Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 29-Feb 4, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a young man in New York City in the 50s, is struggling to get by on small jobs. He is given the opportunity to travel to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf, a wealthy industrialist’s son, to come back home and take on some responsibility. When he gets to Italy, he falls in love with Dickie’s lifestyle, and ends up taking extreme measures to ensure that he doesn’t lose it.

I absolutely love this movie, and it’s probably Matt Damon’s best performance ever. You can see echoes of his character in The Good Shepherd, The Informant! and even Interstellar, but none of those roles beat Tom Ripley. He’s clearly a monster, but you can’t help but sympathize with him, especially given Dickie’s cavalier attitude towards the feelings of other people (Jude Law does a brilliant job of being an absolute cad) and the casual attitude that Ripley’s acquaintances have towards their privilege. Matt Damon makes Ripley seem tragic, not despicable – how could you hate someone so consumed, but only looking to preserve themselves?

The ending of this movie is brutal, but it’s the only ending that makes sense. I highly recommend this movie.

Other Movies Watched

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve watched this movie (although not all of them have been the extended edition like this one was.) It’s a big time investment – it’s over four hours long, but it’s amazing.

This is the Gondor movie, it’s where we first see Minas Tirith, and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields happens. There are some seriously good moments – Eowyn battling the Witch-King of Angmar, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli descending upon the Corsairs with the Army of the Dead, Sam carrying Frodo up Mount Doom, Aragorn’s response to the hobbits bowing to him, and so on. I’m always a tiny bit miffed that the Scouring of the Shire didn’t make it to film, but given how long the ending of this movie is, I understand why they cut it. I love this movie!

The Insider (1999)

The real-life story of Jeffrey Wigand, a former top executive at a tobacco company turned whistleblower, and Lowell Bergman, the producer at 60 Minutes who helped him tell his story despite enormous pressure not to. This is an excellent movie, and Russell Crowe and Al Pacino do an excellent job as the leads. It’s directed by Michael Mann (who did Heat) and I don’t think he can make a bad movie – he pays meticulous attention to every detail. The first half of the movie has the feel of a thriller (as the tobacco company tries to silence Wigand), which is not usual for biopics, but apparently all the details of the story are real.

The Beaver (2011)

A quirky movie about a severely depressed man, Walter (Mel Gibson), who discovers that he can turn his life around by inventing an alternate persona using a talking beaver puppet. I thought this would be just another fluffy movie, but it takes on the realities of mental illness straight on, which takes it to some dark places, although the ending is upbeat. It’s directed by and stars Jodie Foster, and she’s great in everything she does. Walter’s son’s story is probably the weakest part of the movie, although Anton Yelchin does an excellent job. It was weird to see Jennifer Lawrence playing an average high school girl, I’m used to her playing an outlier.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

For a Star Trek fan, I’m ashamed that I haven’t seen all the movies yet (well, maybe not Star Trek V), so I’m glad we’re starting to watch them. After watching this one, I just have Star Trek III and Star Trek V to go, although we will be watching the movies in order and rewatching the ones I’ve already seen. I’d heard bad things about this movie, but it’s actually pretty good. It’s definitely slow, and feels more like a high-budget and long episode of the show (in terms of plot), but it’s good. It’s filmed like it’s trying to be a serious science fiction film, and not just a Star Trek movie, and I thought that was cool. I wish the most recent Star Trek film series would take some cues from this and be more thoughtful.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

We’ve only watched the first two movies of this series, and only the theatrical editions, but we recently bought the extended edition set, and now that we’ve finished rewatching Lord of the Rings, we’re watching through The Hobbit.

I wish they had made the tone of these movies similar to the tone of the book (a more light hearted adventure), but once I got past that feeling, this is a pretty good movie. After all, Bilbo and the dwarves’ actions do hobble Sauron for a while, and Sauron is a pretty fearsome enemy, so I guess the epic tone makes sense. The first movie tells the story of the dwarves’ quest to reclaim Erebor from the Shire to when they finally arrive within sight of Erebor, with some flashbacks along the way.

I thought it was a little too fast paced (it is three hours long, but it seems like they’re constantly running from danger with no pauses.) It’s also really hard to tell most of the dwarves apart – I wish there had been more of an introduction to each character. It was great to see Frodo and Gollum again, though… and Galadriel and Saruman and Elrond and old Bilbo, and even Lindir (Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords, who became a meme in the early days of internet memes.) And Martin Freeman is really great as Bilbo.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The second movie in The Hobbit series, this tells the story of the dwarves quest until Smaug leaves the mountain to destroy Esgaroth (Lake-town.)  I liked this movie more than the first one because it slows down a little. The wood elves of Mirkwood have a completely different temperament than the nice elves of Rivendell and Lothlórien, and Lee Pace plays King Thranduil (who happens to be the father of Legolas) chillingly. Legolas is in this movie quite a bit too, and he isn’t quite the friendly and laid back elf we know so well from The Lord of the Rings.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo continues to be marvelous – he’s really the heart of this series, everyone else is only interested in their own concerns. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as the voice of Smaug (and the Necromancer) too, you can tell he’s having fun hamming it up. I’m really looking forward to the third movie because I haven’t seen it yet, and because I’m curious to see how it all turns out since it needs to lay the groundwork for The Lord of the Rings. Everyone in this movie is entirely too suspicious and skeptical of each other – I don’t see how a fellowship of different races could have even come together in the political climate depicted in these movies.

Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 22-28, 2017

This week has been very much about binging – I’ve been reading only Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria books, and I’ve been watching mostly Vin Diesel movies (The Fast and the Furious series, but also Riddick.)

Favorite Movie of the Week

Kundun (1997)

This is Martin Scorcese’s biopic of the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama, telling his story from when he was his discovered as a child to when he was forced to leave Tibet for his own safety a few years after he assumed his full powers.

The acting is very good – none of the actors are professional, and the adult Dalai Lama is actually played by a relative of the real life Dalai Lama. The sets and atmosphere are full of painstaking detail, and it makes for a thoroughly immersive experience. The writing is subtle, but has a powerful impact. The scenes with the Dalai Lama meeting Mao stood out to me (just because it made me angry), but the entire movie is vivid and compelling. And of course it’s Martin Scorsese – he can’t make a bad movie as far as I can tell.

The focus is very much on the political struggle between Tibet and China, but it’s told entirely from the Dalai Lama’s point of view. Since he doesn’t often leave his palace, this means most of the dramatic scenes are people bringing news to him about what’s happening in the world, which I found a little boring at times. However, it makes a great companion movie to Seven Years in Tibet, which covers the Dalai Lama during the same period of time, but focuses on entirely different details.

Other Movies Watched

Riddick (2013)

I’m a fan of Vin Diesel’s space opera Riddick series, and so I was pretty excited to see the newest one, also titled Riddick. This one is more like the first one of the series (Pitch Black), since it’s about survival on a planet where the native animals are not friendly (to put it lightly.) I enjoyed it, although I wished it had more space opera elements like The Chronicles of Riddick. I enjoy Riddick’s unapologetic competence, even though I usually find flawless characters somewhat annoying. I’m glad they’re filming a new movie in this series this year.

