Category Archives: Jesse gets it mostly wrong

Ant-man

Ant-Man-International-PosterWhat Jesse said:

Ant-Man is a friggin’ awesome fun ‘popcorn movie’ that doesn’t waste the audience’s time with overly complicated motives or over the top exposition. It’s a pretty simple story of a guy (Paul Rudd) who puts on a high-tech suit that gives him the power to shrink down to ant size in order to stop an evil dude from using the technology for not-so-nice purposes. The action sequences were a lot of fun and I thought the comic relief (provided by Michael Pena as ‘Luis’) was absolutely perfect. The whole thing was a lot of fun and I’m definitely checking out a sequel if they ever make one. Michael Douglas does a competent job as the ‘Scientist with a formula’ and Evangeline Lilly sleepwalks through this one as the ‘angry daughter who doesn’t get it yet’. Nothing much to think about or grand themes to ponder, just a fun flick to chill out to with some very cool sequences. Good movie, check it out.

Mike’s verdict:

Ant-Man is not my favourite superhero. Ant-Man is not even a superhero I was aware of until Jesse told me that there was a movie. I still can’t understand why Ant-Man is a superhero at all – at least, I can’t understand why a writer would choose to name a hero with the ability to become very tiny ‘Ant-Man’. Lots of things are tiny, many of them cool. There is nothing cool, menacing, or even encouraging about an ant unless it’s the kind that stings; and this one, as it turns out, doesn’t sting.

I started this movie thinking I was going to see something like Spider-Man, a superhero with super-abilities that are directly related to the persona he portrays, and merely enhanced by technological toys. Instead I got the other kind of superhero – the guy who puts on a suit and just comes up with a name that kind of fits the image at a really basic level – like Batman. That might be fine, except that in this case the toy that Ant-Man uses just takes him from being a normal-sized loser, to a really tiny one.

To be fair, I can’t exactly argue with the things that Jesse liked about this movie:

  • It definitely doesn’t waste time with complicated motives or exposition.
  • It is a simple story.
  • The action sequences were fun.
  • The comic relief was, okay maybe not perfect, but appreciated.
  • Michael Douglas is competent as an idealistic scientist.
  • Evangeline Lilly definitely doesn’t get it.
  • There is nothing much to think about or themes to ponder.

Watching this reminded me of Fantastic Four – the one from 2005 . It’s entertaining for the sake of entertainment, nothing is spectacular but everything works together if you suspend disbelief (which obviously you have to – it’s a superhero movie!).

My only real complaint is that nothing about this movie stands out. If I want a simple story, Ant-Man won’t be the first movie that comes to mind. If I’m in the mood for action, or if I want to watch Michael Douglas, Ant-Man won’t be the first movie that comes to mind. If I want to watch Evangeline Lilly, Ant-Man won’t be – wait, I’ll never want to watch Evangeline Lilly.  And if I don’t want much to think about or themes to ponder, Ant-Man won’t be the movie that comes to mind.

Ant-Man fulfilled its role – it helped time go by while I was bored on an airplane. But unless I’m on another plane with really limited choices, Ant-Man The Sequal/Prequal won’t be my choice.

On last thing, Paul Rudd does a fine job as Ant-Man. I expected him to be funnier, because he is, but I can understand that wasn’t his role this time.  But if I want to watch Paul Rudd in the future, Ant-Man won’t be the movie that comes to mind.

5/10


Transcendent Man

What Jesse said:

Back in my electronic music days I used some gear by a company called Kurzweil. Turns out that the guy who started that company is a fascinating (and rather sad) human being named Ray Kurzweil and there’s a documentary about him called Transcendent Man. The topics covered are quite profound and reminded me of Her starring Joaquin Phoenix. Go watch Transcendent Man. It’s one of those rare movies that manages to be uplifting and depressing all at once. I liked it a lot.

Mike’s verdict:

I’ll agree with Jesse on one point for sure: Raymond Kurzweil is a rather sad human being. Transcendent Man isn’t so much a documentary as it is a biography. It presents the story of a man who, after bearing witness to the slow and all too foreseeable death of his father, becomes terrified by his own mortality. As if that isn’t bad enough, Kurzweil is an engineer – he’s used to thinking about ways to solve problems – and (because he’s an engineer) he doesn’t realize that death is not a problem he can just engineer a solution for.

Kurzweil has spent the better part of his life looking for ways to ensure that the he lives forever. He takes somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200 pills each day – basic supplements and vitamins as well as his own brand of ‘anti-aging’ chemicals. He also has his blood tested every few months to check on his progress. To be fair, at one point Kurzweil was diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes – definitely a condition to take seriously – and he managed to reverse it. Whether or not he beat diabetes because of his daily drug routine is very much open to debate though.

