Category Archives: 2010s

Riders of Justice (2019)

*. I’m not sure why I pulled this one off the DVD shelf at the library but I’m glad I did. The box cover wasn’t particularly catchy, consisting mainly of a big picture of Mads Mikkelsen’s face, complete with a gracefully silvered beard. But behind him you see a trio of motorbikes tearing away from a giant fireball explosion in a road cutting through some hilly country, and this turned out to be egregious false advertising. The only explosion is the one on the subway that gets the story rolling and the only motorbike we see is the one being driven by the hapless boyfriend of Mikkelsen’s daughter. In other words, nothing remotely like what’s show on the box cover is in the movie. There aren’t even any hills. Just some flat cornfields once we get out of the city.
*. Another thing that there was no evidence for on the box is that this is a Danish production. This didn’t bug me because I watch movies with subtitles on even if they’re in English, and I think the fact that the cast was speaking their native language probably improved their performances. But it’s another way that picking up the DVD turned out to be a pleasant surprise. At least for the movie itself. The DVD is a bare-boned production. No extras, and indeed not even an option for scene selection. They still release movies on DVD without having a scene selection option? Yes, they do.

*. But getting to the movie, I’m happy to report that the news is good. I was expecting to see Mads Mikkelsen going full Liam Neeson. He’s a tough military man on duty in some war-torn desert land who comes home when his wife is blown up in an explosion on a subway train that may have been an accident but which a data scientist (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) thinks was a targeted assassination. The scientist and a pair of similarly geeky buddies point Mikkelsen in the direction of a criminal gang that Mad Mikks proceeds to exact vengeance upon. Somebody is going to pay! That’s the tag line on the DVD box.
*. So far, so shopworn. But writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen, a veteran of this brand of action-comedy in his native land, has crafted a film that’s touching and charming and smart, without overdoing any of these elements. I mentioned how working in Danish might have helped with the performances, because the cast here are great. This is a comfort zone with Jensen, as he’s worked quite a bit with Mikkelsen and Kaas before. There’s not a ton of action, but it’s used as punctuation nicely and Mikkelsen doesn’t sugarcoat his role as the violent patriarch. He really does seem like a psychopath. The Lone Gunmen are stock types as well, but given enough individuality and weirdness to be memorable.
*. The plot that has MM, yes, defending his daughter from the evil gangsters (I told you about going full Liam Neeson) also has an interesting motif about calculating probabilities and the laws of causation that doesn’t add up to much but does play nicely in the background. The humour isn’t laugh-out-loud funny but has the sweet ironic vibe of ugly Christmas sweaters. Throw in a happy ending and my least-favourite Christmas carol is nearly redeemed.
*. The bottom line is that even though this is bog-standard plot, everyone involved is in good form and they play well together. It gave me the same sort of feeling as In Order of Disappearance, but with a lighter touch. Why such simple films are coming over as imports and finding an audience is hard to explain, as they don’t do anything bold or new but are just well-turned-out entertainments. It’s not a formula that Hollywood has lost. In fact, they may be too stuck in a rut of conventional formulas. What’s missing is the spirit, Christmas or otherwise.

Ophelia (2018)

