Murder on the Orient Express

I am pretty sure I am responding more to the form of Murder on the Orient Express than the content. Regardless of any quality of the movie itself, I think I might have liked any locked room or classical styled mystery. Those don’t actually pop up as movies that often and it is a format that I greatly enjoy. Unfortunately, even TV, once my prime provider of mysteries, doesn’t really engage in this sort of thing anymore. TV mysteries have gone the way of the procedural; they are rarely really about the mystery. Getting a mystery, one of the classics, done with such lush and beautiful production, was in itself a joy to me. Luckily, I thought the movie was pretty well done, too.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of Agatha Christie’s most well-known mysteries, but even so it has come to my attention that some people are not familiar with how it plays out, so I will endeavor not to spoil anything. This version stars actor/director Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, the famous detective. He boards the famous train along with a dozen other passengers. One night, the train gets derailed and one of the passengers is discovered murdered in his bed, with the window opened. Certain that the killer must be one of the other passengers, Poirot sets out to figure out who is responsible.

The format of movie allows for movie to get relatively big names for relatively small roles. They get to come in for a few scenes, do their thing and go on their way. So you get stuff like Judi Dench as an aging Russian noble, Willem Dafoe as an Austrian professor, Daisy Ridley as a young governess, and Johnny Depp as an American businessman/gangster. They are all mostly small roles, but each with their own eccentricities to make them interesting. Each member of the cast is delightful, most notably Depp for not being too over the top.

There are two principal joys in this film. The first and most obvious is the look. Poirot starts the movie in Jerusalem and travels across the near east, through marvelous vistas of snow covered mountains and golden sunsets. The train is amazingly designed and the costumes are top notch. It is simply a gorgeous movie. The other is just watching the detective put the pieces together. That means getting to see each of the small performances and also Branagh’s centerpiece as Poirot. Despite the big change of his mustache, going from a small, neat mustache to an ostentatious handlebar, he mostly sticks with the book character; fastidious, egocentric and a little silly. We see him find all the clues and hear all the testimony. Theoretically, a viewer could grasp what has happened before Poirot breaks it down. I don’t know how effective the movie is at this, I already knew how this story ended, but I loved watching the movie go through the motions.

I could see people really not liking this movie. It is not a grand adventure, it is a small, locked room mystery. It isn’t a thriller and certainly not an action movie, so I could see it being found dull. But there are so few movies that delivery the specific joys that this one does that I am very glad to have it.

****

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Thor Ragnarok

If I am being honest, I am probably on the high side when it comes to Marvel’s first two Thor movies. On my pointless big list I’ve got the first one ranked as the fourth best Marvel movie and I’ve got the second one above Age of Ultron in the middle of the list. Still, Ragnarok is easily the best of the three. It is overtly a comedy and despite its constant undercutting any sense of gravity in the situations, it still gets the characters right. I’ve complained before, repeatedly, about Marvel movies feeling empty, and Thor Ragnarok might be the most purely cotton candy sweet and empty of any of them, but since it is in a much more comedy centric context, the jokes themselves become the substance of the movie. And this movie is really funny.

There are things that I don’t like about the movie, and I’ll get them out of the way first. [spoilers for the first 20 or so minutes] The movie kills off the Warriors Three with little fanfare or pretense. It does very little to show what is going on in Asgard, even when it is important to the plot. The last scene on the Bifrost is poorly laid out. These are all problems, but they pale in the neon drenched wonder that is the rest of the movie.

I’ve waited a few days to write my review to see if my initially very positive feelings held. The further we get away from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the less I seem to like it. And Ragnarok is in many ways the kind of movie I just don’t like. It takes characters and settings I like and treats them as a complete joke. That sort of thing usually annoys me, but in this case I thought it worked. Maybe it is because this movie is expressly a comedy; maybe it is because the movie still got the heart of the central characters (Thor, Loki, Odin & Hulk) right. Either way, the complete irreverence of this movie didn’t raise my hackles the way things like this sometimes can. Some have compared this movie to Flash Gordon, which is the trouble I am describing here; because while the colors of this movie are much like Flash Gordon, the tone is complete opposite. That movie was knowingly campy but not overtly a comedy. It was silly because the setting is silly, the movie was not making jokes about the setting. Thor Ragnarok can’t stop making jokes at its own expense. But still, it works, I think because it also delivers the thrills that made these comics (Specifically Walt Simonson’s Thor) so enjoyable.

