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Solid though familiar end to the series
It seems that with every sequel to a film, the odds of infuriating series fans grows exponentially. Episode VII was lambasted for being a retread, Episode VIII was slammed for going too far astray from Star Wars' mythology, and IX has been eviscerated for going back to the VII retread approach. So you could say Star Wars sequels are a lose-lose proposition if not that they all make tons of money and are thus, ultimately, a win-win.
IX continues on with the story of conflicted chosen one Rey and conflicted evil one Kylo Ren against the backdrop of the approach of a final, obliterating Sith attack. The characters wander here and there seeking this and that and fighting this one and that one until they reach the big finish. Which is pretty much the description for every Star Wars movie.
The path of the conflicted duo is interesting, as are their long-distance battles. There are some nifty action scenes and the last half hour is big and exciting and dramatic.
On the downside, the movie's determination to include all the iconic characters from the original trilogy is nothing but strained and awkward fan service. And using cast-off footage of Leia to shoehorn her into the film doesn't work that well, since her responses are controlled not by the logic of the story or the character but by what footage they had on hand.
While I would have preferred the fresher approach of VIII, I understand the appeal of ending the series as mindlessly as it started, and of erring on the side of sentimentality; this series has been a big part of a lot of people's lives, after all.
While there were weak moments, overall I enjoyed this movie, and thought it was a solid ending for a series that has gone on forever. And with that story finally done, offshoots like The Mandalorian TV series can take the Star Wars world in all sorts of interesting directions.
preppy slice of life
Occassionally interesting portrayal of group of preppies going to their little inbred parties. They're a rather snotty, hypocritical bunch, which lessens one's wish to hang with them.
Little Women (2019)
Finally, a Little Women I enjoyed
My parents read Little Women to me when I was a child (I found it boring but have no memory beyond that), and I've seen three adaptations that I didn't care for, so I only watched this one because my girlfriend wanted to.
But much to my surprise, this was much better than what I recall of the rest.
In my head, Little Women is the story of one interesting character, Jo, and a set of frilly girls who left no impression. But instead of offering one tomboy and a bunch of girly-girls, director Gerwig offers a rambunctious tribe. There is a physicality to all the girls I only remember Jo having, and while this makes Jo stand out a little less, it gives the story a lot more drive.
And while I've felt Little Women always pushed a "real writers don't write pirate stories" moral that I find objectionable, this version has a more nuanced view that is more about the reasons a writer might organically change genres.
While the non-linear story sometimes had me confused, and while Soirse Ronan's Jo isn't as compelling as Katherine Hepburn's overall this is easily the best version of Little Women. Definitely worth watching (although I am torn between giving it a 7 and an 8).
Rock Follies (1976)
Adored this when I was 18, but now I only adore the soundtrack
I saw this as a teenager and thought it was fantastic. I recall it being a hilarious and involving story of a struggling girl group. I loved the songs and bought the album, and it's one of my favorite albums to this day.
43 years later I watch it again, and, well, it's awful.
At least the first episode is awful. I stuck with it for nostalgia's sake and it does pick up as it moves away from the Little Ladies pre-rock life to their time on the road. Most of the acting is weak, but Dee Covington is terrific as the edgiest member (she's also easily the best singer, later having a hit with Don't Cry for Me Argentina).
Their adventures are a mix of awful clubs, awful men, awful money men, awful choreography, way too many long speeches on this and that, and really terrific songs by Andy McKay (all the songs were apparently rerecorded for the album except Glenn Miller is Missing, and while the originals aren't as polished they're still generally quite good).
The great irony of Rock Follies is it's a series about the powerlessness of talented nobodies and the ways they are chewed up and spat out, and the idea for the series was actually stolen from a group called Rock Bottom, which came up with the idea as a vehicle for themselves and were quite upset to see it wind up as a vehicle for others (they eventually won a lawsuit). It's exactly the sort of thing that would happen in the series, and it's amazing to consider people creating a show critiquing the exact sort of exploitation they were involved in.
