Follow by Email

My thoughts about movies and TV shows I've been watching

See also my blog on books: Elliot's Reading

Friday, June 23, 2017

The good and the bad about the conclusion of House of Cards Season 5

So we continue deliciously loathing the Underwoods right through to the end of House of Cards Season 5 (plenty of spoilers to come) when newly sworn in president Claire declares "My turn," but didn't the final episode(s) strain credulity even for this over-the-top series? Doug as the source of the leaks to the Washington Post about the death of Zoe Barnes (even at Frank Underwood's order?): nobody would leak to the press under any circumstances info that could link him to a series of murders. And FU explaining to Claire that he orchestrated his own downfall to advance her to power and bring him to an even more powerful position in the private sector? That's completely idiotic; he's damaged, maybe indictable now; if brnging CU to power was his goal he would have pushed her to run. Nobody, least of all FU, takes the fall like that. And Claire killing Tom Yates? Much as I hated their relationship - was it supposed to be passionate? or were we meant to see this "love affair" as ludicrous? - no vice-president is going to flat out murder someone in a Georgetown mansion and then call on an aide to get rid of the body - let alone killing a prominent writer and speechwriter for the VP. Speaking of which, the mansion own and political fixer Mark Usher is not a credible portrayal of a Washington insider and deal-maker to me; he's not suave, cool, or scary enough (though he had one good scene with the unctuous Rep. Romero). And now Leeanne (a great role of Neve Campbell) is dead apparently - wouldn't all these deaths of White House senior staffers draw a cascade of media coverage? All that said, the show held my interest throughout, as we wait for the Zoe Barnes hammer to drop - hard to see how CU can issue a pardon that will cover a murder committed before he was President. And you have to love the veiled or not-so-veiled contemporary references throughout, especially the speech about President Underwood: He has no moral compass, will just say or do whatever will keep him in power. Hm.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Another film I stopped watching half-way through

About one hour in to the 2016 Korean film Right Now, Wrong Then we had a power failure, but that's just as well - I was about to eject the dvd at that point anyway. What's all this about?: The first hour of the movie show us a famous art-film director arriving in a small city in Korea for a film festival that's screening his latest movie and at which he will speak to the audience. After some initial awkward flirtation with the young woman assigned to be his guide, he walks through the (strangely deserted) streets and eventually meets a young woman at a small temple. She tells him she's an artist; she's heard of the director, Ham, but never seen his work. Eventually they go to her studio, where he lavishes praise on her paintings. Then they go out for sushi and drinks; he becomes drunk (he's actually a good actor - handles the drunk scene really well, and he's good at the awkward flirtation), and then they go to a gathering of a few of her friends, where one friend puts him down mercilessly. Flash ahead to the film screening, at which he utters some inanities (later claiming he's still drunk) and spats w. the moderator. The end of part 1. Part 2 begins w/ exactly the same shot sequence, but where it was obviously heading was same people, different outcomes. Has this ever been done before? About a million times! And it can work, if the story is in the least interesting, if the character is in the least engaging, if it's not all based on navel-gazing and self-reference. I knew I'd seen another film by this director - Sang-soo Hong - and had to look it up but it was The Day He Arrives - same stupid premise, a film director arrives in Seoul to meet w/ his former (?) students and they go through a series of scenes, each w/ same setting but slightly different nuances and outcomes. For me: Same outcome; I didn't finish watching that one either (no power outage, though).

Monday, June 19, 2017

Loving to hate the loathsome characters in Season 5 of House of Cards

I've been remiss in posting on Season 5 of House of Cards, and we've now watched I think 10 of the episodes. I can't really understand why there have been generally negative reviews of this season. Anyone who's gone this far w/ the Underwoods knows what to expect from them: ruthless behavior, lack of compassion for anyone, duplicity, scheming, a commitment to each other that's formidable but completely without love or passion. To know them is to loathe them - and Season 5 gives that to us in spades, so to speak. The topical allusions to the current administration of 45 are a troubling, and our only hope in that regard is the 45 has nowhere near the malevolent competence of Francis Underwood. Some of the most amusing scenes, to me, are the intimate scenes between Claire (Robin Wright) and her "speechwriter" and erstwhile novelist Tom Yates - they are the coldest, least passionate couple I've ever seen on screen, intentionally, I hope and believe. The central drama of season 5 entails the gradual tightening of the noose around Underwood's neck as the Washington "Herald" moves forward with its investigation of the death of Zoe Barnes and of the prostitute, Rachel, whom Doug Stamper had offed in an earlier season. These people will do anything to attain and retain power - but truth will out.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The take on Season 2 of Fortitude: The good, bad, and ugly

