Movies watched in July 2017

Here are the films I watched last month. I mostly keep reviews on my Letterboxd account now, but I archive them here every month as well. Various reviews may have spoilers.

★★★★★ : One of the best movies ever, I will love for the rest of my days
★★★★½ : Awesome movie, almost one of the best
★★★★ : Great movie, worth buying to own
★★★½ : Above average
★★★ : Average, not bad, but not great
★★½ : It’s almost just OK, but not quite
★★ : Pretty silly movie, meh!
★½ : Simply ridiculous movie
★ : Bad movie, what were they thinking?
½ : Woah! Absolutely awful, I feel dumber for having watched

La La Land (2016)


I enjoyed the music and the camera work with its wide angles and long shots. I liked what they were trying to do, but unfortunately it just didn’t work for me. The actors were not great singers or dancers. The story was meh. The characters were too naive and their dreams were too selfish to invite much sympathy, and their emotional conflicts felt very forced and relatively simple to overcome. Though the look and feel of the film was certainly something unique, managing to capture the charm of a classic studio musical in a modern setting, the overall story just didn’t live up to its potential at all.

Time of the Wolf (2003)


Like Haneke’s “Amour”, I found this to be continually engaging, as well as continually depressing.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Even by Marvel superhero movie standards, this was pretty bad. Bland characters, conflicts, dialog… nothing worthwhile here.

Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire (2017)


Not quite as bad as “Dragonheart 3”, but still a cheesy fantasy with silly cheesy fantastical nonsense. Had some interesting twists in regards to secrets the characters kept from each other, silly though they were, and the film gave me some interesting story ideas, so I’ll give it a little credit. But the dialog was very bland, and the story moved along very awkwardly, each new development in the story feeling rather a bit forced.

Cars 3 (2017)


The best Cars movie yet! Though the Cars movies have been my least favorite Pixar movies so far, so I’m not sure that’s saying much. It’s rather obvious from the beginning just where the story’s going, and it’s sometimes a bit agonizing waiting for the characters to get it when the setup is so blatant. Still, it delivers a good message… sort of (I still don’t like these movies that romanticize defining success as being better than others, but I guess that’s inherent in a movie about racing). And, like all Pixar movies, this had some good humor, made me laugh out loud multiple times. Overall, I enjoyed it, though it’s far from Pixar’s best.

Before I Fall (2017)


Interesting take on the classic Groundhog Day scenario, but too many of the characters were just too agonizing to watch, I had trouble taking them seriously. And I didn’t much care for the ending at all; I predicted it as a joke, and it wound up being right. Bleh!

Beauty and the Beast (2017)


I may have enjoyed this more if I didn’t have the far superior animated classic to compare it to; just about everything about this remake is worse than the original. The comical whimsy allowed by stylistic animation simply does not translate to live action. I can’t think of a change to the story / screenplay that didn’t make this retelling worse.

I felt the biggest problem with this remake was simply the pacing. In a well-made film, the tension rises and falls. After moments of intense action or drama, the audience is given a time to breathe and reflect before rising another hill of tension. Of course, you only notice subconsciously as your mind travels through the emotions. This film only had such rises and falls in tension in so much as it repeated the main formula of the first film, so I suppose it worked well enough for some. But for me, the whole thing just felt too rushed, and thus fell flat. Moments of tension (or even comic relief) weren’t given enough “breathing space”, so it felt like the characters were simply going through the motions, like a bunch of high-schoolers reenacting a favorite film. I think perhaps if they had ventured even further away from the source material, instead of trying to recapture the original magic, it may have felt more true to itself. Instead, it feels like a live-action parody.

The other big problem: These CGI characters are simply terribly designed. I imagine some concept artists thought they were being quite clever designing different parts of furniture to serve as different facial features, but the end result is that you can’t easily read emotions on hardly any of these CGI characters. This isn’t the fault of CGI in and of itself, but rather with the choice to represent the furniture as realistic as possible, without any white in any eyes. It just made almost all the CGI characters unsympathetic and dull.

Finally, Emma Watson just did not feel right as Belle. She’s too modern and independent. She saunters around like a modern young woman. Her character did not seem like the sort who would have any need of a love interest, so her love for the beast did not seem at all genuine. Just going through the motions of the source material. I don’t know whether or not they used autotune on her voice, but something about it doesn’t sound quite right. Didn’t care much for her singing at all.

Quite a few other problems, but these were the main ones, in my opinion. So, overall, this remake mostly just annoyed me. The animated classic is just so superior, this just feels like a sad parody.

I am, however, forced to give at least one star for the new songs from Alan Menken. I admit that I did enjoy those. They are probably the only thing I liked about this film.

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)


Completely stupid. And why does the main character move so unnaturally slowly? Far from being unsettling or atmospheric, it is just annoying and stupid. Awful film.

The Silenced (2015)



A Dog’s Purpose (2017)

Not really a bad movie, just way too cheesy for me. (Do you think the director likes dogs?)

The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)


Good World War 2 film based on a true story.

The Lost City of Z (2016)


Overall a good movie. The ending was a bit anticlimactic, but it’s based on a true story, so what can you do? The spiritual aspect, with the main character having flashbacks at important moments, was well done. You can’t help but fantasize about the ancient wonders of the lost city along with the main character. Although it certainly does not make me want to travel.

I didn’t realize how long it was until it was over; I was constantly engaged for its 2+ hours running time. That’s always a good sign.

Billy Jack (1971)


Listen, children, to a story… It’s hippies and Native Americans vs stupid evil racists. The racists have got some racist cops and council members on their side. The hippies and Native Americans have their selective pacifism and Billy Jack, a violent vigilante with ninja skills. Who will win? Rather a cheesy film. It perhaps tries to have a good message, but just doesn’t quite deliver. The racism and little speeches about peace are just too blatant. The overall concept isn’t bad though, the overall film just comes off as a little too fake to really stir the emotions much. Anyway, watch it in the name of Heaven and you can justify it in the end.

Come watch, children, this old movie,
That was filmed decades ago
About some racist cops and people
And Billy Jack, who was their foe.
He had some cool ninja skills,
Protecting those on a reserve.
When trouble came they called his name,
He gave them what they deserved.

Go ahead and watch this movie,
Go ahead and rent the disc.
(Don’t watch an illegal copy,
Pirating’s wrong, and it’s a risk.)
Their won’t be many tears from your eyes.
(The writer’s just a bit of a hack…)
But when cam zooms out at the end….
You’ll remember Billy Jack!

There, I hope you like my song…

Dunkirk (2017)


Was lucky to go to a special screening the day before its official release. Very much enjoyed it. It focuses on the journeys of three different characters, whose storylines merge in the end, both action-wise and temporally. (Nolan cuts across time quite a bit, as he likes to do.) The whole thing felt like almost non-stop action, never a dull moment. It is similar to The Dark Knight in that regard. It doesn’t quite have the wit of his other movies. I don’t think there’s one joke in the whole thing, it’s all very serious in tone. It’s a war film after all. Even so, the best bit of writing is a Churchill quote. But clever dialog really isn’t needed; the focus is on the action. The cinematography was also fantastic, and Hans Zimmer’s signature pulsing score adds wonderful tension. Overall, though it’s not my favorite Nolan film, it was a great film nonetheless.

Mirrormask (2005)

Very boring.

Get Out (2017)


Fun movie, a lot more humorous than I expected. The premise is so outlandish and silly that it’s hard for any of the attempted suspense to actually work. It reminded me a bit of the Stepford Wives, where everybody in a small town is acting weird and creepy, especially the few black people. (If it’s trying to make a social statement about race, I have no idea what it is.) Overall, I give an extra star for the humor… but then I take it away for characters using bing… I can accept a lot of far-fetched impossibilities for the sake of story, but having characters using bing is just taking things too far!

Collide (2016)


Rather generic and forgettable action thriller. I guess I don’t find car chases all that riveting.