This movie makes Thor the goofball that was hiding at the edges of the last two Thor movies and prominent in extra material. He is serious about the bigger problems, but he is also having a blast going on adventures. He is joined by a talking Hulk, which is fun, and a lost Asgardian Valkyrie. Loki, still the best Marvel villain, goes through some changes himself while not abandoning his central nature. The characters are making jokes, but they mostly stay true to themselves. The movie also delivers the action, starting with a solo Thor fantasy-ish fight and moving to battles with spaceships in the trash planet Sakaar before ending with the Hulk fighting a giant wolf in Asgard. It delivers the action.

Something needs to be said about Cate Blanchett as the villain; Blanchett is great, but she doesn’t really get enough time to be more than a force of nature. I don’t know that she needed to be more.

The movie mostly delivers in the promise of the trailers. It is big and fun and grand and colorful. Digging too deep into it risks spoiling the plot (who cares) and the jokes (much worse). I don’t know how I’ll feel about this movie in a year or so, but right now I want to put it near the top of the Marvel pile.

****1/2

What I Watched October 2017

Movies

Blade Runner 2049 – read review here. *****

An American Werewolf in London – I feel like I should like this more than I did. It feels like some great monster make up with a bit of a movie put in around it. It builds just fine, but then it just sort of ends without really resolving anything. ***1/2

Batman & Bill – An excellent documentary about how Bill Finger, the creator of the greater part of Batman and related characters, finally got credit for his creation. It is kind of heartbreaking how badly Bill Finger got screwed over by DC Comics and to a greater degree Bob Kane, the man usually named the creator of Batman, but whose actual contribution past an initial sketch is somewhat minimal. It is a great story and well worth watching. ****

The Addams Family – Still thoroughly excellent. Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd are both great. ****1/2

Addams Family Values – Even better than the first one. It does away with the whole plot about the fake Fester and just lets the family go wild. It is so much fun. *****

Colossal – This is a pretty clever take on the monster movie. When Anne Hathaway’s character walks through a certain park, she materializes across the globe as a giant monster. It is some kind of metaphor for the destructiveness of her drinking problem. Then a “nice guy” played by Jason Sudeikis uses and exploits this power. It is pretty great. ****1/2

Godzilla 2000 – This is the Godzilla movie Japan made in response, more or less, to the dismal American version. It is a lot of fun, though I don’t know if it’s goofy translation helps or hurts. It makes the whole thing very silly on its face, but Godzilla is pretty silly in general. Still, there is a lot to love about this movie. ****

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – A dramedy starring Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller and a dysfunctional family and how each of a man’s three children relate to him. It is mostly touching and well made. It is kind of upsetting to see what Sandler is capable of when he is trying and how little he must be trying in most of his own movies. Still, this movie is excellent. ****1/2

The Saint – This is actually a pilot for a potential tv show, and it watches like it. In that context, it isn’t really that bad. It spends a lot of time setting up characters and situations and leaves things rather open ended, which is desirable when goal it to set things up for six to twenty more episodes, but as a movie it is fairly unsatisfying. It feels like one episode of a mediocre tv show. **

The Babysitter – A horror comedy that hid Netflix just in time for Halloween. It is fine. It is kind of a reverse of how slashers normally work, since all the teenagers are the villains and they slowly get weeded out. It doesn’t quite land as well as it could though. Maybe that is just because I have no real interest in the underlying genre. ***

The Princess Bride – I got to see this in a theater for the 30th anniversary. It is still one of my absolutely favorite movies and it looks great on the big screen. *****

Battle of the Sexes – read review here. ***1/2

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women – read review here. ****1/2

Byzantium – I had this as a movie to watch in a preview I wrote years ago, but I never got around to until this year. I loved it. It is kind of an unconventional Vampire movie, more about the personal lives of its vampires than horror. I think it really works. Gemma Arterton is woman from Victorian times that has become a vampire. She was, and still is, a prostitute. With her is her daughter, also a vampire, who is still going to school. It deals a lot with the history of how the characters got where they are, though there are gaps, and with how they are dealing with life now. Half supernatural thriller, half period piece. I thought it all just worked. *****

Hugo – This feels like an experiment with 3D filmmaking that only mostly worked. It is still mostly enjoyable, but it might also be my least favorite Scorsese movie. There is a lot of wonder and magic, but it kind of stuck between being a pure kids movie and a more mature movie. It’s well made, but it didn’t really do anything for me. ****

