Thursday, February 17, 2022

Movies and TV Since the Last Time

 The Courier (2020) Benedict Cumberbatch in an excellent retelling of the Penkovsky spy situation that took place around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cumberbatch plays a British businessman recruited my M.I.6 to act as the go-between with Penkovsky. A perfect example of how to build and sustain tension and suspense without blowing shit up.


Green Zone (2010) Based on another true story, this time set in the early days of the Iraq War. Matt Damon plays a warrant officer caught between politics, the media, and the CIA agent (Brendan Gleeson) who’s trying to make things come out right. Lots of shit blows up here, but never gratuitously. Well worth your time.


Galaxy Quest (1999) I forget how many times I’ve seen this*, and it’s always fun. If you haven’t seen it, you should, especially if you’re a Trekkie and have a sense of humor. (* - Note to Mike Dennis: Not as many times as L.A. Confidential.)


Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary (2019) First time for this one and it changed my attitude about cosplay. The film not only tells much of how Galaxy Quest was made, it explores the word of cosplayers with a humorous, yet sympathetic light. Galaxy Quest devotees will probably enjoy it more, but, then again, shouldn’t everyone be a Galaxy Quest fan?


Bad Santa 2 (2016) I didn’t even know there was a Bad Santa 2 until I stumbled onto this while searching streaming services for the original. The rare sequel that’s as much fun as the original, with humor at least as outrageous.


We Were Soldiers (2002) Maybe the best film I’ve seen about what it’s like to be a conscientious military commander. Closely based on a true story, the movie shows the Vietnam War battle for Ia Drang, the first time helicopters were used to ferry infantry to and from a battlefield, and all the plusses and fuck-ups that entails. Mel Gibson and Sam Elliott are excellent as the commander and his sergeant major; Greg Kinnear shines in one of his first dramatic roles as a chopper pilot. Fair warning: this is not the easiest movie to watch, as it’s horribly gruesome in places.


Don’t Look Up (2021) Don’t look at this piece of shit at all. I lived through the eras of such brilliant satires As Dr, Strangelove, Catch-22, M*A*S*H, Wag the Dog, and Primary Colors, and have unfortunately lived long enough to see this ham-handed effort to point out what’s wrong with the world today. It’s been a while since I saw so much acting talent wasted like this. I suppose everyone felt good about coming down on the right side of this discussion. If only they’d decided to make a good movie while they were at it.


Gladiator (2000) Made when Russell Crowe was arguably the biggest star in Hollywood, Gladiator is among the reasons he earned the spot. Joaquin Phoenix is repulsively squishy as the new emperor and Connie Nielsen as his equally scheming sister, but everything in the movie revolves around what to do about Maximus (Crowe). A damn near perfect example of telling a compelling story in a compelling manner. Was I not entertained? Damn right I was.


The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window (2022) Not a movie, but a short (3 ½ hours) streaming series from Netflix. IMDB lists the genres as “Comedy Crime Drama Mystery Thriller.” If you think that combo equates to a mess, you’re not far off. It’s presented as a comedy, but much of the early “humor” derives from a woman who is going insane from grief, which has about as much comedy potential as AIDS. (Things get rolling at 30 seconds into the video.) The comedy picks up as the show goes along, but even then it’s too more clever than laugh-out-loud funny.


Striking Distance (1993) Never watch a movie because you learned a fifteen-second scene took place a mile from where you grew up. This one’s a stinker from the get-go, despite the formidable supporting cast of Dennis farina, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Sizemore, John Mahoney, Andre Braugher, and Robert Pastorelli. The film gets the Pittsburgh look well, but not much else. The plot is a mess, the dialog is typical of the renegade cop genre, and the excellent cast is given little to work with.


Gorky Park (1983) William Hurt plays Arkady Renko in this adaptation of Martin Cruz Smith’s novel. I saw it in a theater during its original release and thought it would be a nice palate cleanser after the disaster that was Striking Distance. Alas, it did not hold up well, despite the best efforts of Lee Marvin and Brian Dennehy. The film leaves too many plot particulars to the imagination, especially the key reveal of the plot behind everything else, which Dennehy hands to Renko on a platter with us having no idea how an American detective operating as a tourist in the USSR could have discovered it. These back-to-back failures got me suspended from picking movies for a while.







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