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The War of the Worlds (2019)
H.G. Wells gets bogged down by Downton Abbey
Please leave the mannerisms of Edwardian foppishness to the folks who have that down so well at Downton. Why introduce a mannered predictable socially unacceptable romance into what could have been an antique Sci-Fi potboiler?
What could have been transformative becomes turgid. What could have been spectacular becomes stultifying. H.G. Wells had a terrific imagination. Why couldn't the adaptation at least try to make us move to the edge of our seats?
I've only seen round one of three but I'm left severely disappointed by the unimaginative writing and the very slow start.
What with Spielberg's disastrous rendition of the classic yarn a few years ago, good ol' Gene Barry is still master of the field with the Yanks' 1953 oh so 50s retro color version which at least had some damn pacing.
I'm going to give the next episode a lookover, but I'll be ready to be put to bed with all the 'excitement.'
A simple war story of confusion at the front, trial at home
From "The Caine Mutiny Courth Martial" to "A Soldier's Story" and "A Few Good Men" there has been much to mine dramatically regarding the life in uniform, whether at the front or in training or in barracks versus the life as understood at home, and the life as understood under military or civilian law. In "Krigen" we follow the lives and events of a Danish team on point in Afghanistan, as well as the life of the commander's wife at home looking after her children in the absence of their father.
Life for all is complicated when confusing action at the front is put under legal scrutiny at home. After the commander calls in an air strike while trying to evacuate a wounded comrade under fire, he is put on trial back in Denmark. It wasn't clear to me if the court was military or civilian. He is put in a situation where he (apparently) must lie in order to defend himself. It is hard to imagine this occurring in the United States where a person need not testify against himself. I found the crux of the Danish plot somewhat confusing. "Krigen" Shows a snatch of life on the Afghanistan front from one of the European "coalition of the willing": Denmark. The Danish soldiers are enmeshed in a foreign land with a language that they do not speak and rules of engagement. The squad leader is with his command when they are under fire in bewildering circumstances. After the action he is charged with civilian deaths.
This was somewhat bewildering. Possibly it is based on a real event the Danes are aware of. To me the action under which they were under fire was confusing. That is as it shoujld be. War is really like that. But after the commander calls in the strike, they are no longer under fire. This would seem to corroborate his call.
The movie was well done. The cast was believable, the effects excellent. Not too garish. It was like a quiet "Black Hawk Down". The commander is apparently put under a civilian court, not the more familiar (to Americans) court martial. But under actions such as this, civilians die all the time. If they are being occupied by insurgents, then they are under the same danger of attack. Ever since air strikes this has been a common occurrence.
A similar them is covered more clearly in an episode of "The Good Wife" (Season 3 Episode 9: "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot") where the lawyers are hired to assist an air controller who calls in a drone strike which kills civilians. In that episode, there is a similar issue of civilians being put at hazard while a valid military target is hit. In that case there was no squad under fire, however the overall situation was explained in American military terms, which were easier to understand and less confusing than the situation of "Krigen".
Sword of Trust (2019)
Captures the Insanity of Present Day Conspiracy Nuts with hapless normal people
I just finished watching "Sword of Trust" and I give it above average marks as a movie. I thought it had good entertainment value, it had something to say without preaching it, it was well cast and well written. It was a low budget movie which used its resources wisely. And above all, it made no pretentions to be anything but what it was, and that puts it above average right there. I was not familiar with the works of Maron or Shelton prior to this movie, but I will look out for their names in future.
The story is simple and contains appropriate weirdness for this time in which it was made. Early on a pair of women receive an unexpected inheritance from the estate of an ancient relative: a Civil War sword that is argued to be "proof" that the South won the Civil War. I think writer even invented a new internet term, 'prover' (at least I had not heard it before). A pawnshop owner gets involved and the action mostly revolves around the interactions of the characters involved. I enjoyed Marc Maron's writing and acting, the writing was wryly humorous and observant. The acting was understated. I especially liked Jon Bass' performance as the internet junkie (barely) staffing the pawnshop. Michael Watkins and Jillian Bells' character interactions were believable to a point and well acted. Supporting character Toby Huss was properly 'over' acted and Dan Bakkedahl was solid.