I saw the second season of Rock Follies years after the first, and I thought it was a terrible follow up, but now that I realize the original wasn't that good I suppose the sequel may have been about equivalent.
I don't know how much of my disappointment in this series is the difference between me at 18 and 60, and how much is that the quality of TV was so much worse in the 70s that there was a pretty low bar. Ultimately, the 17-year-old me recommends this, the 60-year-old me says don't bother, and both of us encourage you to get the soundtrack.
first episode was pretty good
In this modern world of endless brilliant sitcoms, the first episode of Mythic Quest was good enough to consider watching a second episode but not quite good enough to actually do so. It's got some good laughs, but also some dry periods, it's a decent premise, the acting's good. It's all perfectly fine. If it improves it might turn out to be really good.
Definitely worth checking out to see what you think.
Knives Out (2019)
The whodunit is one of modern cinema's most underserved genres, and it's always exciting when someone decides to make one.
The movie features an excellent performance by Daniel Craig as a laid back southern detective plus a bunch of other excellent performances by the suspects. The movie is mildy satiric of the wealthy, but mainly it's about the mystery and the characters.
While I liked this movie, I didn't like it quite as much as I expected to considering I love whodunits and it got rave reviews. It's no Last of Sheila. But it is the best whodunit that's come out for years and very entertaining.
Frozen II (2019)
In Frozen II, the various characters from the first movie wander through an unfocussed story about magic and war and whatnot. While the first movie had strong character arcs, this movie doesn't really take the characters anywhere. And like the first movie, there are plenty of things that don't make sense plotwise. As for the songs, there are way too many and none are as good as Let It Go.
That being said, Olaf is still hilarious and the animation is terrific.
Basically just an okay kids movie that doesn't come close to the magic of the original.
Income Inequality: The Movie
This fascinating South Korean film starts with a poor family scheming to get jobs with a rich family but eventually becomes something much darker and weirder. A very pointed exploration of the class/wealth divide, the movie is not just about personal tragedy but about societal tragedy.
At the same time, it's also at times quite funny and exciting, and it's beautifully shot and acted.
Thought-provoking and compelling, it's that rare movie that actually deserved all the awards it won.
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Brilliant dark comedy
Jojo Rabbit skillfully offers the eccentric story of a 10-year-old German boy who worships Hitler - and has him for a genial imaginary friend - against the horrific backdrop of World War II in the third Reich's final days.
The cast is excellent, with Roman Griffin Davis appealing as the little Nazi whose better angels sometimes peak out, Thomasin McKenzie as a feisty Jewish girl in hiding, Scarlett Johansson as Jojo's sweet, stylish mother, Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson as Nazi kooks, and director Taika Waititi as imaginary Hitler.
The movie manages to walk a very fine line between wacky comedy and searing horror. It is sometimes painfully intense and heartbreaking, but it is also at times genuinely funny.
Qiu Ju da guan si (1992)
First Zhang Yimou's I've given up on
Zhang Yimou has made some movies I've loved, and some movies I could do without, but this is the first one I've come across that I stopped watching in the middle of.
While billed as a "comedy," there's nothing especially funny in this slice-of-live drama about a woman determined to force an apology out of the village chief. It's basically a bunch of taciturn people bundled up for the winter frowning and chatting.
Certainly this is a good movie to get a sense of 1990s China, since it portrays both the simple, basic country life while also showing you the cities. And it does give a sense of the Chinese justice system, which is certainly bureaucratic but actually seems more reasonable than you would expect from most western portrayals of communism.
But it's just very dull, and comedy or not, the lives of the protagonists seem tedious and bleak.
I know it's a big art-house hit, but for me this is very skippable.
Ugetsu monogatari (1953)
I know it's a classic, but I just don't like it at all
My introduction to Japanese cinema was as a teenager when PBS showed a bunch of classic Japanese films like Rashomon. One of them was Ugetsu, and I just couldn't understand why it was considered a classic, because I thought it was quite dull. 40 years later I decided to give it another chance, and nope, I just don't like it.
