The Internship (2013)

Link: The Internship

Summary: Two out of work (but charming and witty!) sales men miraculously get accepted into an internship program at Google, where they must work with a younger generation to win a contest that will guarantee them a position with the tech company.

Thoughts: This was an awful film.  It almost felt like nobody really want to make it.  The whole thing just feels too… fake… if that makes any sense in the context of a film.  The story didn’t feel genuine.  The humor was fortunately not as raunchy as one might expect from Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan, but it was all very forced and not funny.  It was almost like watching the Disney Channel without a laugh track.  But what really bothered me was the whole idea of the older generation (as represented by the two main characters) needing to mentor the younger tech-savvy-but-socially-stupid generation, teaching them how to break their social shells and have a good time.  I found it almost condescending.

Computer Chess (2013)


Link: Computer Chess

Summary: A group of programming nerds get together at a convention to let their chess programs battle each other in a computer chess tournament.

Thoughts: As someone who enjoys both chess and programming (and I’m working on my own chess engine), I thought this would be interesting.  But I suppose I would’ve been much more interested in a straight-forward documentary on the subject of computer chess.  This film tries to be an awkward comedy, somewhere between a comedy-drama and a mockumentary, but hardly any of its humor is very funny, and there’s not much for the true computer chess fan to see.

Reign of Fire (2002)


Link: Reign of Fire

Summary: In a post-apocalyptic world brought on by dragons, a man fights to kill the dragon alpha-male, hoping to restore peace and prosperity to the dragon-ravaged lands.

Thoughts: I love the idea of merging dragons with sci-fi, pitting dragons against modern military machinery.  The look-and-feel of combining classic fantasy (dragons and castles) with sci-fi (machinery in a post-apocalyptic world) is very unique and engaging.  Unfortunately the overall story for this film was rather bland and suffered from some major pacing issues.  The first act was bloated by unnecessary subplots and what should’ve been the midpoint event came too late in the story, making the climax rushed and anti-climactic.  In the end, it leaves you feeling you haven’t watched anything too special.  Fun idea ruined by plotting mistakes.

The Conjuring (2013)


Link: The Conjuring

Summary: A paranormal investigator studies a house haunted by particularly sinister demons, hoping to drive them away and make the house a safe place for its family.

Thoughts: I thought this was a well-made classic-style horror film.  It featured nice pacing and some great creepy moments.  It’s also nice to see Christianity used as a force of good against demons, something a lot of modern horror film makers tend to shy away from these days.  Ultimately, though, if you’ve seen a good number of horror films, this one doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre like some of the director’s other work (Saw and Insidious).

Tales from Earthsea (2006)


Link: Tales From Earthsea

Summary: I’m not sure how to summarize this film.

Thoughts: I’m not sure how to summarize this film because the storytelling is horrible slop.  It begins with a young man who kills his father, steals his sword, and runs away.  He ends up joining this older man who is a wizard on a mission to do something that I never really understood.  They come to the house of some woman and her daughter and do things.  And then this evil guy comes and kidnaps people and they fight him.  And the girl turns into a dragon.  And the young man defeats the bad guy.  The end.

The film features Studio Ghibli’s usual beautiful artwork and mesmerizing music.  But the storytelling is so sloppy and confusing that I could not understand what was going on and could not emotionally invest myself in any of the characters.  By far the worst film from the studio.  In fact, it’s one of the worst animated films of all time.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Link: 1Q84 (Vintage International)

Summary: When a writer accepts the task of ghost-editing a strange story for a writing competition, he ends up thrusting himself into a strange and mysterious world in which a religious cult wants him dead, the story’s strange original writer insists on living with him, and the story he rewrote which he thought was only a bizarre fantasy begins to reveal itself as true.  The reality of the world does not seem to be what he thought.

