[Jun 19] “Gone in Sixty Seconds” (2000)
Randall “Memphis” Raines (Nicolas Cage) used to be the best car thief in L.A., but he’s long retired. He’s forced to reunite with his old crew and steal 50 (very specific) cars in one night to save his brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) from the clutches of a vicious new crime boss. This movie was entertaining, but it wasn’t great. The crew was pretty generic (they have their own quirks, but they don’t stand out that much and the plot was predictable, but it was fast paced and the action was fun. The cast is pretty great, although they don’t have a lot to do. I haven’t watched the older movie that Gone in Sixty Seconds is is a remake of, so I can’t compare it.
[Jun 20] “Virtuosity” (1995)
SID 6.7 (Russell Crowe) is a virtual reality serial killer personality prototype being tested on cop-turned-convict Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington) to see if he would make a good training program for cops. When SID realizes he’s in danger of being shut down, he manages to download himself into a nanomachine android body, and now he’s loose on the streets killing real people, and only Parker Barnes can stop him. This was a terrible movie, it was full of cliches, the plot was stupid and didn’t have much internal consistency or sense, the stakes kept being raised arbitrarily, and the dialogue was terrible. I can’t believe that this movie was so bad with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in it. The only good thing I can say is that Crowe looked like he was having a lot of fun hamming it up.
[Jun 21] “Invictus” (2009)
The true story of the South African national rugby team (led by captain Francois Pienaar) winning the World Cup and their importance to South African national unity after apartheid was abolished and Nelson Mandela became president. This was definitely a good movie, Morgan Freeman did a really convincing job as Mandela and Matt Damon was almost unrecognizable as Pienaar with a South African accent and what seemed like a false nose. The story was told well, we really get a sense of the difficulties of leading such a divided nation, there are a variety of different attitudes shown, and not all of them are resolved (the scene where Pienaar tries to get the mostly white South African rugby team to learn the new Xhosa anthem particularly stands out.) The one issue I had with this movie was that the narrative seemed a little scattered, it seemed more like an anthology of life in South Africa, because it focused on so many different people. When Pienaar’s team won the World Cup, I wasn’t sure what obstacles they overcame, or why the win was important – maybe a South African has all that context already, but I don’t. Otherwise, it was a great movie, and I’m glad it was able to avoid many of the usual sports movie clichés.
[Jun 22] “The Departed” (2006)
An undercover cop in a criminal organization, and a cop who is secretly working for the same criminal organization attempt to find and expose each other before they are exposed themselves. I’ve seen this movie multiple times before, and it remains one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. The usually likeable Matt Damon is utterly despicable as the dirty cop, and Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant as the tortured undercover cop who is forced to go against his morals to keep his cover. The rest of the cast is amazing too, Jack Nicholson is terrifying as the unpredictable mob boss, Mark Wahlberg is delightful as the principled asshole (and steals the show whenever he’s in it), and I can’t think of anyone more reassuring than Martin Sheen as the cop running the undercovers. The movie is perfect in every other way too, it’s paced well, it really invests you in the characters, it keeps the right amount of tension going without ever creating it artificially. I love this movie.
[Jun 23] “Doc Hollywood” (1991)
Hotshot young doctor Benjamin Stone (Michael J. Fox) causes an accident in the small town of Grady while heading to an interview in Hollywood for a prestigious and well paying plastic surgery job. As punishment, he is ordered to do community service in Grady for a few days, and gradually ends up falling for a local woman and the town itself. This is pretty much the Pixar movie Cars, but with human protagonists. It’s really hard for me not to love a movie with Michael J. Fox playing the protagonist, he seems to cart a whole bunch of heart with him in every movie, and this one is no exception. All the Grady residents are great, and I can totally see why he’d fall in love with the town. I thought that Benjamin’s relationship with Lou, while definitely still following romantic comedy tropes, was a lot better developed than most within the genre. There are some fun genre-savvy scenes in the movie, too. Also, Woody Harrelson was great!
[Jun 24] “The Basketball Diaries” (1995)
Jim Carroll (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a teenager with a promising basketball career, but he starts to lose it all when he becomes addicted to heroin. This is a pretty harrowing movie to watch, Leonardo DiCaprio does a terrifyingly good job of playing an increasingly desperate drug addict. You see him as a fairly normal teenager, but his best friend is dying of leukemia, his school and home environments aren’t very supportive, he’s dealing with puberty and sexual frustration, and he slowly falls into the habit of using drugs to escape. As his addiction gets worse, he leaves home to live on the streets, and things get pretty bad there. It was a very well made movie, my only complaint is that the ending seemed a bit sudden, we see Jim’s descent into drugs in a lot of detail, but it all seems resolved very quickly. Also, the poetry throughout the movie (even though it is the real Jim Carroll’s poetry) made it seem a little pretentious sometimes.
[Jun 25] “Sicario” (2015)
FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is recruited into a special government task force led by DoD advisor Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to fight Mexican drug cartel leaders. Her experience in the task force isn’t what she expected at all – she’s not told very much or expected to participate and the methods used to achieve the task force’s goals are pretty questionable. I was disappointed by Sicario, although I had high expectations because of the trailer and the reviews I had read. It’s unquestionably well shot and well acted, especially Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro. I guess I was just kind of bored by it, it’s main message seemed to be that idealism is dead, but it doesn’t really establish idealism in the first place (unlike say, Syriana, which shows you exactly what you’re losing) so I wasn’t really invested in any particular outcome or story.