[May 15] “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014)
Exodus: Gods and Kings is based on the Biblical story of Moses leading the Israelite slaves out of ancient Egypt to their promised land. It’s made by Ridley Scott, and it’s got a pretty good cast – Christian Bale plays Moses, and it also has Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, etc. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very good. It felt kind of like a rehash of Gladiator (also made by Ridley Scott) – old king favors the protagonist over his own incompetent son, incompetent son is jealous and exiles the protagonist, he gets his comeuppance. The ancient Egyptian setting is interesting but never really explored that much, the characters seem pretty one-dimensional, the (admittedly short) original story is expanded with a bunch of clichés. Also, I thought God was severely miscast. The special effects are well-done, though.
[May 16] “Stargate” (1994)
After watching Exodus: Gods and Kings, I really wanted to re-watch Stargate because it actually does interesting things with ancient Egypt. The premise is that the military is testing a device known as a Stargate that allows instant travel to another planet through a wormhole, but what they don’t expect to find there are humans transported from Earth long ago, worshiping a real god that strongly resembles Egyptian myths. I’ve watched more than nine seasons combined of Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis, so I definitely have a soft spot for this universe – I hadn’t seen the original movie for years, though. This is a Roland Emmerich movie, so it’s not complicated – lots of running and fighting, but it’s a lot of fun. The world it sets up is really interesting – aliens involved in shaping our ancient civilization. The movie does a good job of selling the world, I especially love that the humans from the other planet don’t speak any English, and it’s all subtitled (when they finally manage to communicate, which doesn’t come easily either!) Also, this movie stars James Spader and Kurt Russell, both of whom I like quite a bit, and they do a great job, especially James Spader playing a total dork.
[May 17] “True Romance” (1993)
Clarence Worley (Christian Slater), a comic store worker and call girl Alabama Whiteman (Patricia Arquette) marry after a whirlwind romance. But when Clarence decides to handle Alabama’s pimp Drexl (so that they can be left alone in peace), they end up with a whole bunch of cocaine and some very angry mobsters after them. This was a really interesting movie, it’s written by Quentin Tarantino and has a lot of the elements of his movies – the type of violence is instantly recognizable, as well as the black comedy, and the unlikely heroes that are in over their head but manage to deal with it in style. But it’s also directed by Tony Scott, and that influences it a lot too – for one, the storytelling is linear. Most of the minor characters in this movie are really memorable – Gary Oldman plays the psychotic dreadlocked pimp to perfection, Christopher Walken as a mob enforcer is priceless (and so is Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s dad, especially in the scene they have together), Val Kilmer is mysterious but pivotal as Elvis, and Brad Pitt is hilarious as the stoner roommate – and there are lots more too. The style of the movie took a bit of getting used to, but I recommend it highly.
[May 18] “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is just out from a eight month stay at a mental institution. He’s obsessed with getting back together with his estranged wife Nikki, but things get more complicated when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recent widow with problems of her own. This is another David O. Russell (Three Kings, American Hustle, Joy) movie starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro — unfortunately the last one I hadn’t seen, and it’s great. It’s a little bit different from his other movies, it’s more of a straight up drama. I enjoyed seeing a movie about people that just have manageable mental illnesses, it didn’t stint on how bad it can be (Pat waking his parents up in the middle of the night to complain about Hemingway, for example), but it also didn’t make it something exotic – it showed how everyone’s crazy in some way. Both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are amazing in it, they play complex characters with ease. I loved seeing Chris Tucker, he hasn’t been in a non-Rush Hour movie since 1997.
[May 19] “Revenge” (1990)
I was looking forward to this movie because it’s by Tony Scott, which I usually enjoy, and it stars Kevin Costner, who I also usually enjoy. I didn’t like it very much, though. Jay Cochran has just left the Navy and doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. He goes down to Mexico to visit his friend Tiburon Mendez, and falls in love with his wife Miryea. Tiburon is a powerful and jealous man, though, and he doesn’t take betrayal lightly. This movie is based on a novella written by the same guy who wrote Legends of the Fall, and it’s melodramatic in the same way – brooding protagonist not confined by the bounds of propriety, family drama, a woman caught between multiple men, tragedy striking, codes of honor. Kevin Costner does a fine job, but I felt like the role didn’t take advantage of him, the protagonist is generic enough that anyone could have played him. I liked that the movie was set mainly in Mexico, and it manages to be atmospheric but also doesn’t make a big deal out of the setting. Nothing was badly done, I just didn’t care for the melodramatic storyline.
[May 20] “Babel” (2006)
Babel is four interlocking stories all connected loosely by a single event. A married couple is on vacation in Morocco when the wife is suddenly shot, a family of Moroccan herders buys a new rifle to keep their animals safe from jackals, the two kids of the married couple and their nanny travel to Mexico for a wedding, and a lonely deaf-mute teenager in Japan finds it hard to come to terms with grief and her sexuality. The movie is directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who recently won two back to back Best Director Oscars for Birdman and The Revenant. Apparently it’s the third movie in a conceptual “Death” trilogy, but I haven’t seen any of the other two. Morocco, Mexico, and Japan all feel really authentic, and it’s really cool to see a movie that can meld all those very different places together in a single story. Babel shows incredible skill in both the directing and acting but it also left me feeling depressed, which makes sense given that the tagline of the movie is “Tragedy is universal.” – all the characters are in pain of some sort. There were some flaws, I didn’t buy the actions of the characters in a few instances, but overall I’d recommend it.
[May 20] “Spider-Man” (2002)
I’ve never actually seen Spider-Man, even though I’ve seen the sequels multiple times. They keep constantly rebooting the franchise, but this is the original movie that made Spider-Man a popular film character, starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson. Superhero movies have evolved a lot since 2002, I guess it started with the Dark Knight franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. I like this franchise and all the actors in it, but the movie seemed a little dated – there were a lot of plotholes and character motivations and acting seemed really simplistic (but I don’t think the superhero genre was taken very seriously when it was made, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing, just a style decision). For instance, Willem Dafoe really hams it up as the Green Goblin, which makes it hard to take him seriously as a threat. The action scenes were a little anticlimactic, especially the fight at the very end, which seemed similar to every other fight in the movie and ends rather suddenly. It was still a fun watch, though.
[May 21] “Green Zone” (2010)
I love political thrillers and Matt Damon, and I’ve really enjoyed both Paul Greengrass movies I’ve seen (United 93 and Captain Phillips) so I was pretty sure I’d love this movie. Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is the leader of a unit that is tasked to hunt weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq right after the US invasion in 2003. He goes rogue after missions repeatedly end with casualties but no evidence of WMD, and his higher ups insist that their intelligence is impeccable. Paul Greengrass is excellent at creating atmosphere, and Green Zone feels overwhelmingly realistic – the noise, the confusion, the people mobbing the Americans, the disparity outside of the Green Zone. Roy Miller’s story is not based on truth, but it skillfully weaves into the real story of how we didn’t find WMD in Iraq, and the policies enacted by the provisional government (like disbanding the Iraqi army.) It’s kind of like an Assassin’s Creed game in that way, adding a new “behind the scenes” protagonist to existing historical facts. As far as political thrillers go, this is more on the action end of the spectrum, but that’s well-executed too. Definitely recommended.