I think it was well directed, well acted, the dialogue was cute and humorous for the most part. The background music went well with the rural/ semi-suburban ambiance of the picture, which I also liked.
Some of the action is improbable, but it is no more improbable than most movies, including high dollar high attendance shows that are not as entertaining.
This movie is about ordinary Americans in an age where the most ridiculous ideas are peddled to all and sundry allowing anybody to partake of any of a collosal amount of conspiracy theories including that the earth is flat.
If you like this movie at all you may be interested in a great audio album that predates the internet by a couple score years but does not predate the current insanity: Firesign Theatre's "Everything You Know is Wrong". It was consistently funny and way way ahead of its time. And still is.
Not a HISTORY, but a tasty personal SAMPLER on the subject
Another review of this 5 part show takes great umbrage to Jeremy Paxman's presentation: It is more of an in-depth review than I'm going to write. In part, it says: "The history on display is pretty weak sauce. Subjects are often only partially covered, with one or two events picked out for special attention whilst others are ignored or omitted entirely. The interviews are invariably with 'ordinary people' rather than experts, with the result that many are simply meaningless."
This review is first rate and I agree with every word of it. But I'm going to give Mr. Paxman's work a pretty good star rating for some of the reasons enumerated. It is a PERSONAL look at the Empire from multiple perspectives, especially the perspectives of many of the colonized. I found Mr. Paxman personally engaging, the photography was specacular, he owes a great deal to his cinematographer.
The subject of the British Empire is a VAST one, and there was no way to give it completeness with five installments and this presenter. And it was not in any chronological order. It was PERSONAL. In the first episode he goes superficially into the history of Gt. Britain in Palestine and the Balfour Declaration and the King David Hotel bombing of 1946. Because he can interview one of the Israeli participants. He gives India much more space, but India is much longer and larger than he can possibly fit in. Perhaps my favorite episode was one that I had least hopes for before watching: "Playing the Game" where he gave a personal Englishman's view of the sportsmanlike ethos with which the upper classes were raised, and how it permeated and inflitrated the self-view and world view of the would-be colonists.
So I found this a worthwhile and engaging series and I agree that it is not by any means historical, nor is it meant to be.
The colonies that became my nation are barely mentioned, the role of the English Republican government in establishing empirical intentions, many many other factors are simply not there. Consider this a small selection of oeur d'oeuvres. And tasty!
California Typewriter (2016)
Making the once familiar once again familiar
A beautifully shot, paced, and variegated documentary which brings together multiple flows of narrative, starging with a 'murder' story from the road at the very beginning and including people who are fascinated with the typewriter as history, the typewriter as cause, the typewriter's guts as a source of creative art, and simple typewriter collecting. The people are varied, informed, have something to say, and the documentarian is absolutely in charge and invisible. The music selection was impeccable and probably left out Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter" as too 'near the bone'/ trite to be used for a movie that has a lot of stuff to show while carrying more than one message.
A masterwork which I thoroughly enjoyed
The Dig (2018)
Very Simple Story, Well Presented but Excruciatingly Told
A man returns home after years of incarceration, having completed his sentence but his victim's relatives have yet to find their lost one. He says he can't remember what happened.
Good casting, good acting, but so slowly paced in order to get out this basic tale of guilt and, possible repentance?
I got through it by fast forwarding the flick. In a theater I would have glanced at my watch a thousand times or at the slightest invitation fallen asleep.
There is a basic technical question one would ask, assuming that the action takes place in the latter part of the Twentieth Century or the early Twenty-First, there are no cell phones involved, so it's hard to tell. But certain searches for underground items can be augmented powerfully by equipment or, dogs? No dogs in this part of Ireland apparently.
Compare this story to a very similar but much richer story in the movie "Winter's Bone". That movie was much richer in character and place, while concentrating far more on a single protagonist.
