Movie Diary

a) Kingsman: The Secret Service
My wife and I went out for dinner and a movie, as we often do, without any real set idea of what movie to see. So this was our last minute "what the hell" choice, and I was really happy with it, easily one of the best popcorn action flicks I've seen in the last few years. I didn't really know anything about it, or its source material, other than that the trailer looked fun (and I didn't realize that it's done pretty well at the box office, which is good to know, I went in thinking it had probably already flopped). It's very much an old-fashioned spy movie romp, more like old Bond flicks than recent ones, and sometimes gets a little too self-referential about that, and sometimes the CGI looks kind of cheesy. But the action and the comedy are very well balanced, Colin Firth gets to kick a lot more ass than you'd probably expect, Samuel L. Jackson has more fun than he's had in a while, Taron Egerton is a surprisingly strong lead for a relative newcomer, and Sofia Boutella is a fantastic villainess.

b) Belle
I remember a few years ago when networks kept putting Gugu Mbatha-Raw in doomed shows like "Undercovers" and "Touch" and she seemed inevitably destined for bigger and better things, and I'm glad it's finally happening for her with movies like Beyond The Lights and this. It was an interesting movie, in that it extrapolated a whole fictional plot out of a famous painting, and made it a pretty thought-provoking examination of slavery-era history. Didn't find it especially compelling as drama, but it was well made.

c) The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Perhaps no major franchise reboot has ever worked less to differentiate itself from the story or overall style of the previous incarnation as Andrew Garfield's Spidey has from Tobey Maguire's. It's almost an uncanny valley. The most entertaining thing about these movies is that they were directed by a guy with the last name Webb. That said, Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborne is really intense and over-the-top, and a huge step up from boring-ass James Franco. DeHaan was also extremely creepy in Chronicle and I wouldn't mind him making a career out of angsty villains like that.

d) Grand Budapest Hotel
This didn't feel quite as much like a collection of Wes Anderson's habitual tics dancing around and pretending to be a "story" with "jokes" and "characters" and "emotions" as Moonrise Dorsal Fin Pajama Party or whatever did. But it was still pretty damn inert and devoid of personality. I'm starting to feel bad for any talented actor that gets hired to stand around in his movies like I do with later Woody Allen flicks.

e) Under The Skin
I knew this movie got a ton of good reviews and that it was directed by a guy who'd done some hip music videos in the '90s. But if I'd realize Jonathan Glazer was the guy who did "Rabbit In Your Headlights" and "Karma Police," I probably would've known to expect how elliptical and ponderous this movie was. It was pretty intriguing at times, and there were 2 or 3 incredibly odd, visually disturbing scenes that made the whole thing at the very least a pretty stirring aesthetic experience. But it also felt like 10 minutes' worth of story stretched across a movie that danced on the border between 'minimalist' and 'boring.'

f) One Direction: This Is Us
I figured that I might as well watch this movie, since I've spend so much time listening to One Direction's albums lately without having more than the vaguest idea of who these guys are, what they look like, or who sings what parts of what songs. So this was at least fun for getting a little of their polished backstory and a little of the group's personality and hearing some good songs live, although the movie is from after their 2nd album, and the 3rd and 4th ones are my favorites. The part where they cover "Teenage Dirtbag" is pretty unexpected and fun, and I don't even really like that song.

g) Greetings From Tim Buckley
At this point, I hate biopics, and especially musical biopics, so much that I wouldn't wish them on any artist I actually listen to. But once upon a time, I kinda hoped that James Ransone (Ziggy Sobotka from "The Wire") would play Jeff Buckley in whatever inevitable movie they made about him, both because of the physical similarity and because Ziggy had the kind of animated, obnoxious quality that Buckley always seemed to have in live recordings and various anecdotes about him. Penn Badgley, as it turns out, was not a bad casting choice, although I feel like he gets maybe 80% of the way to convincingly capturing Buckley's voice and personality in a way that just makes the other 20% more glaring and missed. There's a scene where he sings in a record store that is just painful. But that's really the least of the movie's problems, because the whole thing managed to feel both largely fabricated and really underwritten and dull. If you're gonna make up a bunch of dialogue and details and a whole love interest subplot out of thin air, you should at least make them compelling.

h) Hellbenders
For our annual Valentine's Day tradition of ordering Chinese food and watching horror movies, this year my wife and I looked around at the options on cable, and impulsively decided on this low budget horror comedy, in which Andre Royo was the closest thing to a known star. It was pretty gorey and had an entertaining, original premise. But in the unfortunate tradition of horror comedies, it wasn't especially funny or especially scary.

i) Serial Mom
Having seen a lot of other John Waters movie but somehow never getting around to this one until now, it's interesting to view it in retrospect as kind of a unique turning point in his career. It was the point in his career when he still had enough afterglow from Hairspray that people were willing to give him a fairly big chunk of money to make a movie, but he was starting to get back into doing really twisted, profane stuff, just with a bigger budget and bigger stars than before. I remember thinking the premise of the movie was kind of silly and one-note when I saw ads for it, but now I'm actually kind of shocked with how far they push the language and the violence and how insanely committed Kathleen Turner is to her performance.
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