The movie is atmospheric, and scenes like the one on the fog-shroud water look good, but I couldn't get into the story. Much of the issue was I didn't connect with any of the characters. The wives were long-suffering, the men each had one ambition - money, glory - and neither of them is admirable or relatable. The story itself is disjointed and there's a decided lack of motivation for anyone.
I know I slogged through this whole thing 40 years ago, but this time I dropped out about a third of the way through. I just don't get the appeal.
My Life Is Murder (2019)
I really like Lucy Lawless, and I really like murder mysteries, and I found the first episode of this so dull and pointless that I gave up after maybe 15 minutes. Let me explain why:
The series begins with Lawless flirting with some gigolo. It's clearly aiming to be wittily suggestive but it just wasn't interesting so I was already having doubts.
Then we learn she's an ex-cop and a friend and current cop asks for her help with a murder. She's not interested, but he leaves her the case files and, of course, she starts to investigate. The problem is, it's unclear why. There's absolutely nothing intriguing about the case, and she makes it clear she's not interested in freelancing, and then she just goes ahead and investigates.
I kept watching a bit more but it continued to be this mix of bland dialogue and people doing the things people do in shows like this without having any real motivation for doing them. I can see no reason to watch any more.
Greener Grass (2019)
starts like a long, weird, comedy sketch
When I saw the intriguing and very peculiar trailer for this movie I had hopes that it was another "Sorry to Bother You." Alas, based on the first 20 minutes this is considerably slighter fare.
What it reminded me of was an extra weird sketch from a sketch series like Portlandia or Baroness von Sketch. You know how there are all these really funny sketches and then there's one that seems to just be weird for the sake of being weird? That's Greener Grass.
Unfortunately I just didn't laugh much. Perhaps it would have worked better if, like "Sorry to Bother You," the weirdness had been built up to. Instead, you just find yourself in this world where no one is acting like real people, as though aliens are doing a bad imitation of humans. Which for all I know is actually the plot, since I got bored after 20 minutes.
I can totally see people really loving this. But I don't think I'm one of those people.
The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
exhausting and somewhat perplexing, with moments of brilliance
Years ago I saw a documentary that included a scene from a never-released Orson Welles film, The Other Side of the Wind. It was remarkably modern, a kaleidoscopic, eccentric work that was surprising for someone Welles age.
It wasn't until 2020 that I learned the film had actually been pulled together and released.
The cinema-verite style is explained as the result of pulling together footage from various documentarians and journalists video. The film begins with various hangers on of a famous director traveling to his party while elsewhere an investor is watching footage from his current, unfinished film.
This is actually the weakest part of the movie. The individual scenes are confusing and the way they are intercut with the film-within-a-film just add to the confusion. Apparently Welles had rough-cut about half the movie by the time he died, and my suspicion is this first part was not part of that rough cut, since it's weaker. Just a guess.
The film-within-a-film seems to be a parody of trippy, avant-garde, 60s filmmaking. I take it as Welles' portrayal of an old director past his glory days trying to create something hip.
The movie gets its footing when the director's party starts. There is a lot of striking B&W footage cut in and John Huston as the director is a powerful force. The party is to screen his movie, such as it is, and while it is essentially a plotless bit of nonsense with tons of gratuitous nudity, it does have some striking imagery, such as a scene set in slatted shadows and another involving a beaded necklace.
The surrounding film doesn't have much story. It's mainly about the director charming or dueling with various characters who want something from him. Things are hinted but rarely spelled out.
Welles was a genius, so even his worst movies, like Mr. Arkadin, are splashed with brilliance. Other Side of the Wind has a remarkable style and is generally fascinating, but it's not always satisfying and the film-within-a-film takes up more time than it probably should have.
If you're a fan of Orson Welles, or just a fan of cinema, this is a must-see. Yes, the movie would have been more impressive if it had been released in the early 70s, when it was filmed, but even today in a world full of found-footage movies this is still remarkable.
unwatchable crap from the master
Because Orson Welles was one of the greatest cinematic geniuses of all time, and produced so little, the temptation is to see everything he ever made. Unfortunately, a lot of what one hopes will be hidden gems turn out to instead be cheap, poorly conceived shorts of the quality of a mediocre student film.
