Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Stuff I Watched: April Edition

So what all did I watch during the A to Z Challenge?  Find out now!  By popular demand, I'm organizing the reviews by rating.

5 Stars (Awesome!):
Only the Dead Have Seen the End of War:  A gut-wrenching documentary by Australian journalist Michael Ware who spent 7 years in Iraq.  A lot of it focuses on the heaviest fighting from 2004-2006.  So much of it is just absolutely brutal and disturbing.  It's better than any movie Hollywood has put out for the sole reason that it's real footage with real people, truly capturing the horror of a war taking place mostly on the streets.  It's only 85 minutes on HBO and while in some ways I don't want it to be longer, not much of the last few years of Ware's time there is documented.  But let's hope there's not a sequel anytime soon. (5/5)
4 Stars (Really Good):
The Big Short:  Remember when the housing market tanked in 2007 and 2008?  A group of guys were betting on it to fail almost 3 years earlier.  They didn't really know each other but through various ways they all hit onto the same thing:  the mortgage market was a steaming cesspool rife with corruption and greed.  The film shows a lot of the greedy idiots like realtors and bankers who were so completely oblivious to what was going on, thinking the good times would last forever.  And we see some of the poor schmucks who ended up getting sucked into the abyss and being completely screwed.  The film manages to maintain a light tone through much of it by breaking the 4th wall and simplifying financial concepts by having hot girls explain things like what the fuck a CDO is.  It does get to be a little long and what's depressing is to know that absolutely nothing has changed except that they call a CDO something else.  So I guess get ready for The Big Short 2 in a few years. (4/5)
Trumbo:  Who is Trumbo?  I had only heard of a Trumbo who played for the Anaheim Angels, but the one dealt with in this movie is Dalton Trumbo, a popular screenwriter until the "red scare" of the late 40s, early 50s.  By refusing to answer questions in Congress he's sent to prison and comes out to write under assumed names.  Ultimately he won Oscars for Roman Holiday, The Brave One, and Spartacus while penning many, many other movies.  The movie's a bit too long, but the point is a good one with the Trumps of the world seemingly poised to bring back "Un-American" committees. (4/5)
3 Stars (Good):
Spotlight:  Since according to the Academy this was the best picture of the year, I should probably give it more stars, but this is I think a case of naming the most important picture more than the "best" picture.  The title comes from the elite Spotlight investigative team at the Boston Globe.  In 2001 a new editor (a Jew from Miami) comes to the paper and asks about Catholic priests supposedly molesting kids and so the Spotlight team gets to work.  The movie is interesting and obviously it's an important subject and the cast is stellar, but none of the characters have much depth, other than being tenacious reporters.  And it's obviously not the most entertaining movie out there, especially with as long as it is.  But still you should probably see it at least once. (3.5/5)
Blood Sucking Bastards:  This is like Office Space--With Vampires!  A couple of office drones find their friends disappearing and coming back pale and surprisingly productive.  A pretty funny indie comedy-horror movie, especially if you've worked in an office. (3/5)
Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel:  Shaun of the Dead meets Back to the Future II in this indie comedy.  Three British mates are at their favorite pub when they find out there's a "time leak" in the bathroom that transports them to different intervals of the future.  In one version they find out they've become legendary figures, in another there's been an apocalypse of giant ants running amok, and another everyone in the pub is dead.  The key McGuffin is a piece of paper on which the guys wrote...something.  It's a little confusing (like most time travel movies) how all the future bits are supposed to fit together.  And they didn't have money for great special effects, but otherwise it's fun and funny, especially if you like more British humor. (3/5)
