Monday, March 28, 2016

Stuff I Watched: March Edition

This is a few days early with the whole A to Z Challenge thing coming up.  I decided to change it up and put them by star rating instead of title.  That makes it easy to find the good movies.

5 Stars (Awesome!)
Beasts of No Nation:  The heart-wrenching story of an African boy whose father and brother are killed and is separated from his mother and baby sister by government troops.  Running into the jungle he's taken by Idris Elba and a band of child soldiers and trained to be one of them.  Basically imagine Platoon only with a small African boy instead of Charlie Sheen.  If this hadn't been released through Netflix I think it would have gotten serious Oscar consideration. (5/5)
The End of the Tour:  I haven't read any David Foster Wallace but like many people Infinite Jest is on my pile to be read (or on my Kindle in this case).  Anyway, in this movie a young reporter just starting at Rolling Stone goes to interview Wallace in 1996 at his home in Illinois and then to the last stop of his book tour in Minneapolis.  They have a lot of deep conversations, but where the movie really succeeds is showing the nuance in their relationship that despite how much they share, they never really become best buddies.  There's a lot of good writing-related stuff in here, so definitely watch it if you're a writer.  My thought on watching this was I'd like to watch it again to help absorb some of the things they talk about.  Now whether this is true or "true" (in the sense of any Aaron Sorkin-written biopic where Facebook/Zuckerberg and Apple/Jobs existed but the rest is pure horse plop) I can't really say.  Obviously I didn't know Wallace and from the movie you get the sense not many people really did.  But then how many people really know someone else as in all facets of them? (5/5)  (Fun Fact:  Much of the movie was filmed in Grand Rapids, Michigan which according to novelist Richard Ford we say as "Gren Repids"--more horse plop.)
Room:  I read the book five years ago or so; it was one of the first I read on my Kindle.  The movie (written by the book's author) does a good job of being faithful to the book.  A woman has been kidnapped and held in a room for 7 years, 5 of those spent with her son Jack.  To Jack "Room" is the only world he has ever known--until they escape.  Then in the second half of the movie both mother and son try to adapt to the outside world.  For Jack the whole world is alien while his mother is more like an astronaut who has returned home after years in space--everyone is older and the world she knows is completely changed.  Overall, an excellent movie. (5/5)

4 Stars (Very Good)
Bridge of Spies:  I wanted to see this in the theater but never got around to it.  Anyway, it's at least the 4th time Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have worked together since 1998.  This time it's a Cold War tale of an ordinary lawyer who was assigned to defend a Russian spy and had the foresight to ask the judge not to have the spy executed.  Later when the Soviets shoot down a U2 spy plane, the lawyer trades that Russian spy for the U2 pilot and another prisoner, all of which was very complicated.  Interestingly the movie was written by the Coen Brothers of Fargo and No Country for Old Men fame.  (4/5)  (Fun Fact:  In the first volume of Wild Cards--edited by GRR Martin--the U2 pilot is rescued by a CIA analyst who has been hiding superpowers from his bosses.  That movie might have made more money, right?)
The Hoax:  Long before James Frey, the biggest literary scandal was when author Clifford Irving (no relation to my favorite author John Irving) faked an autobiography of Howard Hughes and got McGraw-Hill to pay a million bucks for it!  What you also may not know is this helped to bring about the Watergate scandal when Hughes indirectly contacted Irving to give him some dirt on favors he did for Nixon.  So in large part Watergate happened because of a down-on-his-luck author trying to scam Big Publishing.  A really interesting movie on the sleazy underbelly of the publishing industry. (4/5)  (Fun Fact:  Though John and Cliff Irving are not related--probably--there is a common thread in that The Hoax based on Cliff's book and The Cider House Rules based on John Irving's book are both directed by Lasse Hallstrom.  Small world.)

