Spider-Man Homecoming

This is going to end up being a fairly negative sounding review. I know that as I start to write it, because while I came out of Spider-Man Homecoming having enjoyed it the more I thought about it as started to write this review the more it seemed to fall apart.  Spider-Man Homecoming is not a bad film.  It has that slickly produced Disney/Marvel sheen, solid performances from its starring trio and a lot of good ideas in its foundation.  The movie also fails to build up to anything or follow through on any of its thematic ideas.

It starts with Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes having his clean up job taken by company owned by Stark in the wake of the first Avenger’s movie.  Upset about losing his job to the person who made the mess, Toomes and his employees keep some of the alien salvage they already had and try to figure out how it works. Starting with this is a smart move, doing for an origin story for the villain rather than the hero.  We don’t need to Spider-Man’s origin again.  Unfortunately, after the set up the movie gives the viewer precious little about Toomes, who becomes the Vulture. It makes him rather sympathetic, except when he suddenly decided he’s okay with killing people.

After the opening the film focuses on Peter and his desire, after helping out in Civil War, to join the Avengers.  He uses the supersuit that Iron Man gave him and solves local crimes while being ignored by Iron Man, who has pawned him off on Happy Hogan who also ignores him. I don’t really get the arc they were trying to give Peter in this movie. The lesson, I guess, is that he needs to focus more on living his life than joining the Avengers, but his actions in the movie don’t reflect him ever learning that lesson.  He does the same thing the whole time and other than this movie making him shitty at being a superhero he seems to be trying to do the right thing.  His experiences don’t lead up to any change, though the movie makes one happen at the end anyway.

That is my big problem with the movie.  It starts with some good ideas and ends in places those ideas could have lead, but the movie in between doesn’t actually connect them.  This is in spite of solid performances by Keaton, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland.  It is fun to spend time with these characters, I just wish I could do so in a better movie.  Peter fails as a hero, but suffers no consequence and learns no lessons.  Iron Man, and/trough Happy, tells him stay small and close to home while focusing on his schooling, but the movie doesn’t show him do that.  He bails on his class mates and they aren’t particularly bothered by it.  And the action scene escalate while Spider-Man does a better job handling them.  He succeeds at what he was told not to do and that somehow teaches him not to do it.

The school stuff is fun, but it is also very undercooked.  The videos of the school news team and Captain America PSA’s are the best part of the movie, hands down.  While it sets up some John Hughes like high school drama, the movie never really does anything with it.  It is a good idea that is handled in an unsatisfying way.  The worst part is a stupid line at the end for one of the characters that left me flabbergasted at what they were going for.

Spider-Man Homecoming is pleasant to watch. That is more than enough to buoy the viewer while watching it.  Upon reflection it is a jumble of ideas that don’t coalesce into a real story and the spectacle is never really that spectacular, though that last part might be the fault of the too dark theater I saw it in.  I liked the movie. It is easily the better than the two Amazing Spider-Man movies.  Unfortunately for Homecoming, this year has been a very good year for superhero movies and with Logan and Wonder Woman in recent memory, it is hard to get excited for a film that is merely okay.

***1/2

Netflix Original Movies

A few months ago I had a very stupid thought.  On a wild hair, I decided that I was going to watch every original movie that Netflix released this year.  I wanted to see more new movies this year, and I figured the best way to do that was to watch the new movies that I was already paying for with my Netflix subscription.

This was a foolish idea for several reasons. The first is that this year Netflix has ramped up the number of new releases they are putting out, which seems to be around one a week.  Since I didn’t conceive of this plan until about two months into the year, I had quite the backlog as soon as I started.  Additionally, while I knew not all of the movies would be things that appeal to me, I thought seeing different things would help expand my taste. I’ve been writing movie reviews on this blog for more than 5 years, and in the process of setting up this index, I realized that I have given a lot more positive reviews than negative ones.  I generally only write reviews of movies I seen in the theater and it turns out I am a pretty good judge of my own taste. I don’t go see movies I don’t expect to like and while this isn’t foolproof – I did see Cowboys & Aliens – it makes most trips to the movies enjoyable. It also limits exposure to new experiences.

Netflix, though, has done a lot to help me find those new experiences.  I hadn’t really watched many Asian films before subscribing to the service, but I’ve developed a taste for Martial Arts movies and Wuxia.  Zeroing in on the Netflix originals, which started with Beasts of No Nation in 2015 though they came to my attention last year with the release of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel, seemed like a good idea. So I am not only watching the movies that interest me, like the goofy British spoof Mindhorn or the war movie Sand Castle, but also the ones that don’t appear to be up my alley, like the foreign language acquisitions or low key thrillers like Small Crimes. It turns out, however, what I am forcing myself to do is watch movies I don’t think I’ll like instead of watching some I think I will like or already know I do like, making it even more likely that I will dislike the new thing.  That has made me resent this project and that massive fool forcing it on me (ie: myself).