*. “You may think you know my story. Many have told it. It has long passed into history, into myth. I have seen more of heaven and hell than most people dream of. But I was always a wilful girl, and always followed my heart and spoke my mind. And it is high time I should tell you my story, myself.”
*. Those are the opening lines of Ophelia and they’re a declaration of independence, delivered by voiceover as we see Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) floating in the river in full Millais mode. The “myth” the character Ophelia refers to is a prominent one for feminists, making her an icon of victimhood, collateral damage in a revenge tragedy and game of power politics. In telling her story herself she will not just gain agency but become the hero.
*. So far, so obvious. And coming right at the start I feared Ophelia was going to turn into a lot of feminist tub-thumping. But it settles down, and while it sticks to its revisionist agenda it’s not as crude as this opening would suggest.
*. I thought the premise was wonderful. It’s sort of like Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead in giving us a different perspective on the old warhorse, while also operating a bit as a prequel in laying out the back story for the events of the play. For example, along with Ophelia herself, I’ve always found Gertrude to be a mysterious figure. What does she really know about what’s going on? Or what does she suspect? Here there’s plenty, as Naomi Watts plays a woefully underserviced wife who starts fooling around with her brother-in-law Claudius (Clive Owen) before Hamlet Sr. is offed with poison.
*. There’s a lot of rejigging of the language and the plot. The speech is modernized, even when borrowing scenes directly from Shakespeare. So Polonius advises Laertes “Don’t borrow any money, or lend it. And above all, be true to yourself.” Again, that’s fair play. The plot, however, really gets an overhaul, helped along in particular with a solid infusion of Romeo and Juliet. Hamlet (George MacKay) and Ophelia are actually married by a kindly old priest, and there’s a poison that “mimics death but mocks it.” There needs no ghost from the grave to tell them about Claudius’ plot because Ophelia turns Nancy Drew and figures it out for herself. Both of them only feign madness. There’s no Ghost, but a witchy woman who gathers herbs in the forest.
*. It’s fun to follow along and see what all they’ve changed. Like Ophelia cutting her hair at the end and pretending to be a boy to get back to Elsinore for the big duel. A boy named . . . Osric. Ho-ho! For English majors this kind of thing is a treat. I won’t give away the ending, but I got a big laugh out of it too. And I mean that not in a mocking way. It’s incredibly silly, but if you’ve made it that far it’s not a disappointment.
*. In places it goes too far. I didn’t think they needed the witch in the forest in the first place, but to have her be related to Gertrude and Claudius was a bit much.
*. The drawback here is that the source was a YA novel and that’s the same demographic the producers seem to have targeted. There’s a lot of pretty scenery (including mountain ranges in Demark!) and romantic posing, but this just isn’t a grown-up movie. Critics were quick to brand it as Shakespeare meets Twilight, and that’s not unfair. It’s also directed, by Claire McCarthy, without a lot of snap and energy. Ridley is good, and the rest of the movie is earnest and cute in a teenage sort of way. It’s not my thing, but I’m sure no one involved would be upset by that.

Time Trap (2017)

*. Time Trap is the sort of movie you don’t see much of anymore. It’s also a movie that could have gone wrong in a lot of ways but remarkably stays upright for 87 minutes.
*. Why do I say that? For starters, it’s a little SF picture that’s quite technically ambitious, which is usually a recipe for disaster because going big when you don’t have the budget for it almost always ends in disaster. It’s also a time-travel story without a script that makes a whole lot of sense, and those have a habit of going wrong as well. But despite all this, I thought Time Trap stayed the course as a nice bit of fun.
*. The story has an archaeology professor (Andrew Wilson) going into a cave looking for the remains of his missing sister, who along with some hippies was looking for a fountain of youth when they disappeared back in the 1970s. Then, when the prof disappears a group of his students go into the cave after him.
*. As it turns out, the cave is a place where time passes a lot slower than in the outside world. I’m not sure they ever work out just how much slower, but from what I’ve been able to gather it’s somewhere around the order of one minute in the cave equaling 15 years anywhere else in the universe. So the ropes the spelunkers use quickly rot and they can’t use them to climb back out.
*. The rescue party find the professor and a whole lot more, including a bunch of cave people and some conquistadors that have been fighting in a frozen tableau for hundreds of years. There’s also an actual fountain of youth that not only reverses time but brings the dead back to life. And then there are spacemen who are entering the cave from our own future.
*. As I said, I don’t think the plot makes a whole lot of sense, but it’s quick enough that you don’t have much time to ask pesky questions, and I found the idea of the future raiding into the present while the present goes looking for the past to be quite interesting.
*. The writing-directing team of Mark Dennis and Ben Foster originally planned on doing it as a found footage movie (a bit of which still gets worked in), but by 2017 that fad was pretty much done. I’m glad they didn’t go that route, though I thought it might have made an intriguing experiment. Pulling off a story like this in that fashion would have been really complicated though.
*. The whole thing has the goofy, wholesome feel of an after-school TV special, with no bad language or gore and a super-happy ending. They were going for a cross of The Descent with The Goonies, and that’s another mash-up that should have spelled disaster but doesn’t. Not that I’m saying this is a great movie in any way, but if you just look at it as a bit of fun it’s quite alright.