Creed:  This spin-off from the Rocky franchise focuses on Apollo Creed's illegitimate son Adonis.  (Apollo, Adonis...get it?)  It basically uses the same formula as Rocky only with Adonis as Rocky and Rocky as the wise old trainer (Burgess Meredith in the original) and you can pretty much predict how it's all going to go down.  Not that it's a bad movie.  It's a good spin-off. Point down though for not including Bill Conti's iconic "Gonna Fly Now" in the training montage.  It'd be like watching a Star Wars movie and not having John Williams's main theme. (3/5)
Daredevil Season 2:  Now that Daredvil has taken down the Kingpin, he's set to bring peace and order to Hell's Kitchen.  But then the Punisher starts mowing down gangs and Daredevil's old girlfriend Elektra shows up with ninjas on her heels.  The mystical pot that can bring people back to life was a little too unrealistic for the otherwise fairly grounded stuff.  A few references are made to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage but still no overbearing crossover setups yet. Anyway, while the Punisher was good and Elektra was OK, the Kingpin is still the badass villain of the series, so let's hope he's out of prison for Season 3.  (3/5)
The Legend of Jimmy the Greek:  ESPN documentary on Jim Snyder, aka Jimmy the Greek, a gambling expert who made it big as part of CBS's NFL Today show from the mid-70s to early 80s, until some comments about black athletes being "bred" to be superior to white ones were caught on TV and ended his career.  Unlike some of these 30 for 30 shows it actually gave you a fairly complete look at his life. (3/5)
Fantastic Lies:  ESPN documentary on rape allegations against the Duke lacrosse team in 2006.  A stripper accused the team of inviting her to a house for a party and then raping her.  In a bizarre turn the accused went free and the prosecutor went to jail (for a day) for manipulating evidence. The only part that confused me was whether there was a party that night with strippers and booze.  Because even if there wasn't rape, I'm pretty sure the players weren't all 21 and over.  This is one of those that doesn't use a narrator; it just strings the interviews together to present the narrative.  I usually prefer someone to put all the dots together for me because I'm lazy that way. (3/5) (Fun Fact:  At the end they go through all the main parties in the text and the only one who agreed to be interviewed was the stripper--except she's doing 14-18 years for murder now and the prison didn't let her be interviewed.)
Tim Richmond: To the Limit:  I don't like NASCAR but this ESPN documentary isn't really about NASCAR.  Tim Richmond was a rich kid who in the 80s joined the race circuit and became a huge success.  But in a foreshadowing of Magic Johnson and the NBA, Richmond's party boy lifestyle led to him contracting AIDS and the ostracizing after that because of the fear and stupidity concerning that disease in the 80s.  He never actually said he had the disease publicly, but it a dirty little secret.  Between the disease itself and rigged NASCAR drug tests, Richmond never raced again from 1987 until his death in 1989.  Just to understand how bad things were then, the hospital charged his family $100 more to handle his dead body.  So even if you're not a race fan, this has a poignant message. (3/5)
Once Brothers:  This ESPN documentary deals with Vlade Divac and Drazan Petrovic, two basketball players from the former Yugoslavia.  The former was Serbian and the latter Croatian, which didn't really matter growing up, but around 1992 Yugoslavia broke up and all the sudden that stuff became important.  Their friendship broke up when  Divac shut down a guy storming a court during basketball world championships with a Croatian flag.  Petrovic took that personally and then died in a car accident in Germany before they could make up.  Of course to Americans the whole Yugoslav civil war seems pretty stupid.  At least our civil war we could pin on slavery as a cause.  These guys were fighting about religion and even less than that.  It'd be like Michigan and Ohio fighting to the death for almost a decade over Toledo instead of not really fighting and having a settlement negotiated by the Federal government after a few weeks.  Anyway, this helps to put a face to all the terrible things going on over there. (3/5)