Black Butterfly (2017)


Decent little thriller about an alcoholic screenwriter who’s held hostage by a stranger in his own house until he finishes a new story. (Sounds a bit like “Misery”, but I never saw that movie so I can’t compare.) Why would this stranger be so interested in a story? And isn’t it interesting that he shows up just as local women are being murdered? What’s really at play here? Bum bum bum! Featuring very few characters and mostly one location, it could actually make for a pretty decent stage play.

The final “twist” in the final shot was a bit ridiculous, cliche, and obvious, but other than that, fun movie.

A Cure for Wellness (2016)


A man is sent to a remote spa, or “wellness center”, to get his boss. But something doesn’t feel right about the place, and he finds he has trouble leaving. Unfortunately the whole thing was a bit long-winded for the somewhat simple (and rather cliche, obvious, and ridiculous) explanation for what’s really going on at this wellness spa. Certainly establishes a creepy atmosphere though, reminded me of the superior film “Shutter Island”.

Movies watched in June 2017

Here are the films I watched last month. I mostly keep reviews on my Letterboxd account now, but I archive them here every month as well. Various reviews may have spoilers.

★★★★★ : One of the best movies ever, I will love for the rest of my days
★★★★½ : Awesome movie, almost one of the best
★★★★ : Great movie, worth buying to own
★★★½ : Above average
★★★ : Average, not bad, but not great
★★½ : It’s almost just OK, but not quite
★★ : Pretty silly movie, meh!
★½ : Simply ridiculous movie
★ : Bad movie, what were they thinking?
½ : Woah! Absolutely awful, I feel dumber for having watched

Sergeant York (1941)


Definitely reminded me of the more recent “Hacksaw Ridge” in its execution: start with character development in home life, including a love interest, go on to being a man of faith struggling with how to save lives during a war while still keeping a clear conscience, ultimately save lives and be rewarded.

This movie was just a bit too old-fashioned for me; the story is so simplified that the struggles, especially the war scenes, never feel quite real, but too Hollywood-ized. York’s solution to his struggle between fighting a war and keeping true to his faith seemed rather convenient and not as profound or as deep as I would’ve imagined. By the time we get to the actual war scenes and the aftermath, the film has already spent too much time on the character development, so the pacing begins to feel a bit rushed.

Despite these criticisms, I can’t help but appreciate the morals of this film, as cheesy as their old-fashioned manifestations may have come across. York is portrayed as a fine upstanding honest guy who’s always trying to do the right thing. None of that moral weakness or heroic flaw or self-doubt or indecisiveness Hollywood seems to be more fond of these days. So that was refreshing. It mostly just needed a better screenwriter.

The Shack (2017)


On the one hand, I appreciate the film’s themes of dealing with tragedy and forgiveness from a Christian perspective.

On the other hand, I’m always a bit wary of films in which God Himself (Herself?) is a human character, and this film had certain moments that left me annoyed thinking: “No, God wouldn’t say that.” The human portrayal of the trinity got on my nerves quite a few times from a theological point of view. For example, one of the foundations of Christianity and the idea of the Holy Trinity is that Christ, the son of God, is the human incarnation of God; He refers to a father figure in scripture because God the Father is too “meta” and ineffable to be thought of as a part of His own creation. So portraying the Father as also a human who’s going to speak English, make pie, and be “especially fond” of everybody, it just felt… theologically silly at the very least.

There’s a lot of talk on the problem of suffering, a conundrum so agitating it serves as the foundation for some people’s atheism. This film offers very little in the way of insight into this problem, as far as I could tell. God just dances around the issue and asks the main character to trust Him. Which I suppose is all He can do in a screenplay written by humans. But it was annoying having God Himself be a character who takes part in such discussions but never offers any real insight into the issue. At least, were I an atheist, this film would hardly serve as a compelling portrayal of the divine.

Finally, the premise took a bit long to establish. I never read the book, so I wasn’t looking forward to anything in particular happening, and so it got a bit boring at certain moments.

So overall I think this film may do a good job of helping some people to deal with tragedy and forgiveness in a Christian way. But it unfortunately just didn’t really work for me.

XX (2017)


The Deer Hunter (1978)


I had already seen the Russian roulette scenes (though I can’t remember where), which were certainly the most intense. The rest of the film I thought was a bit… er… boring. But it wasn’t entirely my fault. I was watching the movie with a 2-month old kitten who was distracting and more entertaining. Anyway, I can definitely see why this film would make it to IMDb’s top 250 list; it was well-made, great acting, terribly tragic, and felt honest. But the 3-hour running time and the slower moments just left me to be distracted by a playful kitten. Unfortunately the kitten will now grow up to be disturbed and troubled because he’s seen some s***.

The Tree of Life (2011)


These slow-moving more meditative films are usually hit or miss for me. “Knight of Cups” for instance was, I thought, incredibly boring.

But I loved this one. Loved the themes encompassing the beauty and mystery of life, and I could relate to spiritual prayers, ponderings, and struggles. The visuals were stunningly beautiful and inspiring, as was the constant use of glorious classical music.

Beautiful film. Loved it.

Expelled from Paradise (2014)


The story was OK, if a bit bland. The CGI-anime blend looked bizarre. The machines and robots looked fine in CGI, but the humans appeared too robotic. It was annoying throughout, though I imagine I could get used to it if I had to.

The Space Between Us (2017)


Too cheesy for me. The female love interest was also too annoying, too cynical and moody and angsty. The main character loses hope near the end far too easily. The space physics was also silly, especially how they faked 0 gravity. After space travel classics like Apollo 13 and The Martian, the cheap-o effects in this film just don’t work at all. The tone was also a bit too muddled; the balance between action and romance just didn’t work. They should’ve focused more on one (probably the romance) and less on the other. Still, I give it a star for some of the humor, cheesy as it was. And, overall, I’ve seen far worse; I appreciated the story they were going for, it just failed to execute.

The Riot Club (2014)


The Garden of Words (2013)


Great animation, some of the background effects were especially beautiful. Story-wise, it was just a bit too cheesy for me, the characters’ relationship just didn’t come across as deep or as poetic as I think it was meant, maybe some of it was lost in translation. At least it wasn’t needlessly stretched out to longer than it needed to be.

Excalibur (1981)


A great cheesy 80s fantasy in all its cheesy 80s glory, complete with a soundtrack by Trevor Jones. (I also like how the score wasn’t overdone; a lot of modern action films put in way too much music as though the audience needs to be constantly reminded what to feel. It gets very monotonous and annoying. I like a film like this, where scoring is used more sparingly to highlight intense moments. It’s more effective that way, in my opinion.) Although the screenplay is pretty bland dialog-wise, it still manages to capture the spirit of “Le Morte d’Arthur” rather well, I think, especially in the first half. Fun movie, I really enjoyed it!

Deadpool (2016)

Bleh! Just not my type of humor. Even without the vulgarity, it’s mostly shallow culture references and fourth wall breakage.

Ugetsu (1953)


Of the three I’ve seen, this is my favorite Kenji Mizoguchi film. An interesting story, but some of the characters were so foolish that they were annoying to watch.

Live by Night (2016)


Fun action sequences, but the story in between them felt empty and pointless. I found myself not caring much about any of the characters at all. And any moment any character talked about something spiritual, it just came off as silly at best. “This is heaven” is a repeated line. What? Is that supposed to mean something profound? It comes off as stupid writing. Just didn’t work for me. Bleh!

Oh, and what a stupid nonsense ending. “Repent!” Oh brother.

Logan (2017)


Great Wolverine movie, probably the best. (I’d give it a higher rating if I was a bigger fan of X-Men.) As I’ve heard others say, it feels more like a western than a comic book movie (and there are some direct references to “Shane”), which somehow works surprisingly well. Despite its 2+ hours running time, it’s very economically written. Each and every scene is meaningful and moves the story forward, either in regards to action or character development or both, so that I found myself fully engaged throughout. Some of the plot turns were a bit obvious, but still worked. Very nicely done.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)


Just plain silly.

Movies watched in May 2017

Here are the films I watched last month. I mostly keep reviews on my Letterboxd account now, but I archive them here every month as well. Various reviews may have spoilers.