San Andreas (2015)

*. San Andreas is a disaster movie, a genre reinvigorated long after the glory days of Irwin Allen by the advent of CGI effects. As I’ve said before, one of the very few things CGI does well is trashing cities. Well, that’s a disaster movie for you.
*. Disaster movies aren’t known for scripts with lots of character development and complex plotting. Far from it. You expect generic characters and some sketchy set-up before everything goes to hell. There’s basically a two-part structure of before and after. To its credit, San Andreas starts off with some action (a helicopter rescue crew saves a young woman who is dangling in her car from a cliff, the Hoover Dam collapses) and keeps things going pretty strong throughout, but otherwise it follows the formula pretty closely.
*. Our lead is Dwayne Johnson, who is good in this kind of thing and certainly looks like he’s capable of fighting vast geological forces. An earthquake might take out California, but we can be sure that even as skyscrapers crumble the Rock will be the last man standing. He plays Ray Gaines, a helicopter rescue pilot with the Los Angeles Fire Department. When the big one strikes, he’s off with public property (the ‘copter) on a long journey north to San Francisco to go rescue his daughter. Because that’s what we expect of such a man.
*. That’s the plot. There’s not much more to say. I thought the CGI was pretty good, especially when a tsunami throws a freighter at the Golden Gate Bridge. Let’s face it, that’s why you watch a movie like this, and the FX department delivers. And while the script has some howlers, and makes a total hash of the science and geography, it has a couple of good moments too. I like how Blake’s newfound boyfriend uses the car jack to get her out of the car she’s stuck in. That was clever, and clever was unexpected.
*. I wasn’t expecting originality either, which was good because there was little on tap. A couple of clichés did seem to me to be worth commenting on though. I think I’ve talked about these before, but I think they’re worth flagging again.
*. In the first place, there’s movie CPR. As anyone who has trained in it knows, CPR is a violent process. Those chest compressions are dangerous, which is why you never see anyone in a movie doing anything that looks like a real chest compression. Dwayne Johnson would be breaking Alexandra Daddario’s ribs like bread sticks. I guess it’s hard to fake CPR but still, the way it’s presented in movies may give a lot of people the wrong idea of how to do it.

*. The other cliché is a male fantasy that gets a lot of play in movies like this. Basically, the hero is a divorced man, or a man going through a divorce, whose wife is shacking up with some new guy. There are a bunch of key elements in what follows: (1) no one is quite sure why the couple broke up in the first place, though it usually has something to do with the man being too dedicated to his demanding, heroic job; (2) the new guy is a moneybags but also a wimp and a coward; (3) there’s a crisis and the woman realizes how much she really needs/loves the man she broke up with, and how useless the new guy is; (4) there’s some kind of reconciliation.
*. It’s amazing how common this formula has become, especially in movies of this type. In Greenland and Moonfall, to take a couple of more recent examples, we see the same thing: a muscular, action hero who, with the fate of the world at stake, both saves the world and proves his superior manliness to his estranged wife, who realizes that trying to cash in with a higher-earning partner maybe wasn’t such a great idea.
*. Obviously this speaks to a real anxiety among men today, but my problem with it is that it is a fantasy. As I said in my notes on Greenland, this just isn’t the way things work in the real world. How many women want to get back together with a man they left? Not many, in my experience. I always think of that scene in The Squid and the Whale when Jeff Daniels is getting his hopes up that Laura Linney is going to get back together with him and she starts laughing. The only thing I find interesting about the whole idea is the question of where it got its start.
*. Otherwise, for fans of seeing cities stricken by earthquakes and tsunamis, San Andreas mostly works. I didn’t see the point of introducing the scientist (Paul Giamatti), as he doesn’t tell us anything we can’t gather from the odd news report, and he totally disappears at the end anyway. Aside from that, it’s a tight production. Checking out the special features on the DVD, it was interesting to see how short the scenes that were cut were, as director Brad Peyton really wanted to keep things moving along. Mission accomplished. Next up for Brad and Dwayne it would be a giant gorilla taking on Chicago. Clean up in aisle twelve!

