Lucky Logan Review

I’m not a big Steven Soderbergh fan. Not that I don’t like his movies, only that I’ve only seen the Ocean’s trilogy and those, while enjoyable and essentially perfectly crafted, didn’t leave that big of an impression on me. Logan Lucky uses a similar formula, but replaces Ocean’s Vegas glitz with West Virginia grit. It works, with strong performances all around and funny moments from start to finish.

Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan; a divorced father who loses his job thanks to an old football injury that causes a liability issue at the same time he finds out his ex is taking their daughter and moving.  He needs money.  So he concocts a plan with his siblings, the one armed Clyde (Adam Driver) and hairdresser Mellie (Riley Keough), to rob a race track.  They recruit another group of siblings, the Bang brothers, to help them.  It is a heist movie, with the characters going through the usual hurdles of a heist movie, like needing to appear to be one place when they are actually somewhere else, before it all comes together.

It is a joy to watch even these largely kind of stupid characters be good at their jobs.  The Logan brothers are especially competent, while Joe Bang, played by a Daniel Craig who appears to be having a blast, MacGyver like knowledge of explosives is delightful.  Soderbergh knows the heist game as well as anybody, and he executes it again here.

I don’t want to explain more of the plot, because the joy is seeing it play out for yourself.  Any plot details, other than the base premise seem to spoil something.  This is a tight movie, with everything working just as it should.  Tatum is the perfect rock for the rest of oddball characters to play off of. He and Driver really manage to feel like brothers, with long standing gripes with each other but no doubt that the two of them always have each other’s backs.

This is the perfect movie to close out a somewhat disappointing summer.  It is just so competent and entertaining.  It isn’t a desperate attempt to set up a franchise or the dying gasp of last decade’s franchise.  Its plot is complex without being convoluted and just so goddamned effortlessly entertaining.

****1/2

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Summer Movie Round Up 2017

The summer movie season has ended with something like a month long whimper. July had some good stuff, including from what I hear War For the Planet of the Apes, which seems to be the only worthwhile wide release I missed this summer. Maybe Cars 3 as well. Ehh. So how about a countdown of my favorite movies of the summer.

10 Atomic Blonde – I’m kind of on the middle with this one.  The action is excellent, the spy stuff is turgid. I would say it is certainly worth watching, but it isn’t in the same strata as some other recent action movies, like either John Wick.

9 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – There is a lot of dead space in this movie, but there it had just enough energy to be enjoyable, especially since Jack Sparrow was back to being the wild card rather than the protagonist.

8 Spider-Man Homecoming – I am going to guess I am the low man on this one.  Something about this movie just didn’t click with me.  I don’t know what lesson Peter was supposed to have learned and I couldn’t really sympathize with the supposedly sympathetic villain after he straight up murdered one of his allies and made a joke about it.  I get why people liked it, but I only barely did.

7 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – There is plenty that doesn’t quite work here, but I found the general tone and energy to be compelling.  It isn’t a great movie, and I can see people just straight up disliking it, but something about it just clicked for me.

6 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – In my heart, this movie would be about 4 spots higher. I am already regretting not putting it above Guardians 2.  It is a love it or hate it sci fi adventure and I am firmly on the love it side. It is wild, perfect nonsense.

5A Okja – I gave this a very strong review when I first saw it and I stand by that. But in making this list I am looking at the movies I would most like to watch right now, and I don’t feel a compelling need to watch this again right now. From here on up are the movies I genuinely like and have excellent chances to show up on my year’s 10 best list. It is also the only Netflix movie on the list, and since some other Netflix movies would have made had I counted them, I went ahead and gave Okja a bit of an asterisk.

5 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 – Just like the first, it is tons of fun with a killer soundtrack and an excellent cast.  Some of the jokes in this one were big misses for me, but the vast majority of the movie is pure fun.

4 Logan Lucky – I am not the biggest Soderbergh fan. Not that I don’t like his movies, only that I have really only seen the Ocean’s Trilogy and those mostly very recently.  This is along those same lines in terms of quality and content.  Logan Lucky trades the Vegas glitz for Appalachian grit, but it is still a slickly funny heist movie. It is the perfect late summer antidote to big explosions and CGI.