★★★★★ : One of the best movies ever, I will love for the rest of my days
★★★★½ : Awesome movie, almost one of the best
★★★★ : Great movie, worth buying to own
★★★½ : Above average
★★★ : Average, not bad, but not great
★★½ : It’s almost just OK, but not quite
★★ : Pretty silly movie, meh!
★½ : Simply ridiculous movie
★ : Bad movie, what were they thinking?
½ : Woah! Absolutely awful, I feel dumber for having watched

Ocean Waves (1993)

Too boring for me. :(

Gantz:O (2016)


Aaaah, an evil giant rolling head for my nightmares! Truly some creepy demonic monsters in this. I wish I could go back in time and show this to my five year old self just to screw up my own mind forever. Visually, this film was a lot of fun. Story-wise, it felt pretty silly. (I am unfamiliar with the source material.) I didn’t entirely understand the whole concept, why the “game” had such arbitrary rules. Oh well.

Gold (2016)


Loosely based on actual events, this film is one of those tragic rags-to-riches stories, where when the riches come, the hero gets over-confident and falls again. Much of the wall-street business-oriented conflicts were a bit lost on me, as I have little understanding of that sort of stuff. Still, fun movie, about average I’d say. Not terrible, but not great either, not terribly deep thematically, just OK.

The Nightmare (2015)


I’ve gotten sleep paralysis a few times before, so I was interested to watch this documentary on it. Some people’s experiences were much creepier than others, some seemed more silly than creepy. Still, overall, a rather creepy documentary. And, of course, it gave me a sleep paralysis nightmare with an evil cat and evil electric static noise, so thanks a lot for that!

Winter’s Bone (2010)


Interesting premise, a young 17-year-old searches for her missing father so she and her family won’t lose their house. Unfortunately much of the movie was a bit too boring, as she just goes around asking questions and not finding out much. Ultimately she’s saved more by other characters than her own actions. There’s a somber tone to the whole film that just leaves you feeling a bit depressed.

Shut In (2016)


Silly, predictable, boring.

The Disappointments Room (2016)

Woah. And I thought “Shut In” was bad. This was just plain awful.

Particle Fever (2013)

The physics might be interesting, but as a documentary, this was boring. It felt like it was mostly the camera following some random uninteresting scientists talking about the Large Hadron Collider mixed with shots of people walking around buildings and snippets of mundane conversations. Nothing of any real substance here.

The Red Turtle (2016)


A rather bizarre story, but I enjoyed the slow quiet pace and the dialog-free storytelling, it was quite refreshing.

Hidden Figures (2016)

The true stories behind the film might be interesting, but far too many dippy Hollywood moments of oversimplifications and dramatizations ruined this for me. Really, Euler’s Method? “But that’s ancient”? No. If Euler’s Method provided a solution to a problem that perplexed a room of NASA workers, then they must’ve been pretty darn stupid. Similarly the scene in which one of the women gets a computer to work by adjusting a cable. For Pete’s sake… the screenwriting was just dumb. Both NASA and the real “hidden figures” deserve better.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)


Had some pacing problems, felt longer than it needed to be and a bit slow to get going. It was also annoying to see the main character struggle with self-doubt for too long, it’s such a boring conflict whatever movie it’s in. Would’ve been interesting to see him making more decisive decisions by the second half of the film. Also, the whole “you must learn to control your powers!” is an annoyingly overused cliche. Finally, the director’s style of cross-cutting different scenes could be annoying; I didn’t find it all that stylish.

All that said, I overall really enjoyed the film. The story was still a lot of fun. I enjoyed how they combined different versions of Arthurian legend and made something unique out of his world and character. The scars on his hand and how he got them was a nice touch. The visuals were fantastic, especially in 3D, from the gritty dirty look of the world, to the epic battle sequences. The action sequences were very well done and kept me constantly engaged. The climactic final battle left me quite satisfied. The pulsing pumping soundtrack was also great. I especially enjoyed the use of “The Devil & The Huntsman”.

So, yes, the story had its weaknesses; the pacing was off and it wasn’t very deep thematically. But as far as an action-packed sword and sorcery film goes, this definitely hits the spot. It was great fun! Wish they’d make more films like this.

Walking with the Enemy (2014)


A bit cheesy at times, and I’m not sure they really needed to fake accents throughout the entire thing, but overall not a bad WWII film, if you don’t mind all the tragedy that comes with it.

Split (2016)


The whole concept of “The Beast” as a personality, along with the ending, was just a bit too silly for me.

The BFG (2016)


I’ll preface this by saying I never read the book. When I was a kid, I read Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” and hated it so much I never read another book by him. (And I still hate that book.) So I can’t judge the movie by its faithfulness to the book.

Cons: The giants’ character designs. The CGI was just too cartoony and ugly for me. The BFG’s deformed head and neck and body proportions ruined his innocent personality’s lovable-ness. It was just bad character design. Like you know when crappy puppeteers try to make Muppet-like puppets, but they just come off as ugly and creepy rather than charming? It’s like that.

Secondly, Sophie is quite a dull character. She has very little personality, other than she’s lonely. But we never meet anybody at all in her own world, other than some drunkards she tells to be quiet, and she’s whisked away to giant country so early in the film that we never really get much time to know her. Once in giant country, she has no goals whatsoever (why would she?), so the story just sort of meanders as she and the giant talk. But there is hardly a real story.

When Sophie risks suicide by jumping from the balcony to get the giant to come back, I could only shake my head thinking, “Don’t you know it is written: You shall not put your giant to the test?”

Finally, the climactic solution of asking the queen for help is so long and drawn out that it’s just boring. Granted, I’m in my early-30s, so I fully recognize I’m not the target audience for this. Perhaps I would’ve enjoyed it more in my youth (if the giant’s face didn’t give me nightmares… I was easily scared as a child). But the gag-filled dinner sequence was just pointless and boring; I wanted to get on with the story, with the action! But the climax was rather anti-climactic anyway, so… meh.

Pros: I enjoyed the giant’s humorous way of talking, and I enjoyed how dreams were something he caught and gave to people. I wish the story had revolved more around that; there’s tremendous story potential with that sort of magic.

Some of the waxing poetic about hearing the secret whisperings of the world came off as a bit forced and cheesy for me, rather than magical and charming. Didn’t feel quite genuine to me.

There’s also something that really bothers me about this film, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I may have to watch it again to figure it out, but I don’t really want to do that anytime soon.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972)


Watched the first two films of this film series last year, renting them from Netflix, and enjoyed them so much that I couldn’t resist buying the Criterion blu-ray set when it came out. Very much enjoyed this one just as much. I love all the clever surprises, the cheesy violence, the calm pacing, the stoic hero, the ever-surprising baby cart, the use of music and silence. These are just great films, tons of fun. I love it! I look forward to seeing the next three films in the series.

Brotherhood of Blades (2014)


A bit too confusing for me to follow as well as I’d’ve liked.

The Protector 2 (2013)


Not nearly as good as the first. Too much ridiculous looking CGI and green screen, and the fights were not nearly as nicely choreographed. Overall a disappointment.

DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2010)


A bit boring and not very in-depth. It did manage to make me want to do drugs, which I never thought would happen. Well, at least the title psychedelic. Any scientists doing more studies? We need to do more research for a better documentary…

Innsaei (2016)

This might be OK if you’re in a more meditative mood, but if you’re hoping to actually learn something practical, books will probably be more useful.

Mr. Pip (2012)


Good movie. Started out a bit cheesy, but definitely became more moving as the drama intensified. What a sad film though! Prepare for tragedy. :-(

Mythica: The Dark Spore (2015)

Woah, even worse than the first. I think I’m done with this series…

Death Rides a Horse (1967)


Great spaghetti western. Gotta love the Leone-esque eye close-ups, and Morricone’s score is awesome as always. The dialog is a bit bland, but it makes the story easy to follow. And it’s a fun story, two quite different men out for revenge for different reasons against the same group of criminals, promising some good old western fun: gun battles, duels, a bank robbery, a prison break, and the plot moves fast enough that the two hours fly by.