Under the Silver Lake (2018)

*. I really enjoyed Under the Silver Lake, though I feel guilty saying that.
*. I think my guilt arose from a sense that it was a good-looking, meaningless tease that works hard to give the impression of being about something deep or important or serious, of having “something to say,” when it really doesn’t. At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s anything under Silver Lake. But it’s still a lot of fun just for its aesthetic-intellectual veneer.
*. It’s beautiful on the surface. Huge credit to cinematographer Mike Gioulakis and production designer Michael T. Perry for creating such a fantastic alternative L.A., with locations ranging in their fancifulness from Sam’s enormous apartment (which looks the size of about three L.A. apartments in such a complex) to the Songwriter’s San Simeon/Xanadu. The camera seems in love with all of this, from tricky long shots like the entry to the club where the girl is singing to the magical walk Sam (Andrew Garfield) and Millicent (Callie Hernandez) take by the mesh fence around Silver Lake. The lighting on the fence is truly beautiful, turning the fence into a glowing membrane separating us from dreamland.
*. A movie that looks this good could get by just on being so nice to look at. But the design and the colour and the way the camera moves are only parts of what is an elaborate striptease. Now a striptease is fun as it happens, and that’s really the whole point of it, but should we be disappointed at the payoff here, the absence of any final reveal?
*. Because I don’t think Under the Silver Lake makes any sense. People, including some of the people involved in its making, testify that there’s much more going on here than can be deciphered in a single viewing. Or even multiple viewings. I’m sure that’s true. Perhaps if you play the parrot’s squawk backwards it’s actually saying something. But these hidden correspondences are just more layers to be peeled off the onion without taking us anywhere aside from the basic idea, common to such plots since the 1960s, that we have a need to find pattern and meaning in a world that we perceive to be increasingly chaotic and meaningless.

*. I see Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 as being the ur-text of this kind of story, and while Lynch is the obvious comparison to make for this movie, I still found it more Pynchon than Lynch in that it more directly interrogates conspiracist thinking and theories. There’s been a multiplier effect though in these kinds of fantasies given the reach and intrusiveness of the Internet, and Under the Silver Lake offers up a warren of rabbit holes to duck down. But do any of them connect?
*. I’m sure connections can be drawn, but they remain tenuous at best. I was left having no real idea what the Songwriter was up to, how the Owl’s Kiss fit into things, or what Sam’s relationship to his ex-girlfriend signified. The idea that billionaires were being buried alive in the Hollywood hills with nubile lovers was something I couldn’t understand the point of. The Comic Fan (a wonderfully creepy Patrick Fischler) seems to have some vision of how all this fits together, but he’s not talking.
*. Wasn’t there something just a little sexist in the way all the young women became indistinguishable and were treated as props to be dressed (or undressed) in creative ways, by both the men and the movie itself? I don’t usually call movies out for this, but here I was wondering if it was deliberate.