2.5 Stars (OK):
Big Eyes:  I hadn't really heard of these weird paintings of kids with really big eyes before, (they look kind of like anime/manga characters) but apparently they were a big deal back in the early 60s.  In what's basically a real-life sitcom plot, Margaret Keane's new husband takes credit for her paintings, initially claiming that no one would take her seriously and then later that it's better not to rock the boat. Eventually the truth comes out when a judge issues a paint-off in the courtroom.  It's a fun movie even if it is tackling some serious issues. (2.5/5)
Betrayed:  Debra Winger infiltrates a white supremacist group but within minutes falls in love and starts banging one of the head guys, Tom Berenger.  There really should have been more of a lead-up to them falling in love and sleeping together.  What's funny is the supremacists around the country all communicate with like newsgroup boards, which in 1988 were cutting edge technology. (2.5/5)
Gravy:  In this black comedy, a Mexican restaurant is taken over on Halloween by three psychotic cannibals. Their plan is to eat the restaurant's staff while playing sadistic games with them.  Though it doesn't take long for them to get sloppy.  It's as odd as it sounds, but fun too. (2.5/5)
Grilled:  Ray Romano and Kevin James are meat salesmen (like Omaha Steaks, not butchers) who run afoul of the mob.  It was pretty good since Romano and James are not exactly known as comic geniuses.  Not embarrassingly bad like Paul Blart at least. (2.5/5)
Child 44:  Tom Hardy is a soldier in the USSR in 1953 who starts to investigate the murder of his friend's child.  But when he asks too many questions, he and his wife are sent to some much-crappier place and he finds the one murder is just the tip of the iceberg.  Though the actual killer is less important than the government cover-up. (2.5/5)
Ash vs. Evil Dead:  I didn't really like the first two Evil Dead movies, but for just the heck of it I watched the first season of the Starz series on demand.   This ignores Army of Darkness, the third movie featuring Ash (Bruce Campbell) who years ago went to a cabin in the woods and spent two movies being under attack by monsters known as "Deadites."  This takes place 30 years later when Ash gets high and reads from the book known as the Neconomicon or Book of the Dead.  This brings the Deadites back and with a couple of co-workers he has to try to stop them.  The series is as goofy and cheesy as the movies, with copious amounts of fake blood.  The ending is unsatisfying.  It's supposed to set up a second season, but I'm sure there was a better way to do it, like the old-fashioned they think they've killed all the bad guys but one manages to escape. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  New Zealand stands in for Michigan, which makes perfect sense, right?)
Spring Broke:  A history of spring break in Daytona Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  Like a lot of things it started organically back in the 60s and then started to get increasingly commercial in the 70s and 80s, first thanks to Hawaiian Tropic (which was invented by a local in Ft. Lauderdale) and then it was taken over by MTV in the mid-80s until the locals ran them out of town in the early 90s.  Though they don't outright say it, a lot of the reason locals probably wanted spring break to stop in spite of the money it made was when MTV started bringing in more rap and hip-hop artists.  Seeing all those black people around town probably fired up the good ol' boys.  Since then spring break has moved to other places.  Back in the 80s my family visited my great-grandma in Panama City Beach a couple of times and there wasn't really anything going on, but in the 90s it became one of the big places, so I guess we dodged a bullet.  (2.5/5)  (Fun Fact: The documentary is narrated by Robin Leach, just in case you thought he was dead.)
Run Ricky Run:  Ricky Williams won the Heisman Trophy in 1998 and New Orleans traded all their draft that year to get him.  But injuries kept him from making an impact there.  Just as he was making an impact in Miami in 2004 he was suspended for pot. Like many twentysomethings he went on to try to find himself before making a comeback in 2009.  I'm not sure if even he believes all the shit he says. (2.5/5)
Rand University:  Speaking of controversial, pot-smoking NFL players from the late 90s and 2000s, this ESPN documentary focuses on Randy Moss's early years.  It's actually a pretty familiar story:  black kid with no father and a mother who works all the time and is big into church, gets into trouble around town, and makes it big as an athlete.  The titular "Rand University" is the 7/11 where those guys not so lucky to be freakishly talented hang out and drink cheap beer.  (2.5/5)

