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Michael Palin in North Korea (2018)
Totally in agreement with the other comment here as to mesmerizing (particularly the baby doll traffic police). Michael Palin of Monty Python is the best on travel, his stuff is always top notch. He tries to take us to as many varied spots in Korea as an hour allows, and his selection seems spot on. One would assume his ability to travel in N Korea (with two escorts) and the leeway in his discussions with residents might be a further sign of N Korea's interest in joining the rest of humanity. This is a priceless and insightful travel work.
I mean, it's really not very good
But just the same, like Cherry Falls, I found myself irresistibly drawn back to it time and again the other night. Keach is an American truck driver down under, Curtis (looking pretty darn good) a coy rich kid on the run. Some of the plot is just plain stupid or unbelievable, and Keach's talking to and otherwise entertaining himself while solo on the road goes beyond annoying and into the next category, but there's chemistry between Keach and Curtis that goes above all that in the end (barely). Better than watching a test pattern for those old enough to know what that is.
Around the Horn (2002)
The worst ever
It is just astounding that a major cable network, ESPN, chucks this garbage out daily in a fairly key spot (5 pm), as a lead in to an excellent sports commentary show, Pardon The Interruption. PTI should sue for lack of support. Exhibit 17, in with the ghastly new NFL Primetime, as to why ESPN is inferior to the new spate of me-too sports networks.
The Great Wall (2016)
The action never stops as Damon and friend, expert marksmen, visit China in the midst of an alien creature invasion. They have built the Great Wall against these creatures and they need it all for this most recent attack. Damon pitches in while wondering how he can get his hands on the legendary Chinese explosives. The action never lets up, and Jing and Damon make a very fascinating and attractive team. The end of this goes a little over the top, that's the only disappointment for me in an otherwise fine movie.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Beats the first
The first movie took a lot of time to get going; this one gets rolling, with maybe too much going on right through the end. Rudd hits the spot, Lilly (Hobbit) does pretty well as the Wasp. The Ant Man films have their own sort of goofy, less serious aura, this one doesn't surprise. Maybe a tad too long but a decent ride.
I love not having to write 10 lines. Pratt and Howard worked fairly well first time out, they work better this time. Shenanigans surround the supposed wrap up of Jurassic Park, you know who gets right in the middle of them. Not too long, keeps the pace throughout.
Margin Call (2011)
Fascinating and well-told tale of a corporate melt-down with excellent ensemble cast, especially the always-appreciated Tucci as risk manager and Spacey as floor boss. I'm not going to say much more since the one positive change to Imdb is no more ten line rule. The story and the characters are textured and have a very realistic feel to them. It was only after seeing this 1 1/2 times that I realized the real-life context but that's not the point of the picture. It's about corporate lowest common denominator stupidity and chilling selfishness.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
One hot mess
Two other titles came to mind as I watched this. "The sum is much less than the parts", and/or "Way too much on the plate". As I've said in an earlier review on the Avengers, you get into this superhero escalation where the next movie has to be even more threatening and the evil even more evil than in the last one. Avengers 1 was the best superhero movie ever made period. Avengers 2 fell into the problem I just noted. Avengers 3 has just way too many important characters, story lines, plot twists, issues, blah blah blah. And the motivation and plan for the villain is about as sophomoric as you can get. One good thing - Doc Strange is actually using spells now, not just body throws. There's a number of good moments in this movie but it's just way too much and at its essence way too stupid.
The Death of Stalin (2017)
A smashing success
Brilliantly written and acted, Death of Stalin highlights the scramble for power in the USSR after the death of one of the most despicable leaders in world history. I often criticize historical and particularly Biblical films for taking too much license with the facts, somehow in this case the satire allowed a compression of events and played even better than the raw truth. Steve Buscemi in ordinary life looks nothing like Nikita Khrushchev, nonetheless he is outstanding in the role and the driving actor in the film. The recent spate of historical films is refreshing, and this stands right among the best.
I mean, with all due respect, who writes some of these movies? Baywatch was goofy and very low-brow but still at times a modestly believable and entertaining program. This is an absolute piece of trash, from the same sort of folks who did Minions and Wet Hot American Summer. Give me two weeks in a hotel room in LA and I could write a better plot and script than this. I really don't have much more to say except it's hard to believe folks like Daddario and Johnson would sign on for this geek show.
This is about as good as an on-the-ground depiction of a spectacular event can get. All the actors are flawless, particularly those playing the rival Jewish leaders in their struggle over whether to barter for seized citizens or fight it out. There is a captivating dance number that flows throughout the movie, I have tried to get more info but haven't been able to (yet). I can't imagine, b/c I haven't read them yet, why there are strong detractors on this film, but I can say my 12 year old, who is a hard sell and getting harder, thought this movie as fantastic as myself. I thought the ending a bit rushed but understand the reasons a little better on more thought. Comparable in many many ways to the recent Darkest Hour success.
Assassination Tango (2002)
Duvall heads south to Argentina to knock off a General. Apparently he favors enjoying the local culture, as he soon becomes enmeshed with a generational tango crowd including the enchanting Predraza. For some reason I'm enthralled with movies about undercover hit men, this one pretty much fits the bill, and it's always interesting when Duvall's on the screen. Enjoy.