Unfortunately the quality of the film on the DVD I watched it on was complete garbage; it was edited to fit the TV and the digital compression looked awful, worse than an old laserdisc. It’d be nice to get this film on blu-ray, but alas, no North American release as far as I can tell, would have to import it…

Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)


Definitely one of the weirdest films I’ve seen, but it was hilarious. I enjoyed it.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)


Loved this even more than the first. Since the characters are already established, we’re able to dive right in and start having fun. Some of the humor was a bit raunchy for me, but most of it I found hilarious, especially the exchanges between Mantis and Drax, they had me on the verge of tears. Baby Groot was also awesome in every scene he was in; adult Groot should just go ahead and continually sacrifice himself so we can get infinite Baby Groot incarnations.

The overall story was not very deep or profound, which I doubt would’ve worked with such overloads of comedy anyway, but it still managed to stay fast-paced and engaging throughout so that the 2+ hours running time flew by. And I thought the more serious moments still worked extremely well.

Finally, I’m a huge fan of 3D (it’s often what lures me to the theater these days), and I thought the 3D conversion was particularly well done; the film was visually fantastic. Many times shots of vast landscapes and starry skies become too flat when 3D-ized, but with this film, each scene really popped and had depth; I appreciate the stereoscopic artists’ attention to such things. There were still some weaknesses here and there (such as foliage and glass reflections that artists always have trouble with), but this is definitely one of the better 3D films I’ve seen.

I don’t much care for most Marvel films; they’re often bland and the humor in them just makes me groan, but I thought the first Guardians of the Galaxy was fun enough to try seeing this one in 3D, especially after it earned several good reviews from friends. Even so, I was quite surprised by how much I loved this.

Great film! Awesome hilarious epic fun from beginning to end.

Movies watched in April 2017

Here are the films I watched last month. I mostly keep reviews on my Letterboxd account now, but I suppose I’ll archive them here every month as well. Various reviews may have spoilers.

Doctor Strange (2016)

Visually, this film was fantastic. Amazing special effects, and I loved the costumes, sets, the whole look and feel, it was very unique and awesome.

Unfortunately the story, to me (a non-comic-book reader), felt like the same old cliche sort of Marvel action movie. Cardboard characters, bland dialog, boring conflict, silly magic system, and some of the most groan-inducing pop-culture-reference humor one can find. Doctor Strange’s character didn’t feel consistent to me, as he too quickly jumped between serious and brooding and dramatic to arrogant and sarcastic. (Writers should’ve studied Dr. House more to get that dynamic right. Though, like Laurie, Cumberbatch does do a nice American accent.)

All that said, I’ll still be interested in the sequel. This film had to juggle introducing a world and its magic system, develop characters, and throw in some enemies for some action conflict and set pieces. A lot to balance. I’ll be interested to see what they might do now that there’s a foundation for the characters, the world, and the magic system.

My rating: 2 / 5

A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015)

While set in the 40’s when Israel was founded as a nation, the story (based on the central character’s memoirs) focuses more on the family drama, particularly the relationship between the young boy and his mother, played by Natalie Portman, who suffers from migraines, insomnia, and depression. Though often somber in tone, it manages to avoid brooding with touches of poetry and storytelling. A bit slow at times, but otherwise I thought it was quite good.

My rating: 3.5 / 5

This is Spinal Tap (1984)

I had seen a lot of bits and pieces through the years, so already knew all the best parts, but finally watched the whole thing. Hilarious stuff!

My rating: 3.5 / 5

Silence (2016)

To me, this film had the spiritual depth of an eleven year old pondering the mysteries of faith for the first time. I suppose a film about a Christian priest who eventually apostatizes is bound to be a bit shallow. I loved the beautiful cinematography, the fine acting, and Scorsese’s wonderful pacing (slow as it may be), but the spiritual conflict here just did not say anything at all interesting.

Why were some of these Japanese willing to die for Jesus? Should they or shouldn’t they step on an image of their Lord to save their own lives? What does faith really mean to them? What does Christianity offer that Buddhism did not? No real arguments or testaments of faith or words of spiritual wisdom are really ever uttered by anyone; it’s all sort of just taken for granted.

When the Japanese torture Christians and turn to the priest and ask, “Why do you allow this to persist?” why does the priest never answer the obvious: “Uh… *you’re* the one doing this.” Why would he feel any guilt or doubt over the persecution? Especially as a Christian? Jesus was tortured and died on the cross. The symbol of the crucifix is everywhere. And yet persecution causes so much anguish? It’s one of the main foundations of Christianity! Didn’t this priest ever read the Bible?! (Is there even a Bible in this movie?) I mean, if all that torture and suffering plagued your faith so much, wouldn’t the image of Christ on the crucifix itself do anything to you?

And then the Japanese point to the image of Christ on the ground and command the priest to step on it, encouraging him by saying, “It’s only a formality.” Why would the priest not then say, “If it’s only a formality, why insist so strongly that I do it?” Or something like that? That is, if the Christian faith is false, why do you think it’s so dangerous? But this priest has no questions or thoughts like that.

So, ultimately, I found the main character’s lack of faith disturbing.

Granted, focusing on the spiritual shallow-ness of the writing might be missing the point of this film. Which might be…… I have no idea. The director says in an interview somewhere: “When [Fr. Rodrigues] does apostatize, he gives up anything he’s proud of and he’s got nothing left except service, except compassion. So, he gives up his religion, he gives up his faith in order to gain his faith.” Uh… OK… not really sure what he means there, but if that’s what he was trying to show with the film, he did a horrible job of it. The priest seems more depressed and apathetic by the film’s end, not compassionate.

A much more interesting film involving faith and persecution would be “A Man for All Seasons” from 1966.

You know what’s funny? This morning I opened to a random page in Saint Augustine’s “City of God”. I’ve kept some Saint Augustine by my bedside for the last few years; read some of his work if you want some real spiritual food for thought! Anyway, I just happened to turn to Book 12, Chapter 7! Isn’t that interesting?! Because, you know, “silence”…? Heh.

My rating: 1 / 5

Rules Don’t Apply (2016)

It’s supposed to be a love story with the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes in the backdrop, but the main characters had no chemistry, no reason to fall in love, and made pretty stupid decisions throughout the film. Ultimately there was just nothing interesting at all here.

My rating: 0.5 / 5

Don’t Hang Up (2016)

Pretty bad movie. A couple of unrealistically-written jerk teenagers make prank calls, but a victim decides to turn the tables and murder not only most of the prankers, but some of their innocent loved ones as well, because… well, you know how revenge is. The man is amazingly able to hack EVERYTHING, laptops and phones and TVs and even the power! And what better way to use such miraculous skills than to emotionally abuse and tease your victims before murdering them? It really made no sense.

My rating: 1 / 5

Lion (2016)

Overall, a good movie based on a fascinating true story. Would’ve given it more stars, but the movie seemed to drag a bit in the second act. It was hard to empathize with Saroo when he acts like a bit of a jerk to his family; I couldn’t quite understand what exactly he was emotionally struggling with. Might be interesting to read the book, because a lot of the “family drama” felt forced, like it was just dramatic filler for the film. (Is their a real Mantosh and does he mind how he is portrayed in the film?) Whatever the case, I didn’t think the second act was written very well. Either they did not dramatize his emotional struggle very well, or they forced in some dramatic filler where they didn’t really need it. Would’ve been interesting to see the second act conflicts revolve more around the actual search instead of the emotional family drama. Still, a good movie overall, very fascinating story!

My rating: 3 / 5

Incarnate (2016)

Fun idea, but rather poorly executed. The main problem was that the stakes never changed much, the outcome of one conflict did not strongly lead to the next, so it got rather boring sometimes. Their “magic system” was also a bit more convoluted than it really needed to be, a lot of the “rules” seemed a bit nonsense.

My rating: 2 / 5

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

If you enjoyed the Harry Potter movies, you’ll probably enjoy this spin-off. Otherwise, it’s a rather average action flick, nothing too special. The way Eddie Redmayne carried himself as a quirky eccentric writer/researcher was really annoying. The quirkiness should’ve come across in his passions and decisions and dialog, not the way he tilts his head, hunches, and fails to comb his hair. (And whoever designed the hairstyles for this film should go to prison.) Actually, Newt’s entire character was pretty bland; all the supporting characters were far more interesting. Meh!