It hasn’t been a complete failure, though. I have watched and enjoyed some movies that I likely never would have even considered before.  I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, unwieldy title aside, was very enjoyable.  I also really liked Win it All and Deidra & Laney Rob a Train.  I think I am going to keep going with this stupid plan, though I intend to have a much quicker hook for a movie a movie I do not like.

Below is a list containing all the movies I have watched, in order of how much I enjoyed them.  I’ve also included a one sentence review of each movie. There are still a handful of foreign language films and a documentary or two that I haven’t gotten to yet, but I hope to finish them up over the next few weeks or so.

  1. Okja – full review went up earlier. Okja is a near masterpiece that combines Steven Speilberg with Terry Gilliam.
  2. I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore – A woman gets burgled and teams up with her neighbor to get revenge; it is both charming and kind of dark.
  3. Mindhorn – a goofy spoof about a washed up TV detective desperate for one last chance at fame.
  4. Win it All – a gambling addict tries to go straight in this low key comedy.
  5. Nobody Speak – a documentary looking at the Hulk Hogan v Gawker lawsuit and the current attacks on the press.
  6. Deidra & Laney Rob a Train – two young girls rob a train to pay their mother’s bail, but its funnier than it sounds.
  7. Imperial Dreams – a newly paroled father tries to do what’s best for his son, but his past still has some hold on him. It is good if not groundbreaking.
  8. Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower – a both heartwarming and depressing look at a Chinese boy who lead protests against the Chinese government.
  9. Casting JonBenet – a documentary that examines the JonBenet Ramsay case by letting people familiar with talk at a supposed audition for a movie about it. Its pretty good.
  10. BLAME! – an anime movie about an automated city that no longer recognizes humanity as its master. It is good if dark.
  11. Handsome: A Netflix Movie Mystery – it is essentially a movie that is a fake episode of detective show that is charming but weightless.
  12. Girlfriend’s Day – a look at a fake new holiday in a world where greeting card writers are celebrities that ends just as it gets going.
  13. Shimmer Lake – a crime movie that plays out backwards but still holds few surprises.
  14. War Machine – a broad and disjointed satire of the later days of the war in Afghanistan. Sometimes it is really good, often it isn’t.
  15. In the Shadow of Iris – a sexy thriller about a faked abduction that turns into a murder. It is fine.
  16. Counterpunch – a look at the modern state of pro and amateur boxing in America.
  17. Get Me Roger Stone – a bleak look at a human cockroach. It veers a little too close to making anything the subject does sound acceptable to be good.
  18. Coin Heist – a kid’s dad is accused of defrauding a prep, so he and some friends try to rob the mint of quarters to get the money back.
  19. The Discovery – a man discovers proof of an afterlife and people deal with the consequences. I found it frustrating.
  20. Sand Castle – another modern war drama; it is perfectly serviceable but unoriginal.
  21. Journey to Greenland – two French guys go to Greenland to stay with one of their fathers, they have mildly interesting adventures.
  22. Burning Sands – a well-meaning but ham fisted look at problems prevalent in traditionally black fraternities.
  23. Sahara – a mediocre animated movie about snake racism.
  24. Small Crimes – bad people do bad things, lots of people end up dead, I don’t know why I should be entertained by it.
  25. Clinical – a horror movie that lives up to its name. You couldn’t pay me to care.
  26. David Brent: Life on the Road – a follow up to The Office with none of the humanity and an undeserved happy ending for its protagonist.
  27. The Most Hated Woman In America – this is about 3 different movies, but none of them work.
  28. Sandy Wexler – Adam Sandler appears to be trying, but this movie is too long and not very funny.
  29. You Get Me – Fatal Attraction for teenagers, but with even worse sexual politics.
  30. iBoy – a kid gets his phone shot into his face and uses his new phone powers to become some kind of would be superhero. It doesn’t really work.
  31. Tramps    – I checked out early and completely from this one, I can’t really give it a review.
  32. Take the 10 – a comedy about two kids’ attempts to get money to go to a concert or something. It isn’t good.

Okja Review

I don’t know that Okja is first great Netflix movie, but it is easily their best offering since they started distributing movies. Much of the furor over this movie is from the reception of it, or really the reception of Netflix, at the Cannes film festival. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth as to how Netflix is ruining itself by refusing to change its business model to get theatrical releases for its movies. Since I watch a lot more movies on Netflix than I do in theaters and only really wish Netflix would do a better job of letting people know that a new movie is coming. With Okja, though, it is a little disappointing, since this movie feels like one that would have benefited from being seen on the big screen.