Final impression it's a drawn out stage play of sorts. I'd watch the actors again, but be very wary of the writer director producer. Not enough story here.
Simple Premise Done Right
My first reaction when I heard the premise of this movie was that it was going to be a stupid pandering flick to get the pocket money of the tragically hip who don't really remember but think they do.
I went through the 60s, on the youngish side, and was NOT an immediate fan of the Beatles.
But this movie was well written, well cast, and offers great entertainment while making some pointy points. It is good natured and a trifle daring, towards the end.
I was surprised at how well hooked I was, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
The cast was excellent. Patel has an expressive face, Lily James is sweet and endearing. I like Kate McKinnon but I think her character was either under utilized or unnecessary to the overall scheme of things. Ed Sheeran played an interesting supporting character quite well.
I recognized Sanjeev from television series "Unforgotten". He is excellent in everything I've seen him in. Here he contributes to the domestic believability of the main characters and appropriately humorous.
The Drowning Pool (1975)
Has not aged well, if it ever did
A pretty tired effort, especially the screenplay. I do not recall the Ross MacDonald story, but if it called for a two story room to be filled with water as a plot device, maybe the fault is in the original. . .
Tony Francisosa came across to me as ludicrously cast as a New Orleans cop and a few of the other accents came off badly as well. Paul Newman is somewhat charming but far off his best.
Melanie Griffith is worth watching for her fetching youthfulness but not much else. The dialogue is forced and unconvincing in most character interactions. Well worth a pass.
Lancaster Skies (2019)
An exercise in Minimalism- How to put the least possible story into a movie
A period piece with no period.
Small sparse sets whether in the planes, the quarters, even the cars were small. And the plot. . .
I couldn't shake the notion that the the sets were rooms in houses arranged for Youtube videos. The flight sequences were very very few and appeared to be done via flight simulators, the type you buy for your laptop.
The story was very little, as well. Lots of buried attitude which must be brought to the surface and relieved, all in service to extend a meagre plot. Really not much to call someone to watch this movie. Pretty much any other movie of the past captures more of that past and has more interesting characters, more story, and more sense of being there than this effort.
Without going into research, I'll say that the clothing designer seemed to have done their job and the actors themselves were personable and delivered the necessary slow and portentous looks and sighs to display character in place of dialogue.
This Has Been Done Better (Ghostbusters, Men In Black)
This movie strives for. . . Well, it rally doesn't strive. It tries to piggyback onto the lowbrow zeitgeist of "Dumb and Dumber" but what it really does is a sideways steal of the plot points of "Men In Black" the very clever and very funny First of the series. Only "Evolution" isn't very clever, and it isn't very funny. It sets us up for a situation where a trio of ne'er do wells who are thought of, with justice, by the rest of the world as dumbasses.
And then they dumbass their way into and out of trouble. But hey, we've all been there.
In this case the bulk of the characters go through their paces but without visible plotting. The poorly cast Julianne Moore is once again abused in the sense that her very good skills are not called for in a movie that makes her fall for the weird hero with zero chemistry just when she should. And the movie makes her fall all on her own. For no good reason she is depicted as clumsy, but in a not funny way. Orlando Jones is tortured by gross means as has only happened to black sidekicks many times before (and since). Only his character doesn't get to display compensating worthiness as did the characters in Ghostbusters and MIB.
Sum Total. This movie provides low quality diversion which dummies might confuse with entertainment. It is totally missable if you've got some chores that need doing.
Much eye candy throughout, great visual imagination, limited characterization and story
Major caveat to my review; at this time I am not familiar with the graphic novels which created the characters and situations. Now to the movie: I loved the first ten minutes which were an intro. Fabulous video imagery!
But the story needed to be better explicated throughout. The transfer of the story from page to screen was deficient and the deficiency was in the framing of the story and the writing in support of everything.
As to casting. I loved seeing Rutger Hauer, The main characters however, were not very engaging. They went through the motions but carried little emotion. I was reminded of a similar failing from book to screen in the Dune story. Though visually stunning for its time, the main cast of characters did not carry the story and did not seem emotionally suited to their roles.