My rating: 2 / 5

Ragnarok (2013)

Fun idea, but it didn’t feel like they did very much with it. Overall, felt rather bland.

My rating: 2.5 / 5

Stand By Me (1986)

Finally saw this film from the 80’s. Seemed even shorter than it was, perhaps because it seemed to flow naturally along, never really a dull moment. Some rather sad moments, and the main characters confessed their inner feelings a little too easily, but overall a very good film.

My rating: 4 / 5

The Duelist (2016)

Fun action sequences, and interesting camera work, but the overall plot was a bit confusing to me. I was perhaps too distracted to catch all of the subtitles, and maybe missing just a few threw me off.

My rating: 2.5 / 5

The Founder (2016)

Very interesting to learn the story of how McDonald’s became the huge franchise it is today. The “founder” himself certainly seemed a bit of a ruthless jerk, a bit like Zuckerberg in The Social Network, but that’s business I guess. I am now inspired to be persistent!

My rating: 3.5 / 5

Mythica: A Quest for Heroes (2014)

So cheesy, no budget, terrible effects, silly writing… about what I expected really. But I enjoy a cheesy fantasy, even though it’s not good. Gives me story ideas.

My rating: 2 / 5

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

I only played the first video game for a dozen or so hours almost a decade ago, so I really don’t know much about the source material.

As a film, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it was visually beautiful, I highly enjoyed the look and feel, the action sequences, and the balance with the calmer, slower moments. I wish it had spent more time in the past though.

Honestly, I may have been overly-impressed with the visuals and action as I had just watched a very low-budget extremely cheesy fantasy flick before watching this, so watching a film with an actual budget was a nice breath of fresh air.

On the other hand, the overall story / conflict / premise of searching for the secret “genetic code” for free will in the apple from Eden (depicted as some bizarre glowing metallic orb?) was more ridiculous than the silliest nonsense from a Robert Langdon adventure.

Still, despite the laughable premise, I actually quite enjoyed the overall film. Fun action-packed adventure, if you’re willing to not take the outlandish premise too seriously. (Again, I didn’t have much experience with the games, so had no expectations in that regard.) Would definitely watch a sequel if they make one.

My rating: 3.5 / 5

Detour (2016)

Fun movie. Like a Hitchcock suspense, some parts made me feel guilty and paranoid just watching. On the other hand, the editing gimmicks make you think one thing is happening, then do a little twist and reveal something else. These moments felt more comedic to me, making the whole thing feel more lighthearted.

My rating: 3.5 / 5

Man of La Mancha (1972)

Against the musical standards set up by more masterfully made films such as “My Fair Lady”, “The Sound of Music”, and “Oliver!”, this one feels rather low on production value. Very static camera, rather mundane performances, sets that feel over-used quickly. Poor Peter O’Toole, despite being a great actor, feels very miscast in this role. He just does not have the “fool triumphant” look or attitude necessary. Despite all this, I just love this musical too much, so I still give it 4 stars. It should really be remade… but it would probably completely fail these days.

My rating: 4 / 5

Movies watched in March 2017

Here are the films I watched last month. I mostly keep reviews on my Letterboxd account now, but I suppose I’ll archive them here every month as well. Various reviews may have spoilers.

Moana (2016)

Enjoyed the film. Great animation and music, and fun story. But just a bit cliche and predictable at times, felt a bit rushed and under-developed at certain moments. Granted, I’m sure a 30-something-year-old well-versed in animation tropes is not the target audience. Overall, a worthy Disney film.

My rating: 3.5 / 5

Burn After Reading (2008)

Coen brothers’ movies can be a bit hit or miss for me, but this one was enjoyable. Some nice twists and their unique brand of humor. Fun movie.

My rating: 3 / 5

The Accountant (2016)

This one didn’t really work for me. I think it tried to do too much. It had the super-awesome-fighting-and-shooting action sequences, the I-am-autistic-genius-and-write-numbers-on-glass thing, the my-mother-left-me backstory family issues, the mystery of the specific case he was working on, and then the whole (completely unneeded) side-story with the treasury agent and his protege. It was trying to do so much that the main character just came across as rather bland and generic. The fight sequences were fun, but with the rest of the film being as bland as it was, I’m afraid this is one I’ll soon forget in the mountain of generic action thrillers. Fun at moments, but ultimately nothing special. And I kinda guessed the ending with the guy being his brother, as it reminded a bit of Gattaca.

My rating: 2 / 5

American Pastoral (2016)

A man’s daughter becomes a crazy evil anti-war protester (and murderer?!) and vanishes, but her father still loves her. This is very meaningful and artistic because of how eloquent and thought-provoking the narration is. The end.


My rating: 0.5 / 5

Miss Hokusai (2015)

A strange film. Slow paced and episodic, which perhaps reflects the manga it’s based on. While the characters are based on real historical artists, it’s often more fantastical and spiritual than academically autobiographical, though that’s not a bad thing. Some “episodes” were so bizarre that I didn’t quite understand what was going on, but overall I enjoyed it.

My rating: 3 / 5

The Taking of Tiger Mountain (2014)

Perhaps a bit longer than it needed to be, and cheesy Chinese CGI always looks a bit silly, but overall it was OK. The ending was funny… just as credits are about to roll, we are treated with an alternative climax with over-the-top action.

My rating: 3 / 5

Boy (2010)

Felt like one of those weird indie films that manages to be funny and depressing at the same time, which are usually hit or miss for me. This one was OK. The immaturity of the father character could be extremely annoying at times, but I suppose that was the point.

My rating: 3 / 5

Passengers (2016)

I like the premise, the idea they were going for, but the execution felt pretty clumsy, with many plot points feeling very forced. How could a gigantic spaceship with such amazing amounts of technology risk critical failure, foretold by a bunch of random systems glitching out? Robots falling out of nowhere? Who designed this crappy system, Dennis Nedry? And it was all caused by… a meteor striking just the right part of the right machine? And the climax was ridiculous and illogical. You have to stand in the path of deadly fire to keep a door control turned? But if it was truly a deadly risk, wouldn’t you… let go of the control? And render the offered sacrifice pointless? And the captain coughing up blood… is there any more cliche way to show you’re dying? Just so much crappy writing that the premise and the talent is completely wasted.

Also, Aurora’s character was really annoying sometimes…

“I’m a journalist, I know people.” HAHAHA

“I’ve never written about myself before. This is the best writing I’ve ever done.” Or something like that. Sounded rather conceited.

“If you live an ordinary life, all you’ll have are ordinary stories.” Or you could, I don’t know, use imagination?

Overall, very disappointing.

My rating: 1.5 / 5

The Way I Spent the End of the World (2006)

Some interesting history, seeing Romania under communist rule, but otherwise I found the characters themselves a bit too boring.

My rating: 2 / 5

Inferno (2016)

Really awful film. I almost hated it instantly when Langdon wakes up with amnesia having a series of really annoying meaningless flashbacks and visions. Characters forgetting the past is such an AWFUL way to plot a story; it creates absolutely no tension at all. I HATE this trope. The only film that ever successfully pulled it off was Momento, and I think even that is a bit overrated. Anyway, the film gets a little more interesting later on, when you begin to realize what the conflict actually is and what’s at stake, though even that is so outlandishly ridiculous that it does nothing to save the film.

My rating: 1 / 5

Evolution (2015)

Very nice cinematography, and I enjoyed the slow eerie pace and creepy atmosphere. But ultimately the whole thing was just a bit too ambiguous for me.

My rating: 2.5 / 5

The Invisible (2007)

An interesting premise ruined by ridiculous plotting and a really stupid ending.

My rating: 2 / 5

The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

The main character’s blank “oops, I killed you” expressions made the whole thing more comic than disturbing. And when it wasn’t being silly, it was boring.

My rating: 1 / 5

iBoy (2017)

Pretty silly.