Fast & Furious (2009)

The fourth movie in The Fast and the Furious franchise – Letty has been murdered, and FBI agent Brian (Paul Walker) and his old quarry Dom (Vin Diesel) are both after the drug dealer who she was working for. We’ve been excited about this movie since it unites Brian and Dom again after the first movie, and it was actually pretty great. Yes, it has a lot of action, but the characters and their relationships are fairly heartfelt. In fact, it was so good that it caused us to binge on the rest of the movies as you’ll see below.

Fast Five (2011)

This movie reunites all the best characters of the first four movies into a single crew. Brian, who makes a pretty shitty cop, has finally embraced his criminal side by breaking Dom out of prison, and ends up on the run from the authorities (represented by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) in Brazil. When they end up on the wrong side of a nefarious businessman, they call in all their old friends (including Roman and Tej from 2 Fast 2 Furious, Han from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and Gisele from Fast & Furious) for a $100 million dollar retirement heist. This was the first movie to focus on a heist, and it was pretty fun, as most heist movies are. The main draw for me is the characters, and they continue to be great.

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

This is where the series starts getting bad again, in my opinion. Agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) recruits Dom and his crew from their retirement to stop a crew of experienced drivers from stealing the parts for some secret defense project (the details don’t matter, it’s a MacGuffin.) In exchange, their crimes will be pardoned and they can live in the US again. The plot was okay, but they’re up against criminals of a higher caliber than they have dealt with in the past, and so it makes their exploits look increasingly ridiculous. The characters have gone from being ordinary but skilled people to near superheroes, since the stakes keep getting higher. Also, I wasn’t happy with how a character death was handled, there was barely any focus on it.

Furious 7 (2015)

This movie is just terrible, except for the very end where there’s a moving tribute to Paul Walker’s character Brian O’Conner (since Paul Walker died during the filming of the movie.) Jason Statham plays the antagonist Deckard Shaw, a disavowed British special forces assassin with a vendetta against the crew. And since he’s so overpowered, our crew gets their own spy backer (Kurt Russell playing Mr. Nobody, I mean I love Kurt Russell, but still) who provides them with crazy gadgets so that they can rescue a hacker and her futuristic surveillance technology. This is supposed help them find Deckard Shaw – except that he seems to possess a magical ability to know exactly where and when their missions are going to be, and he’s always right there anyway. I don’t know why they decided to make a movie in this franchise about hackers, it removed everything unique about the series and turned it into a not-as-good Mission Impossible clone.

Kuffs (1992)

This action-comedy stars Christian Slater as George Kuffs, a lazy drifter who inherits his brother’s police station (a quirk of San Francisco’s policing system) after he is murdered. He decides to actually try and clean up the neighborhood in memory of his brother, and hilarity ensues. I didn’t enjoy this movie very much, although Joseph liked it more. I thought it couldn’t decide on a tone – it went from slapstick to serious to slapstick again, and I couldn’t invest in the characters. Some parts of it were pretty funny, though, and Bruce Boxleitner as Kuffs’ brother was great (I’d probably do a lot to avenge him too.)

Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 15-21, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Captain Fantastic (2016)

Disillusioned with the standard American lifestyle, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie have made the unusual choice of moving to the middle of the woods and homeschooling their six children, teaching them survivalism and critical thinking in addition to the usual curriculum. The kids end up being ridiculously smart and athletic, but know very little about the world. When Leslie (who has been hospitalized for bipolar disorder) kills herself, the rest of her family is forced to reintegrate into society in order to attend her funeral.

This is very much a quirky comedy drama (think Little Miss Sunshine) about a “weird” family that is still very close to each other. It reminded me of the movie The Mosquito Coast, except that unlike Harrison Ford’s character, Ben Cash isn’t a raging egomaniac and so it didn’t all end in tragedy.

Captain Fantastic is a great movie, but it is very much constrained by the genre that it aspires to be. The first half of the movie explores the uniqueness of the Cash family, but it soon hits some predictable notes of emotional drama that’s clearly just an impetus for the character growth it’s trying to get to, and it doesn’t quite ring true. It devolves into a more formulaic movie after that, culminating in a disappointingly conformist and saccharine ending. The ending also felt inconsistent – earlier scenes in the movie emphasized the good things about Ben and Leslie’s decisions on how to raise their kids (the scene where Zaja talks about the Bill of Rights, for example), but the ending seems to imply that they would have better off being normal all along. If it wasn’t trying so hard to be a feel-good inoffensive movie, Captain Fantastic might have actually had something unique to say.

That being said, I think this movie was very good – I’m only complaining about it because it was so close to being extraordinary. The acting in particular is amazing – the child actors help carry the film just as much as Viggo Mortensen does, which is saying a lot.

Other Movies Watched

The Revenant (2015)

I was really not looking forward to watching this movie (despite it winning so many awards) because it just looked so bleak. A faithful look at the things that humans had to do to survive in the wilderness in the 1820s seemed like it wouldn’t be very pleasant to watch, either.  And both of those things are true – the movie is excruciating to watch at times, and it is indeed unrelentingly bleak. But it’s also very good, and it’s a satisfying revenge story. Leonardo DiCaprio is phenomenal as the protagonist Hugh Glass, who is abandoned by his companions far from civilization after being mauled by a bear. It’s based loosely on a real life story, but the grimmest elements are all completely fictional. Tom Hardy is terrifying as the villainous Fitzgerald, he made me physically uncomfortable sometimes. It’s definitely worth watching, especially for the cinematography – it has some incredibly stunning shots of landscapes.

The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

I don’t usually enjoy musicals very much, so I wasn’t enthusiastic about watching The Phantom of the Opera. I saw it on Broadway a few years ago, so I’m familiar with the story. It was actually a pretty good movie, though. The music is probably the best part – it’s haunting and beautifully sung. Emmy Rossum (who I like from other things) does a great job as the wide-eyed and innocent Christine Daae, and Patrick Wilson (as Raoul) has a great singing voice as well. I didn’t really like Gerard Butler as the Phantom, though. I thought he had the weakest voice, and he didn’t come across as very sympathetic.

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

I didn’t know much about Deepwater Horizon except that there was an oil spill, I had no idea that it was an oil rig that exploded and people lost their lives. This was a pretty standard “real life disaster” movie, starting off with things being normal, showing the main character’s loving wife and cute kid, and then recreating the day of the disaster. I enjoyed it because I didn’t know much about the world of oil drilling so I learned a few things, plus I like Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell.

