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.

Alphas S1 (2011)


Link: Alphas: Season One

Summary: A team of people with superpowers (“alphas”) work for the government, helping them to solve crimes committed by other people with superpowers.  Superpowers usually have some pseudo-science explanation for how they are possible.

Thoughts: A day or two after I started watching the first episodes of this series, it was cancelled after its second season, its storyline left unfinished.  Grrr!  Anyway, the first season does have its share of problems.  It can’t seem to decide what sort of show it wants to be.  Is it a sci-fi thriller?  Is it crime drama?  Is it superhero action?  Since it tries to be all three, it comes off as none, but rather a muddled mix.

Still, it had some strong points.  The characters were interesting.  They were each unique and believable, and the dialog between them was fun and natural.  You get to know them and their personalities pretty fast, which I don’t think is a very easy feat in any sort of storytelling.

It’s the overarching conflicts that made no sense to me.  Sometimes they’re tracking down a single alpha who’s misusing his or her powers for evil, sometimes they’re battling this vague underground criminal organization made up of alphas.  Meanwhile, they work for the government, so they don’t even necessarily get to make their own decisions about who and what and where and how to fight.

It would’ve been much more interesting (even if cliché) if they had been part of a secret organization themselves, away from the government, with their own set of morally questionable goals and a much more concrete set of enemies.

I’ll try to watch the second season if/when Netflix gets them on DVD, even though I’m sure the unresolved cliffhanger will annoy me.

Bates Motel S1E6: The Truth (2013)


Summary: Norma seems to finally accept that Deputy Shelby is evil, yet she doesn’t want to go to the police as Shelby is still blackmailing her for the murder she’s guilty of (since he still as the victim’s belt that he found under Norman’s bed).  When Shelby happens upon the girl hiding out in Norma’s motel, he’s understandably upset.  And deadly.

Thoughts: We finally get to see how Norman’s father died, if we are to believe Norma’s story to Dylan (which I guess we are since we know Norman hallucinates).  It will be interesting to see how this affects Dylan, who already knows Norman has something wrong with him.  It was also a relief to have Shelby’s evil character come to an end, though we don’t know what happened to that girl.  Definitely ends on quite a cliffhanger.

Bates Motel S1E5: Ocean View (2013)


Summary: Norman helps Norma get out of jail.  Norma then seeks help from Deputy Shelby to get her murder charge dropped, but she realizes how dangerous Shelby is when Norman finds the girl he saw in Shelby’s house, the girl Shelby has been holding captive.  Meanwhile, Dylan’s crime partner is murdered in cold blood, and Dylan seeks revenge.

Thoughts: I was afraid the girl Norman saw had been one of his hallucinations, but it turns out she’s real, and Shelby is indeed quite evil.  It was interesting to see Norman and Norma’s relationship get a bit twisted as Norma blames Norman for his not being there when she was arrested.  While Norman has his obvious moments of crazy, Norma clearly has some psycho issues herself.  Not sure what Dylan’s subplot contributed to the story, but perhaps it’s setup for something.

Defiance S1E2: Down In the Ground Where the Dead Men Go (2013)


Summary: Nolan chases Ben as he flees down an old mine, where an entire ghost city is buried.  Ben is up to evil, and must be stopped!  Meanwhile, Irisa confronts Datak Tarr as he leads a torture ritual in the streets.

Thoughts: What a boring episode.  Nothing interesting in this one at all.  The plans of the villains are far too vague to be interesting, and the main characters have no goals except to confront whatever obvious moral wrongness they see.  If the next episode is this shallow, I’m calling it quits.  I want real conflict, moral dilemmas, witty sarcasm.

Defiance S1E1: Pilot (2013)

Summary: In a future in which several alien races have invaded earth, a man and his adopted alien daughter look for a safe haven amid the chaos, because apparently a lot of aliens are evil and there are wars all over the place.  They stumble upon a town called Defiance.  The town has its own share of problems, but at least it’s better than the cruelty outside.