My rating: 1 / 5

Allied (2016)

While working undercover during WWII, two agents fall in love. But is the woman being honest about her identity? Fun movie, I enjoyed it. The assassination scene was nicely done.

My rating: 3 / 5

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

Fun movie. Rather ridiculous in terms of spy technology and such, and they always cheat the fight scenes with tons of cutting and shaky cam, but I guess that’s what the MI movies are all about, right? And as far as MI movies go, I think this is the second best installment, after the first one from 1996.

My rating: 3 / 5

Midnight Special (2016)

Midnight Special

Some short thoughts on the film Midnight Special with maybe some spoilers.

I thought this film had two main faults:

1) The tone was too serious, which made the film feel less serious. With so little humor in the film, its attempt at making you feel something powerful by directorial fiat (the character is teary-eyed and just listen to the brooding score!) falls flat. Some humor would’ve provided contrast.

2) The nature of the child’s powers, which provide the driving force of the entire film, remain ambiguous throughout. Since this is kept ambiguous, character goals remain ambiguous by extension, making the characters and their actions difficult to relate to or care about.

“But!” someone may say, “it makes you think! If you need a plot spelled out for you, you must be stupid! You have to pay attention! I like films that make me think!”

OK… but what does an ambiguous film make you think about? And is it worth thinking about? And why does a certain ambiguity make you think it?

After all, Usually an ambiguity just makes you think about the ambiguous thing. If you’re never going to give the audience answers, is that really what you want?

Also, if I want some thought-provoking ambiguity, I can just think about the bizarro dreams I had last night, daydream my own ambiguous imagary, or read the Book of Revelations.

By which I mean to say: If you find coming up with thought-provoking ambiguity on your own is difficult, then I doubt the ambiguity is provoking very deep thoughts.

Anyway, after Googling a bit, I found the director quoted here as saying:

“Our house was very small, but we were freaked-out first-time parents, so we put a baby monitor in the room — even though we could hear everything he did from our bedroom, because we were right next door,” Nichols said of he and his wife becoming a new parents. “But I sat there listening to everything. Every breath, every movement, every sound. And I realized at that point in his life, here was this person who had no concept that just outside the space of his consciousness, there were these two people who cared so deeply for him and were listening to everything he does. We knew everything about every moment. I was struck by that. And that became the basis for this bigger multiverse idea.”

That actually sounds like an awesome idea, a great theme for a film, especially a sci-fi one. Maybe I’ll steal it for a novel. Because Midnight Special fails completely to relate this theme, unless you’re already looking for it. Otherwise your interests will likely have more to do with trying to understand the kid’s powers and goals, only to be disappointed when you find they remain ambiguous. If the director had really wanted to explore this parenthood theme, a little less ambiguity would’ve gone a long way.

The Hustler (1961)


Link: The Hustler

Summary: Small time pool hustler Eddie wants to become a major-league pool hustler, and to prove himself he sets out to defeat Minnesota Fats, the current reigning champion. After being defeated, poor Eddie must do some soul searching, figuring out what his passion really means to him before trying once more.

Thoughts: The film is considered a classic, but perhaps seemed more riveting fifty years ago. Today it feels more like a cliche of better films that came after it, as convoluted as that may seem. I found the pacing way too slow, the characters a bit flat, and some plot points rather a bit forced. The themes, dealing with talent and passion vs character and personal sacrifice, are handled with more beauty, depth, and intrigue in films like RockyAmadeus, or even the more recent Whiplash. Still, it’s a decent film, but I think its weaknesses only lend a shovel to the more modern films slowly digging its grave in the annals of film history. But, hey, it got a blu-ray release, so its thematic strengths will ensure that one foot will dance outside the grave for some time yet.

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (2013)

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster

Link: Drew: The Man Behind The Poster

Summary: A documentary looking at the work of illustrator Drew Struzan and the iconic film posters he created over the decades before his retirement.

Thoughts: It’s easy to take film poster art for granted, but almost every film lover has Drew Struzan’s work permanently etched somewhere in their memories; his style of highlighted “mountain of faces” portraiture alone conjures up the magic of the movies, perhaps along with a bit of nostalgia nowadays, as illustrative poster art has been on the decline.

While the documentary provides some fascinating insights into Struzan’s work, it was light on both biographical details of the man himself (understandable if he’d rather keep his personal life personal) and on how he actually works (which may not be of interest to general audiences anyway). Instead, we’re mostly presented with the talking heads of celebrities in the industry who’ve worked with or been influenced by Struzan’s work. The film provides a sort of overview of Struzan’s most iconic work through the decades, with a bit of backstory regarding how they came about. Fascinating material, but it personally left me hungry for more. Fun movie; definitely worth checking out.

Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)

Fort Apache, The Bronx

Link: Fort Apache, The Bronx

Summary: A veteran cop struggles to work in the worst crime zone in the big city, especially when a new boss shows up with a by-the-book no-nonsense philosophy about cracking down to find a recent cop killer.

Thoughts: Somewhat based on a true story, or at least on a true precinct, the film reminds one that racial tensions between cops and citizens, whether justified or not, are nothing new. The film suggests an interesting conflict between two different methods of doing police work. Do you play things completely by the book, putting the law above everything, and giving citizens the hard, sometimes violent and painful, discipline the law calls for, for their own good (“tough love” as a parent might call it)? Or is it more effective to try to understand a criminal’s background and the societal forces at work in a struggling community, perhaps ignoring what standard procedures call for, for better or worse?

Midway through the film, things get ugly when (spoiler alert) a not-so-good cop throws an innocent man off a building while trying to help subdue a riot. The main character, having witnessed this horrible deed, spends much of the rest of the film debating whether or not to turn in this friend-turned-enemy. These sort of internal conflicts in stories annoy me because the right moral answer is so obvious; it’s difficult for me to feel the weight of any moral conundrum. If a character has an internal conflict, the moral weight of both sides should be more balanced. As it is, we just sit their waiting for the main character to come to his senses, which can be agony.

Along with that, the dirty gritty poverty-stricken 70’s city feel really annoyed me. I really hate these sorts of movies that feature dirty poor people who have no motivation to do anything besides sit around and drink and do drugs, etc. It just makes me feel sad. Do something people! At least clean your rooms, for goodness sake! Doesn’t have to be perfect, but these run-down apartments and offices make me feel sad and dirty just seeing them. Of course, I know the conditions of these people was part of the movie; you couldn’t really make the movie any other way. It just makes me uncomfortable for some reason. A bit like watching Hoarders. (But at least on that show they actively try to change things.) Not that any of the film’s characters were hoarders, it was just the dirtiness of everything. I feel like I need to clean my room now.

Overall, an average film; not horrible, but I didn’t find anything particularly special here either.

Feb 8, 2015: Movies watched this week

Here are the movies I watched this past week:

The Cold Lands (2013)


Link: The Cold Lands

Summary: After his mother dies, a young teenager runs away in an attempt to keep his independence.

Thoughts: I’m not sure what they were aiming to create with this film. It felt meandering and pointless. The film begins with a mother and son, living in poor conditions in the boonies. While the mother is strict to the point of unbelievable ridiculousness (“You want a TV? No, haha! A violent video game? Of course not!” Wow, what believable writing!) and obviously has some issues, it’s also clear she means well and is trying her best. When she dies, so does all semblance of a story. The remainder of the film features little more than the kid wandering around the forest before meeting up with an older rogue-mentor who arbitrarily takes the kid under his wing, attempting to train him in the ways of the rogue-mentality, but the relationship has very little story substance, so no nuggets of wisdom are ever really offered between the two of them. And with some pointless nudity in the mix, we have a pretty waste-of-time movie here.

Clandestine Childhood (2011)


Link: Clandestine Childhood

Summary: A child attempts to have a normal childhood despite his parents being secret guerrilla soldiers who are attempting to battle Argentine’s military government.