Æon Flux (2005)

In 2415, most of humanity has been wiped out by a plague, and all of the survivors live in the futuristic city of Bregna, ruled by the Goodchild dynasty. The Monicans are the resistance against the Goodchilds, and Æon Flux (Charlize Theron) is the most deadly of them. When she is assigned to kill Chairman Trevor Goodchild, in the course of completing her mission, she realizes that there’s a lot she doesn’t know about the world and now she has to figure out what the right thing to do is. I really wanted to like this movie – it’s stylized and slick sci-fi and the set design is gorgeous. It lacked something, though – it either didn’t succeed at being stylized enough to be good, or maybe it’s just that the world seemed implausible and not lived-in, and the characters were fairly emotionless and it was hard to relate to them.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

We weren’t really looking forward to this movie because it doesn’t have any of the usual The Fast and the Furious characters, but we committed to watching the series in order, so we had to get to it. Going into it with absolutely zero expectations, it wasn’t that bad. It follows American teenager Sean who gets into trouble for racing cars and causing property damage a little too often, so instead of going to jail, he gets sent to Tokyo to live with his dad (not sure how that works.) Of course, he ends up racing cars again, but he’s taken under the wing of Han, a garage owner who apparently doesn’t care about how much damage Sean does in his quest to actually learn how to race well. Eventually Sean figures out how to race well, beat his Yakuza-connected rival, and get his girlfriend. Because this movie is about teenagers, it’s a little bit less fun than the other movies, but exactly what you’d expect otherwise. There is a Vin Diesel cameo, which was nice.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

We enjoyed the first Jack Reacher movie so I was looking forward to this one, but unfortunately it was a disappointment. Tom Cruise reprises his role as former Army military policeman and lone wolf Jack Reacher, this time unraveling a conspiracy that has his military contact Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) accused of espionage. Jack Reacher is an unusual protagonist, but his uniqueness is neutered by having to partner with a love interest and an annoying teenager for the entire movie. The acting, especially by the actress who plays his potential daughter, wasn’t that great either. Rotten Tomatoes calls it “monotonously formulaic”, and that’s a great way of putting it.

Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 8-14, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Interstellar (2014)

I’ve seen this movie before (when it was in theaters), but I’m still counting it as a favorite movie of the week because I love it so much. I’ve loved space ever since I first read A Brief History of Time when I was fourteen, and this is a movie that celebrates loving space and exploration and pioneering and charting the unknown. I can’t think of any other movie that does that so well, except Contact (which I also love) and that’s not really about space.

In the near future, humanity is dying because our crops are affected with an incurable blight. Former NASA pilot Coop takes an offer to pilot a new spaceship to help humanity find a new world – even though that means he won’t be able to see his daughter Murphy grow up because of time dilation. Coop’s idealism about the role of humanity and his love for his family don’t seem compatible, but he ends up needing both to succeed at his mission.

This isn’t a perfect movie by any means – some character motivations (Michael Caine’s character, particularly) don’t make sense sometimes, and there’s some handwaving around how problems finally resolve themselves. But it does a great job of conveying a sense of how much people don’t know yet about the universe and the awe and wonder of discovery. It’s sincerely hopeful about humanity’s ability to do great things despite massive setbacks, and I think there’s not enough of that sentiment these days. The score (by Hans Zimmer, but admittedly inspired by the Koyaanisqatsi score by Philip Glass) is beautiful as well. And Matthew McConaughey is fantastic as the protagonist, as are all three actors playing Murph.

Other Movies Watched

April and the Extraordinary World (2015)

If I hadn’t watched Interstellar this week, this would’ve probably been my favorite movie of the week. April and the Extraordinary World is a French-Belgian-Canadian animated film that follows April, a young scientist in an alternate history/steampunk world. Most scientists are either disappearing mysteriously or being forcibly recruited to the war effort, and April must avoid both these fates as she tries to recreate her parents’ invulnerability serum. The animation style of the movie is beautiful (and very different from the Disney and Japanese animation styles I’m used to.) It’s also a heartening story with a fascinating world, a stubborn and brave heroine, and a feisty talking cat. Highly recommended.

Gandhi (1982)

This was a re-watch for us, although we didn’t remember the movie very well since we watched it a few years ago. As the name implies, it’s a biopic of Mahatma Gandhi, with Ben Kingsley playing the title role. It follows Gandhi’s life starting with his fight for civil rights in South Africa all the way to his assassination. It’s a really good movie, and Ben Kingsley deserves the Oscar for Best Actor that he won for it. As with many biopics, the movie shows an extremely rosy perspective of the subject, and Gandhi is portrayed as almost flawless. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though, it’s a deliberate choice, and the movie acknowledges that you can’t capture a person’s life in a single telling.

Last Action Hero (1993)

Another re-watch of a movie I barely remembered, other than the fact that I loved it. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Jack Slater, a cop in L.A. in a franchise of ridiculous action films (basically a parody of his usual roles.) When Danny, a teenage movie buff, is magically transported into a Jack Slater movie, he has to help his hero foil the bad guys, who have discovered the magical transportation technology and threaten the real world too. I think of this movie as The Princess Bride of action movies, it’s a very loving parody, and a great action movie itself (it’s made by John McTiernan, who did Die Hard – arguably the best action movie of all time.) It also manages to be heartwarming.

The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Yet another re-watch. We’re watching our way through the Lord of the Rings somewhat slowly (mainly because we’re watching the extended versions, and they’re about four hours long each.) I wish there were more fantasy movies like these movies, they’re beautiful and epic and complex. The Two Towers is mostly about Rohan, while introducing us to Gondor through Frodo and Sam’s journey. The Battle of Helm’s Deep is probably what people remember most about this movie, and that’s because it’s very well done. The fall of Isengard (long overdue!) also happens in this movie. I don’t think I paid enough attention to Gollum’s internal struggles previously, and how they change after he’s captured by Faramir – it made me much more sympathetic to Gollum.

Thunderball (1965)

We’re slowly watching our way through all the Bond movies (although not necessarily in chronological order, we’re already done with the Brosnan and Craig movies.) Sean Connery made James Bond a classic, and he continues to be great in this movie, which is the fourth in the franchise. I think this is my least favorite of the Connery movies so far, though, just because it fit the Bond template so well that I was a little bored by it. There is a lot of underwater action in this movie, which seems like a cool technical accomplishment, but made the fight scenes somewhat ponderous. The henchmen, the villain and the Bond girls were fine too, but didn’t stand out.

Spectral (2016)

This movie was recommended to me on Reddit as being similar to Aliens, Starship Troopers, and Pitch Black, with the caveat of “it’s not as good as those movies”. I think that’s a great description of this movie. In the middle of a warzone in Moldova, U.S. soldiers start encountering ghostly forms that kill them instantly. A DARPA engineer (James Badge Dale) is sent to investigate and has to work with a CIA agent (Emily Mortimer) and a Delta team to figure out what’s going on and stop it. I was worried that this would have significant horror tones (given the name and comparison to Aliens and Pitch Black), but it’s pretty much just a sci-fi action movie. It’s not subtle, some of the dialogue is way too on the nose, the technobabble is pretty implausible, but it’s fun. Spectral is a Netflix original, and I hope this does well and they make more sci-fi movies!

Weekly Movie Reviews: Jan 1-7, 2017

Favorite Movies of the Week

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

I was highly skeptical of this movie before I watched it because I’d never seen a non-narrative film before. How could a movie that was essentially just a bunch of random clips with music possibly hold my attention for nearly an hour and a half? As it turns out, pretty well.