The Departed – This, on the other hand, might be my favorite Scorsese. It is incredibly tense and just keeps moving. I assume everyone’s seen it and knows how great it is. *****

Lay the Favorite – I loved the work of Rebecca Hall in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, so I went ahead and watched this movie she starred in a few years ago with Bruce Willis. It’s fine, I guess. There really isn’t a lot to it. Willis is a professional gambler, she works as an aid for him, then with a much shadier bookie. It’s mildly amusing, but mostly pointless. **1/2

The World’s End – As usual, immediately after watching this it is my favorite of Wright’s Cornetto trilogy. I think in the long run, it is Hot Fuzz, but it is hard to say no to this movie after watching it. It is nearly perfect. *****

The Love Guru – I have long been morbidly curious about this movie. I am generally a fan of Mike Myers, but this thing is as ill-conceived as it appears. There isn’t a single part of it that works and it is confounding that at no point did anyone takes a step back and consider how misbegotten the whole thing is. 0 stars

Godzilla v Destroyah – I wanted to watch more Godzilla movies, and hulu has most of them up. This one starts with Godzilla already in meltdown and then a monster created by the bomb that killed the original Godzilla showing up. It is a solid ending to the 80’s and 90’s series of Godzilla movies. ****

TV

Mindhunter – Maybe the next Netflix hit, I don’t know. It is a very interesting take on a mix of true-ish crime and a police procedural. It has its characters delving into the minds of serial killers to learn how they tick. It is mostly very interesting, but something is keeping me from moving this show out of like and into love territory.

Outlander S3 – Season 3 of Outlander has made good progress on a difficult road. It started with its two protagonists divided by time, and now even now that they are back together it has to work to get them actually together after a 20 year separation. I really like the book this season is based on, but the book has a lot more room to deal with issues than the show does. It is also introducing an almost entirely new supporting cast after the purge at the end of last season, where just about everybody but the two protagonists died, and even those who didn’t aged from children to adults. I am still finding it highly enjoyable and I eagerly await seeing how the back half of this season turns out.

Good News – In many ways, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the continuation of 30 Rock, the best sitcom ever made. After watching the first season and a half of Great News, I think it has a near equal claim to that legacy. It starts out kind of rough, but by the back end of the first season’s 10 episodes it has found its footing and its voice. Then season 2 kept up the momentum, and has been largely excellent so far. I don’t know the odds of it getting past the 13 episodes ordered this season, but I am glad to watch whatever we get.

Bob’s Burgers S7 – I got hulu, and this was one of the first thing I got on watching. This show has slowly but surely worked its way up my list of all-time favorites. Season 7 continues the show’s strong run. There is something essentially charming about this collection of weirdos and the show keeps finding new ways to play them off of each other.

Stranger Things – I have a lot to say about this season, enough that I want to write a full blog post about the show, even though I know I won’t have time to do that. I’ll say that this season perfectly builds on what came before it while adding just enough new stuff. There are some missteps, but overall it is simply excellent. I don’t know that I’ve ever identified more with a character than Bob Newby. And Steve continued his evolution from 80’s movie jock douche to legitimate cool guy. The fact that he does it without ever really succeeding at what he is doing make it all the more remarkable.

CW Superhero Shows – The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl are back (so is Arrow, but until I get my CW app issues settled I’m not watching it) and all of them have returned in good form. Supergirl is probably the weakest so far this season, but that is mostly because Legends and Flash have come out swinging, while Supergirl expects us to care that Mon-El is gone. I liked the chemistry between Chris Wood and Benoist, I was indifferent to the actual romance between the two characters. Making Supergirl mopey because he’s gone does nothing for me. Meanwhile, the Flash has regained its full season 1 form so far, with fun character dynamics and super-powered baddies of the week. And Legends continues to fully embrace the silliness. These shows are doing it for me this season.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

With fortuitous timing, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women arrives perfectly timed to cash in on the current popularity of Wonder Woman. Not that the movie could accurately be described as a cash in, it is a delightful film. In some ways very traditional and in others very unconventional.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the story of psychology professor William Moulton Marston, who created the superhero Wonder Woman, with some help from his wife and girlfriend. That wife and girlfriend thing is what the movie is really about. It is based on the real life of this triad, Marston, Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne. Holloway and Marston are already married at the start, when Marston becomes infatuated with their new student assistant Byrne. A romance develops between the three of them that leads to a sort of triad.