Thoughts: Since the film is from the child’s point-of-view, we never really get much of the politics his parents are fighting for. (One familiar with Argentina’s history in the late 70’s and early 80’s would probably understand the conflict better, but I’m not one of them.) But one need not understand the political conflict to understand the child’s struggle to find and keep friends while never being allowed to reveal his real name at school, or use the phone at home, etc. Much of his story begins to revolve around his relationship with a girlfriend whom he realizes he can’t be completely honest with. The film does its best with the elements it includes, but by the film’s end, it unfortunately doesn’t feel like much. Overall, it’s an OK film, but I don’t think it stands out; there’s no strong theme to glue all the elements together, at least not one I saw.

Annabelle (2014)


Link: Annabelle

Summary: A member of the occult dies with an ugly creepy doll in her hands, which then becomes possessed and haunts its owner’s family.

Thoughts: A red crayon rolls out of a room; upon entering, the words “her soul” and random scribbles are written in red crayon all over the ceiling. It’s that kind of cheesy ridiculous laughable horror film cliche that this entire movie is made of. It’s not scary or even thematically interesting. The attempted jump scares don’t even make you jump. And yet this film had a budget of $6 million and made $256 million. That’s the most horrific thing about this film. Clearly the horror movie business is the business to be in.

Lucy (2013)


Link: Lucy

Summary: A woman is drugged with a drug that allows her to use ever-increasing percentages of her brain! As a result, she gains various super powers, which she uses to… do action movie stuff!

Thoughts: If one can forgive the ridiculous science of the premise, there’s not really much of a story besides action film action with super powers. Or at least I couldn’t understand what the story was supposed to be. Lucy sets out to stop the bad guys, who were injecting people with the drug for what purpose again? The film also tries to be profound about the profound truths about nature, but none of it really seems to make any sense, as far as I can tell. For example, after becoming super-smart (supposedly), Lucy says: “Humans consider themselves unique so they’ve rooted their whole theory of existence on their uniqueness. One is their unit of measure, but it’s not. All social systems we’ve put into place are a mere sketch. One plus one equals two. That’s all we’ve learned, but one plus one has never equaled two. There are, in fact, no numbers and no letters. We’ve codified our existence to bring it down to human size to make it comprehensible. We’ve created a scale so that we can forget its unfathomable scale.” Ah! How profound! Um… what the hell are you talking about?! And how do your profound insights make your super-powers possible? Eh, maybe I can’t forgive the ridiculousness of the premise; in trying to think about how I would fix it, I think I’d have to change the premise. It just doesn’t fundamentally make sense for these super-powers to be naturally inherent in every human brain, just needing drugs (or profound understanding?) to unlock them. Not that I don’t believe the human brain doesn’t have abilities humans have not yet unlocked (we do not yet understand how intelligence works); I just don’t believe these abilities include teleportation, time-travel, telekinesis, etc. The film does have some fun action sequences and some humor (wish there had been more), but not much else. And the Samsung product placement is really subtle, you probably won’t notice it, especially with what little portion of your brain you’re using.

Feb 1, 2015: Movies watched this week

Here are the movies I watched this past week:

The Return (2003)


Link: The Return

Summary: After their father, who’s been absent for 12 years, returns home, he takes his two sons on a fishing trip. But he does little to form a positive relationship with his children, treating them horribly, leaving one to wonder what exactly is going on with him.

Thoughts: A rather bizarre and sad film, with a touch of strange creepiness. Perhaps the father has PTSD? While the film shows him honestly trying to make a connection with his children, he’s far too easy to anger, and punishes too severely. He also seems to be on a mission having nothing to do with fishing that he doesn’t want to tell his children about. The tensions between the characters heat up and eventually lead to tragedy that just leave you bummed out. Depressing film. And there’s something really creepy about the way the camera moves at the very end.

Monsieur Lazhar (2011)


Link: Monsieur Lazhar

Summary: After their teacher commits suicide, a class of young students get a new teacher to help them cope with the tragedy. Drama ensues.

Thoughts: While the subject matter is certainly a tragic one, the direct and honest way the film faces the subject works very well. There’s not a lot of explosion of unrealistic melodrama, but the emotions are still palpable. It has the sort of subtle grace American films hardly ever seem to have. I thought it was a great movie. Certainly a sad film, but not depressing like The Return. There’s some hope in this one.

The Retrieval (2013)


Link: The Retrieval

Summary: Bounty hunters are forced to retrieve a wanted man, but the young 13 year old bounty hunter begins to form a friendship with the man he’s leading to his death. Inner turmoil ensues.

Thoughts: While the premise isn’t bad (though perhaps nothing new), I think the film had one big flaw that kind of made it boring: the emotional conflict is settled far too early. The main character (the 13 year old) clearly knows it’s wrong to lead the wanted man to his death. So watching him know this and struggle to confess for pretty much the entire film just doesn’t work, and the external conflicts are almost meaningless in the face of this problem. It would have been more interesting if the main character had definitively decided to turn in the wanted man from the beginning, and then correct his moral compass from their instead of having his heart in the right place from the very beginning. Also, parts of the story didn’t make sense. The bounty hunters trick the wanted man into following them by telling him that his brother is dying and wants to see him. You would think this would make them want to hurry their journey along. But they journey too slowly and even have time for a lost-love subplot, making it feel way too forced.

John Wick (2014)


Link: John Wick

Summary: After his car is stolen and his dead wife’s dog is murdered, a man sets out for revenge.

Thoughts: While the action is fun, there’s absolutely nothing at stake for John Wick, so the whole thing is emotionally bland. It’s like Taken except nothing worthwhile is actually taken. Wick is just angry and wants revenge. If he fails, who cares? No stakes.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)


Link: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Summary: A man who has the world’s best sense of scent sets out to learn the secrets of creating perfume, determined to capture the scent of beautiful women.

Thoughts: Very bizarre movie. Pretty disturbing movie. I really didn’t need to see a lot of the images in this film. People are cooked into meat pies in Sweeney Todd, and in this film, women are murdered to be turned into perfume. Yeah, that’s gross. And the climax of the film is just pure ugliness. But… if one can get past the disturbing premises and images, this is actually a very beautifully made film. The slow and patient way the filmmakers try to create the emotions that various scents give the main character is masterful. So I ended up really enjoying this movie, despite its more disturbing aspects.

Galavant: Season 1 (2015)


Link: Galavant Season 1

Summary: I brave and noble knight sets out to rescue his girlfriend from the evil king who kidnapped her, though he slowly finds himself falling in love with someone else on the journey. On top of that, characters enjoy breaking out into Alan Menken songs now and then!

Thoughts: It was very refreshing to see a live-action musical, especially one that featured actual original music and not just covers of already popular songs, and especially one that featured the music of Alan Menken, whom you’re already a fan of if you grew up enjoying Disney’s animated features of the 90’s. (He wrote the music for The Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastAladdinPocahontasHercules, and more.) That said, the show is almost completely ruined by the childish not-funny potty-humor-filled anything-goes writing. Though I admit some parts were funny, most of the attempted humor was just agonizing. (I did enjoy a number of the songs, though. Overall, the musical numbers are not on par with Menken’s film work, but some songs are quite good.) A fun idea, ruined. And what really stinks is that the season ends with big cliffhangers! But the writing was so bad, there’s a strong possibility there won’t be a season two! And even if there is, it will be torture to sit through another 8 episodes of agonizingly terrible humor just to get closure. Grrr! I hate when TV producers pull these kind of shenanigans. And for what? For a little bit of money. While we, the commoners, must grovel.

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)


Link: The Man Who Would Be King [Blu-ray Book]

Summary: A man pretends to be a god so that he can steal a small foreign isolated community’s treasures. But of course being a god goes to his head, and drama ensues!

Thoughts: The pacing was all messed up in this film; the setup was far too slow, the second act too rushed. I found myself really bored for much of it, until the tensions started to rise in the final act. Not bad, but not great. I think it’s snuggled in the “meh” area.

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014)


Link: The Internet’s Own Boy

Summary: A biographical look at the life of the young influential programmer and computer-political activist Aaron Swartz, with a focus on the court case that threatened him with prison time and led him to commit suicide at the age of 26.

