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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2020.7

Published by marco on

These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of around 1400 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood and. let’s be honest, level of intoxication. YMMV. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) — 7/10

Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Kevin Hart return to this sequel to the reboot. The kids are just as insipid as they were in the first movie, but that doesn’t matter because 90% of the action is “in the video game”, where the adult characters take over. The handsome Nick Jonas reprises his role as the relatively low-impact Seaplane, but the cast is joined and much-enhanced by the always-funny Awkwafina, who plays the token asian character Ming.

It’s a bit more mixed-up than that because this time they play with the notion of “avatars” more. Instead of just the original teenagers inhabiting characters, the game sucks in Spencer’s grandfather (Danny DeVito) and his former business partner (Danny Glover). While neither actor spends a lot of time on-screen, Johnson, Awkwafina, and Hart take turns playing as if the old men were inhabiting their bodies as players/avatars—with varying degrees of success.

It was nice to see Rory McCann outside of the role of The Hound from Game of Thrones, but he still played an outsized barbarian, so it’s not like he was breaking character much.

Spoiler alert: they win the game, but not before having to surmount several devious levels and learn a lot about themselves along the way. Spencer and Martha get back together. Hooray.

Vacation (2015) — 8/10

Ed Helms channels Chevy Chase and Christina Applegate channels Beverly D’Angelo. It’s not a 100% scene-for-scene remake, but just enough to get a few extra laughs for doing so.

They have a terrible rental car from Albania that yells at them in Korean. I lost my shit every time. The reenactment of the woman in the high-powered roadster was really funny. They stop at sister Audrey’s (Leslie Mann) home in Texas, visiting with uncle Stone (Chris Hemsworth). The film is a string of skits mostly, just like the original.

Chevy Chase and Beverly Dangelo come in at the end. Ed Helms (Rusty) played the role exactly the same as Chevy had played it 30 years ago. Because their car was no longer a going concern, Clark Griswold loans Rusty the old, green battlewagon to complete his trip to Wally World with his family.

El Hoyo/The Platform (2019) — 8/10

The narrator Goreng wakes. He is in a chamber, lying on a bed that is on one side of a rectangular hole. On the opposite side is another bed, with an older man Trimagasi sitting on it. To one side is the number 48 etched into the wall. To the other is a sink. The old man brings him up to speed on the situation: they are in a prison.

There are two prisoners per level. There are an unknown number of levels. No-one ever visits. There are no guards. The only way out is down, into the pit. Once per day, a platform lowers through the rectangle with food on it. The platform starts as a sumptuous feast at level 0 and loses its luster as it descends through the numerous levels, with the prisoners at each level taking whatever they want of whatever remains. If you keep food with you, the prison boils or freezes you until you either die, eat the food, or throw the food into the hole. Those at lower levels eat scraps or nothing at all. Or each other.

After one month, the prison is suffused with gas that knocks everyone out. Everyone wakes on a different level for the next month. Prisoners are kept together as long as they are both still alive.

The main character turned himself in because he wanted to stop smoking. He had no inkling what really went on. He took a book with him: Don Quixote. His cellmate Trimagasi has a Samurai Pro knife that never dulls and is very handy for surviving the lower levels, which no-one even pretends can be survived without some form of cannibalism.

There aren’t many characters: one mysterious lady Miharu who rides down the platform, slaughtering people with her own knife and supposedly searching for her child, though others swear that she arrived alone. After level 48, Trimagasi and Goreng end up on level 171. Goreng awakes gagged and tied to the bed—he sleeps too soundly and Trimagasi knows that the platform will hold no food for one month, so he’s keeping his food supply warm and unspoiled. Weeks later, as Trimagasi prepares his first sliver of flesh from Goreng’s leg, Miharu drops in and slays him.

They survive and awake on level 31, where Goreng is joined by a former guard Imoguiri who has brought her dog with her. She takes food for herself one day and food for her dog the next. She prepares plates for the floor below them, imploring them to do the same, to act in solidarity, to take only what they need, to not spoil or waste the food for the floors below. Miharu shows up again, injured. Goreng and Imoguiri tend to her, but Miharu abuses their hospitality by eating the dog.