Thoughts: Overall, I thought the pilot was decent.  They avoided the common pilot mistakes of trying to do to much backstory and/or trying to overcrowd the subplots.  They deftly kept the story simple and jumped right in.  It seemed they knew the fun of the show would be in the setting and introducing the various alien races and cultures, so they got right to it.  The visual effects were also very good for a TV show, especially after witnessing the horrible effects of shows like Terra Nova.

My main complaint is that the writing was horrible.  There was way too much exposition in dialog, people saying things for the obvious sake of telling the audience something.  Some of this may have been to compensate for skipping over the backstory, but I think they could’ve gotten away with much less exposition.  True sci-fi fans can figure things out.  Anyway, I thought the writing could still have done with some more humor.  I want some witty banter, sarcasm, along with the occasional astute philosophical observation.  The overall plot was also rather uninspired, but I can forgive that in a pilot.  Making the main character become the new sheriff was a rather forced way to get him to stay in Defiance and involved in future conflicts, especially since the same thing happened in Once Upon a Time.  Lastly, the character of Doc Yewell really bothered me.  She came across as arrogant and moody, yet she’s portrayed as a good character we’re supposed to root for.  I hope she’ll either lighten up or get more sarcastic in future episodes.

I’ll check out the next episode, but I’m not yet impressed enough to become a dedicated viewer.  We’ll see.

Bates Motel S1E4: Trust Me (2013)

Summary: After Norman discovers a girl being held captive in the deputy’s house, he tells Norma.  But Norma knows Norman has hallucinations, and does not believe him.  Dylan does, and agrees to help Norman.  The deputy tries to get to know Norman better, apparently hoping for a long term relationship with his mother.  Norman and Dylan see him as evil, of course.  At the end of the episode, Dylan confronts Norma about how she treats Norman, who he must now realize is mentally disturbed, but Norma refuses to change her ways, fearing Norman will be taken away from her if she seeks professional help or tells anyone.  A severed hand is found in the lake where Norma and Norman dumped the body of the man they murdered in the first episode, and Norma is arrested for his murder.  Bum bum bum!!!

Thoughts: I don’t quite understand Dylan’s character.  He seems to change his mind too often and doesn’t seem to want anything concrete.  It makes it hard to understand his actions because I’m not sure what he’s trying to achieve.  It’s also getting annoying to see so many morally depraved characters in this show.  Norman at least now has the excuse of being mentally disturbed.  The only other character who actually seems to understand right and wrong is the sick girl, who hasn’t had much screen time and wasn’t even in this episode.  It will be interesting to see what role she will end up playing in the rest of this season.  Perhaps she will become a stakes character.  Anyway, it was interesting to see Norma arrested and to see the deputy as a more evil and manipulative character.

Bates Motel S1E3: What’s Wrong With Norman (2013)

Summary: Norman has visions and passes out in school, putting him in the hospital.  Meanwhile, the police get a search warrant and search Norma’s house for clues in regards to the man they murdered in the first episode.  After the search, Norman discovers the belt he had kept from the murdered man has been taken.  Norma whines to the deputy, who admits that he took the belt and is keeping it safe in order to protect Norma.  And, of course, Norma plays along, hoping to keep herself out of jail.

Thoughts: Overall, this was a fun episode.  Norman passing out in school seemed a rather forced and unrealistic way to get him stuck in the hospital for a while.  Why would they want to monitor him overnight if all he did was pass out but now he’s fine?  It would’ve been more interesting if they were given some clue that would foreshadow the twist at the end of the episode.  The twist at the end of the episode was the best part, as it puts an interesting twist on Norman and Norma’s strange relationship.  Now it seems that Norman’s father may have been murdered by Norman, and not Norma, while Norma’s otherwise creepy smothering affection for Norman comes from her trying to keep her son out of a mental institution.  Finally, the twist that the deputy may be even more manipulative and evil than anyone creates a strong and interesting villain.