By the end of Season 2 of Fortitude, it's clear this mini-series is a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly. First, the good: There are some terrific plot lines and some strong characters across the two seasons. Everything that focuses on a major unsolved murder in the small Norwegian island outpost of Fortitude, the investigation of the murder - particularly by Stanley Tucci, an outsider sent in to solve the case, and all the complications of life in a small Arctic outpost about about 700 people, including the politics of building a tourist hotel on the glacier, the uncovering of a herd of mammoths because of the ice melt, the strange disease contracted by those in contact with the mammoths, the scientific investigation into the disease which turns victims into flesh eating monsters, the web of relationships and broken relationships, all intensified by the remote setting -- all this is to the good. Plus Sheriff Dan Anderson (at least in season 1) and governor Hilder Odergard (sp?) are really great characters (and Tucci as well). But, the bad: By season 2 a new and unwelcome element is introduced as a "shaman" turns up with magical powers that he wants to use to purge the community of the disease, and there's all kinds of nonsense and hocum about the supernatural and mystical cults of the native Sami, potions involving reindeer urine and body parts - the plot just reels out of control and into the absurd. Also, though I give the creator (Simon Donald) credit for being willing to get rid of major characters when the plot so requires, by the end of Season 2 all the best characters are gone, in one way or another. Dennis Quaid does not carry the show for me at all, though they may have felt they needed a well-known actor in at least one role. Finally, the ugly: I consider myself reasonably tolerant of blood and gore but in practically every episode there's an eye-closing sequence, sometimes an entire scene, involving violent physical attacks, cannibalism, ghastly surgery, or self-mutilation. So, be warned. We may peak at Season 3 but honestly I can't imagine another 10 episodes - sometimes less is more, and for too often good initial programs themselves into the ground after Season 1 (see, The Killing, Damages, Huff, for some examples).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tampopo now feels dated, and the comedy falls flat

The 1986 Japanese comedy Tampopo, about a group of truck drivers, devotees of ramen and noodle shops, help the woman who runs a highway truck stop noodle shop turn her business into a first-class operation - or at least that's what I surmise it's about from having watched only the first half or so. In its day this was considered a daring, rule-breaking comedy - as the truck drivers are a contemporary take on the Samurai and an Asian take on Western cowboys - riding into town and shaking things up and righting the wrongs (protecting the shop-owner's bullied son, e.g.). Today, the scenes of their putting the shop owner into training - running sprints, etc. - and spying on rival shops to learn their culinary secrets, seem forced and not very funny. There are also some other plot elements only loosely woven into the narrative, such as a group of Japanese businessmen visiting an expensive French restaurant and not knowing what to order (their young assistant, however, does know French cuisine); we also see an etiquette class teaching wealthy Japanese women how to eat noodles w/out slurping. Ha ha. After 45 minutes or so we had enough; any point the movie was trying to make about Japanese culture now seems extremely dated - as fusion cuisine rules the world of course - and the humor, often physical, has lost its edge as well.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Season One of Fortitude was totally watchable; can Season 2 find its way?

Simon Donald's Fortitude (Season 1) definitely held our attention throughout the 12 episodes despite some extremely gruesome and cringe-inducing incidents - it never felt forced or gratuitous, and created a great portrait of a small and isolated community, the eponymous Fortitude, an island supposedly of the north coast of Norway (actually filmed, in English, in Iceland). One unusual aspect of this series is thatwe know much more than any of the characters. W/out giving anything away, season opens w/ 2 boys finding what appears to be a carcass of a woolly mammoth, and bring a piece of jawbone home. Word gets out about this discovery, which could be of huge value - both to scientists and to ivory poachers - sending off a surreptitious treasure hunt. What we know but none of the characters learn for some time is that everyone in contact w/ the carcass - emerging from the glacier, no doubt bcz of global warming, though they don't discuss this - gets seriously ill (as it's explained, larvae or viruses in the animals cojuld be frozen for centuries only to emerge on "defrosting." So this is a crime drama, a political drama - the ambitious governor of this small island is focused on economic development and hopes to build a hotel in the glacier, a controversial if not hare-brained idea. It's a scientific narrative w/out exactly being sci-fi as there's not overtly supernatural in the concept. The pace is good - hindered sometimes, though by so many characters and plot lines - the sense of place is great: we really experience the isolation and ruggedness of the island, with one hotel-bar, one small police station w/ 4 officers, one small market, a tiny air strip, and so forth - probably not unlike life in northern Iceland, minus the tourists. The lead characters all are strong. In short, it's not a groundbreaker but Fortitude season 1 is  a totally watchable, intelligent crime drama.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Can an English-language remake of Toni Erdmann be far behind ?

The 2016 German film  Toni Erdmann is really long - 2 hours 40 minutes - but it doesn't feel long for a second as you watch it - totally entertaining, engaging, and in the end moving w/out being sentimental or soporific. In brief the story is about a 50ish-year-old man who's a practical joker and free spirit, seems to make a modest living via piano lessons and music classes, who is trying to connect with his adult daughter who's deeply devoted to her high-pressure job in a consulting firm proving international corporations with advice on such matters at out-sourcing and down-sizing (i.e., firing union workers and going outside the corp to hire cheap labor). The protog surprises his daughter by showing up unannounced at her base of operations in Bucharest, and he proceeds to cajole her and to act foolish and funny and basically derail her straight-ahead life in the corporate and business world. The movie begins with a great scene involving delivery of a package, believe it or not, and just builds from there: some scenes are hilarious, such as the father, using the name Toni Erdman, poses as the German ambassador to Romania and "punks" a number of the up-tight corporate types and others, the "naked" party, and most unsexy sex scene every filmed. Some scenes are moving and provocative: the dad trying to be comfortable in various staid settings and feeling completely lost and out of place, the sexist belittling of the daughter by assigning her to give shopping advice to the wife of a big client, the visit to a oil refinery where workers will be laid off or fired based on advice from the daughter and her cronies. It would be so easy to make this movie dogmatic or schematic - the daughter completely changing her ways, for ex., and leaving corporate life behind or providing a new "option" for the client under which nobody gets laid off, etc. But the director (Maren Ade) will have none of that, and the movie ends on a poignant, but still somewhat unsettling, note. Smart from start to finish - and I would imagine that an English-language remake (I can picture Jack Black in the lead) isn't far behind, and will no doubt miss the whole point of this drama.