Imoguiri and Goreng wake the next month on level 202 (revealing to us that there are more than 200 levels, as previously thought). Imoguiri has hanged herself, providing Goreng a food supply. Goreng awakes on level 6 with a new roommate: Baharat. With Baharat’s energy and enthusiasm, Goreng decides that they should descend all the way, on the platform, distributing food to ensure that everyone gets some.

Baharat agrees and ad-hoc decides that they should only hand out food starting at level 50—because everyone up to that level eats every day anyway. As they travel and enforce discipline, they change the plan to preserve a single panna cotta to bring back to level 0 and “prove” the humanity of the hole’s inhabitants to the chefs there. They pass through 200, then 250 levels, the platform sliding silently onward past levels with no survivors. On level 333, it stops, with no-one in evidence. Baharat and Goreng get off, desperately injured from their ride and from a pitched battle they’d waged in vain to save Miharu’s life many levels above.

The platform moves downward, stranding them. They discover Miharu’s daughter, hiding under a bed. They change their plan again, feeding her the panna cotta. They are delirious with hunger, injury and pain. The next day, Baharat is dead, but Goreng takes the girl onto the platform as it descends again, deeming her “the message” that he will bring to level 0 (in lieu of the panna cotta).

At the very bottom, Goreng steps off to join Trimagasi (presumably dying), while the platform shoots back up at incredible speed, transporting the “message” to the top.

Saw it in Spanish with English subtitles.

Curb Your Enthusiasm S10 (2019) — 9/10

Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Ted Danson, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, Richard Lewis, and J.B. Smoove reprise their roles from the increasingly sporadically filmed series (there were 8 seasons between 2000 and 2011), one more in 2017, and now this season in 2020). Larry David serves up tremendous writing and biting, insightful commentary on the weird world we all inhabit, but primarily the weird world that the obliviously privileged of the West Coast inhabit.

Everyone plays their role well, but Larry and J.B. Smoove just click—as does Jon Hamm, as Larry’s protegé in a couple of shows. As with Seinfeld, there is no overarching season plot, nor is there any lesson to be learned. Larry certainly never learns any lessons. He’s rich and can stumble around the world, turning over rocks and blowing through protocol wherever he pleases.

David puts together situations of shocking entitlement, but also subtle philophical nuance. For example, in one episode, he learns that his ex-wife’s sister is planning on selling her house—a house that he gave her fifteen years ago. He and Jeff both think that Larry should get the proceeds—or at least the principal back or maybe the profits. He argues that the gift was a house, not money. She can’t convert the house into money. But it’s her house—that’s what a gift is, right? And it’s not like she’s flipping the house—she’d lived in it for fifteen years.

He meets up with her and she’s a day-drinker who’s also a good crier, so she quickly convinces Larry to let her keep the house and the appreciation on it. They sleep together and Larry helps her clean up her pigsty of a house, as well. He even takes her to the airport when she goes on a ski trip to Colorado. She calls the next day from the slopes to tell him that she’s broken her leg. He promises to hop on the next flight. He can’t get a flight until 9PM because he needs a first-class seat. For various reasons, he’s late to the flight. He’s further delayed by the TSA and misses it, so he only shows up the next day.

Whereas we were kind of on her side at first, she lambastes him that he didn’t come sooner because “he’d promised”. Now she seems quite entitled for what amounted to a one-night-stand in exchange for a house, profits and … devotion? Larry David is incorrigible, but predictably so—he constantly shows himself to be a cad of the highest order, although his caddishness is constantly superseded by that of others, who are utterly oblivious to their shockingly self-centered behavior.

The theme is often one of Larry getting into incredible trouble (often financial, which doesn’t really affect him) for just trying to help, but then failing to do so in a way that satisfies the person he’s trying to help. He’s basically made a show about how awful “choosing beggars” are.

In episode nine, he ups the ante by befriending a woman who doesn’t have a car, then letting himself be shamed into buying a car by a dealer who knows that Larry’s just showing up with fake problems on his existing car to get the delicious licorice that the dealer has on the snack table. Since he bought a car he doesn’t need, and his new friend doesn’t even have a car, he just gives her his old car. She’s over the moon, of course. He’s already offered her a job in his “spite café”, so he’s really an angel to her.

