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See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)
pretty bad, actually
I saw Silver Streak in 1976, thought Richard Pryor was great, and yet it took me 40 years to get around to watching one of the other movies he made with Gene Wilder, because they just didn't look promising to me. And judging by See No Evil, Hear No Evil, my instincts were right.
The basic idea is cute. A blind guy and a deaf guy are co-workers who kind of witness a murder, only the blind guy just hears it and the deaf guy just catches sight of the killer's legs. Soon they are beset by suspicious cops and the killers.
There are some cute moments in this movie, as when blind Pryor is losing a fist fight until dead Wilder gets behind him and acts as his eyes, or a somewhat amusing scene involving Wilder's mug shot.
But not much of the movie is particularly funny, while most of it is irretrievably dumb. About halfway through I started just fast forwarding looking for funny bits, but I could find any until a brief, quite amusing sequence in which two blind guys have a shootout.
Wilder and Pryor were fantastically talented people; it's a shame they couldn't get better behind-the-camera talent to get the best out of them.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
For many of us, Stephen Hawking is that old guy in the wheelchair, and has always been that old guy in a wheelchair, but it turns out he was once a young guy on a bicycle who fell in love and got married. And he's British, which one never realizes from his computer voice.
Theory of Everything shows Hawking's brutal physical deterioration in the context of his marriage. Eddie Redmayne is impressive in expressing that deterioration while still showing the man trapped in an increasingly uncooperative body. Eventually he has little to work with as an actor besides his eyes and lips, but he does a lot with those.
It's the sort of performance that always wins Oscars (Hollywood loves a good disability acting job) but honestly I was more impressed by Felicity Jones, who expressed a steely, quiet determination and, as the movie progressed, increasing frustration. Often she isn't given much more to work with than Redmayne, being asked to tell the story with her eyes, and she does so marvelously. Even though the movie is ostensibly about Hawking, it feels like it's at least as much her story as his (not surprising, since much of it is based on her book).
While the story is often touching and absorbing, the writers ultimately couldn't figure out how to end it. The movie has two scenes that feel like endings, one at a Q&A and the actual ending, but both feel like they're struggling to create a profound moment out of fairly ordinary moments. For me the lackluster ending lessens the overall impact of the movie; a good ending would have made this an 8 instead of a 7.
After watching the movie I read an interesting article on Slate on how accurate this was. Overall reasonably accurate, although it sounds like the real Hawkings was a bit more of a pain than the fluffy fictional one.
Better Things (2016)
It's good, yet I don't really feel like watching more
Watching the pilot, I could see Louis C.K.'s effect all over it from the first scene, in which the main character explains to a glaring bench-mate exactly why her daughter is crying. It's exactly the sort of funny, thoughtful scene that made me like Louis from the moment I saw him in Lucky Louis.
While he's behind the scenes here, he seems to have found a comedy soulmate in Pamela Adlon, who plays an actress who specializes in cartoon voices (just like Adlon) and has three daughters.
I liked this series. I found it amusing, and smart, just like Louis C.K.'s current series, Louis. And you know what? I don't watch Louis. I saw a few episodes, they're smart and honest and reasonably funny, but I just never feel like watching it.
I think (and the kinda-interesting Horace and Pete is evidence of this) that Louis C.K. is someone who found telling jokes was a way to say what he wanted to say, and while he started out with Lucky Louis and his standup being extremely funny, more and more that's given way to just trying to be wise and profound and thoughtful (what I think of as Woody Allen Syndrome). I admire what Louis and Pamela are aiming for here, and I think the show is fairly successful at being what it is, but I just don't connect with it.
Probably More Clever than Profound, but Certainly Fun
When I saw Rope, which Alfred Hitchcock famously filmed as though it were one continuous take, I was disappointed, because the continuous take effect wasn't nearly as cool as I expected. Decades later, Birdman does it right. The entire movie is filmed as one long take, with the camera swooping and gliding and wandering about. Not only is it cool, but it doesn't feel like a pure cinematic trick, but rather a technique to create a sense of claustrophobia and chaos, and to allow actors long, intimate, intense scenes.