One of the best things this movie does is to stage the movie as a traditional romance. Formally this is very much a classic romance, with the same sort of obstacles and journey, only that structure is applied to a love story that is anything but traditional. It works, not toning down the content of the story but also not presenting it as lurid or obscene, just a normally somewhat melodramatic romance. At the time, and really would be even now, their story was a sensational one. Their triad relationship is pretty outre, with or without the bondage. From the account in The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Professor Marston actually plays up the luridness of the relationship in content, but because the movie doesn’t present it as such, it plays very differently. Ignoring any sort of moralistic concerns, the relationship at the heart of this movie was apparently a happy and long lasting one. It is presented as a true love story and the facts back that up. By not staging it as something extreme, it downplays the differentness of the relationship, including the absolute ickiness of the fact that it began while Olive was Marston’s student, allowing the other parts to shine through.

It is also just well constructed. Luke Evans is fun as William Marston, being almost childlike in his enthusiasm but also clearly educated. He is an idealist and a fantastic weirdo and Evans brings that across. Bella Heathcote brings vulnerability but not truly naivety to Olive Byrne. She knows what she is getting into and goes into it hopefully but not blindly. Rebecca Hall as Elizabeth gives the best performance as the voice of reason in this triad, the one who recognizes how this will be viewed by others and how hard it will hurt their reputation and their children. She isn’t cold, but she is pragmatic. Hall makes her conflicts clear, she is clearly not unfeeling; she wants this relationship too. But she has the hardest journey to get to the point of believing in it. Mostly because she is more experienced than Olive and more rational than her husband. Again, the movie is kind of old fashioned in its presentation, which works well as a contrast with the content.

The one part of the movie that gets kind of sidelined is the creation of Wonder Woman. As a comic fan, I immediately recognized that it was somewhat fictionalized. But little about the character or the content really come through. That is not what this movie is really about, it is a small part of a larger story, but it supposedly builds up to his hearing with the decency board and that thread is ultimately unfulfilling.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is one of the more entertaining biopics I’ve seen in recent years. It tells a story that legitimately hasn’t been seen before, or at least tells this story in a new way. It is highly worth seeing, though fans of this summer’s Wonder Woman might not get the story of that character’s creation that they might expect.

****1/2

Battle of the Sexes

I don’t know that I expected to like Battle of the Sexes more than I did, but I certainly hoped I would. It is okay, but I thought maybe it could be really good.  Battle of the Sexes is about the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, but it is also about Billie Jean’s personal life, the founding of what would become the WTA and a little about Bobby Riggs. These are all worthwhile stories, but the movie spreads itself a little thin trying to tell all of them and ends up not really telling them all that well.

The Bobby Riggs part of the movie is pretty stunted.  Steve Carell does a great job, playing a fading gambling addict who is just trying to maintain some relevance in a world that is leaving him behind.  There is something irrepressibly comical about him, both when he is being disgustingly sexist and when he is playing games in the living room with his son.  While he is a player in this story, this movie is not his story and it probably shouldn’t be.  But the movie gives just enough of a look into him to leave you wanting more, in a bad way.  After that scene of him playing with his son, we don’t see that son again.  We do meet another, older son who gets a little bit of a story, but he never really amounts to anything as a character.

The movie opens with Billie Jean and Gladys Heldman arranging a boycott of a tennis tournament that pays the male winners 12 times what the female winners get.  They, along with a handful of other women player’s, start what in a few years would become the WTA.  That in itself is likely enough to sustain a movie, but it just sort of happens over the first twenty minutes or so of this movie.  It opens a lot of interesting avenues and leaves them completely unexplored.

The main thrust of the movie, before the central tennis match actually starts to happen, is Billie Jean’s unexpected romance with her hairdresser. It is very unexpected because she is happily married.  That gets the bulk of the movie’s time and is a story worth telling. But unless I am misreading, it is also the subplot that is least on theme. Her husband is possibly the only male figure in this movie that isn’t awful.  He is supportive of King and his interactions with Marilyn, her lover, are more about warning her off to prevent her from disrupting King’s focus, noting that for their mutual love tennis comes first. It other than giving King something else to worry about, it doesn’t really play into the match from which this movie gets its name.

Battle of the Sexes is definitely worth seeing. Emma Stone is excellent as King and Carell is good as Riggs.  The movie is just overwhelmingly pleasant.  It is fun to watch, even as the issues it deals with remain issues 40 years later.  But this movie feels a little like a missed opportunity, like it was close to being just a little bit better and truly memorable.

