- Arrival: Interesting enough movie based on a short story I would have thought unfilmable. Not that I generally think in those terms, but when I first read it years ago, I didn’t think “that’s shooting for a screenplay and an ‘adapted-by'”. Good cast – I always like watching Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams. Why is Forrest Whittaker wasted in these roles?
But not the mind-bending SF movie I was led to expect. Just a bit above meh. Will not rewatch. And I like time-bending movies! Primer! Memento! Fuck with my mind, and I’ll watch it over and over, unless it’s got Leo in it.
I had a hard time buying the whole world-going-to-attack-the-aliens-from-another-star premise. We are dumb people (cough, Drumpf, Brexit, cough) but these folks came from the stars so maybe we are out of their league or maybe it’s at least a question that you don’t want to find out the answer to. Kinda like whether that guy in the Gracie t-shirt knows anything. Anyway, that thought was in my head through the whole movie so maybe it should have been addressed.
As an exploration of the ultimate extensions of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, it didn’t go very far. Aliens think differently than we do – alluded to, not much explored. As an exploration of the effects contact would have, not convincing.
- The Accountant: Interesting premise, strong cast. A bit weak on the Asperger’s – the kid goes from mid-level autism to grown-up Ben Affleck liking comfy towels and to finish things. Ben rides off alone into the sunset thinking of the one that got away.
- The Magnificent Seven (2016): Wow. Wow. This is just so bad on so many levels, I almost had to keep watching it to figure out how that happened. But it’s too bad to finish. Anton Fuqua has made some decent movies. Is this just Denzel just being Denzel? Did he have script approval? He can’t act. He plays Denzel. That’s ok! It works in things like Inside Man (with Clive Owen showing Denzel how cool is done). Lots of stars can’t act – they play themselves. John Wayne for instance. It doesn’t work in lots of things though.
The original M7 (and the Kurosawa from which it was stolen) had humor, anti-racism, multi-culturalism (well, a German guy playing a Hispanic guy) aside from some colonialism in depicting the villagers), and Steve McQueen’s hat stealing every scene. Excellent character actors – Vaughn, Bronson, Coburn. Great chemistry between McQueen and Brynner, even though I understand the latter spent the whole movie being pissed at the former about that hat. Eli Wallach as an unsympathetic but understandable villain. Understandable motives, I mean.
The new one? The new villain is just maximally evil for no reason – the movie attempts to write it all off to Capitalism, which I’m fine for blaming for lots of evils, but rarely did Andrew Carnegie just shoot people in the streets himself. He had the Pinkertons do it. I’m okay with force-of-nature evil, like Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men (although that’s more over the top than necessary, compared to Woody Harrelson’s more believable mundane evil). Bad Bart’s capitalist evil is just unbelievable and unnecessary.
What’s criminal here is the waste of Vincent D’Onofrio. Denzel is just Denzel. There’s a complete lack of chemistry between anyone. The Coburn character is played by a Chinese man, and there’s a whole opportunity to explore a little-known-to-Hollywood theme lost there. It’s more reflexive how-can-we-sell-this-in-China than yes-there-were-Chinese-in-the-West (Deadwood got this but I can’t think of anything else).
Just how do you take something that was so good, right down to the iconic theme, and fuck it up so badly at every single level? I wish I could wash my brain so that I could see the original (Hollywood version) again without ever thinking of this one. And honestly, the 1960 version, like Full Metal Jacket, is only half a great movie. Both I will stop and watch every time until it gets to town/gets to Vietnam. Also, FMJ has killer Vincent D’Onofrio – this is how you use VD’O.
- The Town: Oddly enough, I think Ben Affleck can act. He’s really good in this. Maybe because he gets to ride his natural Boston accent. It’s a joy to listen to a movie with real accents. More Jeremy Renner. Blake Lively – I had no idea who that was, and was so impressed by her performance that I actually watched the credits. I was non-plussed when I saw the name – oh, that’s who Blake Lively is. Well ok then. Ben rides off alone into the sunset thinking of the one that got away. Do you detect a theme here?
- LaLa Land: There is a lot to unpack here, and little that hasn’t been said by others. Seb is a jerk. Also not the strongest proponent of even his version of jazz. What old-school jazz pianist would turn down a chance to go play in Paris, where there is an even stronger culture of proponents of his version of jazz? There’s the movie right there – she could have gone to Paris to act and he could have played piano in the Latin Quarter and happy ending.