Thoughts: While the fairy-tale-like strangeness of the story kept me reading, and reading, and reading (for 900-something pages of weirdness), ultimately the story leaves a bunch of things unexplained or open-ended, leaving me as the reader rather unimpressed.  The story also features a bunch of really weird dirtiness which adds nothing to the story.  The author also likes to over-describe almost everything, adding in a bunch of details that don’t matter at all.  Things like: “The dog liked to eat spinach for some reason.” and “He woke up and drank a glass of milk.  Then he sat down at the table with a piece of toast and ate it while reading the newspaper.”  Blah, blah, blah, who cares?  I guess it’s a style decision that may work better for some readers than it does for me.  I’d prefer the story to move along.  I have a good enough imagination that if I want a bunch of useless details, I can make them up on my own, thank you very much.  Anyway, I’d like to check out more of the author’s work, because this book did feature some wonderful and poetic moments that really got me excited.  But the overall story failed to live up to anything special for me.

Come and See (1985)

Link: Come & See

Summary: A young man joins a group of Russian partisans fighting Nazis during the chaos of World War 2.

Thoughts: This film is less story-driven or character-driven and more image-driven, almost working as a set of montages depicting the tragedies of war and the cruel indifference it can provoke in soldiers.  I suppose it’s supposed to come across as shocking and terrifying, showing audiences the horribleness of war with its gritty realism, but if you’ve watched a lot movies, it doesn’t quite stand out as anything special.

12 and Holding (2005)


Link: 12 and Holding

Summary: After bullies accidentally kill a twelve year old, his two best friends and his brother deal with his death in various ways, his brother by seeking lethal revenge on the bullies.

Thoughts: One of the more bizarre films I’ve seen.  Its quirky awkward humor seems too upbeat for how sad everyone’s situation really is.  It creates a bizarre atmosphere in which you’re not sure whether the film is trying to make you laugh or cry.  Perhaps it’s trying to make you do both, or perhaps it’s only trying resist being too heavy-handed either way, but the product is only a weird muddled confusion that pushes you out of the story (rather than the sort of natural forwardness Truffaut might’ve been able to manage).  There’s something about the dialog that doesn’t quite work either, something a bit forced and unnatural about the things people say to each other, and the ways they emotionally react to each other.  I can’t quite put my finger on why it doesn’t work, but it just didn’t feel very honest to me.  I did, however, appreciate the rather dark ending that leaves you a bit unsettled.

The Awakening (2011)

Link: The Awakening

Summary: A woman who debunks ghost myths investigates a boarding school said to be haunted by an evil ghost child, hoping to help calm the frightened boys there.  But when it becomes apparent that this ghost is quite real, she realizes she’ll have to find a different way to end the school’s haunting.

Thoughts: Grrr!  This film made me angry.  It had a lot of potential.  It feels like the filmmaker’s spark of inspiration was something special.  But it’s completely ruined by a horribly plotted ending.  A huge chunk of backstory exposition has to be suddenly introduced for the ending to make sense, and it’s all just so out-of-nowhere that the emotional power of the ending is squashed completely.  The brain has to process too much information too suddenly that the otherwise powerful emotion it would have evoked is destroyed.  It makes me angry because it would have been such an awesome, tragic, powerful, beautiful ending if it had only been set up right.  That said, I’m not sure how I would fix it.  It would be very tricky.  Certainly, the huge chunk of backstory that is revealed at the end would have to come much sooner, perhaps at the very beginning of the film as a prologue.  Perhaps I’d make it more like The Devil’s Backbone and reveal the nature of the ghost in the first act.  I don’t know.  I’d have to play around with the possibilities.  Anyway, the film had some other weaknesses as well, but the nature of the film’s climax is my biggest complaint, especially as I think the idea they were going for is so awesome.  They just did it ineffectively.

The film did have some strengths.  I enjoyed the look and feel of the film, the historic atmosphere.  For some reason, that historic era just seems more ghostly in and of itself.  The story would not at all have worked in modern day.  There are some genuinely creepy moments that work wonderfully, especially the jump moments.  Those are always a bit hit-or-miss for me in these sorts of films, but they worked really well in this film.  The music was great, especially its use of choirs.  And overall, the story manages to stay engaging throughout, even if the ending is messed up.

Only God Forgives (2013)

Link: Only God Forgives

Summary: An ex-gangster seeks revenge on the evil man who killed his brother.

