeah, no.

The Predator tries hard to adopt a hyper-saturated comic-book approach to the beleaguered franchise (which began with the pulp-erifficly classic first film by John McTiernan with Arnold Schwarzenegger & Carl Weathers, followed by two mediocre sequels). The attempted mix of action, drama, and comedy just doesn’t pull together. Director Shane Black, who has done some work I have enjoyed, tries but fails to channel that Marvel magic he got to flirt with in Iron Man 3. 

It’s a shame, too, because there is some good raw material here. There were several unexpected surprises in the casting zone, including an underused Yvonne Strahovski as the protagonist’s wife and Thomas Jane, who did such stellar work recently in the series The Expanse, as a mentally disabled soldier. In fact, I don’t think I have fault with any of the actors: I am convinced that to the extent their performances turn cheesy and eye-rolling, it is as a result of script and directing.

The effects are mostly fine, but some CGI impalements and blood are at best TV level. The pacing is, if anything, too non-stop. One of the hallmarks of the original film was extended tension punctuated by quick intense bursts of action. At the end of the day, the problem with The Predator is that it is trying to do too much and be too clever. It wants to wink at you, yet be somewhat serious. This can be done, but if you miss, you get alien attack dogs who somehow become insta-pets after being shot in the head. Really. ‘Nuff said.

Review Date: 05/07/2019

A Little Bit of Heaven (2012)

A Little Bit of Heaven (2012)

  • Score: 3/5
  • Genre: 3/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Mildly.
  • Did it move me: Mildly.
  • Rewatch:  Unlikely
  • Art/Pop: Emo pop

So, this is an odd movie. I am not sure why I watched it, except for the cast: Kate Hudson, Kathy Bates, Whoopie Goldberg, Treat Williams, Peter Dinklage, and even Steven Weber, an actor from one of my favorite 1990s sitcoms, Wings. I figured how bad could it be?

If I followed the critical consensus, which I saw with a bit of surprise was a crazily low 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, the answer would be Pretty Fucking Bad! But I think I followed instead the popular consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, which put it at 52% liked.

A Little Bit of Heaven is odd because it pulls from several genres and tropes, part drama, part comedy (I hate the term dramedy), and even the “I spoke with God” thing a la Heaven Can Wait and a billion other films. 

Kate Hudson is a career oriented late-30 something who refuses to have a serious relationship, claiming it is unnecessary, but really because of her parents’ cold marriage. She receives some startling news which causes her to rethink her life. She has the homemaker friend, whose child she babysits, the unattached friend, the gay black neighbor-friend, and host of other character and plot tropes to exist and play with.

It’s like a soup made from leftovers, but it is not horrible. I rarely comment on professional ratings, and almost never check them before I write my reviews, but I am kind of stunned by the 4% Rotten Tomatoes ratings. It’s only a somewhat by-the-numbers romcom tear-jerker (despite its clear desire to be a bit funky), but it is definitely not horrible. Believe the audience, not the critics, on this one, unless you are solely an elitist film snob: A Little Bit of Heaven is solidly mediocre, and while genre fans won’t be adding it to their all time favorites list, they will certainly not regret watching it.

Review Date: 05/04/2019

The Lobster (2012)

The Lobster (2012)

  • Score: 4/5
  • Genre: 4/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Yes.
  • Did it move me: Mildly.
  • Rewatch:  Likely, but not right away.
  • Art/Pop: Definitely Art

Funky, arty, brooding and atmospheric, The Lobster is a slow-building meditative reflection on life, love and the crushing weight of authoritarianism in all its forms, from the far right to the far left, from government to the oppression of social mores, even self-imposed.

In a dystopian world where people must be coupled or else (and coupled with a person with whom they share some sort of explicit defining trait, like a physical disability, a hobby, or a strong personality quirk), those without partners, even those for whom their partner died, are sent to a special “hotel”, which is essentially a prison, where they must find an acceptably suitable partner within a short period of time (45 days, extensible if they aid authorities in hunting and killing independent “loners” who live beyond the law in the forest on the edge of the city the story takes place in). If they do not find a willing match, they are transformed, by some science-magic machine, into an animal of their choice, and sent into the wild to live out their lives.

A little more than halfway through the film, the story travels into the world of those hunted “loners,” where, rather than the freedom-loving outsiders living in exile that we expect, a la the “book people” of Fahrenheit 451, we find instead yet another system of harsh rules and expectations, with harsh punishments for those who buck the established order.

