Browsed by
Month: August 2019

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Erin Brockovich (2000)

  • Score: 4/5
  • Genre: 3/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Yes.
  • Did it move me: Somewhat, but not in a lasting way.
  • Rewatch:  Someday/maybe.
  • Art/Pop: Pop
  • Noteworthy/Significant: Julie Roberts only Academy Award

Having just watched Erin Brockovich for the first time in 2019, I can say it has held up remarkably well. Erin Brockovich is a loosely-based-upon-real-life story of a young divorced mother desperate for work who gets a job with a local law firm, only to become the key to uncovering what would become a landmark tort case against utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric for slowly poisoning the residents of a small town in California.

Brockovich is a hyperactive, obsessive compulsive sort whose vim, vigor, and sass substitutes for experience as she successfully brute forces her way through the momentous levels of research and paperwork required to put together and try a case of this sort, all to the initial dismay and aggravation, but eventual respect, of her boss, coworkers, friends and family. Aaron Eckhart turns in an enjoyable performance as her heart-of-gold biker neighbor who strikes up a relationship with her.  

While Julia Robert’s performance at times feels a touch too much, her heart is in the right place and suave industry veteran Albert Finney plays a fine counterpoint as her lawyer boss. The script, a limiting factor for both of them, panders too much to expectations and Hollywood tropes. There also seems a sense of disconnection in the overall story arc. It gets there, but in a sort of juttery way. Yes, I know that is not quite a word. 

This results in a rare inverted result for me: A higher primary score than a genre score. Erin Brockovitch really is only average as far as this type of legal film goes (Travolta’s A Civil Action, despite its own faults, far surpasses it), but the general accessibility of it and the big name talent (including Soderburgh as director) give it a strong all-audiences appeal that I cannot ignore. I just expected more.

Review Date: 06/20/2019

The Hateful Eight (regular & extended) (2015/2019)

The Hateful Eight (regular & extended) (2015/2019)

  • Score: 4/5
  • Genre: 4/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Very much so.
  • Did it move me: Yes.
  • Rewatch:  Without a doubt.
  • Art/Pop: Both, baby!
  • Noteworthy/Significant: The Tarantino Western.

Some directors have such a distinctive and strong hand, the joy of being brought into their world can overshadow the individual faults of any particular trip. The Hateful Eight is not a perfect movie, but it is oh-so-fun to watch, with a wonderful collection of actors interacting in what is functionally a play.

I say that because despite some beautiful scenes shot in Colorado, the whole film (barring one or two quick scenes) takes place either inside a stage coach or in the main location: “Minnie’s Haberdashery,” a one-giant-room trading post. This is a film that could easily be staged in a theatre. The focus remaining squarely on the tension of the character interactions and the unraveling of the mystery, the hallmark of this kind of approach, was a wonderful change from most of the recent films I have seen. 

A bunch of dark individuals on seemingly separate paths end up stranded in a Rocky Mountain retreat (the aforementioned Haberdashery) by a blizzard in what appears to be the late 1800s (post Civil War). Weird coincidences, unexpected connections, and hidden plot machinations abound as they interact. It is, in a way, Tarantino’s version of Deathtrap, or Murder on the Orient Express, by way of Sergio Leone, with extra blood and violence, bien sûr!

Kurt Russell chews up lots of scenery in what appears to be a partial, twisted-but-loving homage to the Duke. And what can one say about Jennifer Jason Leigh, who deserved to end up a superstar actress but never quite broke through into that sphere, yet is markedly more talented than so many of her peers who did? She’s a joy. Period. (If you have never seen Ms. Parker and the Vicious Circle, make it next on your viewing list and thank me later). I can’t even judge Samuel L Jackson anymore, because he is so familiar, dependable, and easy to watch.

In fact, everyone does a great job, and they even don’t all sound like Quentin Tarantino for once! That, of course, is one of my biggest pet peeves about Tarantino: there are too many scenes in too many movies where you can actually hear his voice in the delivery of the actors, as if they’ve been coached to the point where they are (unconsciously, probably) emulating his cadence. Not that that actually happens (the coaching), perhaps it is just unavoidably implicit in the dialog itself. Who knows. But here, that negative is almost unseen, with rich individual voices for so many of the characters.

Yes, it is violent – his films always are, but this one is mostly tame except for everyone taking a shot at Jason Leigh’s character at one point or another, and then the final lots-of-people-getting-killed-at-the-end, which is Episode 4 in the Extended edition.

Speaking of which, I honestly could not spot what specifically was added: there were no cut subplots that I could detect (I did not watch them back to back). It felt like there were just extensions on many of the scenes, particularly in the beginning. Yes, there are diminishing returns on that extra slice of pie, but if it is good pie, who can resist?