Fifteen minutes later, she’s at an intersection, playing Candy Crush on her phone while driving and not noticing that it’s her turn to go. Larry is at the same intersection in his new car. He sees her playing on the phone and takes the right-of-way, but the car behind her beeps and she lurches into the intersection in a panic, slamming into Larry.

Now, instead of 15 years, it’s been 15 minutes. His car is ruined and needs to be towed. She offers to give him a ride home in “her” car. He tells her that he’s going to take his other car back because she destroyed his new one. She’s not hearing that because he can’t just take back the gift, can he? He capitulates and takes a ride home. He has to buy a new car, and will just get the car he had before.

A few days later, he calls her because she’s failed to show up to her job. She tells him she’d forgotten to inform him that she’s no longer going to work for him. She’s going to travel instead. With what money? Isn’t she broke? Didn’t he just give her a car to get to a job that he gave her? It turns out that she’s sold the car and will travel with the proceeds. He’d kept it pristine with low mileage, so she’d gotten a lot of money for it. That’s what he gets for trying to help people. They think of themselves only because they’re entitled to what they get. Also, he’s rich, right?

This show is really about the philosophy of a broken culture, where choosing beggars and raging egos abound, where an absolute bull-in-a-china-shop cad like Larry David ends up being the best of the bunch, ethically.

Pete Davidson: Alive From New York (2020) — 8/10

The production is interesting in that it dives right in without any preamble. It’s so jarring that I had to check whether I’d inadvertently skipped ahead by a few minutes (I had not). So Davidson jumps right into his set, riffing on his lifestyle and being on SNL and dating hot (and somewhat unstable) starlets and getting “accused” of having a big dick, which isn’t as great as you might think. He says it was a great move on Ariana’s part because now every girl that he gets with for the rest of his life will be vaguely disappointed. It’s a fiendishly long-range plan with decades-long legs.

Davidson’s got a laid-back delivery style and is charming as hell, as well as pretty damned funny. He didn’t try to stretch the special beyond the 49 minutes and that’s just fine.

The Gentlemen (2019) — 9/10

Guy Ritchie returns with a slick feature in his inimitable style. It’s a bit more refined than earlier romps like Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but still belongs firmly in that tradition. It stars Matthew McConaughey as Michael “Mickey” Pearson, an American ex-pat living in London, who, after growing up in the poor southern U.S., spent his late teens and early 20s at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship—but was really starting a marijuana-dealing business that blossomed into an empire a quarter-century later.

Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) is his right-hand man and Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) is his successful-in-her-own-right wife. Mickey is in the middle of trying to sell his business to Matthew (Jeremy Strong), who’s a Jewish-American investor with a shadowy past. Colin Farrell is Coach to the Toddlers, a madcap band of irreverent teenagers who Matthew hires through Dry Eye (Henry Golding), son of heroin king Lord George (Tom Wu), who’s jockeying to pick up Mickey’s business on the cheap.

In the middle of these machinations stands Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a reporter who thinks he’s got all the angles covered, but who’s instead blinded by his greed to the possibility that others might be just as clever and well-prepared as he is. That turns out to be the downfall of Matthew and Fletcher both: none of them considers the possibility that someone who’d cornered the entire pot market in England might not just be a lucky, stoned idiot.

There are a lot of great characters, nice dialogue, nice twists and turns and satisfying conclusions. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel S03 (2019) — 9/10

I found the severe character swing for Midge to be quite jarring. In the first two seasons, she was down-to-earth despite her upper-class upbringing. In this season, she’s a mirthless bitch who treats everyone like garbage while she flounces her entitled ass around the world, utterly unable to understand why her ex-husband and her parents don’t understand how inconvenient it is to her for them to no longer support her extravagant lifestyle.