Thoughts: While the film has a very unique look and feel to it (and it’s refreshing to see somebody shoot some decent action sequences without having to shake the camera), it ultimately falls flat because the story is slow and full of bland characters.  The ambiguity of the characters’ backgrounds and motivations could’ve been forgiven if there were more to the story, or the simplicity of the story could’ve been forgiven if there were more to the characters.  Without either, we’re not left with enough material for a film.  There are too many ambiguous scenes that only try to evoke visceral reactions without actually moving the story forward.

Leviathan (2012)


Link: Leviathan

Summary: A collection of random visuals from a modern fishing boat.

Thoughts: This film called itself a documentary, but there’s not much to see or to learn here.  All the filmmakers did was get on a fishing boat, put the camera here, record random stuff for a few minutes, then put it over there, record for a few minutes, etc.  Half the time it’s hard to even figure out what you’re looking at.  The best you can hope for is falling into a meditative stupor.  (Hey, look, the poster uses that font…)

The Wall (2012)


Link: The Wall

Summary: A woman finds herself trapped in a valley by an invisible wall.

Thoughts: I’ve seen some pretty terrible and boring films this year, but this film managed to find new depths of inanity I did not know were possible.  After finding the wall, the main character quickly realizes she will have to live off the land all by herself, which she is fortunately very proficient at (unlike Tom Hanks in Cast Away, who actually has to figure things out).  She doesn’t explore the strange phenomenon of the invisible wall all that much, other than feeling it with her hands and then deciding to smash her car into it (she may know how to grow crops and hunt, but she’s also stupid).  The entire film then consists of images of her surviving on her own while she narrates, trying to wax philosophical and romantic about her relationship with the world and the human condition, with the philosophical depth of a fourth grader.  Her thoughts include ideas like: “I think mankind is the only creature for which right and wrong exist.”  “Maybe humans are the most pitiable creatures because we have enough intelligence to try to resist the natural order.”  “Does time move, or do we move through time?”  These may be interesting philosophical subjects in and of themselves, but if I were interested in pondering these things, I’d read a book by a philosopher who thought about these things in some depth.  I watch films for a subtler sort of introspection.  When it’s just a narrator mentioning these things in passing while I watch her character walk across a landscape doing nothing, what’s the point?  In the end (spoiler alert), she never escapes or finds out anything about the mysterious wall.  She just says something she thinks is poetic and looks out a window, hoping viewers will give her credit for being so contemplative.

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Link: Eyes Without a Face

Summary: A surgeon kidnaps women and cuts off their faces, grafting them onto his disfigured daughter, hoping for successful face transplant.

Thoughts: Although the summary sounds disturbing, this film was made in the 1960’s.  The make-up is super-cheesy by modern standards.  How do you make it look like a young woman has no face?  Apparently by squiggling dark crayon all over it.  But maybe the cheesy effects can be forgiven by a compelling story?  Nope.  There’s really not much more to the story than the summary suggests.  There is no subtext, there are no deeper meanings.  The dialog is bland.  The characters are bland.  The whole thing is just dull.  Not sure why this is considered a classic or why the Criterion Collection thought this would be a good film to put on blu-ray.  The blu-ray’s bonus features include the director’s first film, the classic 1949 documentary Blood of the Beasts, giving us a charming little glimpse into the workings of a slaughterhouse.  It’s fun for the whole family!  Just don’t eat anything for a few hours before watching.

Barry Lyndon (1975)


Link: Barry Lyndon

Summary: A young man is forced away from home and ends up marrying into a wealthy family, where, in his foolishness, he squanders his good fortune.

Thoughts: This is a bit of a bizarre film.  It doesn’t seem to take itself seriously.  I suppose this is true of a lot of Stanley Kubrick’s work.  There’s something self-consciously exaggerated about the story and the characters, as if we’re not meant to empathize with the characters, especially in their cruelty, but to view them as peculiar and intriguing specimens who make a wild story possible.  Characters are very one-dimensional, yet it works because of how they contrast or compliment one another, like characters from a fairy tale.  Visually, the film is nice and painterly, but it does not stand up to the sort of cinematography today’s technology makes possible.  Its age is evident.  Overall, I enjoyed it, but I think the story and the title character ultimately come across as a bit too dull for the film to share the status of some of Kubrick’s other work, like 2001, Spartacus, and Strangelove.