Okja is a strange movie.  That is certainly not a bad thing, but it is impossible to ignore. It changes from what feels like a Spielberg movie before morphing into something like a Terry Gilliam movie. It is an odd mixture of tones that almost doesn’t work, and although they never really cohere into one tone, it does make for a uniquely entertaining movie watching experience.

After a prologue that sets up the Mirando Corporation, their insanely peppy CEO and their superpig experiment, it turns into something like E.T. One of the superpig’s that were distributed around the world to see who can raise them best ended up in the Korean mountains. It is named Okja by Mija and her grandfather.  Mija treats Okja like a pet, thinking her Grandfather had saved money to purchase the animal outright. That is disrupted when representatives from Mirando show up, declare Okja the best superpig and whisk it back to America. Mija sets out to get her friend back, teaming up somewhat incidentally with the Animal Liberation Front and eventually confronting the head of the Mirando Corporation.

The Korean stuff feels very Speilbergian.  Ahn Seo-hyun does a great job as Mija, giving a credible performance largely with a CGI monster.  It is much better than a similar performance in last year’s The Jungle Book. That contrasts with the big names, Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, play the faces at Mirando as broad caricatures, a choice that worked for me but seems to be polarizing. They are odd and unlikeable, but the characters are supposed to be unlikeable. It makes the American characters feel like invaders in the movie.  The ALF, whose leader is played by Paul Dano, are somewhere in between, caring more about making points against Mirando than actually helping Mija rescue Okja.

The real triumph of this movie is how real Okja feels.  It isn’t any kind of step forward for special effects, but it is well done. The first act does great work establishing the relationship between Mija and Okja, which carries it through the attempted rescue in Seoul and the trip to America. It doesn’t all work, but the parts that work work incredibly well.

Those familiar with director Bong Joon-Ho’s other movies, like the excellent Snowpiercer, will not be surprised to hear that Okja gets dark. It is a stark look at factory farming. Other than the little girl, no one comes off looking well. It begs the viewer to laugh at at horrible things, because any other choice is too dark.  The movie leaves you somewhat heartbroken even as it suggests that there can be small victories.  Don’t miss it.

*****

What I Watched in June 2017

Movies

War of the Worlds – This was a Spielberg movie that I hadn’t seen. It seems a lot like working through 9/11 trauma, but it is also some solid science fiction spectacle. I don’t think this is one of Spielberg’s best, but it is pretty good. ****

Wonder Woman – read review here. *****

Fire & Ice – A Ralph Bakshi rotoscoped fantasy movie based on Frank Frazetta drawings. I like Frazetta, but I am fairly certain at this point that Bakshi is just not for me. **

Revenge – The late Tony Scott directs and Kevin Costner stars in this mediocre and heavy movie. There are solid points and some great shots, but it is mostly just slow and painful. **1/2

Harlock – Decent looking, this new take on Space Pirate Captain Harlock seems determined to downplay really interesting things in favor of tired clichés. It was so close to being so much better. **

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – read about it here. It is fine, I guess. It lacks the spark of the first three but isn’t completely terrible. ***

The Good, the Bad and the Weird – This is an utter delight. Like the title suggests it is a take on the Leone classic, but it is also very much it’s own thing. A thief and a killer are after a supposed treasure, followed relentlessly by a bounty hunter. It may be set in Asia, but it is absolutely a western and one with some pretty terrific shoot outs. It is just a blast from start to finish. ****

Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift – I know I rated this with the rest of the series a few months ago, but this was the first time I actually watched it from start to finish. It’s okay. It is not really the black sheep of the series some people make it out to be, but neither is it on the level of something like Fast 5. ***

The Hollow Point – I watched this for Patrick Wilson and he’s fine, but this is a really dark new western that really doesn’t have much to recommend it. Other than Ian McShane’s performance, which is delightful. **

Kung Fu Killer – Following Fthismovie’s Junesploitation, I needed a Kung Fu movie to watch and this Donnie Yen vehicle was one of the ones I hadn’t seen that was on Netflix. It is pretty good. It is kind of a police procedural that follows a martial arts master as he helps the police track down a serial killer that is targeting other martial arts masters. There are several good fights and a decent mystery. It is a lot of fun. ****

Shimmer Lake – A heist movie shot in reverse. It is occasionally entertaining and compelling, but the twist seemed obvious to me pretty early and there wasn’t enough else there to really pull me in. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. **1/2

In the Shadow of Iris – A French thriller about a fake kidnapping that appears to go horribly wrong. The big problem with this movie is that all of the characters look alike. That turns out to be a plot point for two of them, but the other two just look too similar for no reason. Also, the subtitles on Netflix leave the screen faster than I can read them. Still, it’s not badly made. ***

Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower – This is framed at an uplifting look at a young person making a political stand against a great power, but it ends with his dreams mostly being crushed and China doing whatever it wants with Hong Kong. Still, it is a well-made film about an interesting piece of history. ***1/2

The Jungle Book – This is the 1994 one directed by Steven Sommer and starring Jason Scott Lee and Cary Elwes. I loved this movie as a kid and it kind of holds up. There are some really bad effects, and the questionable casting of a Chinese/Hawaiian man as an Indian, but it is also a solid adventure. It isn’t as good as Sommer’s The Mummy, but I still enjoyed it. ***

The Ghost and the Shadow – A movie about the true story of some man eating lions that can’t decide if it wants to be a drama or Jaws on the savannah. It is fine. **1/2

Nobody Speak – a close look at the Gawker v Hulk Hogan lawsuit that turns into a chilling look at threats faced by the free press in America. While I am sure it was compelling while they were making it, it seems all the more vital when the shitbag in chief is working to further attacks on the press. ***1/2

Counterpunch – a look at the state of American boxing, both amateur and professional. It is a pretty solid documentary about a subject I don’t really care about. ***

iBoy – a kind of pseudo superhero movie where a young kid get a cell phone smashed into his head and gets special powers. I found it incredibly dull if not particularly poorly made. **

You Get Me – Fatal Attraction for teens, but it is kind of a mess and completely unable to make its characters seem relatable or human. *1/2

Okja – review coming soon *****

Baby Driver – review here. *****

TV

GLOW – This show is a near perfect dramedy. It is even caught between drama and comedy in episode length, with each episode running slightly longer than the usual comedy half hour, but not as long as an hour long show, even figuring on the 46 minute running time of most network dramas. Here is a show about making a show about wrestling. It stars Allison Brie and Marc Maron, but other members of the ensemble start to flesh out their characters before the all too brief run of episodes is over. This show is just completely watchable. It does pretty much everything right.

Fargo S3 – I wanted to write a full post about this, but I don’t know that I can. This is the weakest season of the show, but that doesn’t mean it is bad. Season 2 of Fargo is an out and out and masterpiece and Season 1 is really good. Season 3 takes some big swings, and not all of them pay off. While I found it enthralling moment to moment, it didn’t really add up to a coherent experience. Some of the thematic threads took too long to make themselves evident and others only somewhat paid off. There is a deliberate coldness to this season, with the characters, and Carrie Coon’s Gloria Burgle especially, isolated from the others. We don’t really get the showdowns between the good guys and the bad guys, at least not until the last couple of episodes. A lot of that was very deliberate. Season 2 was a Western and played out like it, this season was something else. Something slower and more contemplative. The show spends most of the season wrestling with the nature and importance of truth, but it can’t quite pull it all together in the end. Maybe I’ll think differently of this season when I rewatch it, but right now I consider it a brilliant failure.

Baby Driver Review

Baby Driver is the best movie I’ve seen this year. It might also be my least favorite Edgar Wright movie, though that is far from fair since at least two of his movies count among my all-time favorites. In what has been a rather dull summer so far, Baby Driver is an unmatched shot of adrenaline. It does everything right and is pure fun from start to finish. And while it never quite breaks out of genre conventions, it still contains a few of the most surprising moments I’ve seen in a movie in years.

Ansel Elgort stars as Baby – B A B Y Baby – a young man who has gotten entangled with some nasty dudes. He owes a debt to Doc, played by Kevin Spacey, who is forcing him to pay it back by being the getaway driver for the heists he masterminds with an ever rotating crew of thieves. Baby is constantly listening to his iPod and all of his driving is synchronized to specific songs. Once he has paid Doc back, Baby intends to go clean. His newly formed relationship with diner waitress Debora makes this an even more enticing proposition, but as tends to happen he is pulled back in for one more job and everything goes to hell.

The various bank robbers that join Doc’s crews are a lot of fun. Jon Hamm plays Buddy, whose friendliness hides barely contained menace. He is married to Eiza Gonzalez’s Darling, who is a little more playfully nuts than Buddy. The stand out other than Hamm is Jamie Foxx as Bats, who doesn’t even pretend to hide the menace like Buddy. He is a danger not just to those who get in his way, but also to his own partners. He is just straight up scary. Baby, meanwhile, is charming and quiet, either so cool nothing fazes him or doing his best to hide how scared he is of the crazy murderers he is forced to work with. The characters aren’t as layered as the ones from the Cornetto Trilogy, but they are still strong.

Wright’s usual perfect editing is on display in this movie, as each of its action set pieces are set to a particular song. It works perfectly, turning Baby Driver into essentially an action musical. The characters don’t sing, but all of their shooting and driving become highly choreographed dance numbers. The best one is likely the one that opens the movie, set to “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. It is also filled with clever foreshadowing and call backs, making for a movie that will surely reward repeat viewings.