I’m not sure exactly sure how to describe Koyaanisqatsi. There are no actors and there’s no dialogue or narration, it’s just very well edited slow motion or time lapsed footage with a beautiful score. It starts off with videos of desert vistas, waves, and clouds, and then switches to depicting human involvement with nature, for example, a mining truck emitting large black cloud of gas, explosions and bombs, and then goes entirely into showing cities. It isn’t really something that can be described by words, though, it’s an experience that’s uniquely suited to a movie.

Koyaanisqatsi is apparently a Hopi word that means “life out of balance”, but I didn’t get that from the movie. I think it was just showing life from an unusual perspective. I think if an alien or a god made a movie that was a montage of the Earth, this might be close to it. I say an alien or a god because everything that’s depicted in this movie is decidedly not the way a human would perceive things. Most things are either in slow motion or sped up, and they are observed from odd angles. The few things that are filmed at regular speed are unnatural in other ways, like people being too still.

It’s awe inspiring to see everyday things  from such a unique perspective. I highly recommend Koyaanisqatsi, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other movies in the “Qatsi trilogy”, as well as the similar movies that Koyaanisqatsi  cinematographer Ron Fricke has made.

Legend (1985)

I’m a fan of Ridley Scott, Tom Cruise, and fantasy (of course), so I’ve wanted to watch this movie for a really long time. I figured it would be a cheesy fantasy movie of the sort The Princess Bride so lovingly satirized. And if you just look at the plot, it does confirm to those stereotypes – forest dwelling Jack (Tom Cruise) has to save the world (and his friend Princess Lily) from the evil sorcerer Darkness who wants to prevent the sun from ever rising again.

This movie is a lot better than just the plot would indicate, though. Ridley Scott is fantastic at atmosphere when he’s trying to be (think Blade Runner), and Legend is almost overwhelming in its depiction of a dark fairy tale world. Before it succumbs to Darkness’s influence, the forest is absolutely teeming with life, the background always has something interesting going on. When Darkness’s influence kicks in, the forest instantly turns into a scary and frozen wasteland with the same sort of details. I don’t think I’ve seen such an immersive fantasy movie before – even the Lord of the Rings trilogy is more grounded. The closest I can think of is Pan’s Labyrinth, and even that is more relatable since it’s partly based on our world. Everything else is great too, especially the characters. Jack’s party of friends are eerie at times, funny at other times, and contribute to the sense of other-worldliness. I also really liked the ending (I watched the Director’s Cut of the movie, which has a different ending than the American theatrical release), it was sweeter and less cliched than I thought it would be.

Make sure to watch the Director’s Cut if you watch this movie because the theatrical release did not get good reviews. There’s apparently a lot that is different, including the soundtrack, the ending, and the length. Case in point – Roger Ebert  originally gave this movie a bad review, but upon watching the Director’s Cut, he said it was one of his favorite movies.

Other Movies Watched

The Losers (2010)

I’m a sucker for action movies, Chris Evans, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, so I was looking forward to this movie about a special forces team seeking revenge against their superiors for trying to kill them after a sensitive mission. It was exactly what I hoped it would be – dumb fun with some charismatic actors to liven it up. The villain was incredibly over the top, even for a ridiculous action movie, but it is based on a comic book, so I guess that makes sense. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to this, but there doesn’t appear to be one planned.

The Jungle Book (2016)

I was pretty skeptical about this live action remake of the Disney animated classic, but I liked it better than I thought I would. It is not a straight up remake, the story is significantly different in places. Mowgli actually has a character growth arc, it’s not just a simple adventure story, and that works better for a live action film. The main actor came really close to annoying me (it’s hard to get child actors right), but ultimately ended up winning me over. Also, Bill Murray makes a great Baloo.

The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Pretty much what I expected it to be – a fun and cheesy movie about a masked swashbuckler defending the powerless people of California during the time when it was still part of Mexico. I haven’t seen any other Zorro media before, so I’m not sure if this is typical, but for a movie about a hero of the masses, there was entirely too much focus on the nobility. Antonio Banderas’s Zorro goes from stealing from the common people to becoming their defender, and we’re not supposed to think too much about why. That’s okay, though, because who doesn’t want to see Antonio Banderas charm and swordfight his way through trouble?

In The Valley of Elah (2007)

Tommy Lee Jones stars in this movie based on the real life story of a retired military policeman investigating the disappearance of his son who has just gotten back from a tour in Iraq. I really enjoyed the first two thirds of this movie, it was stark and atmospheric, but it fell apart in the last act because the story and execution got incredibly heavy handed. It wasn’t as bad as Crash (director Paul Haggis’s previous movie), which had the subtlety of a hammer all the way through, but it still ruined the movie for me. I think I’m extra frustrated because it was so close to being a great movie, the first two thirds was subtle and quiet, and I expected so much more.

The Accountant (2016)

Ben Affleck plays a high-functioning autistic accountant whose specialty is finding fraud for criminal organizations. This ended up being much more of an action movie than I thought it would be – Ben Affleck’s character’s employers end up frequently wanting to kill him, so he’s no stranger to violence. I liked the movie overall, although the dialogue is badly written at times, and it relies too much on surprising the viewer with twists that seem to come out of nowhere. Otherwise, it’s a very well executed movie, it’s slick, and Ben Affleck’s performance is great. I also liked Anna Kendrick’s character, I always think I’m going to hate her in things (I’m not really sure why), but I’ve liked her in every movie I’ve seen her in.

Movies Watched: Aug 7 – Aug 13, 2016

[Aug 7] “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004)

howls_moving_castleTimid hat maker Sophie is cursed to have the body of an old woman. In an effort to break the spell, she leaves home and ends up becoming the cleaning lady for the wizard Howl in his constantly moving castle. It turns out that she’s not the only one with a spell to break, though.

I think Howl’s Moving Castle was one of the earliest Ghibli movies I watched, and I hadn’t read the book (by Diana Wynne Jones) that it was based on at that point. I didn’t remember much from the movie, and I was pretty excited to watch it, especially because I had reread the book recently, and it’s one of my favorites. It was really hard for me to separate the movie and the book when watching it, but I’ll try, given that the movie isn’t anything like the book – it shares the premise at the beginning, but ends up going in a totally different direction before it comes back to the book at the end. The movie seemed to mainly tell an adventure story – there is a little personal growth (especially with Sophie), and some comedic scenes that are pretty funny, but overall it just seemed like stuff happened without the character motivations making a lot of sense. For example, in Spirited Away, Chihiro and Haku’s friendship makes sense, you see why they like each other, and the same applies to San and Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke but I didn’t see how Sophie and Howl ended up liking each other. Also, Howl’s character seemed pretty inconsistent, he has some of his obnoxiousness from the book (the infamous “green slime” scene), but there’s no real context for his vanity. His anti-war inclinations seemed way out of place too (in the book, Howl spends most of his time romancing women and then getting terrified every time they start to like him back and running away; there is no war.) And the villain’s motivation for both starting and ending the war didn’t seem to make any sense at all. Sophie’s character was good, although very different from the Sophie in the book.

I did enjoy the movie despite my complaints – I just had really high expectations due to both the book and previous Ghibli movies, and they were not met.