The basic story is straightforward enough - has been Hollywood Star Michael Keaton attempt to storm Broadway and experiences various disasters and personality conflicts - but the movie asks you to question everything you see from the beginning, when Keaton is seen floating in mid-air. The question of whether Keaton is supernatural is soon joined by questions of whether this movie is seriously presenting worn out tropes like a brilliant, destructive actor or a vindictive, all-powerful theater critic or whether everything in the movie is actually a mental projection.
While the plot lives in a strange reality, it is counter-balanced with very grounded performances. The cast is excellent, particularly Ed Norton as the brilliant destructive actor and even more so Emma Stone as Keaton's angry daughter.
The is this real or not vibe is most reminiscent of the brilliant TV series Wilfred, but overall the movie seems like a mix of Living in Oblivion and Black Swan, two entertainment-industry movies that toy with reality.
It's not, for me, quite as good as either of those. Yes, it's brilliantly acted and clever as all get-out, but I'm not sure the movie really has much to say; it feels like it just wants to impress you with its cleverness, and while it does, I wish I felt there was something more to it.
All the same, it's a really interesting movie, and a must-see for fans of cinematography, for which it deservedly won an Oscar.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
entertaining movie that doesn't always know when enough is enough
Is this a spoof? I can see why it's getting described this way, but Kingsman isn't really all that different from its James Bond source material. Yes, there's the occasional mocking reference to James Bond, but the overall effect is more a slightly cheekier James Bond clone than an actual spoof. It's also not more than mildly amusing.
But it is entertaining, mainly because of some terrific action scenes, some of which involve a woman amputee with swords instead of feet. These scenes are beautifully choreographed and often involve finding imaginative ways to knife and shoot people.
Unfortunately, the movie is a little too in love with this stuff. At a certain point no amount of fancy choreography could distract me from the feeling that I had just seen something similar 15 minutes ago.
The story is a rather messy one involving an evil billionaire fought by a mysterious spy organization made up primarily of lookalike square-jawed upper-class white guys bravely considering hiring a lookalike square-jawed lower-class white guy or a square-jawed upper-class white woman (who isn't lookalike because there's no one in the movie for her to look like).
I kept wondering if the movie would make some sort of comment on the archaic nature of the organization, but since it didn't one tends to assume that the makers see nothing wrong with a powerful, secretive organization of white preppy guys. It makes an interesting contrast with the only important black character being a terrible person.
Outside of that, I didn't really think much about the politics of Kingsman, but reviews like The Guardian's point out that it's pretty right wing overall. But because the movie is about 10% reactionary politics and about 80% stabbing people in the eye (the other 10% is for male bonding and dog walking) it's easy to ignore all that.
For me, the issue with the movie is not its politics but it's inability to curtail its impulses. Watching a guy stylishly kill about a 100 people at once is pretty entertaining for about the first 25 people, and then feels like punishment. Cutting between a big action scene and a suspenseful high-altitude sequence sucks much of the pleasure out of both. The final battle's disco concept is clever but the flashy lights take away from the action.
Still, Kingsman works more often than not, and while it's not consistently great, it has a decent mix of great and good moments and not that many bad ones. So overall, if you want mindless, violent action, this is worth watching.
Okay as a history lesson but dull as a movie
There's nothing terrible about Confirmation. The acting is decent, with persuasive performances. It puts out the basic facts, shows the Republican street-fight tactics that included a threat to introduce nonsensical, sleazy testimony from some Hill students, and portrays the Democrats as outgunned and, as is often the case, unwilling to pull out their own knife even after the Republicans draw blood.
The problem is, it's all pretty boring. To some extent, that may be the result of the source material; neither Thomas nor Hill is a dynamic personality, and you're essentially faced with a he-said- she-said between two staid Republican lawyers.
At the same time, the movie seems desperate to keep things dry and serious. Alan Simpson says some nutty things, but the actor says them as blandly as possible. Kinnear does a good job of imitating Biden, except his performance tosses out Biden's low-key humor in favor of midwestern blandness.
Basically, any place where the movie has a choice between making things more dynamic or less dynamic, it chooses less dynamic, resulting in something that's actually sometimes less dramatic than watching the original hearings on youtube.
Confirmation seems built for the classroom, where students can watch and discuss it. If you want to learn a little history, I'd say this is a palatable choice, but if you want to watch something enjoyable, give this a pass.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson (2016)
This is amazing
I think I saw a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie once, although I'm not positive. So I came into this without much in the way of preconceptions. And I loved it. It is absolutely hilarious.
