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The Mist (2017)
Pretty good so far, in spite of all the hate
An eerie mist descends on a town, and people who enter it die horribly. This series follows a few survivors as they puzzle out what's going on and argue amongst themselves.
Four episodes in and I really like this series. It's nicely creepy and contains some shocking and disturbing moments. That's not, it seems, enough for a lot of horror aficionados, who appear to want big monsters and more blood, but I'm more of a horror-lite sort so this is very much in my sweet zone.
There are some very intriguing characters, such as the old lady and the junkie, and the series does a good job of showing how various people react in a supernatural disaster.
Now I'd like to address two specific schools of criticism:
1) "It's just another Under the Dome."
First off, I really liked Under the Dome. It's one of these series (like The Big Bang Theory) that I see nothing but hate for on the Internet even though it ran for years and thus certainly had a lot of fans.
Second, no, it's not. Under the Dome wasn't really a horror series at all. It was more sci-fi fantasy. And it focused almost entirely on the dynamics of the people involved. The Mist is far more of an actual horror series in which the thing out there is more of a threat than the guy standing next to you (although he's a potential threat as well). It's not reasonable to call every supernatural series in a small town another Under the Dome. Sloppy thinking.
2) "It's liberal propaganda."
Seriously? I keep seeing this and I'm like, huh? I swear, we've reached a point where just having a gay person, or a woman in an authority position, or a mean cop, or more than one minority, will drive a certain segment of the population into frothing rage.
If these weepy snowflakes want to go on their alt-right reddit forums and whine about how everyone is ruining their world, fine. I just wish they would quit coming to IMDb and pushing down the ratings with their nonsense. If you don't like the series because you find it too low-budget or not scary enough or the characters don't connect with you, fine. If you hate the series because in the beginning a teacher is fired by mean people for teaching sex ed, you're just being lame.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Best of the Kong remakes
The original 1933 film King Kong was such a hit that studios have been reviving the big ape ever since. There were sequels, there were a couple of Japanese things, and in the 70s there was a painfully slow and tedious movie only notable for containing Jessica Lange's all- time worst performance.
More recently Peter Jackson attempted to turn the story into a LOTR- style epic, resulting in a few good scenes drowned in sheer bulk.
Skull Island is in some ways a return to the simplicity of the original. There's a giant ape on an island of monsters, there's a bunch of people getting killed, and there's a lot of action.
The shortest Kong movie in some time, coming in at well under two hours, the film gets in a lot of action and even has room for a madness-of-war, Vietnam-inspired undercurrent (which feels a little random but basically works).
The best action scene is Kong versus the helicopters. It's a very intense sequence that, like many scenes in the movie, is a sort of call-back to something in the original. It's unfortunate that the movie can't match that scene elsewhere, but it's generally quite entertaining all the same. I do think it's possible that if you edited the Jackson film from 3 hours to the length of this one it might be the better movie, but based on what was released, Skull Island is easily the best Kong reboot.
Skull Island isn't too attached to the original story, which is fine by me. It even virtually ditches the whole ape/girl romance, which went from obsessive love in the original to weirdly sexual in the 70s to girl-as-pet from Jackson to a sort of mutual respect thing in this one.
The movie also stays on the island - no empire state building this time around. There's room for a sequel, but I hope this franchise continues to do its own thing.
The Great Wall (2016)
If you're a visionary Chinese filmmaker eager to pull in big American *and* Chinese dollars, what would you do? Maybe make a movie with an American star about weird dinosaur things attacking the Great Wall of China? That's what Yimou Zhang went with.
I always check out the latest action picture from Zhang, continually hoping for another Hero or House of Daggers and always coming away disappointed. Alas, he may never manage that again.
Still, as non-Hero Zhang action movies go, The Great Wall is pretty fun. The visuals are amazing, with swarms of beast climbing towers, red arrows and blue outfits set against muted backgrounds, and a final sequence distinguished by an amazing tower of stained glass windows. There are some terrific action scenes, notably one in the foggy smoke of battle in which creatures appear with bracing suddenness.
The human element in the film is somewhat weaker. There is a weird stilted quality in the English dialogue, although I'm not sure if it's the writing or the acting. While the banter between Damon and Pedro Pascal is sometimes amusing, they have little bro-chemistry. The character development is surprisingly weak from a director who, when he's not doing big-budget action, does lovely, small-budget human drama. I suppose it's hard to do both (although Zhang managed it in Flowers of War).