Of course, Kurzweil doesn’t limit himself to the traditional remedies of medical science. He is, after all, an engineer – and he has been looking at technological advances as the next step to defying death. He’s spent decades inventing and researching in a broad range of fields and he’s witnessed first-hand the way that technology has exploded over the last 50 years. He thinks of the world he was born into, compares it with the world he lives in today and imagines the world he’ll experience in another 50 years. Kurzweil has convinced himself that, within his lifetime, technology will advance to the point that death will no longer be a concern – he just needs to live long enough to make use of the technology.

As a response to his fears, Kurzweil has prophesied a pseudo-religious utopian future where humanity and machines intertwine such that there is no way to distinguish between the two. First science will advance nano-technology to fix everything, then it will advance convergence technology to bridge the gap between mind and machine. Then we will travel the stars.

Eventually, we will be sentient machines and as we spread the universe will ‘awaken’ as a single entity.  He calls it The Singularity but there are corollaries found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Bahá’í, Buddhism, and nearly all other religions.

As it happens, Kurzweil isn’t just another crack-pot with a vision – he is actually a brilliant engineer who is responsible for, among other things, the CCD flatbed scanner and text-to-speech synthesizers. He is a director of engineering at Google.

And that’s why his story is so sad. Technology is moving at blistering speed, but it’s not going to continue fast enough to save Kurzweil. You know it, I know it, his doctors know it. And on a certain level Kurzweil knows it too. But he lives in a world that wants his delusions to be true – and is constantly recognizing him for his very real accomplishments. Everyone knows he’s crazy, yet despite his delusions he is helping people. His delusions are riding the coat-tails of his otherwise brilliant career.

I would have like to see more dissenting opinions in this film – particularly from technology experts who could speak to the validity of Kurzweil’s beliefs. The producers chose to include interviews with two people who questioned Kurzweil’s prophecy but they were clearly straw-men – one’s argument was lost in his own completing religion while the other came across as the caricatured cold, unsympathetic scientist.

Overall, the film was interesting – I hadn’t ever heard of Kurzweil before and now I know a great deal about his life. But it was slow in parts, and it became clear that the producers didn’t have a lot to work with in terms of presenting Kurzweil’s imagined future. Just as with any other religion, it’s impossible to provide real evidence to justify his utopian predictions so the producers had to rely on clips of his impassioned speeches – entertaining, but ultimately empty. What I would have liked is a documentary discussing the (im)possibilities of the technology he imagines rather than a biography of the man. I’d like to know more from biologists, chemists and other engineers.

I guess that’s a different film though.

6/10


Interstellar

What Jesse said:

… before he watched Interstellar:

Dude, we should go see Interstellar. Everyone and everyone’s monkey and everyone’s monkey’s dog is saying that it is fantastic. My brother and my cousin and my neighbour and my wife’s hairdresser’s pet saw it and they all say it’s awesome. They also say it’s the kind of movie we definitely need to see in IMAX. It is a space movie after all. Seriously, it’s going to be great. Plus it has Matthew McConaughey – he’s not as dreamy as Brad Pitt but he’s a close second.

… after he watched Interstellar:

Dude, please don’t review this movie. I don’t want people to think that I would recommend this – it will be devastating for my reputation as a movie-watcher and human-being. Please, please, please don’t tell people I made you and our respective significants pay $17 + taxes to see this in IMAX. Please. Let’s just forget this night ever happened.

Mike’s verdict:

I’ve decided to review Interstellar because even though the recommendation was both premature and formally rescinded, in the end I saw this movie because Jesse suggested we watch it: as far as I am concerned, that’s pretty much the definition of a recommendation. The fact that Jesse didn’t have his facts straight before he made the recommendation is irrelevant. Besides, there is already precedent for this type of situation: Black Dynamite.

There’s a lot wrong with Interstellar, but let’s start with the good because it’ll be quick. The atmosphere is great. This movie doesn’t have quite the same feeling of vastness that Gravity has – which is significant given that I watched Gravity on a comparatively tiny 8-foot screen rather than IMAX – but it still does a very good job of expressing the distance and emptiness of space. There is even one scene where I had a twinge of agoraphobia. I also really liked the stark difference in soundtracks between scenes on earth, in space vessels and in open space. You could really, really here the silence when it mattered.

And that’s it for good points.