In this pilot for a series I dearly hope makes it, Van Damme plays himself, an aging retired actor whose home is a shrine to his action career and to his dogs. He also happens to be a retired spy, but he decides to go back to both acting and spying in pursuit of an ex girlfriend.
Van Damme is a good sport in playing an over-the-hill himself. There are amusing scenes like him working out in preparation for his return, desperately struggling to find a weight he can still press. There are also just general goofy gags like a hipster restaurant that serves unboiled ramen.
Great writing, great direction, and Van Damme is funny and admirably willing to mock himself.
Everyone should watch this.
slow and humorless
This series has gotten great reviews, and it reminds me a lot of another show that got great reviews, the first season of True Detective. Which I hated.
Like TD, Quarry takes itself very seriously. This is quite a feat, since its traumatized vet becoming a contract killer premise is pretty ridiculous.
The protagonist is unusual, in that, with his droopy mustache and shaggy hair he looks less like a leading man than like a garage mechanic who hits on teenage girls at the local high school.
Things begin very slowly. Very, very slowly. And I found it difficult to keep focused. Finally things pick up with some violence, but it all seemed so ridiculous.
Like True Detective, the series has a bleak look that just adds to its sense of deadness.
If you liked True Detective, you might like this. The critics sure do.
The Tick (2016)
Less funny, less Tick-ish
Having been a huge fan of the animated series and the tragically short-lived live-action one, I was excited to see that Ben Edlund was returning to The Tick well for another drink. Alas, this series shows little of what made the previous two series so enthralling.
This version of The Tick has a lot less Tick in it. This time, the series follows his sidekick Arthur, who has been given mental problems and a traumatic backstory.
This helps tone down the humor, for those who want a less funny The Tick. The show seems to want to be more of a superhero show with some humor rather than a comedy series with a superhero theme.
The Tick himself is still funny, spouting off a continuous series of nutty lines like "evil wears every mitten." He's responsible for most of the laughs, but here he is very much a secondary character.
He's also not very impressive. Patrick Warburton was a perfect Tick, big, macho, and dumb, but Peter Serafinowicz comes across as a rather ordinary oddball in a cheap suit that looks like something from a 1950s sci-fi movie (basically a leotard with a little muscling and antennas added). The effect is wildly unimpressive.
Now, the bad costumes (there's also a jumpsuit with feathers on it) may be the result of a low budget, and there aren't that many Patrick Warburton's out there, but that still doesn't explain the change of focus from hilarious superhero parody to angsty superhero series with a little comedy.
This is a pilot for a series I certainly hope won't occur. I suggest Edlund rethink things and make a different pilot with a different cast. I know it's annoying to be expected to do the same thing you did before, but when what you did before was great and your attempt to change things up falls flat, you should consider just doing the same old thing.
Love & Friendship (2016)
Austen adaptation with an indie vibe
This is a slightly unusual Austen movie, in that the typically long, languorous scenes and overstuffed decor of the genre has been pared down. Scenes are short and often feel slightly cut off, and the rooms seem empty, all of which gives the film an interesting indie quality.
It's also unusual within the Austen universe for it's anti-Heroine Susan. Susan is a charming, beautiful psychopath who manipulates those around her for personal gain and cannot say anything kind about her daughter that doesn't have a cruel twist built in. Played by the always excellent Kate Beckinsale, Susan is horrifying and yet so intelligent and witty that you still enjoy her on screen company.
Beckinsale plays the part to perfection. You see her plotting with her friends, playing her life like an elaborate chess game, yet she has a frightening sincerity; even when she is completely in the wrong, she seems to completely believe the lies she is passionately putting forth.
Also notable is Tom Bennett's wonderfully funny portrayal of a rich dim bulb engaged to Susan's unfortunate daughter. His hilarious first scene is probably the best thing in the movie.
There is a lot to like about this film, but there is also something very slight about it. The movie is all about how this group of characters interact, with the story little more than a way to create these interactions.
Just a quick note, to counteract what I've seen in other reviews: you don't need to be an Austen fan to like this. I'm not an Austen fan. I've liked some of the movies, but outside of the light and probably unrepresentative comedy Northanger Abbey I haven't been able to get through any of her books.
You'll enjoy this is you like witty dialogue and solid performances.