3 Stars (Good)
Mississippi Grind:  A compulsive gambler deep in debt meets a happy-go-lucky traveler (Ryan Reynolds) who seems to be a good luck charm.  They gamble their way from Iowa to New Orleans in search of a high-stakes poker game.  But along the way they become better people too.  Maybe a little too long but otherwise very good. (3.5/5)
Batman:  Bad Blood:  This sounds like it should be a vampire movie but it's not.  Like the previous animated Batman features it combines several old comic book stories.  Batman is captured and so Dick Grayson (Nightwing) takes up the mantle and with Robin, Batwoman, and Batwing they try to find him.  The comics had more time to do this better but it was OK.  I wondered why they introduced Batwoman and Batwing and yet they hadn't introduced Batgirl yet.  But then she shows up at the very end, so presumably she'll be in a future movie. (3/5)
The Exorcist:  Often imitated, never duplicated. (3/5)  (Fun Fact:  Max von Syndow was only 44 when he played the old priest in this.  I had to look that up because I thought, "How the fuck old is he to still be alive 40 years later to be in Star Wars?!")
The Forger:  John Travolta gets out of prison ostensibly to forge a Monet painting, but mostly he wants to spend time with his son who's dying of a brain tumor.  So it's a family drama with a caper involved. (3/5)
Fun With Dick & Jane (1978):  Dick loses his job at an aerospace company and so to maintain their upper-middle-class lifestyle he and his wife Jane take to robbing stores and finally a big score at Dick's old workplace.  There were a few things bordering on racist, but otherwise it was pretty funny.  God knows a few times I've considered doing what they did. (3/5)
The Ghosts of Ole Miss:  In 1962 Kennedy forced Ole Miss to admit a black student, leading to riots.  The school would have closed down with spite but if there's one thing Mississippi loves more than white supremacy it's football.  Since the football team was undefeated they had to keep the university open and grudgingly accept integration.  Yay, football! Reporter Wright Thompson examines this event.  Though I couldn't help noticing most of his interviewees and the girl singing "Dixie" are white.  Just saying. (3/5)
The Guru of Go:  This documentary focuses on the Loyola Marymount basketball team in the early 90s that scored a shitload of points and seemed poised to go far until a heart defect killed their star player. (3/5)
Justice League:  Flashpoint Paradox:  Based on the Flashpoint event series of comics, the Flash goes back in time to save his mom from being murdered.  That creates a horrible parallel universe where Aquaman and Wonder Woman are at war, Superman is MIA, and Batman is actually Bruce Wayne's father.  It stays pretty close to the comics for the most part but the comics develop it a little more.  This is definitely not one for the kids with graphic violence and gore. (3/5)
Pentagon Wars:  1998 HBO movie about the military-industrial complex in the 1980s.  An Air Force colonel gets put in charge of testing the Bradley APC prototype but finds the process seriously rigged to get positive results.  He manages to get the vehicle fixed but it's a Pyrrhic victory as he ruins his career while those in charge go on to profit.  As terrible as the subject is, this is a pretty funny satire in the mold of Catch-22. (3/5)
Silly Little Game:  ESPN documentary on the Rotisserie League, the first-ever fantasy sports league.  Basically a bunch of writers and editors in New York created fantasy baseball in 1980 and then failed to patent the game and thus everyone but them made money off of it.  The documentary is filmed with dramatizations and graphics that actually make it pretty funny, like a real-life version of FXX's The League. (3/5)

2.5 Stars (OK)
The '85 BearsThe best NFL team ever...according to them at least.  Da Bears won the Super Bowl in a blowout in 1986 with a cast of characters.  But then dysfunction prevented them from even making another Super Bowl until 2007.  Still they have one more Super Bowl win than their division "rival" Lions. (2.5/5)
Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thadland:  This Kickstarted movie came about in lieu of a fourth season of Blue Mountain State, which aired on Spike a few years ago.  The show was already raunchy on basic cable, but an unrated movie lets it be even more so as the football team essentially has an orgy on campus.  The real problem is that since this was a few years removed, none of the actors look as if they should be in college anymore. (2.5/5)
Enduring Love:  I think I read the Ian McEwan novel this is based off of but it was a while ago.  Anyway, a runaway hot air balloon comes down in a field and Daniel Craig and a bunch of other guys in the area try to wrangle it down but can't and one of the guys dies.  Another guy starts stalking Daniel Craig, madly in love with him.  And then mayhem ensues. (2.5/5)
Final Analysis:  Richard Gere is a shrink who has a hot patient with a hotter sister in Kim Basinger.  She supposedly suffers from alcohol psychosis, which means she flips out if she drinks any alcohol.  After drinking some cough syrup she murders her abusive husband.  Or did she?  It went on a little too long but was otherwise OK. (2.5/5)
Final Girl:  The girl from Little Miss Sunshine is trained by the creepy boy from American Beauty to be an assassin.  Then she's sent off to kill four psychopath boys who routinely murder teenage girls.  At 85 minutes this doesn't waste time with much in the way of exposition. (2.5/5)
Free Spirits:  The story of the Spirits of St. Louis, which was briefly an ABA basketball team.  They never won a championship but had one decent season before dysfunction tore them apart and they were then disbanded after the ABA folded into the NBA.  But the owners of the team got a sweetheart deal from the NBA where for about 40 years they've been getting TV revenue despite the handicap of not having an actual team.  Would we could all be that lucky. (2.5/5)
Friday Night Lights:  (the movie not the TV show)  In a football-crazed Texas town a scrappy underdog team gets to the state championship--and loses.  Interestingly the next year they won it all.  Why did we not focus on that team?  It would have been a lot happier. (2.5/5)
Hot Bot:  Two dorky teenagers in Salt Lake City find a hot blond sex robot.  But of course don't actually have sex with it.  They get in trouble when a senator's henchmen come after them to get the robot back. (2.5/5)
The Imitation Game:  Socially awkward and homosexual Alan Turing tries to break the German Enigma code.  It was a little confusing in that it bounces from after the war to during the war to before the war almost randomly. (2.5/5)
Machine Gun Preacher:  Gerard Butler is a bad guy who gets religion and decides to set up an orphanage in the Sudan.  When rebels mess with him, he starts going Rambo on their asses.  Lacks the punch of Beasts of No Nation though it covers much of the same subject matter. (2.5/5)
The Night Before:  Why not watch a Christmas-themed movie in March?  Three friends go partying every XMas Eve because one lost his parents so the other two are basically trying to keep him from getting too depressed.  But after 14 years they're drifting apart and decide on one big last bash.  There's a lot of drug-fueled mayhem and some heart too, though it runs a little long.  Since Seth Rogen is involved of course James Franco has a cameo. (2.5/5)
Panic:  William H. Macy is a hitman who has been seeing a shrink (the late John Ritter).  But then his handler (also his father) gives him his next target:  the shrink.  Awkward. (2.5/5)
Pony Excess:  Southern Methodist in Dallas in the early 80s was a top football school--because they bribed recruits to a ridiculous extent.  It earned them the "death penalty" or a two year ban from all football operations.  Which in turn has really kept them from really getting close to their former glory.  Excess is a way to describe this documentary's runtime as well. (2.5/5)