3 Dunkirk – another of Nolan’s perfect puzzle box movies. It is completely enthralling, though somewhat distant. Any of the three stories it combined would have been enough for its own movie and he combines them masterfully.

2 Wonder Woman – This is a superhero movie in a different mold from most current ones, with a stronger sense of earnestness than any since Captain America or even the original Superman.  It does revert to form in the last act, but everything before that is great.

1 Baby Driver – There really isn’t any question here.  Baby Driver is the easy frontrunner for my movie of the year. It would take a tremendous upset for anything to unseat it.  It might not be the best Edgar Wright movie, but even the worst Edgar Wright movie would rank highly on any yearly list.

I’ll be back soon with a post highlighting the movies I’m looking forward to over the last third of the year.  The summer might have been half lackluster, but there are some big movies coming over the next few months.

The Dark Tower Review

I am disappointed on all fronts with The Dark Tower, as much because it is not especially bad as I am because it is not good.  I am not one, generally, to root against a movie.  I didn’t want The Dark Tower to be bad, but as its release neared and possibility that it would be good seemed ever more remote, I had hoped that it would be truly, spectacularly awful. At least that would have been interesting.  The Dark Tower can’t even manage that. It bungles everything just enough to blandly pointless, not to be terrible enough to get any ironic enjoyment out of it.

Idris Elba, who is awesome as usual, plays Roland, the last of the gunslingers.  I start with him, even though he is not the lead.  That is the young Tom Taylor who plays Jake Chambers, a young boy who has visions of the alternate reality where Roland and his enemy, the Man in Black, live.  The movie follows his story, not Roland’s, for almost the entire first half and the second half is at best even between the two.

Fans of the book will recognize many elements of the movie, but many of them who have been rearranged into new forms. I don’t want to give much away, because spotting call backs to the books is one of the chief pleasures anyone watching this movie will glean from it.

It starts with Jake having visions of the Man in Black and his attacks on the Tower.  The people around Jake think he is crazy, including his step-dad, who wants to send him to some kind of sanitarium.  Just as he is to be sent upstate to visit this facility, which he already knows is connected to the Man in Black and his evil allies.

From there, it is mostly a collection of disinterested clichés.  Roland has given up on his gunslinger calling, but Jake attempts to inspire him to be better while learning about the relationship between various alternate realities.  Idris Elba is really good, but the movie can’t maintain any moment or generate any really interest outside of a few isolated scenes, which leaves him with nothing to do most of the time.

I’ll repeat that it isn’t a disaster.  It feels like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, which ended up sanding off anything interesting.  It makes sense from a scene to scene basis, though it never really takes the time to explain itself.  It feels less propulsive and more like the connections were edited out. Still, there is hint of something good here that just couldn’t find its way out.

I’m not really a fan of The Dark Tower books. I was at one time, but I really didn’t care for much in the last two books and found the ending somewhat insulting.  I haven’t read the books at all since I finished the 7th just a few days after I got it for Christmas the year if its release.  Watching this movie reminded me of what I once liked about this series, even if it actually delivers very little of that enjoyment.

**1/2

Dunkirk Review

Dunkirk is another of Christopher Nolan’s puzzle box movies. Taking what could have been a very straightforward war movie, he does things with the timeline to make it clearly his own.  Even without the differing timelines, it still would not have been a particularly traditional war movie.  Dunkirk is an intense, impossible to look away from movie that is unlike any I’ve ever seen.

Dunkirk is a war movie, chronicling the escape from the Nazis of the defeated allied army from the beach at Dunkirk. It does this without ever showing an enemy soldier, other than a few planes.  They shoot from off-screen and drop bombs from mostly unseen planes.  It is all about the the soldiers on the beach, the civilians coming over in their own boats to help evacuate and the pilots flying cover for them.

Each of those three segments is also somewhat oddly structured.  For one, the characters are barely named.  We get some names, but we learn almost nothing about the majority of the characters.  We know almost nothing about the soldiers on the beach other than they are soldiers on the beach who want to get off the beach.  We know nothing about the pilots other than that they are pilots.  We do learn a fraction more about the civilians on the boat, but only a fraction.  That is not to say it doesn’t create relatable characters, only that they are largely examined in the present rather than the past.