[Aug 8] “Carbon Copy” (1981)

Carbon_CopyA white corporate executive suddenly discovers that he has a black son who can’t wait to be adopted. When he tries to integrate him into his family, he loses his job, gets kicked out of the house, and discovers that he has no money. He has to figure out how to deal with everything he knows disappearing suddenly. We mainly watched this movie because it is Denzel Washington’s first movie (he plays the black son.) It’s mainly a comedy, although it does take a turn towards the dramatic at the end. It reminded me a little bit of Trading Places, but it’s not as good. The characters and situations exist entirely to serve the plot – for example (spoilers!), after rejecting the main character, his wife and father-in-law inexplicably show up again and ask him to come back to them, despite nothing having changed except that the main character has a little more confidence in himself now – enough to say no (end of spoilers). I did like Denzel’s character, he seemed consistent throughout.

[Aug 10] “American Splendor” (2003)

american_splendorThis movie tells the story of Harvey Pekar, the Cleveland author of the autobiographical American Splendor comics. It’s a pretty unusual biopic; it features both the real life Harvey Pekar (and his family and colleagues) commenting on some scenes, but mostly it stars Paul Giamatti as Pekar. I don’t think I’ve seen any other media that broke the fourth wall this blatantly, there barely even is a fourth wall. It’s a very good movie, I’m finding it hard to talk about because it seemed like I just saw a very well-edited video of someone’s real life, it doesn’t even seem like a movie. Paul Giamatti did an excellent job, as he always does (especially while playing sad/depressed characters), and Hope Davis was great as Pekar’s wife as well. Of course, it was great to see a movie set in and about Cleveland; there aren’t a lot of those. Highly recommended.

[Aug 11] “Executive Decision” (1996)

executive_decisionWhen terrorists hijack an airplane, intending to use it to release deadly nerve gas in Washington D.C., Dr. David Grant (Kurt Russell), an intelligence analyst, accompanies a mid-air boarding team sent to take control of the aircraft. Of course, things don’t go as planned and Grant ends up in a much more deadly situation than he signed up for.

Executive Decision is very much a dumb action movie; it’s a little bit like a Jack Ryan movie and a little bit like Air Force One, but it stars Kurt Russell, so that makes up for a lot of its shortcomings. The terrorist leader is played by David Suchet, who plays Poirot in the BBC series, and I really couldn’t take him seriously as a threat – he’s so mild mannered. Andreas Katsulas plays a captured terrorist leader (that Suchet’s character wants freed), and he’s also very mild mannered (plus I can’t not trust him, he plays G’Kar on Babylon 5, one of my favorite characters ever.) The rest of the cast is pretty great too – John Leguizamo, Halle Berry, BD Wong, etc. There isn’t much else notable to say, except that the scenes of Kurt Russell flying the planes seemed very realistic to me.

[Aug 12] “A Hologram for the King” (2016)

a-hologram-for-the-kingWashed out salesman Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) ends up in Saudi Arabia trying to sell a new IT system to the king in an effort to revive his career and pay for the rest of his daughter’s college tuition. He’s far away from home in a very strange culture, there’s a possibly malignant lump on his back, and he hates his life already. A Hologram for the King reminded me of Lost in Translation, which I love; it highlights the same sort of cultural differences and isolation, and the occasional absurdities of human interaction. Of course Tom Hanks is great – how could he not be? The movie didn’t have a very strong narrative, we see various incidents, but they don’t fit together to tell a simple story. There’s a little bit of a conclusion, but mostly it just shows life being life. I can see how that might turn some people off, but I actually really enjoyed it. Some things depicted in the movie seemed unlikely to happen in Saudi Arabia, but I liked the movie enough that I didn’t mind.

[Aug 13] “Criminal” (2016)

CriminalWhen CIA operative Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is killed during an important mission, death row inmate Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) undergoes an experimental procedure to receive Pope’s memories in order to finish the mission. This is the second movie I’ve seen Ryan Reynolds in recently that involved transferring memories/consciousness between bodies, and this one is far better than Self/less (reviewed here.) It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s fun. Kevin Costner is a little unbelievable at first as the incredibly dangerous Jericho, but as he starts processing his memories, he becomes much more familiar. The rest of the cast is great too – especially Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones (playing an unusually passive character), who are reunited with Kevin Costner for the first time since JFK.  Some character motivations seemed pretty dumb (mostly Gary Oldman’s CIA boss who makes the worst decisions), but you kind of expect that from movies like this. Other than that, the movie avoids quite a few common tropes, and it actually explores the idea of implanting normal human memories into someone who doesn’t have the capacity for morality in an interesting way, so I’d recommend it.

Movies Watched: Jul 31 – Aug 6, 2016

[Jul 31] “Everest” (2015)

everestEverest is an ensemble movie based on the disastrous storm that struck several climbing expeditions on Mt. Everest in 1996. It primarily focuses on two commercial climbing teams – Adventure Consultants, led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), and Mountain Madness, led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) and some of the mountaineers that were in their parties. It’s a very well made movie; the actors who played climbers all seemed like real people, they never overdo it despite the dramatic events surrounding them. The cast is great too – other than the people I’ve already mentioned, John Hawkes, Josh Brolin, Naoko Mori, Sam Worthington, and Michael Kelly all do a great job (I never thought I’d say that about Sam Worthington, I’ve been pretty underwhelmed by him in other movies.)

Most of what I took from the movie was an awe of Everest and mountaineering in general, though. There are so many ways to die – exhaustion, altitude sickness, falling, avalanches and storms – and people still choose to climb every year, and are okay with the risks of just being abandoned if disaster strikes (which makes sense given the risks, but is so alien to everyday morality.) Also, the Sherpas that actually prepare the mountain for climbing are even more amazing, since they don’t have the ropes and other equipment used by later climbers.

[Aug 1] “My Neighbors the Yamadas” (1999)

my-neighbors-the-yamadas We’re still full speed ahead on our Studio Ghibli movie watch. My Neighbors the Yamadas is a very different film than previous Ghibli movies both in narrative and animation styles. It lacks a single narrative, it’s a collection of short stories about the life of the zany Yamada family, similar to a newspaper comic strip. The animation also follows the comic strip style, it’s much more “cartoon” and lacks the detailed backgrounds that most other Ghibli movies have.

It took me a while to warm up to My Neighbors the Yamadas because I was not expecting something so different from previous movies, but it’s a good movie. The five members of the Yamada family are pretty frustrating at times, but only because they have all the foibles that you associate with people you know very well. I can’t think of another movie that does slice-of-life so well.

[Aug 4] “Spirited Away” (2001)

spirited-awayWhen her parents are turned into pigs while exploring an abandoned theme park, ten year old Chihiro must overcome her fear and navigate the spirit world to find a way to rescue them.