Baby Driver is an excellent movie. It is tense and buoyant and touching and the perfect antidote to a lot of the stale franchise movies clogged up theaters over the last few months. It is hard to get further into what makes it great without spoiling a turn about midway that was one of the most surprising things I’ve seen on a movie screen this year. I don’t know if Baby Driver is a perfect movie, but it is one that I am eager to revisit as much as possible.

*****

Looking Back at the Pirates of the Caribbean Series

When watching the completely watchable new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Dead Men Tell No Tales, I was reminded that there was a fourth movie in that series that I never watched. This was odd, because if you had asked me, I would have somewhat sheepishly replied that I was a fan of the series. It seems like the sort of movie I would have seen at some point in the 5+ years since it was released.

While I’ve gotten more into going to the movies over the last few years than I was in 2011 when it came out, even then I was not the kind of fan to skip an entry in a series I liked.  I not only skipped On Stranger Tides, I had all but forgotten it existed.  The generally accepted opinion is that after the first movie, the quality of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies dropped off of a cliff.  I would not have been the only person to check out after that first trilogy had ended.  However, even though I hadn’t watched any of the movies, aside from catching stretches on TNT or something, since 2009, I had fond memories of all of the first three movies. If I liked the first three movies, why had I not seen the first?  I thought the question worthy of an investigation that involved watching the 4 Pirates movies to see how they hold up and, in the case of On Stranger Tides, if they are any good to begin with.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is, if not a masterpiece, than at least a damn fine adventure movie. Like all of these movies, it is absolutely gorgeous. The two leads, played by Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom, are thin characters.  Knightley especially is given nothing to except be a captive for most of the runtime.  Bloom is doing a perfectly serviceable Errol Flynn impersonation that gives the move on solid piece to build off of.  Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow deservedly got a lot of attention in this movie.  His entrance, perched atop the mast of a sinking little sailboat, is among the best character introductions I’ve ever seen.  He is a complete wild card, though he shows very early on that deep down he is on the side of the angels by saving a drowning woman. Much like the rest of the series, Jack Sparrow would never again be as good as he was in this movie. The three heroes line up nicely with the Star Wars set up, with Sparrow as Han and Will and Elizabeth as Luke and Leia.  That is a perfectly good trio of heroes, but they don’t work without a villain and fortunately this movie has Geoffrey Rush as Hector Barbossa.  He gets softened when he returns in later movies, but here he is as effective of a villain as I’ve seen in some time.  Every part of this movie just works.

Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End are two parts of a whole. They do function as individual movies, but they are very dependent on each other in some ways. While the Jack show starts taking over, these movies also give enough time to both Will and Elizabeth. Those two characters go on their individual journeys and there is real tension that by the time they are back together physically they will have moved apart emotionally.  Jack, meanwhile, is stuck playing the wild card.  His goals seem to generally be removed from the goals of everyone else.  In Dead Man’s Chest, the deals he’s made to become Captain Jack Sparrow come due and he does all he can to avoid paying.  That movie also features Will’s education in being a pirate, realizing that his straightforward pursuit of his goals makes him easy to manipulate, while Elizabeth forces her way into the action.  To replace Barbossa, the movie introduces two new villains in the fish faced Davy Jones and the perfectly banal head of the EIC.  Dead Man’s Chest is not as tight a movie as Curse of the Black Pearl, but it is more ambitious, even if it can’t always realize its ambitions. Keeping the Kraken off the screen was a smart move from a dramatic standpoint, but also likely from an effects standpoint as well.

At World’s End is even more ambitious than Dead Man’s Chest, and the movie starts to collapse under its own beautiful weight before too long. It returns Barbossa to the series, which is great, and expands and fills in the pirates’ world. That is both good and bad.  It really does expand the world, bringing in Asian pirates in Singapore before hitting the rest of the pirate stereotypes at the big meeting. However, in filling in those gaps, it also limits the possibilities going forward.  It gives it a sense of including everything, but that is everything, you’ve seen all it has to offer.  The movie ends up going too big and doing too much, leaving little time for anyone new to leave an impression. It also wraps up the story of quite a few side characters.  At World’s End is, for all intents and purposes, an ending for the series.

 

I think that is why the series dropped so far off my radar after that third movie. It wasn’t that I didn’t like any part of the trilogy, but it felt like a complete story.  It is the end of Will and Elizabeth’s story, an ending I never liked.  It ends like a romantic tragedy, but that wasn’t the story I believe I was watching. That moment felt false.  The thing is, though, that no matter how entertaining Jack Sparrow may be he is not the protagonist of the story.  His shtick requires not quite knowing what he is up to, which makes it hard to build a story with him at the center.  While At World’s End does end with an obvious set up for more adventures, it really felt like the end of the series in most respects.

