Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Stuff I Watched: June Edition

The monthly post that doesn't generate a lot of comments, but a lot of hits from search engine robots!  Sounds like a great slogan.  Pretty much for this whole blog.

5 Stars (Amaze-balls!)
We're all out of Amaze-balls.

4 Stars (Awesomesauce!)
I Smile Back:  Comedian Sarah Silverman is a woman who seems to have it all:  devoted family man husband, two kids, nice house in Long Island, and a dog.  Despite all that she's miserable and has turned to alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine, and an affair with her best friend's husband.  Lithium is mentioned so she has some kind of psychiatric problem, but it's not really specified.  Anyway, she tries to pick up the pieces but really can't.  It's important to note that this one of those that while it stars someone known for comedy, it's a drama.  Kind of slow for the 85 minutes or so but manages to be complex and moving. (4/5)  (Fun Fact:  Her husband in the movie and the guy she's having an affair with look so much alike that I couldn't tell them apart at times.)

3 Stars (Good)
Woman in Gold:  In the late 30s when the Nazis began taking over Europe, they confiscated many, many paintings.  In Austria a painting known as "Woman in Gold" was stolen and then later put on display in a Vienna museum.  About 60 years later, an old woman (Helen Mirren) finds some documents in her sister's things and ends up employing a young lawyer (Ryan Reynolds) to help her get the painting from the Austrian government.  The case went to Austria, back to America to the Supreme Court, and then back to Austria.  The movie simplifies this, perhaps to a fault.  The flashbacks to the Nazi occupation are especially heartbreaking, not just for how Jewish people were oppressed, but how the people who used to be their neighbors willingly went along with it.  The movie reminds me a lot of Philomena from about the same time, where Judi Dench was an old woman being helped by Steve Coogan to find her missing son.  Like that movie, the present day scenes are often humorous with the cantankerous old woman while the flashbacks are more dramatic.  (Spoiler alert) You can probably guess she wins.  Or you could look it up on Google.  She got $135 million from the case--most of which she gave to various charities.  What a woman! (3/5) (Fun Fact: Daniel Bruhl, who was Baron Zemo in the recent Civil War, plays an Austrian reporter who helps them.  He, Reynolds, and Mirren have all been in comic book movies--can you guess which ones Helen Mirren was in?)
Pawn Sacrifice:  Tobey Maguire is Bobby Fischer, the bad boy chess champion from the early 70s.  (Seriously, there was a bad boy of chess.)  Fischer was a really talented player but also as neurotic and paranoid as Howard Hughes.  And like Hughes it was a downward spiral until his final demise.  Anyway, most of the movie focuses on Fischer playing Boris Spassky of the USSR (played by Liev Schreiber), who was also talented but far less neurotic and paranoid.  But then he was already used to being bugged and followed by his own government.  Anyway, I'm sure you can guess who wins.  Some of the characters are a little thinly-drawn like his friend the priest (Peter Sarsgaard) and some lawyer/agent who seemed to be working for the US government or something.  The other problem is for people like me who don't play chess (and don't want to) it's sometimes hard to care.  Ooh, he started by moving a pawn!  OMG, no one's ever done anything that brilliant before!  Um...seriously?  If you like chess it would make more sense.  A second movie could have been made about Fischer's later life of basically being a crazed, anti-Semitic hobo who ultimately fled to Iceland.  I don't think this made enough money for that to happen. (3/5) (Fun Fact:  On an episode of Adult Swim's Mike Tyson Mysteries, IBM's chess-playing Deep Blue robot was powered by the disembodied brain of Bobby Fischer.)
Rock the Kasbah:  This was one of those movies where I might have had an interest if the previews had bothered to say what the fuck the movie was about.  Something about Bill Murray in Afghanistan and music...Actually it's about a bigmouthed, down-on-his luck tour manager who gets a gig with the USO in Afghanistan.  Except his singer (Zooey Deschanel) bolts and he ends up in a remote village, where he discovers a talented female singer and tries to get her on the Afghan version of American Idol.  Which is really difficult, especially because her dad is the chief of the little village and doesn't want to lose face by having his daughter parade around on TV like a "whore."  It feels a little long, but overall it's good.  They just needed a better trailer. (3/5)
Buried:  Ryan Reynolds is buried in a box in Iraq, but fortunately his kidnappers buried him with a phone and some other goodies to try to get help.  The whole movie is just him in the box and on a Blackberry trying to get someone from the FBI, State Department, or his trucking company to help him.  The company is especially despicable.  With the clock ticking, he gets increasingly desperate.  A really good, claustrophobic thriller with a magnificent ending. (3/5)

