What I Watched in July 2016

Movies

Iverson – Allen Iverson is an interesting, talented, controversial athlete. He is the perfect subject for a documentary. Too bad this movie in not really interested in engaging with its subject in any meaningful way. It skirts into hagiography. I don’t think Allen Iverson was a villain, but this movie seems to exist as an attempt to explain away all of his various controversies. Iverson is/was a man with problems; he wasn’t always the good guy either on or off the court. I wish this movie would have done more to show his complexity. **

Lethal Weapon – There is something undeniably propulsive about this film. It constantly ramps things up higher and higher. Also, it is also understandable that Gibson’s Riggs is called a lethal weapon; he really seems dangerous to everyone around him here. The calming influence of Murtaugh is really felt. I just love something about a movie that hits ludicrous heights and just keeps going up from there. This movie does just about everything right. ****

Legend of Tarzan – see review here. ***

Lethal Weapon 2 – The second movie doesn’t quite have the same impact as the first, but it still works. They are already sanding the edges off Riggs. He is becoming more a charming rogue than a dangerous maniac. Part of that is just character development; part of it is losing what made the character interesting. This movie doesn’t really ramp up to craziness so much as it starts at crazy and stays there. It doesn’t have to introduce the characters so it can get right to firing machine guns in downtown LA. ***1/2

Hudson Hawk – I know this movies reputation, but I love it. Nearly all of the complaints people make about the movie are true, but the largely seem misguided to me. This movie is basically a Looney Tunes cartoon as a live action movie. No idea was too silly, nothing too absurd to be included. It doesn’t all work, but it is an amazing madcap action comedy. It is just so much fun, and everyone involved seems to be in on the joke. ***1/2

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial – This movie is pretty much perfect. I needed to see this after The BFG disappointed me so much. The relationship between Elliot and ET is so wonderfully done. I don’t know what else to say, it is too good. *****

The BFG – see review here. **1/2

Hot Pursuit – This movie is a complete waste. It has a decent set up for essentially a buddy comedy, but other than a few scenes it never really does anything. Vergara and Witherspoon are both funny, but this movie doesn’t really give them much to work with. It is just a bad movie.*1/2

2 Fast 2 Furious – This is the low point of the Fast & Furious movies. It does have its moments of charm, but it is mostly just a less engaging retread of the first movie, a movie that itself wasn’t all that great. The thing is, I liked a lot of the movies new additions to the cast, even the ones that didn’t reappear after this movie. I wouldn’t mind seeing Eva Mendes back, or some of the other street racers. **

Lethal Weapon 3 – This is where things really start to go downhill. Joe Pesci is still around, though he doesn’t really have a reason to be. The comedy has a overwhelmed the action to a great extent. Still, it is a fun movie to watch, but it lacks all but the merest spark of energy that suffused the first of second movies. This one is merely fine. ***

Lost Soul: the Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau – This is just a fascinating story about one of the biggest train wrecks in movie history. It sets up Stanley as the sympathetic visionary, but you can still see why he might worry the studio. Seeing a man get his dream job, only for it to kind of morph into something else and then be snatched away from him is hard to see. That’s not even getting into the nonsense that Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando perpetrated on set. It is amazing to see, as everything gets further and further away from the promising film that it began as. ****

Ip Man – Part kung fu movie, part biopic; Ip Man is pretty darn entertaining. It tells the story of Ip Man during the Japanese occupation of China during WWII. He ends up in conflict with a Japanese general thanks to his kung fu mastery. It is really pretty entertaining, a little more somber than most Kung Fu movies I’ve seen, but the fight choreography was excellent and I really like the more serious story. This is a really entertaining film. ****

Star Trek Beyond – see review here. ****

Back to the Future Part 3 – I know I’ve written about this before, but it showed up on Netflix. I love the whole series beyond the point of examining it critically. *****

Lethal Weapon 4 – All of the energy of this series has been expended by this point. There is some enjoyable camaraderie apparent in the cast, many of whom have been here for 3 or 4 movies at this point, but it just feels really flabby and spent. As one last look in on some old friends, this is a decent excuse. As a buddy cop movie, it is a tired retread. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but it really feels like more of a footnote than another entry in the series. **1/2

Ghostbusters – see review here. ***1/2

Fast & Furious – I got this whole series on DVD during a sale on amazon, and this being the one I’ve never seen it was the first one that I put in. It isn’t anywhere near as good as the last three, but it is certainly better than first three. There is certainly something to it being an actual sequel to the first movie. There is energy seeing those characters back again. It is also the first movie that feels like a movie that was intended to have sequels, not just a movie that had sequels forced upon it because it made money. It isn’t the best, but it is entertaining enough. ***

The Holiday – I watched this because it had Jack Black in it, which he barely was. It’s not bad, I guess, though I am no expert on the romantic comedy. It certainly feels too long, clocking in at over 2 hours. It could really stand to lose twenty minutes or so, probably in its very relaxed opening. Still, I was moderately entertained throughout. Mostly by Eli Wallach. ***

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian – This is a bad movie. The first Night at the Museum was pointless kiddy fare; this is just a diminished returns version of that, with one exception. This movie has Amy Adams in it. That is the reason I watched it; I can’t change the channel on Amy Adams. She is too adorable. I would watch her in absolutely anything. **

TV

Fargo S1 – I watched the second season when it aired, but I hadn’t seen more than a little of the first until I picked it up on DVD. It is unsurprisingly great. There are so many great performances in this season. Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, and Allison Tolman are all amazing. The slow revelation of just how awful Freeman’s Lester Nygaard is is a great reveal. He starts out kind of pathetic and just gets worse and worse as the show goes along. Meanwhile, Thornton’s Malvo is a diabolical force of nature. They are a great pair of characters to watch. I was also struck by how many comedians, or at least actors primarily thought of as comedians, are in this cast. Glenn Howerton from Always Sunny is here, as are Key & Peele. They fit perfectly into the darkly comic world of this show. This is just a near perfect show.

Fargo S2 – This show is still great, but I might like the first season better. While the first season is focused, this one is sprawling. There are so many characters with separate stories going on in the first half of the season. They are all so good, but they sort of distract from the central story. Which is part of the point, I believe. This is a show as much about the characters as it is about the crime. This time through, including the first time through some of the early episodes, I was stuck with how much I liked Bear Gerhart. He seems like a man who has no illusions about what his family does, which is a big reason why he is so insistent on his son staying out of it. It isn’t until things are finally falling apart, and he feels forced to take out his niece, that he fully engages in the war with Kansas City.

The Shannara Chronicles – MTV’s trashy fantasy show that does its best to channel GoT, Hunger Games and LotR all at once is actually rather delightful. I don’t know that I would call it good, but I certainly enjoyed it. It takes some rather extreme liberties with its adaptation, often in service to actually nothing from a storytelling perspective, but there is just something compulsively watchable about the show. Manu Bennett as Allannon is a lot of fun, and the central trio are good, at least they are by the end of they are. It is cheesy and trashy and at times nonsensical, but it never stops being fun to watch.

Outlander S2 – The last episode aired at the start of July and it capped off a really great second season for Starz’s time travel romance adventure show. The last episode finally gets to the frame story that the book it is adapting started with, making the introduction of Brianna and Roger a little abrupt than the book. I have some problems with the extra sized finale largely that it cuts back and forth between the past and the more recent past fairly rapidly with no connection between the two time periods. Still it is an effective episode and finale. Outlander’s second season is definitely more rushed than first season, having fewer episodes and more plot to cover. You could really feel the what was left out of the book, but it was still a highly entertaining show week to week.

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