My first complaint is that every major plot point is obvious – including the big twist. It’s not just obvious from the point of view of the spectator watching on the outside either – the characters themselves definitely should have seen it coming. The only parts of Interstellar’s plot that were not obvious were the ones that lacked any tie to actual science. Jonathan and Christopher Nolan took the liberty of using fantasy to fill in where science stops. In some sense this is fair, unfortunately I felt that the fantasy they invented was too silly. I really enjoy learning about the theoretical science behind space travel and this movie started off really well (at least to my non-specialist eyes). But it takes a bizarre tangent at the point where the science runs out.

Next, the characters. There is one interesting character in this movie; he gets all the best lines and is the only one you will feel for when there is danger. The entire rest of the cast is just there to ensure that the plot moves along – and I was never invested in any of them. In case you are wondering, the one good character isn’t portrayed by McConaughey, nor is it  really a central character in the strictest sense – in fact it isn’t a real person. I hope Bill Irwin is given the credit he deserves for bringing some entertainment to this movie. As far as the real characters are concerned, McConaughey was the same gritty-but-well-meaning character he is in every movie; Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine had suitably adequate performances but nobody is going to remember them for this movie. Matt Damon‘s role is less forgettable, but his performance isn’t really notable. I did like how Topher Grace and Casey Affleck were unceremoniously thrown in like extras though.

Overall, I think most of this movie was okay. I was basically entertained most of the way through until fantasy took over near the end. But it isn’t a good movie and it doesn’t deserve anywhere near the critical praise that it’s been getting. It’s also not worth the money to see it in a theatre – much less IMAX. I wish I’d waited and watched this at home.

4/10


Homefront

What Jesse said:

Alright, I’m gonna give you a break for once and recommend a movie that is not a documentary about something that happened 30 years ago or requires reading subtitles! I want you to put down your “Hipster Life” magazine and go watch Homefront starring my favorite British ass-kicker Jason Statham and thespian extraordinaire/academic powerhouse James Franco. Statham does his usual amount of knee-capping in this flick, and the plot is fairly straight forward, but Franco is just creepy enough to make this a pretty fun ride. Oh yeah, almost forgot, you’ll get to see Winona Ryder doing her very best impression of a bad girl doing bad things… I had a blast (pun intended) watching this one. Get yourself a large bucket of popcorn and settle in for some good old-fashioned hollywood violence!

Mike’s verdict:

This movie sucks; not because the characters are stupid – which is true – or because the plot is nonsensical – which is also true. No, this movie sucks because of its failure to adhere to the core tenets of action movies.

The first half was the worst. It definitely had a bit of the knee-capping action that Jesse was blinded by, but it was wasted. The narrative spent time trying to force emotional investment in the characters and in doing so neglected aspects that draw viewers to Statham movies in the first place. Nobody watches this kind of movie to have their heart touched. It’s almost as if the writers thought they needed to prove that the protagonist was a good loving father – as if anyone cared. By the halfway point I felt like stopping, not because the movie was so bad (it was!), but because I was annoyed at having been tricked. It’s too bad too – the beginning seemed particularly promising with Izabela Vidovic stepping up as a possible rival to Chloë Grace Moretz‘s Hit-Girl. Unfortunately, five minutes later she was just a lame little girl again. The writers completely missed an opportunity to redeem her later in the movie too.

The second half got a little better as the action picked up, but it was too far gone to recover. I was no longer subjected to the family movie sub-plot but by this point it was just too late. With every new ridiculously unfortunate coincidence, I found myself waiting for the explosions that Jesse alluded to. Incidentally, on my original reading of Jesse’s recommendation I was left with the inference that Winona Ryder was going to be blown up. Even to the last minute I held on believing that my patience would be rewarded. The anticipation was immense and probably would have saved this review if not for the heart-crushing disappointment felt when the credits rolled and I finally realized that Ryder’s character wasn’t going to be obliterated.

Positives: The characters are believable as their characters. James Franco definitely comes across well as the backwoods thug – in spite of the lame actions written for him. I also liked the almost-crooked-but-mostly-just-lazy town Sheriff, and all of the rednecks were sufficiently dirty.  Of course both Statham and Ryder feel natural as well – they play themselves, so how could they not?

I’m both surprised and disappointed with this one. I knew I wasn’t going to get award-winning performances, but I expected a decent smash and bang action movie. Homefront is not that. It’s not enough to have bad guys with unlimited ammo and protagonists that can rig whole houses to explode. A proper action movie needs to be able to insinuate that the good guy probably has deep connections with the people he saves, without wasting precious viewer time trying to show it. Every minute Jason Statham acts like a good father is a missed opportunity for him to headbutt someone.

If you’re looking for a good action movie and have your heart set on seeing Jason Statham hurt people, forget this one – watch The Mechanic instead.

3/10


Enemy

What Jesse said:

Enemy is one of the most anxiety inducing movies I’ve watched all the way through. I can’t remember the last time I was this uncomfortable watching a flick… and still enjoyed it. Oh, yeah, now I remember… “Prisoners“.