2 Stars (Meh):
Kiss the Girls:  Ashley Judd is kidnapped but escapes and helps Morgan Freeman find the serial kidnapper/murderer.  I didn't peg who it was so I guess I should give it props for that. (2/5)
Wish I Was Here:  This is the movie Zach Braff suckered the world into Kickstarting by saying it was a sequel to his only successful movie Garden State (which wasn't really that successful even).  It turns out to be a bit of bait-and-switch and it's not actually a sequel to Garden State.  It's a "spiritual sequel" in that it's sort of the same, but different characters.  Mostly it's a dreary slog as Zach Braff deals with his father dying and kids getting kicked out of Jewish school.  There are a few good parts, but it really lacks Natalie Portman's energy that propelled Garden State.  Makes me glad I didn't contribute to the Kickstarter.  (2/5)
The Danish Girl:  In Denmark (where everyone talks with an English accent for some reason) in 1926 a semi-famous painter starts dressing as a girl for...reasons.  Honestly there wasn't much context to why he suddenly wanted to go around as a woman; One of the Guys had a better setup for the sex change.  This obviously puts strain on his marriage to another painter.  Then he foolishly tries to get a sex change.  In 1926.  I mean come on, they didn't even have penicillin yet and you're trying to carve out a vagina?  That's not going to end well.  Anyway, a well-made but slow movie.  At the end in text they mentioned that he had written these diaries as a woman and was some great symbol to the transgender movement; the diaries would have been helpful to include because really the movie doesn't capture much of the internal struggle. (2/5)  (Fun Fact:  Since the movie edition of this book came out, it's been steadily number 1 on Amazon's transgender list, boxing out books like mine.  I always decry it as a ringer.)
Taking a Life:  Anjelina Jolie is a profiler trying to find a killer who was thought to have died 20 years ago.  Then she inadvertently gets knocked up by the killer.  Awkward! (2/5)
Fear the Walking Dead:  I watched the first season and second season premiere one day when I was ill.  I fell asleep a couple of times.  The first episode introduces the dysfunctional family the series mostly focuses on.  Eventually they go to a government-run "safe zone" which anyone who has seen a zombie movie before knows will be overrun at some point.  At the start of season 2 they get on a boat, finally using an idea I thought of like 6 years ago.  I hope they introduce pirates in the second season.  Arr, matey!  Anyway, this wasn't all that interesting.  Maybe because I kept tuning out that I had trouble of keeping track of the characters. (2/5)
Need for Speed:  It's Fast & Furious meets Cannonball Run when the kid from Breaking Bad joins a street race to win a bunch of cars and avenge his dead friend.  It's a pretty stupid movie and the final race isn't even all that epic.  Mostly I appreciated it ironically because a few months ago I got Need for Speed Most Wanted free and a lot of the cars in the movie are also in the game, like the Koeningsegg Agera he drives in the final race.  If you've never played the game it's probably pretty lame.  (2/5)  (Fun Fact:  At one point they seem to drive from Michigan to Arizona in one night.  If only I had known it was that easy back in 2014.)
Pixels:  Like Fantastic Four, I hated this a lot less than other people.  I didn't really like it either.  The plot makes no sense, starting with Kevin James as president.  But as someone who had an Atari 2600 back in the day I enjoyed the old video game references. (2/5)
1 Star (Crap):
Waterworld:  It's as bad as you've ever heard.  While it was the most expensive movie of its time the effects still aren't great, there's a lot of hammy acting, and the chosen kid is almost as annoying as Jake Lloyd in Phantom Menace. (1/5) (Fun Fact:  Despite the colossal failure of this, someone let Kevin Costner make another big budget post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie just a couple of years later.  And it didn't do much better.)
The Story of Minecraft:  One time in a store I asked my brother what the hell Minecraft was and he didn't know either, so when I saw this on Crackle I thought maybe it'd clear that up for me.  Except it's not really the story of Minecraft.  That would mean actually detailing the inception and creation and rollout of the game.  Maybe actually talking to the people who created it.  Instead this just interviews random people who play the game, mostly YouTube "celebrities" who post about it.  So 90 minutes later I'm still not all that sure what the fuck Minecraft is. (1/5)
Todd Margaret:  I watched The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret a few years ago on Netflix.  It's a British series about a dumbass played by Arrested Development's David Cross who goes to England to sell an energy drink and as the title suggests makes increasingly poor decisions that lead pretty much to Armageddon or something.  For some reason IFC decided to do a reboot or whatever where that series was a dream or hallucination or something.  And the "real" Todd Margaret is pretty much the opposite--he even has hair instead of being bald.  And that's pretty much the whole first episode, him going to England and seeing some of the same people and doing everything the opposite as before.  And none of it is funny.  At all.  I honestly ought to give it 0 stars. (1/5)




1 comment:

  1. We finally have a lot of films in common! I saw The Big Short, Trumbo and Spotlight and they were great (especially the first two). Seems like we share similar opinions about them. Big Eyes could've been better, but I still enjoyed it.

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