*. So nothing added up for me. Perhaps there was an explanation for it, but writer-director David Robert Mitchell (who did It Follows) isn’t going to tell us what it is. Just for starters, what exactly does Sam do, or even want to do with his life? Has he come to L.A. to make it as a musician? Is that something he’s working at? How long has he been coasting before getting bounced from his huge apartment and having his sports car repossessed? I guess none of that matters.
*. I don’t know if Mitchell, who I think is one of the most impressive new talents going, had a point, buried it too deeply, or just wanted to have fun playing with the whole ball of yarn. What is expressed, I think, is less a search for meaning in modern culture than the desire to somehow establish that all of modern culture — the pop songs, the video games, the magazines — isn’t just a crushing waste of time and bottomless pit of shit, like the full toilet bowl we stare down in one scene. You can indulge in that kind of fecal haruspicy if you want, but isn’t that a hole you’d rather not go down?
*. Despite my reservations I think Under the Silver Lake is a terrific little movie and comes close to being a great one. A big drag on it though is Garfield, who looks the part but just doesn’t sound right. He may be even more miscast here than he was playing Peter Parker, and the character is just a little too shallow to relate to as well. At least I couldn’t figure him out. My sense is that at the end he’s on his way to becoming a new version of the Comic Fan, and that he might just be OK with that.
*. If the whole thing was meant as a parody of a David Lynch movie, which it may well have been, it might be enjoyed on that level. Even at 140 minutes it doesn’t feel long. But I was just there for the striptease. Does it all add up to anything but a pile of discarded clothes? I didn’t think so, but that doesn’t bother me.

Movie 43 (2013)

*. Movie 43 (the title has no meaning) was widely hailed on its release as being one of the worst movies ever made. This is a judgment that has various meanings though. For example, it can mean that the film is a good-bad movie or that it’s just terrible. I’ve often said that the real worst movies and books are ones that no one has ever seen or read because they are so dull. Those are the “just terrible” ones, whereas Plan 9 from Outer Space or Troll 2 are seen as classics of the good-bad genre.
*. Another way of being one of the worst movies ever made is to be totally incompetent and technically inept (think Manos: The Hands of Fate), or a colossal waste of talent and money (think most Hollywood blockbusters). Or “worst” can be interpreted through a political or moral lens, with the worst movie being one that’s seen as particularly objectionable on those grounds. Even classic films like The Birth of a Nation or Triumph of the Will may be considered here.
*. I think most of the reaction against Movie 43 took the line of colossal waste. Indeed, I found one pull quote from Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News that directly wrote it off in these terms (a “colossal waste of talent, time, and money”). Now in fact Movie 43 didn’t cost much (the budget was only $6 million) but the talent brought on board was surprising, and all the more surprising given what the stars were made to endure. Hugh Jackman with a pair of balls hanging from his chin? Elizabeth Banks soaked in cat piss? Halle Berry turned into a freak by plastic surgery? Well, why not. Actors like to try something new every now and then.
*. But there is new as in artistically daring, and then there’s stupid. Tony Curtis, for example, went way out on a limb playing Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success. Universal even tried to talk him out of it, saying it would ruin his career. It ended up being arguably his greatest performance. That was a risk worth taking. I’m not sure what the calculation was for the all-stars here, but this sure wasn’t Sweet Smell of Success.
*. One point about the cast, however, is worth flagging. While it’s a list of A-listers, it’s not one that’s riddled with great comic talent. With better writing and in better roles some of these actors can be funny, but they aren’t comedians. Aside from the shock value of seeing them so degraded, they don’t bring anything to the table.
*. Basically this is an anthology comedy, along the lines of Kentucky Fried Movie or Amazon Women on the Moon. As each of the separate stories had different writers and directors you can expect a wide range of quality. Unfortunately, this mostly goes from the not-very-funny to the truly terrible.
*. For what it’s worth, the “Super Hero Speed Dating” episode is probably the best. That said, it’s only about the level of an average comedy skit you’d find on YouTube these days. The only part of the movie where I actually laughed out loud was seeing Chris Pratt explode into a giant shit bomb in “The Proposition.” That might also give you some idea of where the jokes are aimed at. Shit, piss, farts, menstrual blood. That’s it.
*. The lowlights aren’t the most outrageous but the dullest and most pointless. Like “Happy Birthday,” which has Gerard Butler playing a foul-mouthed leprechaun. And that’s it. That’s the joke. Gerry Butler is a foul-mouthed leprechaun. Then “Victory’s Glory” has a Black basketball team wiping the floor with a team of white guys in the 1950s. Because they’re Black. And that’s it. That’s the joke.
*. Linking this together, somewhat, is a frame story involving Dennis Quaid as a strung-out screenwriter trying to pitch all this crap to Greg Kinnear. Again there’s nothing at all funny about this.
*. Writer-producer Peter Farrelly tweeted: “To the critics: Movie 43 is not the end of the world. It’s just a $6-million dollar movie where we tried to do something different. Back off.” I’m not sure how strong a defence this is. Despite the low budget, the cast meant that this was always going to be something more than “just a $6-million dollar movie.” And I’m not sure how “different” what they were attempting was. The real hook here was that disjunction between the cast and the material, not the material itself.
*. It’s not a movie I hated. I’ve seen worse comedies. That is, comedies that were even less funny. But it’s not so bad it’s good either. Overall, I’d characterize it as just stupid and embarrassing because almost none of it works. A waste of time then. My time, and that of everyone involved.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