***1/2

What I Watched September 2017

Movies

Little Evil – A fun little horror comedy from the guy behind Tucker and Dale vs Evil, another fun little horror comedy. This one has Adam Scott as the stepfather of the Anti-Christ.  It is no Shaun of the Dead, but it is reasonably enjoyable. ***1/1

#realityhigh – This is Mean Girls without the smarts and with a lot more YouTube.  I am not the target audience for this movie, so I don’t feel I can judge it too harshly.  Maybe some of this crap is relatable to kids.  But I have seen movies do this same thing and do it much better.  **

Gangs of New York – There is a lot going on here. I don’t think it is Scorsese’s best, but there is a lot of to like. It is a crazy expansive look at New York in the middle of the 19th century that is largely well acted and plotted. ****1/2

My Man Godfrey – This is a pretty excellent entry in one of my favorite lost genres, the screwball comedy. A man living in a dump is hired by an insane rich family to be their butler.  Except the man, Godfrey, is not just a homeless man but secretly very rich and is working as a butler for kicks, I guess.  It is a lot of fun. *****

Kingsman The Golden Circle – read review here. *

Enter the Warriors Gate – This is The Forbidden Kingdom, not a particularly great movie, without Jackie Chan or Jet Li, that movies two big draws.  It isn’t the worst, but it is far from being actually good.  **

Nausicaä and the Valley of the Wind – This isn’t my favorite Ghibli movie, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to see it on the big screen.  It plays.  It is the prototypical Miyazaki movie; it has all the elements that his movies would become known for, but everything feels stretched just a little bit thin.  Maybe it is just his other movies do parts of this one better than they are done here. For instance, if you just want the aerial action, Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso are better. Still, this movie is well worth seeing. *****

TV

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – This show is hilarious and fun, but it can also be hard to watch.  The main character continually makes wrong choice after wrong choice and while it is almost always funny, it is also pretty sad.  This is an excellent show. I love the songs especially.

The Good Place – This show is amazing.  The set-up, a bad person getting wrongly sent to ‘not heaven’ is pretty great.  When the other shoe drops on the premise, it makes everything that came before it even better.

30 Rock – I was going to write this show up again, because it is my go to going to sleep viewing choice and it was leaving Netflix. But then I learned that it was just moving to Hulu and Hulu would only cost me $6 bucks a month and has enough stuff to watch other than 30 Rock to make it worth it to me.  So I still have access to 30 Rock to put me to sleep at night.

American Vandal – This show is a perfect combination of true crime documentaries and stupid high school kids.  A stoner is accused of spray-painting dicks on all of his teacher’s cars.  One kid from the AV club investigates to get to the bottom of who did the dicks.  It is quite the roller coaster ride, with the complete focus on things that are ultimately not that important.  This is really good.

The Tick – The new Tick show is good.  It is still the Tick, though a more serious take on the character.  The older show played the same subjects largely for laughs, this one takes plays them for more drama. And also laughs.  I like the old show better, but I will keep watching this one.

Blade Runner 2049

I am not the biggest fan of the original Blade Runner. I like it just fine, but it always felt standoffish and cold to me. Maybe it is because I am most familiar with the theatrical cut. At least I think that is the cut that I watched occasionally on VHS decades ago.  I have seen at least two different versions of it.  It is stark and moody and beautiful, but I could never connect with it. While Blade Runner 2049 shares a lot of qualities with the original, I didn’t have that problem here.

Blade Runner 2049 eschews ambiguity about whether its protagonists is a replicant, and artificially created person, (I don’t think Deckard is) telling the viewer right at the start that Ryan Gosling’s K is one. After successfully hunting down an older model, he stumbles upon a discovery that has the potential to completely disrupt society. This sets off an investigation that largely plays out like a noir mystery. Trying not to spoil anything, K must deal with his boss with the police, his companion Joi, mysterious CEO Niander Wallace and his associate Luv and finally Deckard from the original movie as he tries to get to the bottom of things.  It is hard to really dig into this movie without spoiling everything. I am not usually a big stickler for spoilers, but this is a mystery.  SO there will be mild spoilers ahead, but I will endeavor to not ruin things outside the basic premise.