2.5 Stars (Decent)
Criminal Activities:  This is like the 90s movie Suicide Kings where 4 young guys kidnap Christopher Walken for some reason and then while holding him hostage he starts getting in their heads.  In this case it's four douchebags who get in deep with a gangster (John Travolta, who was probably getting daily Botox injections) and so he decides that to make things right they should kidnap a drug dealer whose boss kidnapped the gangster's niece.  Far too easily the guys accomplish this, but then the drug dealer starts messing with them and they start turning on each other.  There's a surprise twist at the end that shows things are not what they seem.  What's really going down is sort of in line more with a horror movie than a thriller. (2.5/5) (Fun Fact:  The movie is directed by and co-starring Jackie Earle Haley, who you might remember from Watchmen as Rorschach or the lame Nightmare on Elm Street reboot as Freddy or the lamer Robocop reboot or as the child molester in Little Children and also the non-reboot of Bad News Bears I think.)
Tripping the Rift:  The Movie:  I had already watched the first (and only?) season of this computer animated futuristic comedy a few months ago and so I thought, why not watch the movie?  The slimy, lecherous Chode is in trouble again, first when a job protecting a princess goes bad and then when an evil clown cyborg tries to hunt him and his crew down.  It spoofs Terminator, Young Frankenstein, Desperate Housewives, and other movies/TV, though strangely not really Star Trek or Star Wars, which the show itself was already a spoof of. Since it was a movie (presumably straight to DVD) they take full advantage of being able to drop f-bombs and the like.  (2.5/5)
The League Season 7:  I guess this was the final season last fall.  Not having FXX (or The Simpsons Channel as it should be called) I had to wait until it showed up on Netflix.  It's pretty much more of the same low-rent Seinfeld hijinks, though perhaps with fewer fantasy football references this time around.  A major character's wife is killed off near the end, leading to an incredibly annoying episode where an animated Seth Rogen and his buddy go to retrieve the body from Puerto Rico; I suppose it was animated to save money.  Since there were only like 3 episodes left there was really no point to killing anyone off and it really took away from the rest of cast. Anyway, this was a show I'd watch for free but never pay money for--just like fantasy football! (2.5/5)  (Fun Fact:  One of the main characters lost his gig as spokesman for Buffalo Wild Wings the same time this season aired when it was found out his story about being in the World Trade Center on 9/11 was pure bull plop.)
Spawn: The Animated Series:  This was on HBO in the late 90s.  Strangely it's not on HBO Go, but you can find it on Amazon Prime.  There were 3 seasons of 6 episodes so there are only 18 episodes.  The first season vaguely introduces Spawn, a former government assassin named Al Simmons who made a deal with the devil to come back to Earth as a "hell Spawn" or officer in the Satanic army.  In the first season there's some stuff about Al's former boss embezzling weapons for...reasons and propping up a presidential candidate.  In the second season Al's best friend (who is now married to Al's former wife) finds out about the weapons.  Otherwise not a lot happens and the whole thing about the presidential candidate is forgotten.  It's the third season where things actually start to happen as Heaven sends bounty hunters after Spawn while he learns of a new ability to change shape with his cape and promptly uses it to have sex with his wife and knock her up with the possible Antichrist.  It's too bad the show ended after that because there were a lot of unanswered questions.  Each episode starts off with a wooden introduction by creator Todd McFarlane; he's definitely no Rod Serling or even the Crypt Keeper.  There's also an old guy who does narration that sounds like Morgan Freeman in March of the Penguins:  "The Hell Spawn wakes in the morning to begin the long journey to search for sustenance..." But the music does a nice job of setting a creepy atmosphere.  For me the best part is that Spawn is voiced by Keith David; maybe you remember him from all those Navy commercials. It really wasn't that great and yet I was hooked on it; maybe because a lot of it was so bad it was almost good. (2.5/5)
Double Whammy:  This feels like it was trying to be an Elmore Leonard novel-turned-movie like Get Shorty but it doesn't ever really come together.  Denis Leary is a NYPD detective who bungles an attempt to stop a mass shooting in a fast food joint and is bailed out by an 8-year-old boy.  He goes to a hot chiropractor (Elizabeth Hurley) and they fall in love but while they're fucking on the floor of his apartment, a neighbor is nearly murdered because his daughter resents him not letting her get a tattoo.  In not quite Clouseau fashion, Denis Leary finds the real attempted killers to stop them.  Like I said, some good pieces, but they don't end up all fitting together. (2.5/5)