That problem of building around Jack is very apparent in On Stranger Tides, which I finally watched.  It is a perfectly okay movie, though one that Jack and Barbossa have clearly been grafted on to.  It is a movie with no center.  Or more accurately, it is a movie with several possible centers that sticks to the one character least able to fulfill that position.  Jack is the character with the least going on in the movie, and knowing his motives all the way through robs him of a lot of his charm.  Especially when there are at least three other characters that could take the protagonist role and things would work more smoothly. That is Penelope Cruz’s Angelica, and it could be a story about her quest to connect with her unfeeling, villainous father.  Or it have twisted it around and made Barbossa the lead, focusing on his quest for revenge on Blackbeard.  Or maybe on Sam Claflin’s Philip and his love story with the mermaid. Any one of those-I personally favor the Barbossa one-with Jack playing the spoiler, would have been a better movie.  Instead the most focuses almost exclusively on Jack, to the detriment of everything.  It also helps explain how the fifth movie starts the way it does. On Stranger Tides could have been a reorienting of the series, but it feels like a one off side-story. If they were going to continue this series, On Stranger Tides needed to introduce characters to replace all of the ones whose stories ended in At World’s End and it just didn’t.  It ends right where it started.

After watching all four of these movies one after the other, it was made very clear to me that this series ended with the third movie. It was all resolved at that point, all that was left for the fourth movie to go on was a character that was already feeling tired by the end of the third movie.  The fifth movie made the only move possible by bringing back Will and Elizabeth. It not only gives viewers the happy ending denied them at the end of the third movie, but it brings back the heart of the franchise, making its possible future (with $605 million and counting worldwide at the box office, I suspect the series has a future) brighter than it’s been since 2007.

"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES"<br /> Captains Barbossa (GEOFFREY RUSH) and Jack Sparrow (JOHNNY DEPP) find themselves in the skeletal company of the long dead explorer Ponce de Leon in the ruins of the Santiago while searching for the silver chalices necessary to complete the ritual at the Fountain of Youth.<br /> Ph: Peter Mountain<br /> ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Each of these four movies has its charms. Maybe they just tickle me because I am a fan of fencing and swashbuckling in general. While Jack Sparrow may be the flagship character, Barbossa is the character that kept me coming back.

 

Movie Index

I have been working on this for some time, but I think it is finally ready to go up.  I have made an index of all of my movie reviews.  They are ordered from the highest score to lowest, which means I had to go back to a bunch of my early reviews and add star ratings to them.  And if I was going to go back and star ratings to movies, it didn’t make sense to not do a little editing while I was in there.  So I fixed some typos and other mistakes. I’m not much for proofreading, apparently, so there were a lot of little mistakes for me to fix.  I’m sure I still missed plenty.  That process was time consuming.  So time consuming that I actually first made this Index in late 2015 and by the time I got it ready to go I had a year and a half of new reviews to add to it.  Now it is finally finished.  I will hopefully keep it updated with new reviews as they go up.  Soon this should be joined by a video game index, though that is a long way off, as it is going through a similar process.

While doing this proofreading I reread, or in the case of some read for the first time, many of my reviews.  Though I am generally filled with disgust at reading my own writing, I thought it worth highlighting some of my reviews I found least bad.  Reviews like The Man from UNCLE, Flash Gordon or Porco Rosso.  Maybe give those a read. I know I tend to rate highly, but I usually only see movies I expect to like in the theater. The stuff that I am iffier on I tend to catch later and not take the time to write full reviews.  And while I’ve already said that I don’t intend to go back and change what I wrote, how I felt about the movies then is how I felt about them then, there are some movies I think worth reevaluating a few years after I first saw them. The ones I want to take another look at include War Horse, Jupiter Ascending, Robin Hood and Prince of Persia, but if any readers have any movies they think I should reconsider, tell me in the comments and I’ll do my best.

That’s all.  The index is here or on the header.

Wonder Woman Review

I hoped Wonder Woman would be good, but I almost expected it wouldn’t be.  It is hard for a superhero movie to really surprise almost 20 years into them showing up regularly. Wonder Woman, though, was shockingly good. It wasn’t perfect, but it was such an earnest and sincere take on the genre that it was hard not to be swept away in its enthusiasm.  It was likely the most I’ve enjoyed seeing a movie this year.

The plot isn’t anything special; it is mostly a standard superhero origin story. Diana was raised on Themyscira, a Mediterranean Island created by the Greek Gods as a home for the mythological Amazons.  Diana is the only child among them, the daughter of Queen Hippolyta, who is reluctant to have her trained for combat. So Diana trains in secret with her aunt, Antiope.  Her training ends when WW1 pilot and spy Steve Trevor washes up on their shores.  Against her mother’s protests, Diana returns to the modern world with Steve to fulfill the Amazons’ duty to fight Ares, the God of War and end the war.