Two decent action movies sandwiching dull dull dull
I think the Star Wars franchise moves closer to the edge of irrelevance with each entry, starting with (in the order actually made) Attack of the Clones and proceeding onward. The first portion of this movie mildly engaged me, the much too long middle portion with Luke and the girl was Star Wars at its meandering, grade school arbitrary philosophical worse, then the action kicked back in and saved my 12 year old from leaving the theater (by a hair). Ridley is attractive and effective, Driver presents fine as the young evil force, but the explanation (if there is one) as to why he went bad is even less convincing than for Anakin Skywalker, and for this to actually work that has to be done better. Star Wars was always light on believable plots or characters, more in the mode of this person is this way and that person is that way, this happens and don't ask anymore questions. No one else does much for me and the graphics are less effective than in the last movie. Add to all that, there was an intervening Star Wars movie which probably wiped the vestigial memory of Star Wars 7 from any normal person's brain, and this is more bust than blockbuster.
Darkest Hour (2017)
Outstanding even with some minor flaws
I cannot remember the last time I was in a movie and I said, gee I wish this movie would keep going because it's just so damn good. I don't really have to say anything more about Oldman beyond what's already been said, that was brilliant Academy Award work. Despite being a literalist on history and not enjoying Hollywood embellishments/contrivances that didn't really happen, I will repeat something I said on another movie (Patton): I am okay where a fictional event is one that could have happened (or maybe happened out of time sequence) where it is used more to show the persona of the character than to establish an historical fact. Notwithstanding this, the subway scene may have been a little much. Strong cast throughout, including the portrayers of King George VI, Chamberlain, Halifax and Churchill's lovely secretary (James). A must see for WW II buffs and appreciators of good cinema everywhere.
She's Out of My League (2010)
Baruchel is somewhat nerdy airport employee who happens to help drop-dead gorgeous Eve in distress, after much support from his gang of airport friends he asks her out. He expects the hammer to fall at any time. In one of the great lines of romantic comedy moviedom, his friend says of a prior relationship "I was a 6, maybe a 7, but she was a hard ten .... I just couldn't beat the spread". The same is expected by Baruchel and the question becomes can he live with the fact that his girlfriend is much better looking (and successful) as him? Eve is great, Baruchel is great, his little ensemble of friends play well, including an old girlfriend reinterested in him given his success with Eve. There are the usual embarrassing scenes that are in every movie of this sort but I found this more intelligent and several steps above most of the entries in the American Pie/Porky's genre. Recommended as a light romantic comedy.
The Verdict (1982)
So there are parts of this movie that are as good as it gets in a legal drama (which I usually as a lawyer avoid). Newman is scraping by as an attorney after being disciplined and losing a position with a major firm in some jury misconduct incident (it has always been unclear to me whether he took a dive for his firm or was somewhat involved). Along comes a major malpractice claim against a local Catholic hospital that has left the victim in a coma. Newman, with the help of mentor Jack Warden (great as always) take the case on, and find they have run into a buzz saw from the church, their large and prestigious law firm (led by the despicable James Mason), and biased judge, among some of the many obstacles. The story plays out well, my complaints are: 1) it's sort of a unpleasant scenario to be watched by a practicing attorney, 2) some of the judge's rulings are just goofy even if he's favoring the hospital, 3) one of the big firm's shenanigans defies credibility, and 4) Paul's closing argument sucks. So enjoy the good parts and sort of ignore the problem areas.
Be careful what you wish for
In this film written and directed by Michael Crichton, Benjamin and Brolin find themselves traveling to a futuristic resort where all your dreams can come true. The three available worlds, Medieval World, Roman World, and West World, all come with robots acting out their roles among the guests. One is never absolutely sure who is what, but that changes when the robots begin to misbehave. The first half of this movie is as good as light drama gets out there, with Brolin the shameless cowboy and Benjamin the neurotic trying to come to terms with his new unlimited environment. Yul Brynner shows up and picks fights with the boys, but they just blow him away Wild West style. Then things start going a little haywire. As I said, the first part is great when the boys are taking full advantage of their liberties, as things go south the movie remains watchable but somewhat less enjoyable. Worth it all for the first half.
Great action sequences
Sometimes historical stories are best described by telling the tale from the perspective of a few individuals instead of trying to give the big picture. The Longest Day and any Michener work is an example. I think that approach works, with some slight reservations, in this one. The focus is on Rylance as the stoic (as it were) small boat captain pitching in; a couple of ordinary soldiers trying just to get out of the trap; and a Hurricane pilot protecting the retreat with developing petrol issues. As you might expect, some of their paths criss cross, which in some ways makes this a little pat, like some Spielberg concoction. It also seemed a little played out and long on time although it wasn't. But the cinematography and the action, particularly the fighter action, is just stupendous and trumps those concerns. Worth a look.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
The Best Yet
So Toby Maguire did a nice job but always looked a little too old for the title character. And there were other problems with the early Spiderman, too much slow romantic entanglement and unentanglements, plus derivative plots. E.g., Spiderman III has some great fight scenes a lot of dreary moments and a plot derivative even from its own earlier movies. I didn't like the second Spiderman, skipped II on that. This Spiderman feels quite right, the movie gets extra juice having Tony Stark involved but that's somewhat of a mixed blessing, I might have liked to see a little less Stark in the plot. Michael Keaton has always been a favorite for me, the best movie Batman, and he plays a finely textured villain in this one. Enjoyable movie, they could have cut 10-15 minutes running time without losing anything.