2 Stars (Meh)
Crimson Peak:  A rather dull Gothic horror story--with ghosts!  It's not really a horror movie though because the ghosts don't do a lot.  And the movie didn't do a lot for me either.  I did probably get back the 27 cents I paid for it.  So there's that. (2/5)
No Vacancy:  Late 90s movie about the seedy inhabitants of a seedier motel.  It didn't really hold my interest. (2/5)
Spectre:  This was written to be the last appearance of Daniel Craig as Bond and presumably Sam Mendes as director.  There are a lot of little Easter eggs to tip the cap to previous Bond films, like at the end when Bond drives off in the car from Goldfinger.  As with most of the Craig movies it's a lot of chase and action scenes strung together with a few beats of quiet inbetween.  I've always thought Craig is a lot better in the non-action scenes.  Anyway, this felt as if it were 4 hours long. I'm pretty sure it wasn't.  (2/5)
Youngstown Boys:  ESPN documentary on Maurice Clarett, who was briefly a running back at THE Ohio State University (Ugh.)  But aspirations of going pro early and being railroaded by the NCAA led to a spiral that ultimately took him to prison for a few years.  Much less attention is paid to his coach Jim Tressel, who looked the other way when Clarett got in trouble and then years later had more players get banned by the NCAA.  But since he made millions of dollars (unlike his players who got busted for tattoos and such) he didn't have to sell drugs on the street or anything.  Now if the movie had played up some of that, it would have been better. (2/5)

1 Star (Crap)
Batman v Superman:  Dawn of Justice:  That's where a lot of critics would put it.  I'll probably watch it this afternoon and review it on Wednesday.

A Good Marriage:  Boring Stephen King "thriller" about a woman who finds out her husband is a serial killer. (1/5)
Scissors:  Bizarre melodramatic thriller where Sharon Stone warms up for Basic Instinct as a woman who's attacked in an elevator and then completely goes unhinged.  You know since her shrink was the evil executive in Robocop that he's up to no good. I have a "friend" on Facebook who would appreciate all the creepy dolls in this.  (1/5)



  1. I'm gonna have to check out Bridge of Spies. That's one I missed too.

  2. I'm not a fan of horror, but kinda surprised you only gave The Exorcist 3 stars. I thought that was considered a classic. Also..I like the new organization.

  3. I like the star rating Pat. You know how I feel about BvS but I'm curious to see what you think. Looking forward to Wednesday. Planning to watch 'Beasts of No Naton' and 'Flash Paradox' now.

  4. I saw Bridge of Spies and I agree, it was good. I saw The Exorcist on TV probably 15 years ago, it was entertaining enough. I think you've been a little bit too harsh with The Imitation Game. Crimson Peak wasn't as good as I hoped it would be but still I'd give it more than 2 points. My favorite Craig movie is probably Skyfall, Spectre was interesting but not as good as Skyfall. And that's it, I haven't seen anything else from your list.



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