From there is combines scenes of Diana dealing with the modern world and even just parts of life with which she is unfamiliar, like children or snow, with war scenes.  It all works together, with Diana learning about the world without ever losing her optimism.

The movie works without Warner Bros merely copying what has worked for Marvel.  While it does bare some superficial similarities to the first Captain America and Thor movies, Wonder Woman maintains its own tone. The tone of the MCU movies, for better or worse, has been set by the sardonic voice of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Recent DC movies have set their tone to Zack Snyder’s operatic earnestness.  Wonder Woman doesn’t abandon that, but it manages to find some levity with the sincerity, resulting in something that is wholly enjoyable.  Its tone is more like that of the original Superman or Spider-Man movies.  It revels in the emotion of its story instead of undercutting them for a laugh.

The movie works in large part thanks to the performances of Chris Pine and Gal Gadot.  Gadot is radiant as the lead, able to play both the character’s naivety and strength with equal skill.  She is truly believable as all facets of the character, helping to make Diana a rounded character and her growth believable. This is a star making performance.  Chris Pine also carries a heavy load, playing both the second lead, the love interest, and the comic relief.  He shines without ever taking the focus off of the title character.  Their chemistry together is great.  The rest of the cast is great as well, especially Robin Wright as Antiope.

There are flaws, especially at the end when it falls into the same sort of trap that many superhero movies, like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, do. For most of its runtime it is fresh and enjoyable, but its final battle descends into incoherence and pointless CGI.  It really isn’t any worse than the ends of similar movies, but the fall is further.

It is frankly ridiculous that it took this long in the modern superhero era to get one starring a woman.  (Yes, I know Supergirl exists, but it is far from modern, while Catwoman and Elektra are far from heroes) It is not like there haven’t been opportunities, with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow being the glue that holds together a lot of the MCU but never getting her own starring role.  It has also been positioned as the savior of the critically floundering DCUE.  That put a lot of pressure on Wonder Woman to succeed and I am glad to say it did. It is a very good movie without any knowledge of outside factors, knowing those factors only makes its success all the sweeter. Wonder Woman is likely not the best movie I am going to see this year, but it was very good.

*****

What I Watched May 2017

Movies

Baywatch – read review here. **

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – read review here.  ***

War Machine – A satire of the US’s handling of the war in Afghanistan that can’t maintain a consistent tone. Still, there are scenes when it is spot on; the movie is just too inconsistent. **1/2

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – read review here.  ****1/2

Small Crimes – I kind of really hated this movie.  It is a bleak look at bad people doing bad things until it costs them.  Like a Coen Brothers movie without the humor.  *1/2

The Handmaiden – A mind bending thriller with a couple thieves looking to steal an heiress fortune, but who’s conning who?  It is amazing. *****

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – read reviewish thing here.  *****

Coin Heist – a group of private school kids plan a heist to save their school after the Superintendent embezzled all the schools money.  It has a decent sense of character and plot, but it isn’t anything mind blowing.  ***

Casting JonBenet – Kind of a strange documentary that covers the death of JonBenet Ramsay by pretending to cast for a movie about the killing and asking local residents what they know or think about it.  It is an interesting experiment at the very least. ***

Take the 10 – Two punky young men do whatever it takes to go to a concert. I guess it is a comedy, but I never laughed.  *1/2

Handsome: A Netflix Murder Mystery – This feels like a TV movie, in a good way.  It is the simplest premise; it is just a murder mystery comedy. It is a detective investigating a crime, with jokes and the mystery given equal weight.  I loved it. ***1/2

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – read review here. ****

Tramps – A nothing kind of indie movie about small time crooks doing a very small time crime and maybe falling in love.  Ehhh. **

Mindhorn – This was a fun one. In the 90’s Richard Thorncroft was the star of a popular detective show, Mindhorn, but since then his star has fallen. When a delusion murder suspect wants to talk to Detective Mindhorn, Richard tried to use it as a springboard to return to fame. It is mostly jokes about how forgotten and delusional Richard is. I found it very charming. ****

Sahara – A middling animated movie about a couple of snakes. A rich snake girl and a snake boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The rest is as interesting and original as that.  **

Blame! – A 3D anime movie about the far future when humanity has created a super-advanced city but that city stopped recognizing them as residents and killed most of them. A couple of newcomers to an enclave of survivors starts a desperate attempt to wrest control of the city back.  It is fine.  ***1/2

Burning Sands – A ponderous look at hazing in specifically black fraternities, though it doesn’t seem especially different from any other fraternity.  I did not like or enjoy it, but I am not sure it is bad. It is just not for me.  **