Then there is how it handles its three different timelines.  Events on the beach take place over the course of a week, while events on the boat take place over the course of one day and events in the plane take place over the course of an hour. So things happen in the planes before we see their effects on the boat or the beach.

I’m not sure the structure, other than being interesting in and of itself, helps the telling of the story.  The story being told is good enough to not need any embellishing.  Each of the three storylines would be enough to support an entire movie in their own right.  There is heroism to be found in each part.

That is where the movie truly succeeds.  Each scene is tense and enthralling.  Whether it is the soldiers trying to escape a sinking ship or the pilots in an intense dogfight, every scene has something to add.  It is too the movie’s credit that each even though it never lets up it also never feels overwhelming.  It manages to make the evacuation seem not like a victory, which it wasn’t, but an achievement.

Dunkirk is easily among the best movies I’ve seen this year.  Nolan is a master craftsman and this movie shows it.  And if I am being honest, when the movie nears its end with Churchill’s address to the nation I teared up a little bit.  Nolan has long since proven himself a master, and Dunkirk is another feather in his cap.

*****

What I Watched July 2017

Movies

Nocturnal Animals – I don’t really know what to make of this movie. It opens with deliberately off putting imagery that is almost completely disconnected from the rest of the movie before starting its various narratives. Half of the movie follows Amy Adams as she reads the manuscript of her ex-husband’s novel, with some flashback scenes to their marriage and its dissolution.  The other half follows the plot of the novel.  The novel sections are vastly more compelling than the others.  It is a mostly straightforward crime/revenge story, with Michael Shannon as a cop dying of cancer who agrees to help a husband get revenge for his murdered wife and child.  The other thread is trying to do something more, but it even in its tale of low key revenge I couldn’t help but think about the details it has to elide.  It sets up Adams’ character as living an empty and unhappy existence. One that a possible reconnection with her ex could change. But it elides the whole life she has lived in the 20 years since she last saw her husband, which included raising a child and building a successful career.  I think the movie wants us to side with the husband and his raising and dashing of her hopes, but I’m not sure about that.  Nocturnal Animals is a well made but largely cold movie.  It pushes the viewer away, making you want to analyze instead of feel. I can’t quite sort out my feelings toward it, but there is clear quality here.  ****

Ocean’s Eleven – This is a perfectly slick, fun little caper.  It really does feel like an awfully small movie for all the star power it brings to bear.  It isn’t one of my favorite movies, but there really isn’t anything I can point to that I dislike about it.  ****

Man of Steel – I watched this and its sequel for something I was writing that probably won’t happen. (Maybe in the lead up to Justice League.) I am ever frustrated by how wrong this movie gets some things despite how right or close to right it gets others.  If it didn’t have that absurdly destructive last act maybe people would remember how truly heroic Superman is early. Maybe if it didn’t screw up Pa Kent so badly I could watch it without making a face.  ***

Batman v Superman – I like this movie more each time I watch it.  I know that my reaction is the opposite of just about everybody else’s, I don’t care, I greatly enjoy this movie.  Especially the extended cut, which actually lets the plot make sense.  Like with Man of Steel, I have more to say on this, including diving into the religious underpinnings of the story, that I hope to have done before Justice League hits. ****

Land Before Time – For some reason the Netflix version of this movie has about 10 minutes cut out of its already short runtime, including a line that proved inexplicably memorable for my family.  It feels really jumpy as it is on Netflix right now, especially compared to my memories of it.  Maybe I’ll find the full version some time to see if it holds up. ** (for this version)

Spider-Man Homecoming – read review here.  ***1/2

Baby Driver – read review here. *****

Valerian And the City of a Thousand Planets – read review here. ****1/2

Atomic Blonde – read review here.  ***

The Prestige – This was one of the few Nolan movies that I had never seen all the way through. I had seen most of it, but never from start to finish. It is very good.  *****

Rocky – This is one of my absolute favorite movies. Each time I watch it only reinforces how much much I love this movie.  It is just about perfect. *****

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – I watched this again and I liked even more the second time. This is the tense sort of drama that that non-action scenes of Atomic Blonde was going for, but this movie does it right.  ****1/2

TV

One Day at A Time – This is a very old fashioned show with very forward thinking subject matter. It deals with a lot of progressive issues in a show that is very much styled like a 70’s multi-camera sitcom.  It works. The format is the hardest part for me, it absolutely nails what is both great and terrible about those shows.  I find the very forced and artificial set ups of those shows to be pretty grating and One Day at A Time is no different.  But there is something to be said about the largely episodic nature of this show.  It also does a solid job of foregrounding issues that should be discussed in ways that don’t get in the way of the jokes.  This is an admirable show done in a fashion that I don’t much like.