The above being said, I found the movie watchable from the great visual variety presented, it was as though the cantina scene from the original Star Wars was magnified to the nth degree. Kudos. And the movie as a whole was far more imaginative and interesting than the banalities of the latest version of Mission Impossible.
Engineering Catastrophes (2018)
Still waiting for a real catastrophe, or even a definition thereof.
This four part series was a major disappointment. For one thing, it does not meet the average person's criteria for either disaster or catastrophe. For another, it provides only scant hard information or visual documentation for the actual failures. For a third thing, the hand waving 'explainers' are labeled but are rarely of a profession related to the technical problems they are hand waving about.
Probably half of the items discussed concern buildings and roads built over unreliable, sliding, or soft subsurface material. These are not really satisfying engineering disasters so much as poor decision making on the part of the funders.
There was a case of a building put together with human leg sized bolts which apparently degrade in place, then break and fall many stories to ground level. How about an example of even one of these broken bolts.
Save your time, save your money, watch something else.
The Favourite (2018)
Repellant for Sure. . . Malevalent?... Maybe
Best part was the textiles. . . The costume budget for this period piece must have run into the commissary bills, because not a lot of sharp focus was spent on the foods being gorged, but a ton was spent on sharply couture period wear. I wish more time was spent on the story and script,what there was of it. I'm pretty sure I heard the use of 'ok' and I know I heard a character describe being 'blindsided.' This does not good dialogue make.
It seems to be a period piece set out of its period. And there are no likable people in it, nor very believable people in it. It is a movie which winks.....maybe at itself. But is it trying for a modern statement or merely surrealism?
But after two hours I couldn't say what the relevance of any of this was other than slow entertainment. It seemed to be scene after scene of unrealistic and somewhat petty cattiness drossed up to what is supposed to be modern sensibilities.
I predict it will do well at the Oscars, not well among real large scale viewership, and vanish as an also- ran into the future. I do not think it is a pleasant watch for the average human, historian, but if you're into fabrics, definitely worth a rent.
Apple Tree Yard (2017)
Good Actors bring more horsepower than necessary to the inadequate story
The 4 part series got off to a bracing start, then sagged and continued to sag by bringing in many story elements which indicated they may impact on the plot, then ultimately did not. Detailed but overdone legal niceties considering the amount of time they sucked out of the 4 episodes. The ultimate payoff at the very end was likewise inadequate. Felt sorry for pretty much all the characters, barring one, but ultimately most sorry for myself.
The Void (2016)
Creepy? Check. Bloody? Check. Original? Seen worse.
When you put together a movie on a budget, even a much larger budget than this one has, you have to think of it as a balloon. You want the effects to hold up. You want your actors to do more than just drool. You want the movie to hold together without any obvious weaknesses.
This appears to be a well cast, well acted, well produced bit of horror for a Halloween audience done on a budget, but done in a balanced way. It looks spare rather than cheap. Spare is good. Maximum use is made of power failure, blinking lights, lonely road situations, simple but memorable symbols, such as the triangle. Well Done. Maintains many standard creep style tropes but so what, that's what most horror shows do. The weakness for me was with the script, and it was more that the plot lacked the spare originality of the other parts of the movie. It is worth a creep show date night watch. But you won't be buying the DVD for a second showing. I would say that everyone associated with the movie is worth watching for the chops they showed in this get-together, and hopefully more to come.
Feng huo fang fei (2017)
See "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo"
The movie: "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" was released during WWII but was made with first class actors and great attention to actual events. It shows the raid on Tokyo from pre-planning, to practise, to the raid itself, with actual footage from the raiders used as matting as the B-25s approach the city. It follows the actual experience of one of the American pilots who was severely wounded and shows the great heroism of the Chinese on the ground who saved his life, operated on him, and protected him from the Japanese occupiers who were searching for the Americans. The Chinese suffered greatly throughout the war and in particular were punished for the protection they gave the American fliers.