The first part of London is Welles doing a bunch of Churchill quotes. It's choppy and haphazardly filmed. This is followed by some attempt at Monty Pythonesqe humor with Welles dressed as a flower lady. It's neither funny nor coherent.,
I gave up in the middle of that second sequence. It's just all so wretched.
more Ally McBeal than Crazy Ex Girlfriend, but I'm somewhat intrigued
So far there's just the one episode, and with that I'm on the fence. The lead is slightly annoying, the premise is lazily set up, and it's utterly predictable. On the other hand, Alex Newell is a lot of fun and the musical numbers are pretty good (love the choreography on that one with the guy only pretending to be nice).
It reminds me of those slick, utterly false shows like Ally McBeal and Picket Fences that only pretend to be quirky, but it's good enough to watch a second episode whenever that happens.
a series where life is as terrible and overwrought as every teen thinks their life is
This stylishly-filmed angst-fest follows a variety of morose high-schoolers as they deal with addiction, self-esteem issues, and the local neighborhood psychopath. The first season is reminiscent of the UK series Skin's first, best, season.
Hormones make teenagers feel like everything in their life is huge and dramatic and intolerable; this series is about people who really are coping with all sorts of soul-crushing things.
It's also a very glamorized version of teen angst. Everyone is beautiful, the cinematography is sometimes stunning, the girls apparently spend twelve hours a day watching youtube make-up tutorials, and everyone is having lots of sex (trivia: something like 20% of teens are having 90% of teen sex; none of the other 80% are in this series). Zendaya is terrific as the head angster, as is Barbie Ferreira as the token not-skinny girl, who has perhaps the most interesting and unlikely story arc.
It's a really fun series, and for all it's over-the-top ridiculousness, it also captures a lot of the sadness, confusion, and isolation of being a teenager. I'd recommend checking it out.
a creepy mystery that keeps you guessing
I found the first episode of Servant so fascinating that I insisted my girlfriend watch it while I rewatched it. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, it's weirdly unsettling: the guy is weirdly hostile, the woman is weirdly nervous and excited, and the girl is weirdly low-key. Shyamalan keeps the camera too close as the premise rolls out.
Starting as a series about a nanny hired to take care of a doll used to help a grieving mother cope, Servant takes a series of left turns that leaves you curious and perplexed. There are weird incidents and reveals through the season (excepting one episode in the middle in which basically nothing important happens - what's up with that?).
The ending is, I must admit, disappointing. A lot of questions are raised during the series, and a number are answered, but the last part is just .. what? Huh?
Even though the series left me not so much curious about season 2 as suspicious that the creators are just messing with the audience, I still found this tremendously enjoyable.
Bob Hearts Abishola (2019)
sweet, funny sitcom has an old-school structure but a refreshing multi-culti attitude
This is the sort of conventional, old-fashioned sitcom I generally avoid. But the series has several things going for it. First off, it's genuinely funny. Second, it is a remarkably successful attempt to take on the cultural disparity of the American melting pot. Cultures meld and collide, issues are raised like it's a Norman Lear sitcom, and all the while you've got this lovely, genial romance between two pleasant, genuinely sweet people.
It's not the best comedy on TV, but ultimately it's got more going on than you might expect.
When They See Us (2019)
Grueling, important, and hard to watch
When They See Us could best be described as "should-watch TV." It's an important illustration of a horrific miscarriage of justice that reveals the rot and racism at the center of the American justice system. It's well done and well acted. So you absolutely *should* watch this. But it is an unrelentingly grim, slow-motion horror series that requires a high tolerance for deeply depressing dramatic works.
And I'm going to be honest, the first episode was enough. It took me *months* to bring myself to watch *that*, and the idea of watching the rest is as appealing as being hit repeatedly in the face for an hour.