At one point, she tells her ex-father-in-law Moishe that she hasn’t spent a dime of her earnings, so it’s unclear who’s buying her food and supporting her sartorial lifestyle. At another, she browbeats Joel about not sending their son to a school neither of them lives near anymore and neither one of them can afford. She won’t spend a dime of her money, but her dumb-ass son has to go to a great school. And then she tries to get “her apartment” back—because she obviously deserves it. She basically micromanages everyone around her—because obviously the world revolves around her.

Her father has quit Columbia, so her parents out of the apartment they’ve lived in for Midge’s entire life. She’s on tour with Shy Baldwin, who is quite sensitive and has a breakdown after he gets beat up by a one-night–stand (he’s black and gay in the late 50s/early 60s). He goes on hiatus for several months. Midge and Susie have to scramble and start doing radio advertising to make some scratch.

Susie is managing Sophie Lennon, but still living in her tiny apartment. It’s unclear how her gambling problem could possibly be losing her all the money she’s making from Sophie Lennon, at least. Midge has nearly no understanding for Susie’s position because she has never had any idea what it is to be truly poor. Susie understands Midge perfectly though:

Susie: She’s incredibly high maintenance. You have to feed her every two hours like a parking meter.”

Kevin Pollack (Moishe Maisel, Joel’s father) is a treasure. Abe (Tony Shalhoub) is still amazing, finding his younger self and trying to do something he’s proud of, but also aware that he needs to get himself and Rose back on their feet. For her part, Rose has broken ties with her obnoxious family, from whom she’d been getting money from her trust fund for decades.

Abe: I’m going to tutor.

Rose: Tutor what?

Abe: Idiots! The city’s teeming with them.”

Joel has grown and built up his own club, along with his friend Archie. He’s dating a young lady named Mei, who runs the Chinese gambling parlor in the basement below his club. She’s studying to be a doctor and is very funny, as well. Susie is getting more confident and inveigling her way into the Shy Baldwin crew. Shy’s manager Reggie (Sterling K. Brown), who’s a cold bastard to everyone else, takes a shine to Susie—he’s onto the fact that she has a debilitating gambling problem. Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) is amazingly suave (and Midge is stringing him along) and very funny. Benjamin—Midge’s fiancé doctor from season two—is still around and still very good and still trying to get Midge to be a good person.

In the finale, Midge kills at the Apollo, but isn’t ambiguous enough about Shy’s homosexuality during her set—and he throws he off the tour. Curtain.

Despite Midge’s decline, the show still bangs out beautiful set pieces like no other show on television. They go long minutes with cameras following characters through minutely detailed period pieces, one scene after another, with perfect music accompaniment. The dialogue writing is fantastic: most conversations are snappy and very funny—except for those in which Midge is overbearingly shitty—Midge’s routines are very good, and the soundtrack is mostly fabulous.

So Joel’s great, Abe’s great, Moise’s great, Rose is fantastic, (“The poor thing, to have a face like that and to be tall, so everyone sees it”), Susie is out-of-this-world funny, Lenny Bruce is great, and the set pieces and costumes are worth the price of admission—so what’s the problem? Midge thinks she’s infallible, treats a lot of people like her subjects, and gets away with murder. Her friend Imogene is not really that interesting, either. In the end, everyone else in the show is now funnier and quippier and more interesting than Midge. So I knocked off one point from the other seasons. It would have been two, because some of the whining was really tedious. Still highly recommended.

Emil: Encore Une Fois (2017) — (9/10)

Emil Steinberger is an absolute comedic legend in the cabaret scene in Switzerland. He’s been doing it for over 50 years and has many routines that he does again and again. They’re still funny today and he has quite a knack for making timeless bits. This works quite well in Switzerland, where things change only very slowly.

Quite some time ago, he started doing his routine in Française Federale, which is a stilted French that even I can understand. It’s not wrong, it’s just a bit slower, a bit more strongly enunciated and he sounds like any one of our politicians trying to reach across the Röstigraben. A good friend of my father’s (and mine, too) introduced me to his French version almost two decades ago, where I nearly died laughing at his Emil a la Poste (Emil in the post office, where he plays a less-than-adequately-intellectually-endowed postal-service worker).