Convincing verisimilitude, History? Watchability? Not so much. . .
All the actors look good, the English seem to have superior ability to show period history to Americans.I found the anti-Catholic attitudes and depictions convincing, the showing of the ghastly punishments of the time on the parts of English and Spanish were believable and hard to watch.
But there is some apparent filler material, particularly scenes where a priest who is party to the conspiracy is arrested and being 'put to the question' (tortured). The conspirators 'rescue' him. Was that historical or just inserted sub-plot? Sometimes the dramatic swordplay made me think of "Game of Thrones". The acting was uninspired, encouraged by uninspired writing. The only depth of personality I picked up was from Mark Gatiss, playing spymaster Lord Robert Cecil. I felt that the context and the persons and the events were not clearly enough delineated to make the history as clear as it could have been, sacrificed for the violence and action of the 'show'. History parlayed into entertainment.
The music was lugubrious and unmemorable.
Lost in Space (2018)
Irwin Allen gets a new lease on Sci-Fi life. Sad!
I watched the first episode which was as incoherent with actual science and space (and the physics of ice melting) as the original. I am not going to review this further except to say there is far better sci-fi fare out there.
The Bad Batch (2016)
Not a Total Loss, but will make you crave some nice 'Long Pig'
Watched this rather long, slow movie while de-fragmenting my hard drive. Interesting flick, but that does not make it good. I'm giving it three whole stars because the music was okay, the song selections were okay, listenable, and some of the cinematography/ visual effects of things like mountains, desert scapes and stars were well done and attractive.
The story is, however, neither well done nore attractive. And did I say the movie was long? It was too long for the inaction involved.
Our star is a sweet young thing in cutoffs who crosses a dangerous border and finds herself cutoff in more ways than one. She escapes one human 'tribe' and wanders into another.
There are some big name actors playing supporting or minor roles in this professional appearing bit of trivia.
I got the strong impression that the author / screenwriter director was motivated by Tarentino's Grindhouse products. That admiration did not absorb the action or humor of these pieces, however.
Watch this in order to break down your date into a bored yet disgusted heap.
The Shape of Water (2017)
"The Creature From the Black Lagoon Who Shagged Me."
Excellent Actors. Borrowed Characters. Attempt at Fantasy Interspecies Romance. Good atmosphere. Unoriginal plot. Tries too hard to be PC and violates its own standards. Runs just over two hours. I give it a 4 out of 10. Your mileage may vary.
There are many characters and plot devices that are derived from other shows and movies. For instance, the Michael Shannon character Strickland is a reprise from his FBI agent character in Boardwalk Empire. Only here he is even more unlikable for reasons that are not really logical even within the context of the plot. The theme of love between different beings with a magical tie-in is reminiscent of 'Avatar', along with the demonization of western 'white' mankind. The 'creature' costume is very well done and very reminiscent of the similar creature in Hellboy. Hellboy was a much better integrated movie without the PC baggage. The 'love' affair is of course nothing of the kind. It is, by the standards of the movie itself, an additional exploitation of an innocent creature by a human being.
Poor casting, poor characters fail to convince in this time-bender of a movie
I was unable to achieve belief in the characters or to care about the characters in this attempt at melding recent news in the physics world to a science fiction time slipping plot. There seemed to be an attempt to quote some items of physics theory and then go rapidly to gobbledygook, which is not a crime in sci-fi plots but in this case does not achieve liftoff. The main character was to young and glib to be taken seriously as a deep thinking physicist.
Valley of Bones (2017)
Hodgepodge Film is Inadequate on More Than One Level
"Valley of Bones" is a short, eye-catching title for a film that seeks to be action-adventure but goes wide and ends short of the mark. Not a bad idea for a movie, just a premise that could not be believably sustained by the author and director. Female paleontologist with a criminal past and a young son she is raising with her father gets wind of a potential dinosaur find on a remote ranch which the audience and one other character know to be a scene of drug-running violence. Apparently the drug cartel thinks it can profit from a heap of dug up fossils, too.