Thoughts: I had never actually heard of Aaron Swartz until his death was all over the news. This documentary does a great job of showing who he was, what he did, what he believed in and fought for, and just what the infamous case against him was all about. Although I don’t quite agree with all his viewpoints or methods of activism, it’s hard not to find his death tragic and to be angry with the governmental forces that sought to persecute him. Very good documentary.

Boyhood (2014)


Link: Boyhood

Summary: A boy ages from six to eighteen, dealing with various life stuff.

Thoughts: (Might contain spoilers.)

I thought I’d have to wait until this film came out on DVD to watch it; it seems to be getting a pretty limited release with a slow roll-out (only some 300 theaters across the nation at the moment), and my city wasn’t listed on the film’s official site as a city that would be getting the film.  I thought I was out of luck, but continually checked anyway, and fortunately it just popped up one day on our local showtimes.

I’ll admit that what interested me in this film was purely its gimmick: filming it over a decade so that we get to watch the characters age before our eyes.  There’s something about trying to review a whole lot of life in a short amount of time that just seems naturally profound to me, though I’m not sure I could ever really say why.  This is also why I enjoy The Up Series.  So, I was biased in favor of the film even before watching it just because I thought the ambitious premise of filming something for twelve years with aging actors was awesome.  Just watching a character/actor age from six or seven to eighteen I found interesting.  It’s weird the stuff you might notice.  Like the way he moves his arms when he walks is the same as a young boy to a teen.  But the way he talks seems to suddenly change somewhere in his teen years.  His voice deepens and, not long afterwards, he begins speaking with that sort of awkward teen upward inflection.  Where did that come from?  Weird.

Anyway, I’ll start with my critiques.  The bad:

There are some really poorly-written contrived scenes that really stand out with their bland premises and horrible acting from young actors.  Particularly the scene in which Mason, our main character, hangs out with some other high-schoolers and is peer-pressured into having a beer.  I guess it seems like an obligatory scene for a “coming-of-age” drama, but that’s its problem; it feels too forced and unnatural, like it was stuck in there because someone thought that sort of thing was part of the “teenage experience.”  There were a few scenes like this throughout the teenage years; ones that seemed “obligatory” and forced.  But I don’t know; perhaps viewers with different teenage experiences will get something different out of those scenes.  Another scene features a character reappearing to thank Mason’s mother for changing his life with a few simple words of encouragement years ago.  Although I liked the contrast it offered in terms of what the mother’s character was going through at the time, it just seemed ridiculously unrealistic.  (Finally, not so much a complaint of the scene itself, but of its content: the democrat-father’s version of a safe-sex talk exemplifies part of why this country has such a problem with marriage and single parenthood; they tell their kids to “use protection”, basically directly encouraging and pressuring their children to risk getting pregnant and implying that if they don’t engage in this sort of behavior, they’re weird and unfortunate.)

About half-way through the film, as Mason’s teenage years begin, a glaring problem emerges: Mason has almost no personality.  This was probably intentional, as it allows Mason to almost be an “everyman”; it allows us, the audience, to step into his shoes much more easily, filling out his blank slate with aspects of ourselves.  But the trade-off is that he can become a bit boring, and, if you can’t relate to what decisions he does make (like to be so easily pressured into having a beer or doing drugs, or to get an earring), he can seem like a moron.  At the very least, it may become harder to empathize with him.

The good:

What makes a lot of the film very effective is its sort of “observatory” nature, the kind you usually only get with foreign films.  This is a bit hard to explain, but I’ll try.  While we watch the world through Mason’s eyes, we are not provoked into judging what we see.  That doesn’t mean we don’t naturally judge what we see (you’re not going to love watching an abusive alcoholic step-dad continuously torment his family).  What I mean is that your judgment of the situation comes about naturally from your experience of watching it and empathizing with the characters.  The film doesn’t try to “manipulate” you into emotions with things like music, cinematography, editing, etc.  It simply records what happens, and the judgment you bring to it is your own.  Not that being “manipulated” into an emotion is necessarily a bad thing; it’s what most films do.  Also, it’s more of a “spectrum.”  I’m not saying this film never tries to manipulate your emotions at all, only that it does so far less and more subtly than a typical American film, giving the film a sort of natural honesty you wouldn’t find otherwise.

The film had a nice flow to it; it was almost three hours, but it passes amazingly fast when you find yourself engaged in scenes that don’t even seem that significant by themselves.  Like a game of charades.  Or getting kicked off a school computer while playing The Oregon Trail.  Or being told: “That’s the last piece of candy for you today, OK?”  (When you’re a kid, things that are insignificant to adults, like being refused candy, can feel really significant.  I don’t think it’s about the candy; it’s feeling disrespected by adults.  It’s strange what you can remember.)

I also enjoyed the references to pop culture that sort of dated the years, though feeling that many references didn’t seem like that long ago made recognizing them a bit sad.  These things really came out that long ago?  Maybe being in your late 20’s is just sad because of how quickly time collapses.  For example, Mason goes out to buy Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince when it comes out.  I remember doing the same when it came out (though I certainly didn’t dress up as anyone; I was in college.  OK, I might have worn one of the free plastic Harry Potter glasses they were handing out.)  I had to go look up when it came out: 2005.  9 years ago.  NINE.  Ugh.

There’s a particular scene that stood out to me.  Near the end of the film, when Mason’s moving out, he decides he doesn’t want to keep an old photograph he took.  (Because of course Mason would become a photographer.)  “It’s your first photograph,” his mother says.  “All the more reason not to keep it,” Mason replies.  He takes it out of his box and puts it back somewhere and when he returns, his mother’s in tears.  I don’t even remember exactly what she said, but it was kind of heart-breaking.  Something like, “This is it for me.  All this stuff happened, we went through our milestones.  The only thing left is my funeral.”  “I think you’re skipping ahead like 40 years,” Mason replies.  She wipes her eyes and continues: “I just… I thought there’d be more.”  Ouch.  Bit of a downer.  And that comes after Mason spent several scenes of his teenage years looking forward, wondering what he wanted to do with his life, and wondering what the point of life is in the first place.  Some of his teacher characters made me cringe, realistic as they are, when they kept trying to inspire Mason, asking him what he wanted to “be” or assuring him he’d do well.  And then his mother’s experience almost seems to crush his bright-eyed outlook.  Yet her dilemma was probably brought about by sharing Mason’s attitude in her teenage years; Mason could easily end up like her, all the more bitter if his first photograph meant as much to him.  It’s the idea that people seem to want and expect certain things from life, and judge their lives externally by them: a constant flow of worldly success, a collection of trips and achievements and milestones with happy photographs to remember them by.  (And, in the meanwhile, debt and employment and some occasion or trip coming up soon to be stressed about.)  But it’s all just vacuous crap we humans invented for ourselves, because we really have no idea what we’re supposed to be doing here.  So let’s decide what “progress” is, and then make it!  Let’s move or buy new stuff or take a vacation or find a new job or hobby.  And then when we still feel unfulfilled, let’s make some more “progress”!  But somewhere inside, we’ll only be Mason’s mother, crying that we thought there’d be more.

Not that the film ends on that bitter note; that scene just stood out to me.  The film ends on a sort of more ambiguous note that doesn’t necessarily try to cheesily inspire you, but doesn’t try to upset or embitter you either.  And it sort of sums up what the whole film’s about, in a sense.  But you’ll have to watch the film yourself to see it…

When I left the theater, I couldn’t stop thinking of the film.  I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I experienced watching it.  I feel it’s the sort of film I could watch again and again and find something new each time, get something new out of each experience.

So, despite my critiques about certain aspects of it, overall I thought it was a profound film.  I hesitate to call it “great” or “amazing” or some positive adjective, because it didn’t leave me smiling; it’s not the sort of film that tries to manipulate you into feeling temporarily happy.  Rather, if you can get into it, it makes you think, perhaps like no other film possibly could.

Boyhood trailer


I’ve been waiting for this one for a while.  This Richard Linklater movie was filmed over the course of twelve years so we get to actually watch the main character age before our eyes, from a child to a young adult.  That’s such an awesome concept, and it seems to provide the main inspiration for the trailer, which is otherwise thin on plot details.  Looks very interesting, I’ll definitely be looking forward to it.