*. I mentioned in my notes on Captain America: The Winter Soldier how I appreciated the simpler storyline, with Cap facing off against human enemies with relatable motivations. Keeping that in mind, I rate these two Captain America movies much higher than the Avengers: Infinity Wars and Endgame all-star doubleheader. Did I really care what Thanos was all about in gathering his chunky infinity-stone gauntlet and rearranging all the deck chairs in the universe? No, I did not.
*. In this movie the whole plot is being masterminded by a regular, even low-key dude named Zemo (Daniel Brühl) who has a hate on for superheroes. And he has his reasons. The narrative here comes from the Civil War storyline that ran in some Marvel comics a decade earlier. I’d actually read those comics and thought the idea — where superheroes fall out over whether or not they should accept government oversight given all the collateral damage they cause — was a good one. A lot more interesting than magic stones that open portals to other dimensions, anyway.
*. Given all the star power here, it’s basically an Avengers film. There are some newbies introduced (including Tom Holland as Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther) while MIA are Thor and Hulk, who were off fighting each other in Jeff Goldblum’s Thunderdome at the time. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is Cap’s main antagonist, being on the side of big government. I thought everyone played well, except for Paul Bettany as Vision, a character I could never warm too. I don’t know why. I liked Vision in the comic books. But in the movies he’s very dull.
*. So what you get is a lot of what Marvel does best. Spectacular fight scenes, like the battle royale that destroys Leipzig airport. Lots of likeable stars humanizing their cartoonish parts. And a story that, for once, I could get on board with. Not only is Zemo motivated, I actually liked the bait and switch at the end where the other super soldiers aren’t awakened, even though I’d been looking forward to this as a climax.
*. The only thing I didn’t like was how Stark couldn’t see through Zemo’s plan to have the Avengers destroy themselves. By this point he knew that Bucky was being controlled by Hydra when he was doing his missions as the Winter Soldier, so why did he have a total meltdown? Yes, he had to watch his parents being killed, but hadn’t he had time to get over that?
*. Instead of an army of mooks being clobbered and a god from another dimension wreaking havoc the heart of the story is the conflict between the obnoxious tech zillionaire in the age of hypercapitalism and a man out of his his time who is deeply uncomfortable about what’s happened to America. No, this isn’t high-level political commentary. But compared to the usual Marvel shenanigans it stood out as at least somewhat meaningful.
*. In short, I see this and the immediately surrounding films as marking the acme of the Marvel years. Nothing I’ve seen since was as good, and given how limited the franchise has been I don’t have high hopes of it evolving into anything interesting going forward.
*. That these movies were decent entertainment though is one thing; that they dominated the box office and transformed the movie business so completely is another. How are we going to look back on all of this sound and fury? Will we care? Will we remember it at all?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