His routines are quintessentially Swiss and almost more hilarious in French, as he sometimes struggles (or pretends to struggle) to make himself understood. He uses almost no props, other than a table (which he e.g. pretends is a windowsill from which the neighborhood snoop comments on all the neighbors) or several chairs (which becomes a train compartment where he’s a retiree regaling everyone with tales of the Wassen church and telling the hikers what to do). He has a great routine about cell phones and apps and users, another about a “blazer” (bläser, or leaf-blower).

He’ll occasionally break out into Swiss German, which usually earns a big laugh, which means his public is just as multi-cultural as he is. He’s very calm and measured and deeply funny. His humor is not political, it’s timeless, and could only offend the very sensitive. I’ll have to dig up a copy of this one in Swiss German so my wife can watch with me (her French is not quite there yet).

The show is from 2017 and Emil was 84 years old, but still going so strong.

Star Wars: Episode IX − The Rise of Skywalker (2019) — 6/10

I appreciate that there’s a certain poetry to having three trilogies equal nine movies, but this movie didn’t have to be made. No-one was worried at the end of the last one that Kylo Ren was going to take over the universe or that the emperor was going to come back. Luke Skywalker finished everything off with a tremendous and satisfying bad-ass maneuver that should have been the last word. The last movie, despite its extravagance, worked. This one does not.

This one is a ton of fan service, but with about two-dozen characters, so your head is spinning. It’s clearly a Disney movie written by a committee (even though there are only two writing credits). And nothing sticks. There is no lasting pathos. There is no engagement or worry that everything isn’t going to work out in the end.

Near the beginning, it looks like Rey killed Chewbacca, but she (and we) only had to suffer for what felt like less than a minute before it was revealed that he wasn’t even on that transporter (for unknown reasons). C3PO loses his memories, but we don’t have to worry about it for too long—after he’s initially mildly humorous about not knowing who anyone is, he gets a backup from Artoo that’s not even too far out of date.

The rebels take on the fleet, but they are absolutely helpless as long as the Emperor is alive and nearly godlike in his power, electrocuting vast swaths of space and ships with the swipe of his hand. Rey is also godlike, thanks to special lightsabers from Luke and Leia. It’s all so trite. I was wondering whether I was watching an anime or a children’s TV show. I didn’t care about anyone, except maybe Kylo Ren, who I honestly didn’t care if he was going to revert back to Ben or not because either version of him was pretty good.

Poor Rose was just wallpaper, seemingly retained as part of the ground crew to make sure that the Asian identity is adequately represented. Poe was dialed way back into utter blandness—he wasn’t even funny anymore. Finn was decent, but most of his scenes were with a new stormtrooper woman who’d also defected and who was a strong woman. They fought together, even though we’d barely gotten to know her. We barely got to know any of the characters. Keri Russell showed up as a female Boba Fett-substitute who popped her mask once when talking to Poe, just to show us that she was white and then appropriately hid her disgusting face again. She showed up at the final battle, but why should we care?

Poor Chewbacca was a non-entity and Lando Calrissian was doing his best Joe Biden impression. At least he’s actually still alive: they’re still milking scenes out of the Carrie Fisher estate for utterly mysterious reasons. Leia finally dies in nearly exactly the same way that Luke did at the end of the last movie, but with much less purpose. She died because her son Ben died, using the last of his Force energy to save and restore Rey. But the Force comes from everywhere, so how did he run out? We’d just watched Palpatine shock an entire space fleet over what looked like an entire AU of space and he was old AF and he didn’t seem to suffer for it.

The most telling bit is when you go to the cast list in IMDb and you realize that you didn’t know most of the characters’ names—even though they had them. For example, does anyone know who “Snap Wexley” is? He’s the chubby dude from Heroes. He flamed out in the last battle in a manner that made no-one at all care. This was right before Rey enacted yet another Deus Ex Machina to defeat the Emporer and win the day.

After that, we got to see fucking Ewoks celebrating, as if it wasn’t already obvious that the producers were trying to simultaneously rub one out for everyone who’s ever professed themselves a fan of Star Wars.