I do give the movie points for establishing a chemistry between Damon and the pretty spear chucker and then keeping their relationship professional. That's about as un-Hollywood as you can get.
Anyway, this is a fun popcorn flick with some great visuals and an epic scale. No, there's not a moment as good as the best moments in Hero, but even Zhang's worst films have something worth watching, and this is far from his worst (which for me, BTW, would be A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop).
Check it out. Just keep your expectations low and you'll have a good time.
The Room (2003)
With a movie about the making of The Room coming out, I thought I'd break down and watch it. I cheated and watched it with RiffTrax, though, in case the unintentional comedy aspect failed on me.
The movie is a fascinating curio that is inept to a level that is hard to even describe. It's not just the broad strokes, like the inane story or the hanging subplots or the abysmal acting. It's also the moment to moment directorial choices. For example, in a scene involving a loan shark, Lisa gets upset and reacts with over-the-top emotion. But in the cutaways to the actor she's talking to, his emotional tone doesn't jibe and it's not clear they are working from the same script. This is pretty common in the movie.
It's not just that director/writer/star Wiseau has no concept of the language of film but that he doesn't seem to understand how people work. He's like a robot who has tried to figure out human interactions and failed abysmally. There is not a moment where anyone does anything a real person would do in the same circumstances. None of the characters make sense, none of the actions make sense. While famous bad-film-director Ed Wood seemed to understand what a movie was supposed to look like, even if he couldn't make it happen, Wiseau appears to have lived along in a box his entire life.
Well, not quite, because one gets the impression that Wiseau is mad at someone he dated. Lisa is basically a psychopath, suggesting that Wiseau thinks women are just plain out to get him.
Would this have been funny without RiffTrax? I'm not sure. Some things, like the plentiful, tedious, *endless* sex scenes, are painful even with jokes in the background. Other times I could see where in the right mood I would laugh at the terribleness of it all.
Anyway, *with* RiffTrax it's pretty fun, although I thought they were being unfair to the actress playing Lisa, who was undeserving of the body shaming lines.
Goodness, look at how many people love this series! I watched the first episode and found it a mixed bag, but that's certainly the minority opinion here!
The series began with a woman coming to Dracula's castle. The interaction between the two felt forced, unfortunately, failing to pull me in. Then some bad stuff happens leading to fire and demons and lots of blood and guts, all of which also feels forced in a "look how dark and edgy we're being!" way.
Still, all of that was okay, with some interesting animation.
Then there's some rambling scene in a bar with a bunch of drunks that feels unconnected to the story and a sudden ending. I understand the entire season is about 80 minutes and the weird structure of episode one makes me wonder if this was originally planned as a movie and then was just chopped up into episodes. I can see no other reason for such bad story flow.
At the end, I felt I had not been given any good reason to continue watching.
Twin Peaks: Part 8 (2017)
Fascinating and Tedious arm wrestle, and Tedious wins
While IMDb reviewers are inclined to either give this ten stars and declare it the best thing ever put on TV or give it one star and say it's not art and betrays the Twin Peaks experience, I can see both sides.
This episode is certainly outside the realm of the series. After a few minutes following the Twin Peaks story, we go back in time. Then there's a super slow-mo of an atomic explosion, which is kind of fascinating, a sort of gray scribbly light show, which goes on forever, a scene with a cool silent movie look and a glacial pace, and a sort of Lynchian version of a 50s horror movie that is effectively creepy and disturbing but once again extremely slow moving.
Like a number of people here, the episode made me think of Eraserhead. I hated Eraserhead. It is just soooooo boring. I like Lynch when he mixes the weirdness with an actual story, as in Blue Velvet or the original Twin Peaks, but when we get to the Lynch of Eraserhead of Inland Empire I just want to run screaming into the night.
Even though I didn't enjoy this episode, I feel some of its harshest critics go overboard. First off, it's silly to declaim, "this is not art!" Of course it's art. It may or may not be good art, but it's art. I don't like Philip Glass or Jackson Pollock, but I don't insist they're not art. This episode has a distinct vision and ultimately fits neatly in the Lynch oeuvre.
As for whether it is appropriate as part of the Twin Peaks series, well, I'm on the fence. Unlike a lot of fans of the original series, I really like The Return, and much of the weirdness works for me.
Complaining that David Lynch did something that was "too weird" or even that something in Twin Peaks is "too weird" just seems like the wrong criticism. It's *all* "too weird." It's as though people are complaining that the series doesn't have a thermostat that allows them to set the weirdness level they're comfortable with.