It does deal with the idea of what makes us human.  Our protagonist K is a replicant, and he believes he is not a person. He puts up a persona of being cold and emotionless.  A later revelation causes him to question that, and he becomes much more emotional and expressive.  By the end, he has shown his humanity no matter what he learns about his creation.  That is contrasted with Luv, another replicant who never seems to question her birth and purpose. No matter what she does or what she sees, she robotically follows her orders.  Then there is Joi, an AI program designed to tell its owner exactly what they want to hear.  She gives K exactly what he wants; turning his barren apartment into a home and telling him he is special, even giving him another name, Joe.  But is she doing anything more than what her programming tells her to do?  An encounter with another version maybe answers the question, but I don’t think that answer is definitive.  Then there is also the inhumanity of many of the human characters, like [boss] and Wallace, who coldly want to, or do, dispatch with replicants because they do not see them as human. It makes things a little more clear as to what each character is, and then muddies it up with how to look at them.

It is also an utterly gorgeous movie, taking place in a largely ugly setting.  The earth of 2049 is a dying place, with irradiated desert reclaiming Las Vegas and San Diego turned into a giant dump and Los Angeles managing to seem both overcrowded and empty.  The costuming is amazing; there are tons of memorable shots. The music is good, if a little modern blockbuster-y.  It is just a truly well-made film.

I’m not trying to hide the ball here, I loved Blade Runner 2049.  It isn’t a copy of the original; it takes its themes and builds on them.  I think it surpasses the original.  It is a little messy, there are plot threads that don’t really go anywhere and lots of questions left unanswered, but those mostly worked to make the movie feel alive for me.  This world is bigger than just the story of this movie, those story threads are not to be dealt with here.  Not really sequel hooks, just other events that are also happening.  Everything about this movie works for me.

*****

What I Watched August 2017

Movies

The Dark Tower – read review here. **1/2

Opening Night – Topher Grace plays a failed actor working as a stage manager for a musical.  This is all about the struggles backstage as they get ready for opening night.  It is a reasonably well made movie. It is just funny and charming enough to get by during its hour and a half run time.  I like Topher Grace; I like several other members of the cast.  It is fine, but forgettable. ***1/2

Logan Luckyread review here. ****1/2

Naked – A take on Groundhogs Day where a man has to keep reliving his disastrous wedding day until he finally gets things right.  I can’t say I hated it, but it never did enough with its premise.  It wasn’t touching or funny enough to really be worthwhile.   **

The Incredible Jessica James – This is a pretty solid indie comedy/drama starring The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams.  It works.  It is funny and charming.  Definitely worth watching.  ***1/2

What Happened to Monday – This movie isn’t bad.  I liked it.  But it is really disappointing how much it squanders its premise.  It stars Noomi Rapace as seven identical sisters in a world that has a one child rule.  So each sibling is named after the day of the week they get to go outside in the identity of the one child. It is a neat concept, but the movie pretty much immediately starts taking sisters off the board in favor of a fairly standard chase movie. There is just so much unrealized potential here.  When it plays with that premise it is really enjoyable. ***

The Founder – This is the perfect American story, about how if you work hard enough there is nothing you can’t steal.  It’s itself up as a sort of Ray Kroc hagiography, but lets you see the complete emptiness inside of the man.  He cares for no one and nothing other than himself, sparing no regard for the people he destroys along the way. It is just great.  *****

Beautiful Creatures – I watched this to see Alden Ehrenriech after loving him in Hail, Caesar! This is clearly a movie made to capitalize on the success of Twilight and it isn’t the best.  However, it has enough fun performers, like Ehrenriech and Jeremy Irons and Voila Davis and Emmy Rossum, having fun with the movie that it remains watchable. **1/2

TV

Ozark – The show hits the ground running, but it takes a little time to warm up anyway.  Many have compared it to Breaking Bad, but it starts in a much different place, a place where the protagonist, Jason Bateman’s Marty Bird, has already made the decision to work for the bad guys.  Other than the fact that his job is illegal, he remains a mostly forthright guy.  There is trouble with his marriage and he is in no sense of the word a good guy, but it is endlessly entertaining to see his reaction to trouble being to simply admit the truth.  I don’t know how good the show actually is, but I do know that I kept watching until it was over.

Friends from College – This show is miserable.  It has an excellent cast, but they play the least likeable/least funny bunch of ingrates I’ve ever seen in what is supposed to be a comedy.  You can do comedy with unlikeable, terrible people, Always Sunny in Philadelphia has been making hay with for years, but that show doesn’t try to make you care about characters this fundamentally awful.  This show thinks its viewers will care about what happens to these goblins.  It also is only rarely funny.  It is really just the worst.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later – I doubt I’ll have the time, but I’d like to write a fuller review of this, or a full review of both season of Wet Hot and the movie. This show is brilliant. It has a great cast and is incredibly funny.  Also Chris Meloni steals the show.