I know, watching this series is nothing compared to what its protagonists went through, and I really *should* watch this. But I just don't have the tolerance for uber-depressing movies that I had when I was young.
The unfortunate thing is that probably the people who watch this are the people fully aware of the horror and injustice and racism of the system. The people who really need to understand it aren't even going to *try.*
Avenue 5 (2020)
hilarious series is, yes, almost as good as Veep
I am perplexed by the mixed reviews this series has gotten. It's a great example of Iannucci's hilarious approach to comedy, the cast is terrific, and the satire of corporate incompetence is as sharp as Veep's political satire.
Are the first episodes of Avenue 5 as good as the final episodes of Iannucci's Veep? No, but neither were the first episodes of Veep. But Veep was good from the beginning, and so far I'm every bit as pleased with this one.
Recommended to lovers of comedy sci-fi and people who miss Veep and are okay with something that's not a clone of it.
The Outsider (2020)
slow, ponderous start
This series starts dark and unpleasant as it moves at its glacial pace to wherever it's heading. Apparently that is, eventually, a supernatural story, but this series apparently doesn't think that's ever worth foreshadowing. This suggests that they think you'll be drawn in by the mood, characters, and mystery, and at the end of the first episode I had little interest in any of them.
Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
funny though lightweight and forgetable
This fun zomedy sequel follows the further adventures of the folks from the first movie, which I saw long ago that I can't really compare it with this one.
Anyway, this is about 90% comedy with a few action scenes. The action scenes I can take or leave, but the silly comedy is very funny, and Zoey Deutch is absolutely hilarious as a sexy airhead.
I wouldn't say it's memorable, it hasn't got much of a story, but it's full of laughs.
The Irishman (2019)
Well acted, thoughtfully crafted, painfully slow
Martin Scorcese is not the first elderly director who decided to slow things down. It's not uncommon; age seems to cause some auteurs to become fascinated by the slow pace of real life and try and emulate it in film.
Anyway, The Irishman is slow. It's a fairly interesting story with interesting very well-acted characters, but every scene plays out fully; you don't just get the basics, you get all the digressions and pauses and irrelevant asides. Any ten-minute scene in the film would be a five-minute scene in most movies.
What happens in these slow scenes is sometimes very interesting. And at times there is a horror underneath that is underlined by the calm, leisurely attitude of the principles. But this all still requires a lot of patience. And I've always preferred Scorcese's fast-moving films (After Hours, Taxi Driver) to his slow ones (Raging Bull, Last Temptation of Christ).
Maybe at 60 I'm just not old enough for this movie. Sure, it's interesting to watch a movie that follows gangsters from brutal youth to doddering age, but it's not *that* interesting. Maybe it will be in another 20 years.
I know it's supposed to be a brilliant work of cinema, but personally I'd say skip it unless you really like slow-paced movies.
The Addams Family (2019)
has its moments, but too few
This version of The Addams Family takes its look from the original Charles Addams and it characters and many gags from the TV series, but it doesn't seem to entirely understand either, resulting in a movie of broad, often juvenile humor without a consistent vision.
The original cartoons were essentially about odd people with odd tastes. The TV series built on this, creating a fully fleshed-out family of cheerful iconoclasts. The Addams Family was a bunch of friendly people completely aware of how little they fit into their suburban American world. The people they met seemed odd, and they never thought they themselves might be the odd ones.
The movie starts with the Addamses facing torch-wielding villagers. They are hunted and hated and dream of a peaceful life. So a series whose main joke was that its characters thought they were the only normal ones because a story about people who know they are the freaks.
This wouldn't be a fatal flaw if the movie was funnier. There are genuinely hilarious moments, like the frog-dissection scene, but in between hilarity there are all these familiar gags unlikely to appeal to anyone older than twelve.
This is unfortunate, because a distinguishing feature of the cartoons, the TV series, and the live-action film is they all were the product of smart writing. Making this movie the first dopey Addams Family production I've encountered.
Perfectly watchable, really, if you have the patience for it, but not the Addams I know and love.