*. In years to come, if we’re still talking about the reign of the Marvel franchise over the film industry in the first decades of the twenty-first century, we may have to take seriously the various “phases” of the MCU. And if we do, I suppose we’d locate the high point of their creative achievement as being somewhere in the middle of Phases Two and Three. Here were the handful of movies I found to be the best, including Ant-Man, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Captain America: Civil War. I am excluding the two-part phase finale of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame because I thought those two were overripe disasters, but that’s another story.
*. The Winter Soldier is the first instalment in a two-part storyline that would be concluded in Civil War. Unfortunately, this saddles it with doing a fair bit of set-up work. I can’t say this was particularly interesting, but I did appreciate the way the story stayed somewhat on the ground. The directing team of the brothers Anthony and Joe Russo wanted an homage to 1970s political thrillers, and while this is depressing to contemplate (the road from The Parallax View and Three Days of Condor led to this?) it still made for something better than the usual MarvelCrap.

*. One big plus is the way the plot focuses on just a couple of bad guys who are at least semi-human (that is, not aliens or gods). Robert Redford feels too old for this shit, and I didn’t think he brought anything to the role, but Sebastian Stan is solid as the brooding killing machine. Given that he’s a zombie he doesn’t have to act much, but he looks the part.
*. Seeing as Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is the ultimate straight arrow, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is placed in the position of providing most of the comic banter. This felt unusual, but it worked. Also lightening things up somewhat is Anthony Mackie as Falcon and Samuel L. Jackson as the irascible Nick Fury.
*. There’s nothing new here, but it’s all well done. There’s a smash-’em-up car chase that I thought was really good. Cap’s vintage leathers still score style points. Otherwise the Marvel men walk around in tight t-shirts to show that none of them miss biceps day. The climax has giant flying aircraft carriers blasting away at one another and crashing into the Potomac.
*. For straight-up superhero action, The Winter Soldier is perfectly fine. Marvel fans got what they wanted and the rest of the audience at least weren’t bored. If I had to knock it for anything it would be for the sheer silliness of Hydra and the fact that the film is basically just a placeholder. But even so it grades out as slightly above average from this studio.

Tron: Legacy (2010)

*. Despite its minor cult status and instant name recognition, I’ve always thought the original Tron a but underwhelming, both at the time and today. Still, given that name recognition a reboot (the name actually has some resonance here) was inevitable. Especially given how completely computers had taken over animation in the intervening thirty years.
*. Tron: Legacy wasn’t well received, with the critical consensus being that the visuals were nice but the story and characters were weak. I agree with this take, and what makes this even more annoying is the fact that this was the exact same problem with the first film. In Legacy they just upped the effects and ran everything back again. Indeed, it’s almost the same story playing back again, with young Flynn on a nearly identical quest to that of his dad in Tron. I realize that the main selling point here was the pinball game, but this struck me as very lazy.

*. So, once more into the machine. This time Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is scanned into the matrix, or what’s called the Grid, while searching for his missing father Kevin (Jeff Bridges). Once inside Sam plays various games that are basically sexier-looking versions of the original, including a team lightcycle race. There’s no corporate baddy at the head of Encom in the real world (the part played by David Warner in the original), but the point is made that Encom is bad anyway, and Sam is the heroic hacker in a t-shirt who likes to ride motorbikes.
*. In computerland things are being run by Clu (played by a young Jeff Bridges). Clu is no longer the cute little icon of the first movie but a power-mad dictator intent on stamping out all noncomformists. So he doesn’t like rebels like the Flynns (père et fils) or the “isomorphic algorithms” he wiped out in a digital genocide many “cycles” earlier, leaving only a sexy gal named Quorra (Olivia stepping into Carrie-Anne Moss’s vinyl pants).