I didn't enjoy this episode, and I don't want to watch it again, but I don't consider a betrayal akin to something like the infamous Terrence and Philip episode that began season 2 of South Park. I'm *still* mad about that. I'm already over the disappointment of this Twin Peaks oddity.
But I admit, if Lynch does any more of these I might give up on the series. I'm not sure I can put up with this more than once.
Real Women Have Curves (2002)
Nice little indie film
In Real Women Have Curves, a young woman's college dreams are held at bay by her mother, who wants her to get a job, find a husband, and have babies.
The young woman is the child of an immigrant, and while I always think of immigrants as wanting their children to lead better lives, Ana's mother Carmen seems to actively not want that. She constantly insults and belittles Ana and is a difficult character to emphasize with.
This is not to say that Ana is perfect, displaying some youthful arrogance, but America Ferrera in her film debut displays all the charm that has made her a star.
While the movie centers on the daughter-mother conflict, it's really about all sorts of things - body acceptance, the immigrant experience, youthful passions and insecurities.
This is a small, slice-of-life movie with solid acting. I tend to like movies with more flash and higher drama, but this is very much the movie it sets out to be and works quite well.
Great News (2017)
Moderately funny but surprisingly conventional for a Tina Fey production
When I heard there was a new comedy from Tina Fey I had to check it out. But when i watched it, I thought, is this conventional sitcom about an interfering mother and her reporter daughter really by the woman who created 30 Rock and Kimmie Schmidt?? The answer is no. Fey is the producer but not the creator, and there is little of the insane, bordering-on-surreal touches that distinguish her own creations.
Still, the series is reasonably funny. There are moments when it's quite funny. Andrea Martin does a solid job as the mother and things move pretty quickly.
But after two episodes, I just don't see why I would bother watching this when there are series like Kimmie Schmidt and Speechless I could watch instead.
Bus Stop (1956)
Fine performance by Marilyn in a pro-stalker romance
I liked this movie when I saw it decades ago, before I knew anything about rape culture. Monroe gives her best performance playing an insecure, untalented, sweetly vulnerable singer with dreams of Hollywood. The film is breezily shot and contains solid performances by character actors Arthur O'Connell and Eileen Heckart. And unlike almost everyone here on IMDb, I found Don Murray's antics reasonably entertaining.
Watching this again many years later, I'm far more horrified by the story. Once upon a time, movies about boorish men aggressively, even violently, pursuing women, were so common that you never gave it much thought, but I no longer can see the romance in that. Bo's behavior is not just boorish but downright criminal, and even in the fifties it's hard to believe it would be seen, as every character in the movie does, as basically just bad manners.
The movie feeds into the idea that you can force a woman to love you by making Monroe ambivalent throughout. This is not unconvincing, because she is established as someone who has been badly treated, but it would make far more sense as a dark drama than as a light romantic comedy.
The movie also might work better if the actors were younger. Murray is a 27-year-old man playing a 21-year-old man who acts like a 15-year-old, and Monroe is a 30-year-old woman playing someone whose naivety would be more appropriate to a teenager.
My girlfriend, who was curious about Marilyn, was horrified by this movie. But I told her if you want to see a non-sexist Marilyn Monroe movie you are destined to be disappointed.
Honestly, if I just turn off the part of my brain that says kidnapping women and forcing them to marry you is a bad thing, I can still enjoy this movie. But in an age where I've heard too many stories of women being harassed and attacked and treated like toys, that's a part of my brain I can no longer turn off.
Miyamoto Musashi (1954)
Nice little Japanese western
When I think "samurai movie," I think of the American western-influenced films of Kurosawa like Yojimbo and Seven Samurai. But my search for similar movies has shown that a lot of people define "samurai movie" as any movie featuring samurai. So I was happy when I finally got around to watching the first of the Samurai trilogy films that it is, in fact, very much a Japanese western, full of sweeping vistas, iconic characters, small town life, violence, and a score that you could attach to a John Ford film. Only, as with the Kurosawa films, I like this better than I like most American westerns.
The movie features two friends who go to war and wind up on the run. They meet a couple of women, their fates diverge, the fiancé of one pines, and a priest intercedes. The plot is definitely Eastern, and at times feels wandering and disjointed, but it manages to just hold together.
While no match for Seven Samurai, this is a very pleasant, enjoyable film that makes me want to watch the rest of the series. Once that's done, I'll have to go back to the search for more Japanese westerns.