2 Stars (Meh)
Street Kings:  It's kind of like Training Day, with Keanu Reeves as the Denzel Washington-type character and Chris Evans as the Ethan Hawke-type character.  Except the opposite guy dies.  Basically another movie about LAPD corruption. Man, the LAPD really has had it rough in terms of movies in the last 20 years:  LA Confidential, Training Day, Black Dahlia, Mulholland Falls, Gangster Squad, Dark Blue, End of Watch, this movie, and probably plenty more...(2/5)
The Salton Sea:  In this muddled thriller, Val Kilmer is a jazz trumpeter who turns to going undercover as a meth addict to get revenge for his wife's murder.  The way it's jumbled up into flashbacks makes it hard to know what's going on all the time.  Otherwise it's all right. (2/5) (Fun Fact:  This 2002 movie was directed by DJ Caruso, who later scored a bigger success for him and Shia LeBeouf with Disturbia.  After rewatching the disappointing follow up Eagle Eye, I wondered what became of Caruso.  It turns out he recently directed Vin Diesel's latest XXX movie--as in triple-X, not pornography.   He's one of those who seems like he should get a shot at a superhero franchise; God knows there are enough of them these days.)
RV:  This 2006 movie was like a reboot of Vacation before the reboot of Vacation.  Robin Williams plays the Chevy Chase role of a dad who wants his family to reconnect--and he has a meeting in Boulder, CO so why not rent an RV?  Except of course a lot of stuff goes wrong like trying to empty the toilet tank.  And there's an annoying family led by Jeff Daniels who live in their RV all the time and are way too helpful and nice.  Not really a lot of surprises; this is probably one of those where you would have seen the best moments in the trailer.  Obviously Robin Williams and director Barry Sonnenfeld have turned in better work. (2/5) (Fun Fact: The mom's hair in this movie really annoyed me.  It's the sort that has brown roots and then like three different shades of blond and I kept thinking:  couldn't you have just picked one freaking color?  I mean did you just get three samples of dye in the mail and decided to try them all on different parts of your scalp?  I could go on...)
Heartless:  It's like Donnie Darko meets Attack the Block!  In London there's a guy with a red birthmark sort of in the shape of a heart on one side of his face.  He sees some lizard men burning someone up and later the lizard men come after him and kill his mother.  Then somehow he gets the birthmark removed when some dude uses magic (or something) and has him burn himself up and later peel his burnt skin off in a really gross scene.  And then some other stuff happens.  Not a lot of it makes sense.  Really it keeps making less and less sense as you go along. (2/5)
Ghost Team One:  It starts out with two Puerto Rican guys and another guy sharing a house and one of the Puerto Rican guys thinks there's a ghost.  A hot girl finds out about it and so to impress her they rig the house with cameras to do sort of a Ghost Hunters/Ghost Adventures-type show. Except there really is a ghost, a Vietnamese prostitute named Lady Azalea.  It all boils down to an exorcism that features a lot of casual racism concerning Asians, which seems weird when your movie stars three Hispanic people; you'd think they might be more sensitive to other cultures.  Though the hot girl's cheeks are really bronzed while around her eyes and mouth is much paler so that she looks like she's wearing blackface through most of the movie.  Anyway, I don't like "found footage" type movies and while this started out with a decent premise, it started to get tedious. (2/5)