The Ranch S2 Part 1 – This is still comfortably terrible show, but its jokes about drunk driving got old a long time ago.  Honestly, even the appeal of a cast that I largely like is starting to wear thin with me.  I don’t know if I’ll be back for the next batch of episodes.  I like Sam Elliott and Debra Winger and I like Kutcher and Masterson together, but this show needs better plots and jokes if I am going to stick with it any further.

Castlevania – This has gotten largely positive reviews and I can’t say I agree with them at all. It is competently produced, but it takes the mostly goofy stylings of the Castlevania series and turns it into try-hard edgey nonsense.  I guess that is a little harsh, but it is only four episodes and it doesn’t even start to get good until more than halfway through the third episode. Hopefully the next batch of episodes is more like the second half here.

Trailer Park Boys S11 – I think I am just about done with Trailer Park Boys. I don’t really think the show has gotten worse, I’ve just seen enough. Maybe when the next season hits I’ll feel differently, but as much as I enjoyed parts of this season it really felt like a chore to watch at times.  This is the same show it has always been, for better or worse.

Bosch S1 – I read a few of the books a few months ago and thought I would try out the show. It’s good.  A little slow, but well done. It takes the cop procedural formula and turns it into something like a prestige show.  It stretches cases along the season, but still nails that mystery feeling.  It contains just enough from books I’ve read to throw me off, which is good.  I really want to get to the next couple of seasons, because this was good.

Atomic Blonde Review

Atomic Blonde is directed by half of the directorial pair behind the original John Wick. Chad Stahelski continued with this spring’s excellent John Wick 2.  David Leitch moved on to Atomic Blonde, a film that in trailers seemed to share plenty of DNA with John Wick. Those trailers were somewhat misleading.  The action in Atomic Blonde has the same impact as that new king of action movies.  Too bad the rest of the movie isn’t of the same quality.  Atomic Blonde has plenty to offer, but its plot is convoluted to the point of incoherence.

The action is good, even great. What there is of it.  There are two real action scenes, as well as a few smaller bits.  Those parts a uniformly great, especially an extended fight in a stairwell that is among the best I’ve ever seen.  Charlize Theron, who stars as British spy Lorraine Broughton, is perfect doing her stunts and generally kicking ass.  Not that that is a surprise after seeing her in Mad Max Fury Road.  Every time that she is forced to fight, the movie kicks it up a notch.

The plot, though, is a real problem. In brief, is that Broughton is sent to Berlin by MI6 to track down a list of double agents that a defector gave a since murdered agent.  She teams with the British man on the ground, played by a James McAvoy who appears to be having a wonderful time, and a French agent to track down both the defector and the list.  This is Berlin of the 80’s, just before the wall fell.  That informs the style and the music of the film, but not much else.  It is set in the Cold War and that is all that you need to know. There are double and triple crosses as things play out, but they don’t really land.  It seems to want to be something like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy but never gets anywhere close to that level of tension or paranoia.  It is just a muddle that for all the actors are trying to make it work just makes it a challenge to get from action scene to action scene.

That music is a point of contention. The soundtrack would make an excellent 80’s mixtape, but it tends to be pretty on the nose, with the most obvious songs used in the most obvious of places.  It is more Suicide Squad than Guardians of the Galaxy or Baby Driver when it comes to the music. That being said, the relentless 80’sness of it really makes the setting pop. And the music is mostly really great.

There is a lot to like in Atomic Blonde.  Theron is great, and Lorraine Broughton could be an interesting character to see the further adventures of.  And again, it can’t be overstated how excellent the action is, though there could certainly be more it.  This is a movie that really could have been helped by the relative simplicity of something like John Wick.  The plot tries for complexity and lands in confusion; detracting from all the things that movie does well.  It ends up caught in a no man’s land between John Wick and John LeCarre.  Go see it, you might love it, but it pales in comparison to John Wick Chapter 2.

***

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.