I was looking forward to watching Spirited Away, I think it was the very first Miyazaki movie I watched, but I didn’t remember much of it. One of the things I love about Miyazaki is that each of his movies has a different tone, and I think Spirited Away manages to combine the best of many of them – the adventure from Castle in the Sky, the world-building of Princess Mononoke, the magic of Kiki’s Delivery Service. It’s also beautiful and atmospheric in its own unique way – I can play back a couple of eerie scenes in my head at will (along with the music, the soundtrack is great!), which I can’t do with most movies. Chihiro is a good protagonist, she has different things to learn than many of the (older) protagonists of other Ghibli movies, but she does grow. The other characters are memorable too, especially No Face, who was the only thing I remembered from the first watch. This is definitely one of Miyazaki’s best movies.

[Aug 5] “The Cat Returns” (2002)

The-Cat-ReturnsHigh school student Haru’s life isn’t going very well – she feels like she’s picked on constantly, and she can’t summon the courage to talk to the boy she has a crush on. When she saves the life of a cat who turns out to be the prince of the Cat Kingdom, her life goes even crazier when she’s kidnapped and involuntarily engaged to the prince. Her only hope of salvation lies with the living cat statue Baron Humbert von Gikkingen and his friends Muta and Toto.

The Cat Returns is a spinoff of Whisper of the Heart (reviewed last week), sort of. It’s a totally unrelated story except for starring two minor characters from the movie – the Baron and Muta. I like to think it’s an adaption of another story that Shizuku wrote featuring the Baron. Anyway, it’s not comparable to most Ghibli movies, the character design is a lot more like traditional anime. The storyline and characters are fairly light too, there aren’t many layers to it. I think it’s more similar to a Disney animated movie, and it’s pretty fun for what it is. I especially liked seeing the Baron again.

[Aug 6] “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” (2016)

thirteen_hours_the_secret_soldiers_of_benghazi13 Hours is based on the true story of the September 11, 2012 attacks on the US diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. The U.S. Ambassador to Libya was killed, and six CIA security contractors (ex-soldiers) held off waves of further attacks.

I didn’t know much about the Benghazi attacks, and I enjoyed this movie from a “learning about events” perspective. From what I’ve been able to gather, the movie is actually pretty faithful to real events (although the events themselves are controversial.) However, this movie is also directed by Michael Bay, so I didn’t expect it to be very good from a human perspective, and it wasn’t. It’s much better than Pearl Harbor (his previous combat movie), but there’s gratuitous slow motion and clichéd conversations between the soldiers and their families (which had the opposite effect on me, it made me care about them less because they seemed so fake), and the dialogue is laughable at times. When it was focusing on the action, the movie was great, it really brought home the confusion of modern warfare where you don’t know who your enemy is. The cast was pretty amazing too, I especially enjoyed James Badge Dale as the intense leader of the soldiers,  Tyrone “Rone” Woods.

Movies Watched: Jul 24 – Jul 30, 2016

[Jul 24] “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)

the-bourne-ultimatumAfter the events of The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne is on the run and still trying to track down what’s going on with Treadstone and his past. When journalist Simon Ross finds out about the Treadstone successor program Blackbriar, Bourne gets a lead, but is soon dodging evil CIA officials and assassins again. I liked this movie a lot more than The Bourne Supremacy, it was very well paced, giving Bourne just enough information to keep the mystery intriguing all the way through. I liked the way that it wove together the end of the previous movie – at the beginning, Bourne is escaping from Moscow after talking with Neski’s daughter, and the epilogue scene where he talks to Landy is actually in the middle of The Bourne Ultimatum, and it’s integral to the plot. I wasn’t a big fan of the shaky cam and quick cuts (continued from the previous movie), and I found the action scenes similarly hard to follow, but that didn’t matter so much because of the better pacing.

[Jul 25] “Porco Rosso” (1992)

Porco_RossoAnother Studio Ghibli movie, and probably one of the least well known Miyazaki movies. We follow Porco Rosso, who is an ace seaplane pilot and bounty hunter off the coast of Italy in the 1930s.  He also happens to be cursed to be an anthropomorphic pig. When brash American pilot Donald Curtis shows up, he quickly becomes Porco Rosso’s rival in flying, courting women, and in the bounty hunting business, and Porco has to figure out how to deal with that. I thought this would be a movie aimed squarely at children, what with the protagonist being a pig, but it’s actually exactly the opposite. There’s adventure and pirates and cool flying and so on, but Porco is a curmudgeonly character (voiced masterfully by Michael Keaton) with some pretty serious flaws, which makes him interesting, but definitely not straightforward. The other characters are great too, I especially liked Fio – Miyazaki really does spunky young women like no one else. Cary Elwes seems like he’s having a lot of fun voicing Curtis. I also liked the ending a lot, there’s no grand triumph, but it ends very nicely. I’m not sure why more people don’t talk about this movie.

[Jul 26] “The Bourne Legacy” (2012)

the_bourne_legacyWe found out today that the fifth Bourne movie, Jason Bourne, is releasing this week, and since we’ve coincidentally been on a Bourne kick lately, we figured that we might as well catch up on the series completely. Jason Bourne is not actually in this movie, it’s about operative Aaron Cross (played by Jeremy Renner) from a related project, Operation Outcome. As the revelations about Treadstone and Bourne are revealed to the world, all the Outcome operatives are taken out to hide the truth of the program. Of course, Aaron Cross escapes and now he’s on the run. I liked this movie in a lot of ways; it expands the world of Bourne, it integrates tightly with the other Bourne movies (this series is really good at that), there are a lot more interesting settings, Jeremy Renner is charming, and Rachel Weisz plays a realistic-seeming scientist that actually seems passionate about her technobabble. I went into it expecting Aaron Cross to be another Jason Bourne, but the programs seem pretty different – Treadstone seemed more about assassination, whereas Outcome was about intelligence gathering – so Cross knows who he is, he smiles often, he doesn’t seem to have been brainwashed, he’s just genetically enhanced. That makes for a pretty different type of story, but once I got used to it, I enjoyed it. I thought the end could have been better and had more closure – I wasn’t clear why they would have stopped looking for him.

[Jul 28] “Pom Poko” (1994)

pompokoPom Poko follows a population of raccoon dogs (tanuki) who live in the Tama Hills outside of Tokyo. As the city is expanding, Tama Hills is scheduled to be cleared and leveled to build a high density suburb, which would leave the tanuki homeless. The tanuki decide to fight back, some using their amazing transformative powers to “haunt” the area, and others fighting back in more violent ways.

I watched this movie a really long time ago, before I know much about anime, and I remember thinking it was extremely weird (especially the magical expanding scrota of the tanuki.) It’s actually a pretty compelling movie, and all the things I found odd before didn’t even register as notable this time around. The movie can be read as having an environmentalist message, but I think it’s more about seeing how a population reacts to rapid and inevitable societal change.  It’s never nice to see animals lose their habitat, but the movie doesn’t dwell on the sadness, instead focusing on the tanuki living life to the fullest despite their circumstances. We see the stories of many different tanuki without moral judgement on their choices, and that ends up making the overall movie a lot more nuanced than others I’ve seen.