Bates Motel S1E2: Nice Town You Picked, Norma… (2013)


Summary: Norma’s other son Dylan shows up at the motel to mooch off a living with her and Norman, doing so by subtly blackmailing Norma, implying he knows that Norma killed her husband.  Meanwhile, Norma tries to avoid suspicion for the disappearance of the man she murdered in the last episode by striking up a manipulative relationship with a deputy.  Meanwhile, Norman investigates a creepy journal he found in a motel room.

Thoughts: Whew; a lot of plots developing in this episode.  I’m worried it will be too many; I always hate the modern practice of shows that begin one subplot after another and then don’t finish them, hoping they’ll just fade away by being taken over by some other subplot or twist down the road.  It’s a lazy way to plot, and it makes things feel incomplete.

I also do not much care for the plotline of “character uncovers mysterious interesting things!” because it means the character is just exploring things with no real goal, making his decisions arbitrary and boring, making the story itself boring.  So I wasn’t all that captivated by Norman’s plotline in this episode.

Norma, on the other hand, had a much more interesting plot as she both tried to manipulate the deputy, while unsuccessfully trying to avoid being manipulated by Dylan.  She has clear goals which, though they are obviously wicked goals, make her decisions interesting.

Lastly, I enjoyed that the town itself is developing as having its own creepy secrets.  But, again, I hope the writers are (or were) careful with this, because secrets and mysteries are not interesting for their own sake, at least not for long.  The longer you tease a mystery, the less surprising you make the revelations.  Better to keep the focus on specific character goals, only subtly implying mysteries here and there.  That’s my opinion, at least.

This continues to be a fun show, and I enjoyed this episode better than the last; I’ll definitely look out for the next one.

Bates Motel S1E1: First You Dream, Then You Die (2013)


Summary: After his father dies rather mysteriously, a young man and his creepy mother move into an old motel with hopes of getting it running again.  A “prequel” series to the popular Hitchcock film Psycho.  Things don’t start out so well when the mother murders an intruder, then insists on covering it up.

Thoughts:  Been waiting for this series for a while, though I must confess that I have yet to see Psycho.  This premier episode didn’t blow me away, but it was sufficiently creepy to hold my interest throughout.  Vera Ann Farmiga does an especially good job as Norma Bates, holding a good balance between seeming normal enough and creepy and crazy enough to foreshadow her psychopathic murderous ways.  Freddie Highmore, though he still can’t quite do an American accent, does a sufficient job at being an awkward teenager slowly morphing into a creepy person himself.  While the gore was tame, I didn’t much care for the intensity or depiction of the violence.  But of course the shower scene of the original Psycho was perhaps “scandalous!” in its day, so I suppose it’s not surprising.  And American culture is just that degraded anyway.  Still, I hope the series will try to stay interesting through compelling stories more than anything else.

Some nitpicks: The motivations for the intruder and his murder seemed a bit forced.  It would’ve been interesting if he was more than just some bumbling neighbor intent on hurting them because he thinks the motel should be his.  It was a bit contrived.  Also, that cop did some of the loudest peeing I’ve ever heard on TV.  You’re not supposed to aim for the center of the bowl, you moron, you’ll get splash everywhere.  And how is it socially appropriate to even think it would be OK for you to be that loud when there are three people, including the female owner, standing right outside the door?

Overall, though, interesting show.  I’ll be interested to see the next one.

Spy (2011 TV series)


Wikipedia Link

Summary: A bumbling British guy is accidentally recruited to be a spy.  Hilarity ensues.

Thoughts: Here in the US, this series was only available on hulu, where I stumbled on it after a friend had mentioned it on Facebook.  The humor is very direct, over-the-top, and ultra-cheesy, and not in an awful Disney Channel way.  I found it to be hilarious, and enjoyed the many film references and parodies throughout.

Unfortunately it seems the British version is now dead, but ABC plans on bringing an American remake to TV sometime later this year.  I suppose I’ll watch out for it and give it a chance, but my instincts tell me that Americans will ruin it.  I haven’t been impressed by any modern American comedies.