If you hate Tarantino, this will not sway you over, but it is definitely on the more accessible side of the spectrum for his films, with less of the hyper violence that so many have. It’s a lame way to end a review, but simply put: Damn, I really liked it.

Review Date: 05/22/2019

The Wandering Earth (2019)

The Wandering Earth (2019)

  • Score: 3/5
  • Genre: 3/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Mostly.
  • Did it move me: Mildly.
  • Rewatch:  Probably once, eventually, but I am not calendaring it in.
  • Art/Pop: Pop
  • Noteworthy/Significant: Chinese Sci Fi.

The Wandering Earth is a big budget Chinese Sci Fi spectacle. Based loosely on a story by a young, well-regarded (Hugo award winning) Chinese science fiction author, it tells the story of a planet facing extinction by an unexpectedly early transformation of our sun into a red giant, which will result in the Earth and most of the solar system being destroyed. Given about a century’s warning, the Earth bands together around a crazy plan to turn the entire planet into a generation ship by circling the planet with giant engines that will push it out of the solar system and all the way to a nearby star, arriving over a hundred generations later, while the surviving population hunkers down in underground cities.

The overall production and effects are top notch and the equal of a top line Hollywood production, so plenty of kudos to the Chinese film industry. This film moved me in ways that were not directly tied to its actual content, and this was one of them: that this film was made at this level of production quality promises hope for a new source of action-adventure-sci fi films. While on one hand they were clearly using Hollywood as a blueprint for the film, there are definitely shades of difference in outlook and approach of the characters and the point of view that were welcome and fun to observe. For example, about 3/4s of the way through the film I contemplated something especially dark happening, that I would have never even considered a possibility in a mainstream Hollywood film. It didn’t, but damn, it was fun while it lasted. 

Still. Still. It was good, but other than scope of production I did not find it particularly above average. It was not as smooth as it could be. It was not clear at all times where they were going and for what purpose. Some of the characters reminded me of stereotypical characters you would find in a Japanese Anime. I watched it dubbed, which was fine. I usually prefer subtitles, but I am more accepting of dubbing with Chinese because the fundamental nature of the differences between Chinese languages and European, primarily, intonation being a key dynamic of primary meaning generation; this means that it is more difficult to pick up the emotional quality of the speakers like you can as a native English speaker with a related romantic or germanic language (with exceptions: I always watch Ang Lee’s gorgeous Eat Drink Man Woman subtitled). The dubbing was pretty good, though, especially with several of the main characters, so I was not significantly distracted by it. 

I think this a must-watch for serious genre fans as I think it is a noteworthy, even important, movie for what it signifies, but it lacks the type of engaging characterizations and interpersonal struggles that gives films like Interstellar greater depth and universal appeal, so it will be a tough sale for average viewers.

Review Date: 05/19/2019

Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Ocean’s 8 (2018)

  • Score: 3/5
  • Genre: 3/5
  • Did I enjoy it: Mostly.
  • Did it move me: Not really.
  • Rewatch:  Unlikely, but it wouldn’t hurt me.
  • Art/Pop: Pop.
  • Noteworthy/Significant: Not much.

Ocean’s 8’s attempted fresh take on the heist genre, having a group of women instead a group of men (or primarily men), mostly succeeds. Sandra Bullock, while lacking the inspiring fire of her best performances, such as in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, is nevertheless her eminently watchable and dependable self, playing the recently-released-from-prison sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean from the earlier films. 

While the entire cast does well, Cate Blanchet really shines as Bullock’s primary old friend/co-conspirator who helps build the team around them to accomplish the heist goal of stealing a famous and ultra valuable Cartier necklace during a huge media-swamped annual Gala in  NYC. Perhaps its unfair, but I simply expect a great performance from Helena Bonham Carter, truly a traditional, old fashioned, hard-core, do-anything actress; on the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by pop singer Rihanna, whose turn as a street hacker I didn’t realize was as convincing as it was (some technical hacker issues aside, which has nothing to do with her performance but the script) until she appears suddenly in fancy dress at one point toward the end of the film and I was surprised by the transformation. Of course, it raises the question of how a young street hacker could so effectively pull off the swagger of a diva, but we’ll let that pass.

This is an easy to watch film, and one that I would generally recommend to anyone who likes the genre (and it is family friendly to boot). That said, despite its budget and talent,  it’s only average at best for a heist movie. I never felt any sense of tension in the build up and execution, despite the perfunctory handful of unexpected challenges or twists. While it is a rare heist film that does not end in the heist succeeding, the art of filmmaking is creating tension despite that fact, which Ocean’s 8 fails at. It also needed more character exploration, something that it seems could have been done without impact on the film’s pacing, and maybe even added some more tension.

Review Date: 05/16/2019