Wild Bill:  In I suppose a warm-up for his role in True Grit, Jeff Bridges is Wild Bill Hickock.  It mostly focuses on his last days in Deadwood--not the TV show though I suppose they're related.  David Arquette is a kid who's been tracking Wild Bill down for revenge after Wild Bill killed his pa or something.  Anyway, it's peppered with grainy black-and-white flashbacks shot at that angle from the old Batman TV show. The lesson to be learned is that after you kill an enemy's gang, don't take him to the bar for drinks because he might have a Derringer and shoot you with it. (2/5)
Mad Max:  This is another of those movies like Death Wish that I wonder how this could possibly have spawned 3 sequels, the last of which made probably close to a billion dollars.  Much of this looks and sounds like an R-rated episode of CHiPs with the late 70s car/motorcycle chases.  Like Fury Road, Max is kind of a dumbass in this; he leaves his wife and kid alone several times in the dystopian landscape and on the third time around the kid dies and the wife is badly injured and maybe going to die?  I don't know.  The movie cuts off before we know for sure.  It doesn't seem like he gets all the bad guys either.  It's too bad the second and third ones aren't free to see if it manages to get better.  (2/5) (Fun Fact: While people hailed the effects for Fury Road, some of them in this much-lower budget feature were pretty lame.  At one point a guy is knocked off a motorcycle and you can see a string connected to the actor.)
10 Cloverfield Lane:  This movie is like watching a gymnast or figure skater do a really amazing jump--and then break her leg on the landing.  This girl is run off the road and ends up in a bunker built by Doomsday prepper John Goodman.  There's another guy who bullied his way in too.  So then it's kind of like the first part of Wool if you read that:  is he crazy, is he right, is the outside world still there, or is it all gone?  And the worst part is when they actually answer that.  It was just so silly compared to the rest of the movie that I just shook my head.  If you want a hint, think back to the M Night Shymalan movie Signs that starred Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix in a similar situation.  It's pretty much the same thing.  Sometimes the less said in an ending, the better. (2/5)

1 Star (Poop Emoji)
The Hitcher:  This is a 2007 remake of the classic 80s movie that I think starred Rutger Hauer.  A douchebag who looks like he enjoys Nickleback and his annoying girlfriend nearly hit Sean Bean on a New Mexico highway in the rain and dark.  Later they give him a ride--until he tries to kill them.  They kick him out but he stalks them across New Mexico while a cop (Neal McDonagh recently of Arrow) is also after them.  None of the characters were very interesting so I didn't really care who died. (1/5)
Hitman:  The first attempt to make a movie of the video game franchise back in 2007.  It's basically a string of action movie cliches following the standard hitman storyline where he ends up being hunted by his own employers.  Have to wonder why 8 years later they thought they'd take another stab at this. (1/5)  (Fun Fact:  I saw a chunk of the new version and it pretty much sucked too.)
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead:  I suppose it's somewhat ironic that I fell asleep during this...twice.  From what I gathered, Clive Owen was a mob boss who went off the grid until his brother killed himself after being sodomized by people he owed money to.  It was obviously not very interesting. (1/5)

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