*. All of the characters are types we’ve seen before. I mentioned Carrie-Anne Moss. Michael Sheen plays Joel Grey in Cabaret, a part I couldn’t find any reason for including. Sam is Peter Parker or Luke Skywalker and Kevin is Obi-Wan Kenobi, crossed with the Dude from The Big Lebowski. Really, he could have traded in his Matrix overcoat for a bathrobe and not seemed out of place. Tron has been reprogrammed into Darth Maul. Daft Punk, who did the soundtrack, show up as cameos and don’t seem out of place.
*. It’s hard to think of anything much to say about a movie this unoriginal, which set out to be nothing much more than a live-action video game. The effects are neat, though a bit drab in their reliance on a colourless ground. I found the whole thing weightless and instantly forgettable. There’s been much talk of a third movie, but instead Disney plumped for a fully-animated television series that ran from 2012-2013. Things have been quiet since, but I doubt it’s game over.

Colossal (2016)

*. Ouch! Without getting moralistic, there are some subjects that just don’t work as comedy. One of these is men beating on women.
*. This is especially the case when the abuse is, in context, not meant to be played for laughs or in comic-book fashion but is presented realistically, as the culmination of a building threat of physical violence.
*. To backtrack: Colossal tells the story of a young woman named Gloria (Anne Hathaway, in a truly godawful haircut) who returns to her small-town hometown after drinking herself out of a job and a boyfriend in NYC. She immediately gets reacquainted with a fellow named Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) she used to know as a kid who apparently still has a creepy crush on her. Oscar hires her to work as a waitress at his bar and it’s clear to everyone, though possibly not Gloria, that he figures they’re going to hook-up. Meanwhile, she’s ready to fall into bed with a young stud (Austin Stowell) and has no interest in Oscar at all.
*. Oscar is understandably miffed at this, and tries to leverage the fact that he’s Gloria’s boss and that he can do things for her into a relationship. He becomes increasingly nasty, and things finally get rough.
*. Does this sound like a rom-com plot? Well, there’s another angle introduced where Gloria is controlling a giant lizard monster in Seoul, and Oscar a giant robot. I take it this was meant as a metaphor, with the kaiju elements standing in for the collateral damage that people like Gloria and Oscar cause (through her alcoholism and his brutality). To my eye it made no sense at all and I couldn’t begin to understand why they bothered with it. I should also say that it isn’t funny either.
*. The movie I kept thinking of while watching Colossal was The Cable Guy, another very dark comedy that alienated a lot of people when it came out but that has gone on to become a bit of a cult favourite. It’s a movie that’s grown in my estimation too, though I still find it hard to watch. But Colossal is just hard to watch, with no redeeming features that I can identify.
*. Yes, Hathaway and Sudeikis are good, but their characters are dense and unrelatable. It’s not just that they have no attraction to each other, but they seem not to be able to see this for themselves. Then the supporting characters, of which there are only a few, are just as mystifying. Stowell is so passive he might as well be holding a camera. Gloria’s ex-boyfriend is such an upper-class twit he even has a British accent. Plus he’s a total jerk. You’re not in a good place watching a movie and wondering how soon you can get away from these people.
*. Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, whose debut was the excellent Timecrimes. His name made me wonder if “Nacho” is a real Spanish name. Who would name their kid after a fried tortilla chip? But I asked an expert and he told me that Nacho is short for Ignacio. I didn’t know that.
*. That matter settled, I had the sense that Vigalondo was trying to do something different here and that it just wasn’t working. None of the pieces fit together. This is a shame because if he’d wanted to make a serious movie about this kind of situation it had the potential to be something special. Even Sudeikis, cast way against type, might have worked as the heavy. But instead there’s a giant lizard fighting a giant robot and a gesture toward female empowerment, all interspersed with awkward attempts at humour. Not just a bad movie but a painful experience all around.