The main characters struggle within these competing worlds of chains to find the space to make self-interested choices as individuals who merely want to live and love free of the imposed directives of others. Do they succeed? Can they succeed? Watch and find out.

Review Date: 04/27/2019

The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers (2012)

  • Score: 3/5
  • Genre: 4/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Yes.
  • Did it move me: Mildly.
  • Rewatch:  Likely (already have)
  • Art/Pop: Pop

Some movies are relatively easy to review in retrospect, some are more difficult. While not really challenging, The Avengers edges to the more difficult side because so many strong films in this genre have been produced in the seven years since (I am looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy & Thor: Ragnorak).

Watching The Avengers again was a lot of fun. I am not sure I had seen it since seeing it in the theatre at release, so while I clearly remembered the overall story arc, I had forgotten tons of the little scenes and details that comprise the trip.

You can see the seeds of the Marvel formulae of action, suspense, and humor melding and taking root, but still a touch rough around the edges. I particularly liked the subtle, yet to be developed but still present, chemistry between Mark Ruffalo & Scarlet Johansen’s characters, and Tom Hiddleston, as ever, is chewing up and spitting out the scenery with his joyously human comic book villain Loki.

Still, at the end of the day, and despite the hype, this is a heavy genre movie: an alien we know as a Norse god leads an alien invasion to conquer humanity and the Earth, and a bunch of comic book heroes gathered by a super secret (and apparently incredibly well financed) spy organization blow up most of midtown Manhattan to stop them. The fights are pretty, the humor not bad and most everyone seems to be having fun: good popcorn, not much depth, and eventually to be surpassed.

Absolutely watch if somehow you haven’t and if you have any inclination toward the genre (or give it another shot if it has been years, it is worth rewatching).

Review Date: 04/25/2019

The Beach (2000)

The Beach (2000)

  • Score: 4/5
  • Genre: 4/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Yes.
  • Did it move me: Yes.
  • Rewatch:  Likely, but not in a rush.
  • Art/Pop: Arty Pop.

I never saw the Beach when it came out, or for years after. You get those movies that somehow you just never get around to, despite being reasonably big films released while you are an adult (as opposed to big classics, that you usually have to seek out and aren’t in theaters or promoted on cable or streaming).  Poking around HBO one night I saw it and was like “Hmmm, old Leonardo DiCaprio movie supposed to be halfway decent.” I clicked on more info and immediately noted it had Tilda Swinton, and was directed by Danny Boyle with music by Angelo Badalamenti. Sold!

The Beach is fun, despite starting with dark overtones and ending in suspense. Danny Boyle is going all in, and so are the cast. Robert Carlyle, who I always enjoy watching, plays a crazy (literally) Scottish guy (his favorite typecast role) who hands DiCaprio’s “Richard” (a wayward, bored GenX’er on Walkabout in Thailand) a map to a supposedly super secret and incredibly idyllic island. Richard convinces two young French travelers to take up the quest, and we are off.

An early scene, where a disenchanted Richard looks down from a balcony upon young fellow travelers in his hotel watching Apocalypse Now on a small screen is hugely foreshadowing on many levels to what is to come, including Boyle’s loving allusions to classic scenes and themes from Apocalypse Now and other western Asian-Pacific themed films and tropes.

The island, of course, ends up being both idyllic and potentially deadly, and Richard’s interactions with the people there, both fellow ex-pat and local, give rise to the dramatic action and suspense. Another nod, to British character actor Paterson Joseph, who it was a pleasant surprise to discover was one of the main characters on the island. Tilda Swinton can be so powerful in an otherworldly way. I really need to go back and re-watch her captivating take on Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, as should you.

The balancing act between allegorical fantasy and realistic depiction is surprisingly well handled by Boyle, and although the Heart of Darkness and Lord of the Flies allusions are not always quite as there as he would like, the beautiful scenery and playful direction make The Beach a tasty summer holiday.

Review Date: 04/13/2019

The Silence (2019)

The Silence (2019)

  • Score: 2/5
  • Genre: 2/5
  • Did I enjoy it: It had a few good moments. A few.
  • Did it move me: Negatively.
  • Rewatch:  Unlikely.
  • Art/Pop: Pop.

