What I Watched May 2016

Movies

30 for 30 Fantastic Lies – Another of ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 documentaries, this one about the Duke Lacrosse rape scandal that turned out to be not at all what the prosecutor claimed it was. It is a chilling look at what can happen when the system is abused. ****

Captain America Civil War – review here. ****

Journey to the West – A Stephen Chow directorial effort that tells the opening portion of this classic tale. Chow’s movies are frequently possessed of an almost manic energy, but that turns from an asset to a problem in this movie. It is nearly impossible to get a handle on the tone of this movie. It goes from jokey fun to gruesome violence and back forth repeatedly, making for a disconcerting viewing experience, even as it is largely enjoyable. ***

The Forbidden Kingdom – This is an obvious attempt to make a kung fu movie palatable to a wider western audience but jamming a white guy in to be a main character. The real highlight should be the combination of Jet Li an Jackie Chan, but so much time is spent with the less interesting main character. Still, when the movie lets its real stars it is highly entertaining. The fight as they meet for the first time is good fun, as is the finale. That is what this movie delivers; despite some disappointments the movie delivers a lot of fun. ***1/2

Detective Dee and The Mystery of the Phantom Flame – This is essentially a Chinese version of the recent Sherlock Holmes movies. It has an eccentric detective at the center of a big mystery, with his investigation interspersed regularly with action scenes. I didn’t take to the mystery as well in this, maybe because it is easy to miss nuance when you are reading subtitles, but I like the fights just fine and the rest of it was plenty good. It is a touch too long, clocking in at over 2 hours, but I enjoyed it throughout. ***1/2

Pleasantville – I realize that this movie’s playing with color and black and white is mostly just a cheap trick, but I still love it anyway. It isn’t a subtle movie, or one I would want to watch over and over, but for it is still really great. I like everyone’s performances and the trick with the color is a really good one. ****

Legend of the Drunken Master – This should come as no surprise, but Jackie Chan is delightful. I’ve only experienced old Jackie Chan, but in his prime he was truly amazing. The fight scenes in this are something else. Each one is completely delightful; inventive and creative and just entertaining. The comedy bits at other times don’t work quite as well, but the rest of the movie more than makes up for it. I really, really like this movie. ****

30 for 30: One Magic Moment – This film takes a good long look at the Orlando Magic team of the mid-90s, examining how they were built and how they rose to prominence before falling just as fast. It is really interesting. The crazy events that had to happen to get a team in Orlando and then for them to get successive #1 draft picks is like a story book. It all went right up until it all fell apart. Shaq and Penny led the Magic to the NBA finals, but soon after that Shaq left for Los Angeles and Penny got hurt, returning a shell of his former self. Suddenly the team of the future was no more. It is a fascinating, yet sad story. ****

God of Cookery – Another Stephen Chow movie, this one about a corrupt celebrity chef who has his business empire taken from him and must work to be a true God of Cookery. It again combines nuttiness with some genuine darkness, but this time the weirdness easily wins out. It can be truly hilarious, but I don’t know that I like it as much as Kung Fu Hustle or Shaolin Soccer. The cooking showdown at the end is a thing of brilliance, though. ***1/2

Darkman – I can’t say I am a huge Raimi fan, if only because I detest almost everything that can be classified as horror, but I did like his Spider-Man movies. Someone recommended I watch this as well, which is some strange horror/superhero/revenge movie combination starring Liam Neeson. I didn’t hate it, but neither did it really grab me. The plot is actually really simple, a man survives an attempt to kill him and gets revenge on his would be murderer. It is just done with a lot of insanity thrown on top. In theory it sounds good, but I never managed to care even a little bit for any of the characters. ***

X-Men: Apocalypsereview here. **1/2

Five Deadly Venoms – My recent infatuation with Kung Fu movies led me to this, which was sold to me as a cult classic, but I can’t say I liked it all that much. There are a couple of good fights, but it seems like the movie spends way too much time indulging in the torture of one character and other stuff that is just inconsequential to the main storyline. I still enjoyed it more or less, but it just didn’t feel like enough. ***

TV

Poirot S11 – This show, always good if a little stilted, grabbed me more with this season than with most of the previous. I don’t know if that is more on the quality of the episodes or just mood I watched them in. It has always been a solidly produced series, but S11 was especially good by my reckoning.

Lady Dynamite – There is something aggressively weird and off putting about Maria Bamford’s Netflix sitcom. Co-created with Arrested Development’s Mitch Hurwitz, Lady Dynamite tells a story of Maria’s (TV’s Maria that may or may not have any real resemblance to the real Maria) fall and her recovery as she deals with being bi-polar. So it sets up a bunch of kooky, yet still real feeling characters and she has some crazy experiences.

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