[Jul 29] “Whisper of the Heart” (1995)

whisper-of-the-heartWhisper of the Heart is the next Studio Ghibli movie, and the first non-Miyazaki or Takahata directed movie (although it was written by Miyazaki.)  Shizuku, a girl who loves reading books notices that the same person (Seiji Amasawa) has checked out all the same books as her. In parallel, she meets an infuriating boy that’s in her grade, who of course turns out to be Seiji.

I’ve seen this movie before, but I don’t think I understood how good it was until I watched it this time. It’s a sweet and subtle romance, but it’s also a coming of age movie – like Kiki in Kiki’s Delivery Service, Shizuku must come to terms with herself, but Whisper of the Heart portrays that growth in the context of having good relationships with others. The relationship between Shizuku and Seiji seemed completely natural to me, showing strong emotion without any melodrama. I enjoyed the other characters too – Shizuku’s parents and sister (and their relationships with Shizuku), Seiji’s grandfather and his story with Louise, and especially the Baron.

[Jul 30] “Princess Mononoke” (1997)

princess_mononokeAnother Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki movie (and arguably the most famous one.) Prince Ashitaka must travel far to the west to find a cure for a curse that he acquired while protecting his village from a demon. Once he gets there, he finds himself in the middle of a fight between a mining colony and the inhabitants of the local forest. The inhabitants of the forest are mainly animals and spirit gods, but one of them is San (Princess Mononoke), a human girl raised by wolves.

As with Pom Poko, one of Princess Mononoke‘s themes is man’s relationship with nature and the inevitability of loss as man progresses. Neither side is portrayed as good or bad – the main enemy is just a refusal to compromise. San and the animal spirits are enraged and violent at the loss of their forest, and Lady Eboshi is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that her settlement and factory is not threatened. But she is also kind and protective of her workers, and works with people that no one else will – ex-prostitutes and lepers. Just like Ashitaka, you end up admiring both San and Lady Eboshi, but despair whether they can ever find common ground.  The soundtrack is fantastic – it’s much more epic than the previous movies. Also, the movie was adapted to English by Neil Gaiman, which means it flows extremely well, although many references to Japanese folklore and tradition were removed to make the story more accessible. I don’t think this is the most enjoyable Ghibli movie, but it’s definitely one of the best ones.

Movies Watched: Jul 17 – Jul 23, 2016

[Jul 17] “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (2005)

kiss_kiss_bang_bangHarry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a petty thief who accidentally stumbles into an audition to play a detective and gets flown to L.A. and thrust suddenly into the life of an actor, including detective lessons from consultant “Gay” Perry (Val Kilmer). Life takes a turn for the storybook when he runs into an old high school crush and stumbles into a murder mystery. This movie was fantastic! It blends genres effortlessly, it’s a dark comedy (narrated by Lockhart who breaks the fourth wall constantly), it’s pulpy murder mystery involving sexy women, it’s noir, and it also manages to inject a bunch of heart into the proceedings by making Lockhart a genuinely nice guy. Val Kilmer, is great as always as the hard boiled detective (except for swooning over the occasional guy) who takes no shit from anyone, especially Lockhart. Michelle Monaghan is also good as the high school crush/failed actress Harmony Faith Lane, and she certainly has chemistry with Robert Downey Jr.

[Jul 18] “The Pianist” (2002)

the-pianistThe Pianist is based on the true story of a Polish Jewish musician, Wladyslaw “Wladek” Szpilman (Adrien Brody), and his survival in Warsaw during World War II. As with any Holocaust story, this is not a pleasant movie to watch – we watch as Wladek and his family go from fairly prosperous members of society to being forced to identify themselves as Jews in public and kowtow to capricious Germans to being forcibly relocated into the ghetto to being deported to labor camps and so on. I really admired this movie for not losing its focus though – it tells Wladek’s story, not the story of the war, or the Holocaust, and it never deviates from that. That makes it intensely personal, especially because we know what’s going on around him and how it all turns out, but he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. Adrien Brody is incredible, he conveys a lot of nuance, and there are scenes where he’s absolutely visceral. The end of the movie shows a little humanity in contrast to all the brutality so far, and that’s nice too (especially because it’s based on real life too.) Highly recommended.

[Jul 19] “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989)

Kiki's Delivery ServiceKiki is a young witch who must leave home for a year to make her way in the world, as per tradition. She finds the perfect city to settle in and starts an delivery service (using her broom to fly packages places), but she finds it hard to adjust to life in her new community. We thought we would skip Kiki’s Delivery Service during our Studio Ghibli chronological watch because we’ve watched it so many times before, but we just couldn’t. I can’t really review this movie objectively; it’s probably my favorite movie of all time. Yes, all time! Kiki’s story is infinitely relatable, we’ve all felt like we didn’t fit in and been overwhelmed, we’ve all felt a loss of purpose and self-esteem, and we’ve all disliked other people irrationally because they remind us (in whatever roundabout way) of something we don’t like about ourselves. The setting is somewhat fantastic, but the world depicted is just like ours – there are nice people, stuck up people, self-absorbed people, slightly-crazy-but-not-in-a-bad-way people, and Kiki has to learn to accept that world for what it is (a pretty great place if you focus on the right things.) Plus, Jiji (Kiki’s black cat) is fantastic – especially in the English dub, where he’s played more sarcastically. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here.

[Jul 21] “8 Mile” (2002)

8-mileJimmy “Bunny Rabbit” Smith (Eminem) is a young man that’s having a hard time with his life – his work, his girlfriend, his relationship with his mom, and most importantly, his avocation – rapping. After he chokes completely during a rap battle he enters, he doesn’t really know what to do with himself. Joseph has been wanting to watch this movie for a long time, and I’ve been very skeptical – Eminem starring in a movie that seems pretty much based on his life? I was convinced it would be some sort of dumb vanity project, but this movie is actually pretty good. Eminem is utterly convincing as the angry and scared Jimmy, and you really root for him to figure himself out and escape his circumstances. When he finally does, you know he’s earned it and really accepted himself.  The setting is gritty but feels realistic (I wouldn’t know if it actually was), the rap battles are fast paced and compelling. It was a little bit weird to see Anthony Mackie (in his first movie) as the antagonist, because I’m so used to him being lovable, but that’s okay.

[Jul 22] “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004)

the_bourne_supremacyThe first of many sequels to The Bourne Identity. Bourne and Marie are living in peace in India when an assassin sent to kill Bourne accidentally ends up killing Marie instead. Bourne is convinced that Treadstone has reneged on their promise to leave him alone, but the truth isn’t quite so simple. I liked this movie okay, I don’t think it was as good as the first one. It did several things well, though – it is one of the most tightly integrated sequels I’ve ever seen, it feels very much like a part of Bourne’s overall story rather than just a new adventure. I also love the “mystery” part of these movies, where Bourne has to figure out what’s actually going on. Also, Joan Allen makes a fantastic CIA agent; I’ve only seen her as an unhappy wife before (Nixon, Pleasantville, The Upside of Anger). I think the pacing for the last third of the movie was bad, though – the plot with the CIA wraps up before the last act of the movie, and the last act seems kind of pointless. I found the car chase at the end very confusing, it seemed to go on forever, but it also seemed like each cut only lasted a second, and I had no idea what was going on. Plus, if you’re going to have Karl Urban in a movie, don’t cut off his hair, his hair is beautiful (and don’t make him some dumb bad guy either.)