Wow, that was disappointing. I like Stanley Tucci. I like Miranda Otto. I even kind of like the girl from Mad Men. I like sci fi and suspense and even the occasional horror. I love post apocalypse movies, and I have since growing up with the early Mad Max and living dead films (not to mention the lost Japanese classic Virus). I had high hopes.

This is the kind of film where 30 minutes in you go “well, girl from Mad Men I get, she has that new Netflix series Sabrina, is trying to make the brutal jump from child actor to adult, I am sure anything Netflix asks her to do she’ll say yes to, but Stan & Miranda, do you guys need a new car that bad? Could you really both have kids in college at the same time?” At least, that’s what it made me say. Out loud, I think.

So it’s zombie/vampire apocalypse in the form of bats (they look like bats, but the film makes some odd reference to wasps) that have been trapped deep underground for millions of years evolving and mutating. Fine. I mean it feels like lowish budget SyFy Channel in-house movie, but whatever. The production quality was reasonably high, and the talent (except for the writing staff) is there (i.e., sound, costuming, etc.).

To paraphrase Slick Willy: It’s the stupidity, stupid. The give-me-a-break moments in this film are high, and just get higher as the movie moves to its climax. Without over spoiling (most will have heard or will quickly notice that this is a knock off of A Quiet Place), it turns out that girl from Mad Men’s character is deaf so the whole family knows how to sign, a remarkably convenient coincidence in an apocalypse film where you need to be quiet. I wish the writing was phoned in – it feels instead like it was radio-telescoped from Mars. Actually, that cheap derogatory description is cooler than the screenwriters of The Silence deserve.

And it doesn’t have the indulgent cheesy factor of a good B film, which can make it endearing despite its limitations, because it takes itself far too seriously. Only watch this film if you love the genre, and even then be prepared to be underwhelmed.

Review Date: 04/13/2019

The Highwaymen (2019)

The Highwaymen (2019)

  • Score: 3/5
  • Genre: 4/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Yes.
  • Did it move me: Mildly.
  • Rewatch:  Not in the near future.
  • Art/Pop: Mostly Pop, but the narrative point of view control is subtle.

This made for Netflix film based on a true story from the 1930s about two former Texas Rangers hired by the Texas government as Plan B wildcards to independently track down and deal with Bonnie & Clyde (while the regular state police, etc., pursued a more traditional manhunt) was a really nice Saturday night viewing experience. 

Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing truly innovative or exciting, and many of the scenes, while competent enough,  felt like checking boxes: 

  • Young, smart-alecky state and federal cops laugh at the past-their-prime, creaky retired Rangers, and try to demean and push them to the back of the bus – check! 
  • Follow up scene of our heroes showing up those same young arrogant whipper-snappers by analyzing a crime scene better than them using their old cop wisdom and skills – check!  
  • Sad story about how years of killing along the border has left them with pre-PTSD PTSD – check! 
  • Etc.

Still, in a weird sort of old man echo to the stunning first season of True Detective, seeing Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner bounce around the screen for two hours as cranky reunited buddy cops was enjoyable. With overall good pacing, the film embraces a narrative point of view that tries to restrict the world to their perspective:  for example, you don’t even see the faces of Bonnie & Clyde until the last scenes when they are shot; you see first-hand examples of their horrible crimes, but only distantly hear about the Robin Hood-like bank robbing that made them bizarre folk heroes. 

That disciplined concentration on the story being told, which is not the story of Bonnie & Clyde, is what makes this work overall, and why it got a 4/5 in the genre score: it is rare to see a director tackle such a well known and easy to exploit topic and hold strong to a perspective that skirts and does not indulge in the easy cha-ching of retelling the core story one more time. 

The Highwaymen won’t change your life, but I am glad I clicked play.

Review Date: 04/11/2019

Adrift (2018)

Adrift (2018)

  • Score: 3/5
  • Genre: 4/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Yes.
  • Did it move me: Mildly.
  • Rewatch:  Likely, but not for a while.
  • Art/Pop: Pop that wants to be clever.

I have a bit of a weakness for sailing movies. While I do not sail, it is one of those things I have dreamed about since my 20s when I spent a year living and working in Greece and often imagined what it would be like to sail aimlessly about the Cyclades.

Adrift, based on a true story, tracks the adventure and struggles of a sailing couple who run into a dangerous Pacific storm that leaves them, as the title indicates, adrift. So, survival-at-sea here we come.