The Most Hated Woman in America – This is a biopic about the life, and mostly the death, of Madeline Murray O’Hair, the woman who got prayer banned in school.  It is tonally all over the place, playing large parts for comedy in a movie that ends (spoilers for real life) with her and her son and granddaughter being murdered.  It’s just not very good.  *1/2

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl – Still a genuinely great swashbuckler.  It works some kind of miracle and gets just about everything right. I’ll have more to say in the near future.  *****

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – Much more ambitious than its predecessor and it starts to sag under that ambition.  Still, it is a largely enjoyable affair.  Again, more soon.  ****

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – There is something in how just go for broke this movie is that I can’t help but enjoy it.  Again, more soon. ***½

TV

The Crown – This is a sumptuously produced Netflix show that doesn’t really have a point. It shows the early years in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It is all well done, but the story being told is simply not all that interesting.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt S3 – Kimmy Schmidt is still generally really great, though its problems remain consistent. Every episode still feels like a 30 minute episode designed to be edited down to a 22 minute one. Each episode has some dead spots or jokes that miss, keeping it from ascending to the lofty heights of greats like 30 Rock or Arrested Development. Still, the show remains hilarious.

Master of None S2 – One thing holding me back from loving this most recent season of Kimmy Schmidt is that it hit Netflix just after this. Master of None’s second season might be the best season of a TV show I’ve seen this year. It is still funny, but show creators Aziz and Alan Yang also brought the heart this season. It deals intelligently with real issues and layers on references to various film genres while still telling jokes. Episodes like “Religion” and “Thanksgiving” are some of the best of any show I’ve seen this year. This show is just so good.

Fargo S3 – I still have faith that Noah Hawley will bring this altogether in the end, but so far this series has felt a little slight compared to the last two. Thematically interesting, well-acted and well shot, but it seems to be moving at a snail’s pace. Up until this last week it still felt like we were in the rising action, even though we are past the middle of the season. I love to watch this show set up dominoes, but I also love to watch them fall down. It feels like we are running out time. Still, each episode has been really good.

Riverdale – The first season of this came to a close and it was very good. Real nonsense, but highly enjoyable nonsense. It does a great job of capturing the Archie characters and putting them in a heightened reality where the strange is more than possible. It is the perfect kind of trash.

Superhero Shows – I’ve got a full post about this year’s superhero shows coming up soon.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review

I still have a little affection for the Pirates of the Caribbean series from how pleasantly surprised I was by the first movie. That, plus a general love of swashbuckling adventures, was enough to get me to go see this unnecessary seeming fifth installment of the series. It turns out there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had with these pirates, even if in the end the movie feels unsatisfying.

Dead Men Tell No Tales is something of a reset for the series after On Stranger Tides, which I haven’t yet seen. It brings back Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa, but it places equal focus on newcomers Henry and Carina. Henry is on a quest to free his father from a curse and Carina, an orphan, is searching for a connection to her family. Their separate quests have them looking for the same artifact, the Trident of Poseidon, and leads them to the same place, or more specifically the same person: Jack Sparrow. Unfortunately, Sparrow is now ship-less and crewless. He is in no shape to deal with his own problem, being chased by the ghost of the Spanish pirate hunter Armando Salazar, let alone help them with theirs. From there is moves to the standard Pirates formula of ancient sea curses, supernatural monsters and constant double crosses.

Most of the movie works, and works quite well. The new characters are charming enough and Carina at least adds something new to the series’ dynamic. As they lay out their plans and set up their double crosses it all works well. Having old guns Sparrow and Barbossa there to play against the very young newcomers is a solid dynamic. Javier Bardem’s Salazar is a lot of fun. The problem is that while it has excellent build up, nearly all of the actions scenes are a letdown, especially compared to those in the earlier movies. The two best ones are early in the movie, as Jack attempts to steal a safe from a bank and ends up stealing the whole bank, Fast 5 style and then during an attempt to stop Jack from being executed. Even that second one, though, has some disappointment. There are a few very interesting shots, but the whole thing is largely played for jokes. At no point is there anything that matches any of the first movie’s sword fights or the second or third’s ship battles.

Dead Men Tell No Tales nails the banter and feel of the series, but the whole endeavor ends up feeling rather empty. It starts with some theoretically interesting themes, like playing with the idea that Jack is washed up and Barbossa’s lack of satisfaction in his success, but those don’t really come to anything once the train starts movie. It isn’t offensively bad or anything, just somewhat unsatisfying. This is a movie that is trying to rejuvenate a dying series, but it plays more like an attempt at a greatest hits. I didn’t dislike this movie, but it really felt like the adventures of Jack Sparrow have really run their course.

***