So much is not how things are really done in the real world of pre-historic fieldwork. Fossils are not bones. Major finds are not worked by a couple of folks with shovels who can extract them over lunch. Most junkies are not good at taking down barflies.
It's not the sketchy characters, it's the sketchy story and the plotholes and timing problems.
BTW, Mark Margolis pays a visit from 'Better Call Saul'. Why? I'm thinking he lost a bet.
Blue Bloods (2010)
All the best character actors and Tom Selleck, too. Good Show
"Blue Bloods" is only part police procedural. It concerns a New York family where almost every member of the oldest three generations has a job with the police department or the legal infrastructure of Metropolitan New York City. All the actors are attractive and well cast. Donnie Wahlberg plays the big brother cop who is smart, devoted, aggressive, a dead shot. Will Estes is younger brother Jamie with legal smarts but also a street cop. Tom Selleck is the Police Commissioner who is also their father. Len Cariou is the former PC who is the grandfather. Bridget Moynihan is the sister who works in the DA's office. Everyone is brave, everyone is loyal, everyone is as I already wrote, good looking (when they're not great looking, Bridget). Not to be unmentioned are supporting cast members such as Abigail Hawke, Gregory Jbara, who work in the Commissioner's Office with Selleck.
Writing is crisp and authoritative.
Now on the other side: In comparison to the venerable "Law & Order", this show, Blue Bloods, is more simplistic and straightforwared than the legal curves they throw down on that show. In other words, Law & Order is more sophisticated and plot driven than Blue Bloods, and it could be argued that Blue Bloods is a more conservative, controlled environment that promotes sympathy for the cops to a greater extent than L&O while going through the motions of viewing complicated problems from more than one side. Both shows are extremely unrealistic in that they use major time compression to boil down actual legal procedures that would take months or years in real time to fit in the one hour for a television show.
Black Mirror (2011)
This is 'Twilight Zone' for the New Millenium
Charllie Brooker's Series 'Black Mirror', just having released its 6 episode fourth season on Netflix, is must-see story-telling for the current developing age of homo technologus, where feeble humans cope with what their age of apps and smartphones have wrought and are wreaking.
Each story can be considered on its own. Here is a tale of a husband paging through the memory chip in his head that augments his ability to recall events and discovering a new view of his wife. There is a tale of what can happen when an electronic bee-hive is hacked. All are tales of the near future so close we are almost touching it.
We can agree or disagree with how the writer sees the issues, but I think the issues are already there.
There is plenty of homage to go around to the best of sci-fi prognositicators, I would mention the creator of Twilight Zone, Rod Serling, and I would mention Philip K. Dick as a mentor as well. But Charlie Brooker works them into the perceptions of NOW.
Non Review Review: Why Remake a Classic 50 plus years later
I'm going to take a chance and review a movie I have not seen, based on a different movie (Dunkirk) I have seen. We are two generations past the end of the Second World War, a War in which my father fought in the Pacific. Many excellent movies have been made about the Japanese experience in and after the War. Two of them were "Harp of Burma" and "Fires on the Plain". They came out when experiences were fresh and the immediacy of the effects were still visible, particularly in Japan and the Pacific. One of the things that has begun to pale throughout the war movie experience is the substitution of effects for story and theme. One of the most blatant examples of this was the recent Russian movie Stalingrad (2013) which went into over-the-top absurdity. When you watch a movie like this, you know less at the end than you knew at the beginning. A more recent effort to recapture the past was the English effort: Dunkirk (2017) which was wonderful acting and effects, but for me no real empathy, but lastly nothing new to say. I have not seen this new movie, I understand it is full of shots of bodies and bleeding and corpses, but this is simply cinematic spray paint to coarsen and emblazon a message rather than get to the original guts of the message. The earlier movies can convey this in a way the later movies have not come close to. My argument is that these later movies convey fakery more than authenticity and reduce our understanding by substituting sound effects and splashy colors that will drown out in both ways the thoughtful originals which actually could make us think. There is more than one way to say, shout, or make us remember that War Is Hell.