What I Watched September 2016

Movies

How to Train Your Dragon 2 – It’s not bad. I never went as crazy over the first How to Train Your Dragon as some people did, but this follow up is adequate but definitely lesser. There is nothing really wrong with it, but it just feels kind of unnecessary. ***

Saving Private Ryan – This isn’t quite one of Spielberg’s absolute best, but it is very good. The war scenes are to this day amazing to watch. Other parts of it drag on just a bit too long; I could do without the framing scenes, which I don’t think are effective or add anything to the film. Overall, though, it is just great. ****1/2

The Big Short – This is a great movie. It starkly and humorously lays out the circumstances that lead to the recent financial collapse. It manages to combine a very important history/economics lesson with a funny, entertaining movie. It is just really, really good. *****

Bonnie & Clyde – There is a lot of great moments and performances in this movie, but I don’t know how well I like how it came together. It is certainly very watchable, with a lot of great scenes. I really like the brief appearance by the late Gene Wilder. ****

Joe Dirt 2 – I liked Joe Dirt. Maybe I was just young and stupid, but I found it largely entertaining. This is just stupid and mean spirited; it is certainly not funny. A more unnecessary or unwanted sequel I couldn’t imagine. 1/2

The Last Samurai – I think I like this movie a lot more than I should. There are some real problems, like the white savior stuff this movie indulges in and the historical inaccuracies, but I still find it to be a very entertaining film. Tom Cruise is usually good and Ken Wantanabe is great. ****

Chasing Amy – Kevin Smith writes some good dialogue, but unless you are as fascinated with the idea of lesbians as he is this movie hasn’t aged particularly well. There are some fun scenes and some good ideas, but it feels a little flat to me. ***1/2

The November Man – Pierce Brosnan plays a spy that is more like Daniel Craig’s Bond than his own. It isn’t terrible, but there really isn’t much here to recommend. **

Always – One of Spielberg’s lesser known movies, this romantic comedy/drama about the ghost of Richard Dreyfuss helping his ex-girlfriend move on almost works. I love nothing more than movies about planes, and this is one such movie, but it struggles with tone for most of the runtime. It does some slapstick and some tear jerking, but mostly it just meanders around trying to sell a romance that only intermittently works. It is still largely entertaining, but it is easily among the director’s lesser works. ***

Elizabeth: The Golden Age – This is a gorgeous movie, but it is also kind of melodramatic and overblown. The production design alone makes it worth watching, but I wouldn’t say it is especially good. **1/2

Sully – see review here. ****

The Usual Suspects – The whole movie is its twist, which makes me want to keep lowering my score the more I think about it. This a plain story told in an interesting way. That first time through it is amazing, but there isn’t much there for repeat viewings. ****

The Finest Hours – A perfectly fine disaster/ shipwreck movie. Chris Pine is good, but the actual rescue is dwarfed by some numbing search scenes. It just lacks the necessary spark to be at all memorable. ***

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey – Still great. It takes the same characters and set up of the first movie and does something completely different with it. It is just a lot of fun. ****

Ip Man 2 – This is like two different movies mashed together. It starts with Master Ip building up a new martial arts school after relocating in the last movie, but about halfway through it turns into Rocky IV with a less likeable villain. It is decently entertaining, but that split in the middle is hard to reconcile. ***

Ip Man 3 – This starts much like the previous movie, but this time the split in the middle makes for a better story instead of an inexplicable one. It starts with Ip fighting off some gangsters who want to demolish the school his son attends and builds into a rivalry between Master Ip and another Wing-chun master. I really like how that rivalry was dealt with; it is not what would normally be expected. ***1/2

The Good Dinosaur – This is one of the few Pixar films I missed in the theaters and I don’t feel like I’ve missed much. It has an interesting look; with nearly photorealistic backgrounds mixed with very cartoony looking characters. The story is simple, with shockingly little going on for a Pixar movie. There is a base level quality that it doesn’t drop below, but it doesn’t really rise above a certain ceiling either. ***1/2

Underworld & Underworld Evolution – How do you make werewolves fighting vampires movie and make it this completely boring? These movies are unspeakably dull; the only thing of interest is Kate Beckinsale in skintight clothes. *1/2

DEBS – I watched this after happening upon Roger Ebert’s scathing review. I don’t really agree with him, but that doesn’t make it good. It is a kind of flabby comedy spy spoof. There are some good moments, but it mostly just looks cheap and not especially well constructed. **1/2

Coffee Town – It has a fun cast in Glen Howerton and Ben Schwartz, but it doesn’t really feel like it has a purpose. It is at its best when it is embracing that lack of purpose. Until its main plot comes into focus, it is a lot of fun watching this goofballs mess around a coffee shop. ***1/2

The Boxtrolls – I loved Kubo, but this was more like the Laika films that I more admire than enjoy. I can’t deny the craftsmanship that is apparent on screen in this movie, but I don’t much care for the aesthetic or characters. It is perfectly good for what it is, it just really isn’t for me. ***1/2

Big Trouble in Little China – I feel like I don’t have the words to talk about how much I like this movie. I really wish I had watched this as a kid. It is everything you could want out of a mystical kung fu movie starring Kurt Russell from the 80’s. It is amazing. ****1/2

13 Assassins – I wanted something Seven Samurai like before seeing Magnificent 7 and this was the closest I could find on short notice. It starts with the usual gathering the team scenes, along with some to establish just how awful the villain of this movie are. But about an hour in it gets to the big fight scene and that doesn’t disappoint. It is a nearly hour long fight scene that just keeps shifting and growing. It is great. ****1/2

Tomorrowland – This is a weird movie. One of its central plot’s is a love story between George Clooney and a tiny girl. She is a robot, but it is still awkward. It is called Tomorrowland, but only the last act gets to that place. Also, it is a rather pessimistic movie about optimism. Still, Brad Bird can make a fine movie. ***

Aloha – This is in a lot of ways wrongheaded and ill conceived, but it is also well acted and intermittently entertaining. **

Magnificent 7 – See review here. ***

TV

Galavant – I gushed about this show when the second season aired, but I will do so again now that the entire series has been added to Netflix. Galavant is only 18 half hour episodes long. Each episode has at least two songs. It ends up being about a 6 and a half hour long fantasy musical. It has some great characters and great songs. The second season is especially good. Timothy Omundson is particularly good as the inept King Richard. This is a show everyone should take a look at.

Psych – I know I’ve written about Psych before, but I felt the need to do so again. I watched as much as I could of this before it left Netflix. As this is one of my background noise staples, I hope it returns sooner rather than later. The more I watch this, the more I feel comfortable saying that this is a great TV show. It starts as a straight formula, but as it gets more comfortable with its characters it grows in some interesting ways. Psych’s loving homages to all kinds of classic movies and TV shows are mostly very well done, and honestly more true to their inspirations than I initially realized. It does falter in the last season or two, as the show loses sight of its mysteries and kind of falls apart, but other than that it is great.

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