Adrift attempts to use a semi-flashback structure where there are two parallel narrative arcs: the first in the film’s present, post disaster, and the second beginning when the couple first meet and then accelerating to the point where the main narrative begins.

I am not sure if it is necessary, and I did not find it to be as effective as the director must have intended it to be. In fact I found it somewhat distracting at first, but ultimately inoffensive. It just feels like an attempt to be clever and interesting, and it made me wonder if the filmmaker had doubts about how captivating the underlying story was.

The lead is handled reasonably well by the young actress from the Divergent YA dystopian future films. There was a bit of “see Shailene in a real dramatic role, but in tight wet clothes!” quality to the performance, but she does have some good moments and the romantic aspects of the story are reasonably effective if relatively generic.

As normal with films like this, the true costars are the ships, the sea, and the landscapes, which do not disappoint. If you go for this sort of thing, definitely give Adrift a whirl; it is competent enough to not put your companions to sleep while you are getting your sailing fix.

Review Date: 12/19/2018

Angela’s Ashes (2000)

Angela’s Ashes (2000)

  • Score: 3/5
  • Genre: 3/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Mildly.
  • Did it move me: Mildly.
  • Rewatch:  Unlikely.
  • Art/Pop: Pop that wants to look classic.

I approached the film version of Angela’s Ashes with a sense of excitement and optimism when I noticed that it had been directed by Alan Parker. Parker’s The Commitments has a unique ability to provide me with LSD level flashbacks to my year spent studying in Ireland at the end of the 1980s.

The film, however, disappointed. While there were moments that were good, they felt rare. I feared in watching I was suffering from book syndrome, or what I sometimes call “Dead Zone” syndrome. When I was young and there was a film version made of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone (dir. Cronenberg with Chris Walken in the lead), I re-read the book right before seeing the movie, and then hated it for all its edits and cuts. When, ten years or so later, I watched the film again, I thought it was far better, as I could watch it as its own thing.

I had literally just finished reading Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt’s acclaimed and semi-autobiographical Pulitzer Prize winning debut novel, a mere week or two before watching the the film, and I noticed from the start that the first several chapters were compressed into the first few minutes.

I am older now, though, and I understand that sacrifices like that are part and parcel of translating a decent sized book to the big screen, so I anticipated the focus on the later years of McCourt’s young life. Such never really seemed to occur, however, and the film felt like it merely glided over or paid lip service to many of the rich stories and moments. Perhaps too much of the resonance of the story is from the feeling you are living through all the little details, something difficult to capture without the time provided by a more extended format, such as a mini-series. Too many small but meaningful relationships, such as the one developed with the coal deliverer the main character gets a job assisting, and eventually his widow, that get lost in the need to cover the whole story in two & 1/2 hours.

Furthermore, and more critically, it did not seem to communicate the true desperation and poverty of their lives. It tries to, and almost feels to capture this best in the opening scenes in NY (rather ironically, as that time is often looked upon in the novel as the time of plenty), but it never fully commits. I mean, the settings look reasonably accurate enough, but you just don’t feel it like you do in the novel, which I find odd given the potential power of a visual medium.

In McCourt’s father, I think this is demonstrated the clearest. I had a poor opinion of the elder Malaki (McCourt’s younger brother shares the name with the father) from the start of the novel, but he is a far more sympathetic character throughout much of the movie. It is only near his departure that his behavior becomes reprehensible. This could be because the film does not have the space to establish the depth of failure after failure, and shortcoming after shortcoming, but it could have if Parker wanted it to, with some clever filming and editing. It almost feels as if Parker wants to avoid the portrayal of Malaki as the cliche drunk Irish ne’er-do-well that McCourt himself portrays Malaki as in great detail in the novel, and instead tries to rehabilitate him somewhat. To what end, I cannot say, as it adds nothing to, and actually detracts from, the experience.

And there is the actors and the costuming. Robert Carlyle as Malaki and especially Emily Watson as the eponymous Angela cut handsome figures even in Hollywood poor people clothes. I’ll never forget the sense in the book of Angela looking what we would guess was 50 when she was in her late 20s, with rotted yellow teeth, tired and worn from (at least) 6 births, smoking like a chimney and living in abject poverty. Even at the end of the film, made up to look older, Watson seemingly cannot but be a beautiful woman.

Parker is a seasoned professional, and Angela’s Ashes is a watchable film that has it’s occasional moments. But it is not great, and it is not even really good.

Review Date: 12/08/2018