Voltron S3 – This show keeps getting better as it doles out little chunks of goodness.  Knowing that the people behind it have a plan or roadmap for how things will progress makes it easier to go through with the episodes as they come.  Still, this is a lot of fun.  Good action, good character work and some good sci-fi concepts.  I’m not going completely crazy about it, but it maintains a very high quality level throughout.  I just wish they’d release more at a time.

The Get Down Part 2 – I am going to miss this nonsense spectacle of a show.  It is so big and so grand, but also muddled and inconsistent.  It is just too much, which is both likely why it cost so much and got the axe and why I kept watching it despite its flaws. It didn’t quite work, but I’m glad that I got to experience it.

Little Witch Academia – It has been an unfortunately long time since I got into an anime. I just haven’t really attempted to do so, and the few I have checked out haven’t really clicked with me. Also at the risk of enraging purists, I don’t have the time and inclination to read while watching cartoons. Little Witch Academia, a charming mix of Harry Potter and Kiki’s Delivery Service, is pretty entertaining. It isn’t the deepest show out there, but it has some nice animation and is free of the creepiness that tends to infect these sorts of shows.  It is all around a good time and worth checking out on Netflix.

Defenders – Had I written this immediately after seeing it I think I would have been more positive. Now that I have had a week or two to let it settle, I am feeling less charitable. All of the Marvel Netflix shows have shared a problem: they are 13 episodes long, but don’t have 13 episodes worth of story.  Even the best of them (Jessica Jones for my money) feels pretty saggy in the middle.  Defenders is only 8 episodes, which should have done wonders to fix that problem.  Except somehow the show has the same ratio of content to filler as the longer shows.  This is a superhero team up show that doesn’t even start the team up portion until halfway through the series. It isn’t like there is a lot happening in those first few episodes; it takes three full episodes to introduce its four protagonists. I don’t know. There is mild amusement here, but it doesn’t leave any sort of positive impression.

White Gold – This show has its moments, but it is stuck between showing awful people be awful and trying to make them characters.  Mostly it works, there is a lot of humor here, but sometimes it just doesn’t work.

Dear White People – Often powerful, often funny, occasionally a little bit stuck in between. This is not a show that is afraid to be messy, but the message generally shines through. It is really, really good.

Fall/Winter Movie Preview

September

Unlocked – Noomi Rapace is really good, even if not everything she is in is.  The director, Michael Apted, directed a Bond movie that only I like (The World is Not Enough). Honestly, I’m stretching a little to find stuff in September that seems worth checking out. Sept 1

It – I am not at all interested in this, but it is about as big a movie as September has coming. It looks like it is going to be very much a horror movie, instead of only kind of a horror movie like the original TV mini-series. I’m out.  Doesn’t mean it will be bad, I just don’t watch horror movies. Sept 8

American Assassin – Looks like generic thriller, but I don’t mind those and Michael Keaton goes a long way.  Sept 15

Kingsman The Golden Circle – If everything else was equal, this is a movie I would be excited for. I like a lot of what this looks to be and I like a lot of the people in it. I also hate to give money to anything that has Mark Millar’s fingerprints on it.  I really detest that man’s work.  But this looks like it could be an exception. Action comedies, especially ones about spies, are exactly my wheelhouse.  Sept. 22

American Made – Who knows, but I’ll never outright dismiss a Tom Cruise movie. It looks at least somewhat interesting. Sept 29.

October

Blade Runner 2049 – Here we go. A follow up to a classic, with Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, directed by the man who directed last year’s Arrival. I am in for this. It looks great.  Oct 6

The Foreigner – I prefer fun Jackie Chan to serious Jackie Chan, but I am not against Chan in a Taken alike.  Plus, he’s playing off of Pierce Brosnan, who is always fun.  This could go either way. Oct 13

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – This should be interesting at the very least.  The creator of Wonder Woman, or maybe creators, is endlessly fascinating.  If this plays near me I’ll see it.  Oct 13

Geostorm – This seems like a movie that should have crapped up the summer.  It looks appallingly dumb, but there might be entertainment to be found in it any way. Oct 20.

