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