Damien Chazelle and I have such different thoughts about jazz. In one movie, Buddy Rich and big band are the role models – a feeling that is held by basically no musician anywhere, but at least it’s a white guy emulating his mostly white guy role models. In this one, white guy is arguably held up as a savior of True Jazz, while real African-American musicians are proponents of Watering It Down aka Selling Out. You can argue it around that the whole point of the character is that he’s an out-of-touch jerk, but then it’s a lot of work for a supposedly fun musical. The main song pedestals (I’m making that a thing) a failed alcoholic, and was boring to boot (I nodded off – to be fair, it was at the end of the flight, but I was already bored with a predictable movie).
Aside from that, the songs were forgettable, weakly done, not a patch on the things it’s trying to emulate. The BtVS musical was way stronger, with not-much-worse dancing.
For me, the canonical LA romance is still Steve Martin’s LA Story. Also half a great movie. But these days, I’ll take half.
- The Night Manager (E01:07): Interesting. Fun. Kinda like meringue pie – not much there really. Good way to waste six hours on the airplane. I still have one episode to go and I suspect I’ll be disappointed but don’t spoiler it for me.
- Black Mirror (E02, E05, E06): Eh. Ok. It’s hard to outrun reality.
- Hell or High Water: Rewatch. I first watched this with a friend who just couldn’t buy into the concept, and kinda ruined it for me laughing at all the toxic masculinity all the way through.
But that’s the point! It is all about toxic masculinity – secondarily about toxic banking culture (Woodie Guthrie wrote songs about this, so it’s nothing new. Woodie also spent a lot of time not too far from where this movie is set, and not far from where I grew up), and toxic racial culture. I grew up in this culture. I know these guys. Maybe I am one of these guys. Relatives, classmates, childhood friends.
It also speaks to the recent election – most of my liberal friends (and I’m more liberal than them) just think that if you explained things enough, the people in the Red States would just get it. And I know that I can’t explain to them that no, they wouldn’t. They don’t want it explained, the fact that you are trying to explain it in the first place is the reason they hate you and everything you stand for. It’s ridiculous. It’s laughable. And it’s there. It isn’t going to change.
Strong points for (mostly) getting the Texas accents and dialog right (“Do whut?”) – see Boston accents above. No one ever gets Texas accents right. Take away a couple points for trying to fake off the New Mexico plains for the Texas High Plains, which really probably only matters to me, take off more points for Jeff Bridges. The scenery really threw me watching it the first time around. If you want to place this in Childress and Olney and Post, there are no mountains in the background. Second time around, I got over this.
Tommy Lee Jones would have been perfect in this role, and had the right accent. I like Jeff Bridges (Fabulous Baker Boys), but just nope here, and just nope in True Grit (John Wayne’s finest role. Also another pointless remake.).
The gun thing is a bit overblown – I don’t think there are shootouts in Texas every day, not even now.
Anyway, I liked it if you couldn’t tell.
- Sicario: Rewatch of this. I’m a sucker for Benecio del Toro. I’m growing to like Josh Brolin more and more. Nice to see Burn Notice guy working more – he was great.
I can’t quite figure out why I wanted to watch this movie again. It kinda speaks to the mistake of treating the drug war like a real war. It even at one point addresses the futility of a drug war, without pointing out that the reason it’s a war is because drugs are illegal. In some sense you get seduced by the sense that the good guys are winning, and making the right decisions, and the person who doesn’t sign up is the weak link holding it back. But what if the good guys aren’t so nice, and don’t play by any rules?
There’s one false move that completely pulled me out both times. Emily Blunt’s character finally twigs to what’s going on (her more-experienced partner (who is continually denigrated as a less-experienced guy even though he served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has a law degree and knows his way around an M-4 better than EB – he should be the guy they want, instead of her, unless maybe that’s the point) has been telling her at every step along the way, to the singing along with Josh Brolin. But instead of getting out, she’s all nope, I have to see it through, I have to see what happens. There is zero character motivation for this, no explanation, no justification, just “I’ve made bad decision after bad decision even though people with more experience than me have told me either explicitly or implicitly time and again, so I’m going to stay completely in character and make another bad decision.”
Maybe that’s the character, but then it’s hard to have a lot of sympathy for her. She’s not someone doing the right thing with knowledge aforethought – the only assumption left to the watcher is that she’s an idiot, or to be kind, so far over her head that the sun is a point of light way up in the dark ocean. But then why does everyone want her, and think she’s so great? She’s a PITA, only useful as a useful idiot. Perhaps that’s the point – here is a story told through the eyes of the useful idiot. But not sympathetic. But then the only sympathetic character in the movie is her partner. Who is black, which leads to more thoughts about race and culture and politics. So either great job Dennis Villenueve for making a great movie about the drug war through the eyes of a character who doesn’t evolve nor grow, or making a really bad one. Now I’m trying to think of another movie told through the eyes of a useful idiot and so completely unsympathetic to the main character, if that’s really what this movie is. I can’t figure out if this is a great movie or one that I should dislike.
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