[Jul 23] “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” (2007)

mr-magoriums-wonder-emporiumMr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman), the 243 year old owner of the magical toy store Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium has decided that his time has come and he must leave the store to Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), the store’s insecure 23 year old manager. Both the store and Molly have other ideas, though. Apparently a lot of people didn’t like this movie, but I absolutely loved it. Sure, it has flaws – it’s odd and random, it’s a little bit cliched at times, but it’s cute, it has a good message about believing in yourself, and the cast is great! No one can do weird and wonderful characters better than Dustin Hoffman (see Hook if you don’t believe me), and everyone else is quirky and wonderful too, especially Jason Bateman as the accounting “Mutant” and Zach Mills as the earnest and precocious kid Eric. Plus, the toy store itself is definitely a character, and it’s amazing! It reminded me of being a kid and being curious about everything around me, there’s crazy stuff everywhere you look. It also reminded me of a lot of books I’d read, like The Phantom Tollbooth, or Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series.

Movies Watched: Jul 10 – Jul 16, 2016

[Jul 10] “Donnie Darko” (2001)

Donnie-DarkoDonnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a troubled teenager that starts having visions of a giant bunny rabbit that saves his life and then induces him to commit various crimes. That isn’t a great description of the movie, but I don’t know how to describe it any better, it’s a pretty strange movie. We watched the director’s cut, which adds twenty minutes of footage, and apparently makes an originally ambiguous movie much less ambiguous (it was my first time watching the movie, but Joseph had seen the theatrical cut before.) I’m still not sure what I think of it, it was definitely made very well, and it made me think, but it also made me feel confused and upset once it was over. It’s not a movie that believes in explaining how it works, and I usually have trouble with that, but the fact that it was able to get me to feel so strongly about it means that it actually did a good job of making me care about the characters and invest in the plot. I’m glad I watched it.

[Jul 11] “Tootsie” (1982)

tootsieWhen unemployed actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is unable to get any work, he decides to impersonate a woman and audition for a role in a soap opera. He ends up getting the role, and his experience as a woman ends up changing both his life and the lives of others around him. Tootsie is definitely a comedy, but I appreciated that it had some heart to it. Dustin Hoffman does a fairly convincing job as a woman, he changes his voice and mannerisms quite a bit. The romance was a little bit weird, it’s hard to imagine falling in love with someone who has presented themselves completely differently from who they really are. Also, a lot of the humor comes off as dated, but then, this movie is over 30 years old.

[Jul 12] “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya” (2010)

the-disappearance-of-haruhi-suzumiyaThe Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a follow up to the anime show The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which we had just finished watching. Kyon wakes up one day to find out that the world around him is entirely different – Haruhi and Koizumi are nowhere to be found, and the alien Miss Nagato and the time traveler Miss Asahina are now completely normal people, and no one remembers the world being any different.  Like the other anime based movies I’ve seen, I can’t review this as a standalone movie, but I think it does make an effort to be standalone – it introduces the world of Haruhi pretty well before jumping into the main plot, and it tells a conclusive story without depending on the events of the show (the show doesn’t have much of an overarching plot anyway). I absolutely loved this movie. It was definitely nice to see all my favorite characters again, but I think it would have been a great movie regardless. Being stuck in an alternate universe is a pretty common trope, but that’s a terrifying thought in reality, and the movie does a great job of showing how freaked out Kyon is. There’s a lot of emotional depth and character growth; it’s nice to see Kyon go from his usual passive observer role to having to be the agent of change. Also, the pacing is phenomenal – The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the second longest animated movie ever made (at almost three hours), but it’s never boring or drawn out. I want more!

[Jul 13] “Breakdown” (1997)

breakdownBreakdown is an action movie starring Kurt Russell as a guy whose wife goes missing after his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. The last time he sees her is when she gets into a truck that has stopped to help them, but when he sees the trucker again, he claims to have no knowledge of his wife and denies even having met him at all. This was a fine movie, I don’t have a lot to say about it. Kurt Russell does a good job of going from a normal somewhat inept guy to trying riskier and riskier things as he gets more desperate. The movie soon dispenses with the fiction that no one knows what’s going on, there isn’t a lot of nuance in the movie, and the bad guys are unambiguously bad.

[Jul 14] “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007)

the_darjeeling_limitedThree dysfunctional brothers travel across India a year after their father’s funeral in an effort to become closer together. The Darjeeling Limited was the first Wes Anderson movie that I saw, and I saw it before I really understood movies, or his style. I just thought it was weird, so I was looking forward to seeing it again and developing a more nuanced opinion. I still think it is one of his weaker movies – it has characters that you kind of hate, but unlike Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums or The Grand Budapest Hotel, I never really stopped hating them. Maybe it’s because both me and Joseph are only children and don’t understand sibling rivalries as much. Also, I get that the movie is a surreal journey but I didn’t like the portion of the story with the child’s death (other than to see Irrfan Khan), it seemed out of place to use that as just a bonding experience.

[Jul 15] “The Last Emperor” (1987)

the-last-emperorThe Last Emperor is about the life of Puyi, the last emperor of China, who became emperor when he was two and only ruled for four years before he was overthrown (other than a 12 day reign when he was 11). His life didn’t stop being interesting there, he was later recruited by Japan to be the emperor of its puppet state, Manchukuo until the end of World War II. I didn’t know anything about Puyi or his life, so this was a fascinating watch, and it was also a very good movie – it won the Best Picture Oscar. All the actors portraying Puyi did an excellent job, and the movie is an emotional experience as we watch him go from an innocent child to being spoiled and entitled and then back to being humbled. The movie is (mostly) told through a series of flashbacks from Puyi’s life in rehabilitation for being a war criminal, and the use of different color palettes for different periods of his life adds a subtle atmosphere without being distracting like it was in Traffic. The sets and costumes are beautiful, too.

We watched the theatrical edition, which was nearly three hours long. There’s a longer cut (3 hours and 38 minutes) of the movie that was meant to be aired as a miniseries, I’d like to watch that at some point too.

[Jul 16] “WALL-E” (2008)

wall_eWALL-E is a trash compactor robot who is all alone on Earth other than neverending piles of trash and a cockroach. One day, another robot (EVE) lands on the planet and his life changes forever. He ends up going on a journey into space and having a major effect on the fate of humanity. I’d never seen this movie before (other than watching the first twenty minutes on a plane once), and it’s part of our ongoing “watch all the Pixar movies” project. I remember hearing a lot of fuss about how it was a really amazing movie because the main characters had basically no dialogue, and that’s true, but I didn’t notice it (which I guess was the point.) It was a cute movie, EVE especially was a great character. WALL-E was fine too, but he’s just the classic, somewhat bumbling, underdog. My favorite scene was the one where they are cavorting in space, you’ll know which one if you see the movie.

The fate of humanity made me very sad, so I feel like I didn’t enjoy the movie as much as I would have otherwise. Also, the antagonist seemed a little forced.