Wonder Woman (2017)
So DC finally got it right, very much a Marvel-type production, actually one or two up on some recent Marvel works. Gal Gadot is one of the most strikingly beautiful actresses ever, when she's giving that head tilted down look to Pine in the hotel it's lights out. Maybe in part because of that (but only in part) she has chunks of what is known as screen presence, and she has it real big time. I wouldn't have guessed they would pick the end days of WWI for Wonder Woman's solo premier but it was all done right. Good pacing to the movie, maybe had 10 minutes more than they needed and a few of the things that happened didn't entirely make sense, but as an up close intro movie to the brunette Amazon she and it were a knockout.
As far a I recall, having read the Iliad twice in the past, this is a faithful rendition of the basic story, and it rocks and never lets up from beginning to end. Casting is great, Kruger is breathtaking as Helen (and Byrne equally captivating), Bloom is spot on as pretty boy Paris with some vestige of courage, Pitt and particularly Bana are rock solid as the key antagonists. This is a great story and the movie gives it all of the spectacle it deserves, it's a shame they never ran with Bean as Odysseus in the obvious follow up movie. Greek historical buff and all, it took me literally a decade to watch any portion of this and until this year to watch it from beginning to end. I figured it was just Hollywood trash but I was wrong. Just a great historical movie.
So how much is too much?
I put on a spoiler alert even though I'm not telling you how things go. There is no doubting the intensity of this film and the mano a mano between Teller and Simmons (who is flipping great). It raises the celluloid question of how much motivation for a student is too much? Simmons and Teller certainly explore the limits, as each gives up everything else in the grind towards perfection. I almost gave up several times myself because the intensity was more than I wanted to watch, but I did come back in the end. And it was a good thing I did because the ending literally makes the movie. Dare I say, the end is the only finale they could rightfully have. So hang in there because it's worth the trip.
Tattletale Corpse (2016)
A second chance for last words
Van Scott plays coroner who comes into possession of secret government formula that gives recent corpses another few minutes of life. Into his simple mind comes several money-making scenarios and off we go. The production values are how should we say it helped by blue screen and other footage, nonetheless the basic concept of the movie and the plot twists are quite engaging. Fran Rafferty steals the show as the television evangelist who comes to a profitable arrangement with the coroner and his lovely scheming wife, played by Noel. This is fascinating stuff and with better production values could go somewhere.
Hidden Figures (2016)
The Devil in the Details
First I want to say nice movie. But with Biblical movies I am often upset when they deviate from the Bible, I mean what's the point? Why not just use the Bible story? To a lesser extent I feel the same way here. I felt right from the get go that this story about three really smart black women working for NASA in the days of the segregated South was being overplayed Hollywood-style. If you're going to show me discrimination, show me discrimination to these persons like it really happened, not the way it presents most effectively in a Hollywood production with an anti-discrimination agenda. The way this played was so obvious and almost cartoon style that I felt suspicious about the whole deal even where much of the story was absolutely true. So take out the manufactured racial and sexual misinformation because I'd like the real scoop on these wonderful, talented and courageous folks.
As I understand it, Katherine Johnson was accepted as a peer by the other persons she worked with - so please tell me THAT story (which to me is much more interesting than the movie contrivances)? Show Katherine being a true educational and workplace genius accepted by her white male co-workers when outside the KKK has meetings and blacks are directed to the back of the bus. All you do by distorting the facts for the subjects of this movie is to give the detractors something to work with. I would have preferred, and appreciated more, a straight movie about what these women achieved along the lines of Race, which didn't seem contrived in the least. For me, dishonestly presenting the details (on which the movie focuses way too much) just denigrates the amazing true story.
Excellent Star trek entry
So interestingly enough as I go along through life the episodes of Star Trek I enjoy the most are not the ones I treasured during my watching, rewatching, and re-rewatching of the first series. This one now seems quite fine. Moss plays a traveling Shakespearean actor who might or might not be Kodos the Executioner, a planetary governor who eliminated half a colony to stave off mass starvation 20 years before, and now thought dead. Kirk becomes enmeshed in the mystery and despite concerns by Spock as to his priorities seems determined to learn the truth. There are a few problems - like how was a young Kirk on Tarsus IV and how come only nine living people can identify Kodos, but if you can put those sorts of things aside this is fun stuff. In retrospect they could have done better with a few more of these personal dramas than with some of the later half-baked plots. Kirk, Spock and McCoy agonize and quibble back and forth to a satisfying conclusion, good stuff.