Suburbicon – Coen Brothers written; yay! Clooney directed; shrug.  I haven’t hated either of Clooney’s directorial efforts, but I haven’t loved them either.  This looks good enough to be worth a look.  Oct 27.

November

Thor: Ragnarok – So far this looks like everything great about superhero movies. It looks epic and fun and big in ways that few actually turn out to be.  If it cribs as much from Walt Simonson as it appears to it should be a delight. Nov 3

Murder on the Orient Express – I’ve been on a real Christie kick lately, I could go for an adaptation.  And I generally really enjoy Branagh, both as an actor and a director.  The rest of the cast, assuming Depp is somewhat restrained, looks pretty good as well. Nov 10

Justice League – I might be the last one on this train, seeing as I love Batman v Superman, (I gave it a middling review when it came out, then liked the “Ultimate Cut” a lot more and each time I’ve seen it since I’ve liked it more. I am ready to call it love) but I am ready for the next stop. Nov 17

Coco – I didn’t see Cars 3, but I am not missing 2 Pixar movies in one year.  I’ll be there for this. Nov 22

December

The Shape of Water – Its Guillermo Del Toro, I am going to see it.  I love most of his movies. This is some sort of fantasy romance between a woman and a fishman.  It sounds very Del Toro and very good. Dec 18

Star Wars The Last Jedi – If anything, I am more excited for this than I was for The Force Awakens.  This looks so amazing. Dec 15

Jumanji – This will almost certainly be bad, but there is a near infinite number of bad movies I’ll watch The Rock in.  At least the conceit is amusing, though I hope they do something more interesting than the trailer showed with it.  Dec 20

I know there are movies that I should be excited for that I’m not.  You know, the actually good movies hidden amongst the rancid Oscar bait and summer leftovers, but I am having trouble really finding much to be excited for this fall.  Of course, at this time last year I hadn’t even heard of La La Land, so what do I know?  I know Netflix has stuff coming as well, but they tend to cagey with release dates more than a few weeks out. Tell me of anything I missed, unless it is a horror movie because then I simply ignored it.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

It is not often that a movie repulses me quite like Kingsman: The Golden Circle did.  It is a nasty, callow, mean-spirited, empty film that tries to play itself off as a gleeful romp despite being utterly devoid of anything that could cause glee.  Even so, I would feel more charitable if I could find one thing to point to that it does well to offset its soul destroying vulgarity, but there is nothing here.

The closest to a positive thing I can point to in Kingsman: The Golden Circle is its cast. Even a movie as generally revolting as this can’t completely disguise the charms of actors like Mark Strong, Colin Firth or Channing Tatum.  Even when you toss in a happily sleepwalking Julianne Moore, a blink and you’ll miss it appearance by Jeff Bridges and an altogether bland showing from Halle Berry, the cast makes you really want to root for this movie.  Too bad about the movie itself.

It is mean-spirited, and it shows this right from the start.  After a brief, weightless action sequence which ends with the protagonist Eggsy literally covered in shit, it switches to Moore’s villain Poppy, who has one henchman toss another head first into a meat grinder and then she serves the survivor a hamburger made from his friend.  Of course, this is the villain; we expect them to do awful things.  But the world at large, including our heroes, is no better.  All along I was expecting at least one character to repudiate the vileness that permeates nearly every character’s actions, but instead they continually double down on it.  Eggsy attempts to plant a tracker on one of the villain’s girlfriends is not dissimilar to many of Bond’s seductions, though for Bond the mission is usually information and the sex is just a bonus; this is a calculated plot for the protagonist to paw at a woman’s crotch.  Maybe some of it is the usual Bond spy stuff taken to what is intended to be a humorous extreme, but all it ends up doing is feeling gross.

The action is also a disappointment.  There is one good sequence, but even that one is heavy on the CGI. The movie tries to go over the top, but it just makes everything feel hollow and empty.  There is a car chase that is supposed to be the big opener, but Baby Driver came out just a few months ago, I know what a good car chase looks like.  Or hell, I could look at Mission Impossible Rogue Nation or The Man from UNCLE, all of which feature better car chases than that.  The action in the gunfights is clear, but there is no weight to anything. It just happens.

I should have known better than to go see this.  It is based on a Mark Millar property, if not on an actual story he wrote, and I know how much I detest his writing. But some people really talking up the first, which I skipped, and a dearth of other options led me to seeing Kingsman 2.  This movie is permeated with Millar’s brand of immature, edgy stupidity.  There is nothing here to recommend.

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