So, they saved the universe again and presumably for good this time. Don’t count on it, though. Disney hasn’t even begun to milk this property. I personally much preferred Rogue One or The Last Jedi.

La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) S01 (2017) — 5/10

I’ve watched most of season one and I long ago stopped searching for the appeal. The story is of a thief who had pulled off 18 heists with her boyfriend before she got him killed. She is drafted by El Profesor to take part in a giant heist that he’s been planning for half of his life. She is only one member of a larger team (nine people, I think? It’s honestly kind of hard to keep track.) They all take the names of cities so that they remain anonymous from one another. She is called Tokio. Despite her wealth of experience and despite having ostensibly spent five months preparing for the heist, it goes off the rails nearly immediately. Again, this despite El Profesor having been described as sooper-smart, except, presumably, when choosing people for the team that will execute the heist that is his life’s work.

Things go off the rails because Tokio is banging Rio, a much younger computer expert who literally has no job in the heist because they actively avoid computers and cell phones to avoid detection. At one point, he’s wiring some radios, I guess. At any rate, he basically has a lot of time to pretend that his feelings are more important than the €2.4 Billion they plan to steal. Considering the enormity of their goal, the lack of discipline on the part of several of the main characters is pretty off-putting.

Denver is a dipshit hired for his craziness and muscle who ends up torpedoing everything he does with his insecurity. Berlin is played by a good actor and also acts professionally. He keeps his eyes on the prize. El Profesor, for what it’s worth, does too. He jets around Madrid, cleaning up loose ends left by his team before the heist.

His main adversary is Raquel Murillo, a police negotiator who has a whole pile of baggage that is supposed to make her interesting. With all of this baggage to distract us, it’s never made clear why she’s considered to be so competent (other than just having told us she is). She fights with the inspector who is the head of the national police. She fights with her ex-husband, who used to beat her, and for whom she has a restraining order that she is seemingly unable to enforce.

There are a few hostages with names: Arturo, the head of the bank, who’s been boinking Monica on the side. Then there’s Alison Parker, the high-value asset who’s the daughter of the British ambassador and who’s been trapped in the museum by the thieves.

It just seems so disorganized from the get-go, despite the setup of super-brain in charge and months of preparation. How do things go off the rails? Rio gets out in front of the museum at the beginning and gets himself shot by the cops. Tokio flies into a rage and shoots the cops (only wounding them), but pretty much making it obvious that they’re in love. Berlin is super-unhappy with that, understandably. Moscou is Denver’s father and he’s not only a claustrophobic tunner-digger, he’s got a bit of a heart condition.

Berlin orders Denver to dispose of Monica, but he instead hides her in a vault, shooting her in the leg, which threatens her with sepsis. Nothing seems to be going right except the printing of the money: Nairobi is in a charge of that and seems to be getting it done, though she seems like a time-bomb, as well.

The overall feeling is one of meta-manipulation: each episode has at least one, if not several, ludicrous oversights on the part of the police or these supposedly hardened and hand-picked professional criminals. Why are the hostages allowed to roam around? E.g. when the group of kids corners Allison in the bathroom to kick her ass. Or why is Allison allowed to run away? Why isn’t she hobbled? Because the writers are using tedious incompetence to stir up artificial controversy that they can then solve in the nick of time or with some clever slight-of-hand by El Profesor.

There is a higher-level manipulation: the show foreshadows heavily to indicate that “the plan” will get better or even to suggest that, despite all of the idiocy of the participants, that it is somehow part of the plan so far. At the end of episode 10, they toast to the plan, reassuring us that all will revealed and that it will be awesome. I can’t help but think that this tactic works better at film-length. I could put up with Tokio playing a petulant bitch if I had a payoff within an hour or two. However, we’re forced to put up with long closeups of her insouciant face for hours and hours and hours with no end in sight. We’re left with deciding whether to cash in our chips or capitulate to sunken cost and hope that, in the end, it will have been worth it.

I just can’t get into it, really. Instead of a well-tuned group performing a heist, we have a group of barely competent people who are only unable to torpedo themselves because the cops are also caught up in one soap opera after another. I gave it an extra star because I’m learning more conversational Spanish, so that’s something.