Mike’s verdict:

I don’t get it.

I had high expectations for this one. I thought Prisoners was fairly good and figured that if Enemy could maintain the same atmosphere but with a more interesting plot, it would do well too. And in one sense, the movie is quite effective – the atmosphere is tense from beginning to end. Jesse isn’t wrong about the level of anxiety at all. The music and the cinematography work together perfectly to build a tension that stayed just beyond my comfort level without being over the top. The problem is, it’s a trick. The atmosphere is so effectively tense you almost don’t notice that with the exception of a few scenes there’s almost no reason for the tension. Most of the ‘big scenes’ involve characters reacting dramatically – portraying tension – to events that don’t actually warrant the reaction portrayed. The fear is fabricated – I just can’t imagine normal people reacting the way these characters react. Granted, all movies fabricate atmosphere – that’s pretty much the whole point – so I can’t really criticize that too much.

Unfortunately, Enemy has a much bigger issue: it doesn’t make any sense. Are the twins really twins? Are they just two personalities in the same body? Why does twin #2’s wife suggest she knows what’s going on after meeting twin #1? Why is twin #1 willing to comply with twin #2’s demand immediately, without any fight? Why does everyone act like the sudden appearance of a twin means that something terrible is going on? Why is the movie even called ‘enemy’? What is with the damn spiders?? And what was the point of the opening scenes in the creepy club? Basically all the questions you have after watching the trailer are left completely unanswered by the movie. My theory: José Saramago thought that Javier Gullón‘s book would make a fantastic trailer, and then he tried to write a movie around it.

Admittedly, the acting is really good. The characters seem totally irrational, but the actors do an amazing job of portraying them anyway. And I really liked all the little references to Toronto. I tried to find a location inconsistency but there’s wasn’t anything noticeable.

I have to give this one 5/10. Full marks for the artistic parts, but zero marks for the story. If it had wrapped up in a way that explained what was going on, it might have gotten a perfect score.

p.s. This one will probably be watched again just in case it’s a matter of picking up clues, and I’ll reassess the score then – hopefully it doesn’t lose points.


The Dallas Buyer’s Club

What Jesse said:

Remember when I said I was gonna give you a “happy movie” to review next? Forget that. You need to watch The Dallas Buyer’s Club next. What an amazing  performance by an almost unrecognizable Matthew McConaughey! Jared Leto also turns in some serious work in this crazy “David vs Goliath” story. This one’s definitely a strong contender come Oscar night. Wow.

There is some unpleasant scenes for sure but I was surprised to find out it wasn’t really an “AIDS movie” (like Philadelphia). It’s really about the “little” guy taking on the big bad FDA. There were actually quite a few very funny scenes. Pleasantly surprised with this one.

Mike’s verdict:

Most movies are appraised based on the elements of film – writing, directing, acting, set design, etc. If one of the key elements is missing, the lack is reflected in reviews. Even movies that don’t have anything specifically wrong in those elements end up getting panned by critics if there isn’t something that stands out. It isn’t enough to be not bad; most films need to actually be good.

But for some reason certain films get a pass based on their topic. They don’t need to be stand-out good as long as there’s nothing stand-out bad. This is especially true with films involving the poor treatment of an already marginalized group. Unfairness is somehow universally acknowledged as cause for a good review; sympathy is applauded as long as nothing is undeniably wrong.

This is The Dallas Buyer’s Club. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t good either. Any interest in it relies entirely on the theme. I’ll admit that the story concept was decent and the characters were fairly imaginative. McConaughey obviously put a lot of effort into his role and so did Leto – in fact I think Leto did the better job. But as a whole the film is unremarkable. I didn’t want to stop watching it, but it didn’t hook me either.

The only engaging aspect of the film is the interaction between the patients, the doctors, the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies. I found myself wondering just how closely the excuses and arguments reflect reality. But of course that’s not really the point of the film so that interest is left quite unfulfilled.

Was the public treatment of AIDS victims in the 80s (and ever since) terrible? Yes. Do pharmaceutical companies intentionally mislead everyone to inflate profits? Probably. Is the FDA completely bought-off. It wouldn’t surprise me. But The Dallas Buyer’s Club isn’t a documentary, it’s entertainment. And entertainment should be entertaining.

One thing I agree with Jesse on – this is exactly the kind of film that does well on Oscar night.

5/10


Welcome to the Dollhouse

What Jesse said:

Welcome to the Dollhouse. Plenty of cringe-inducing  moments in this one, plus some really great performances from the young actors. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1996 Sundance.

Mike’s verdict:

Welcome to the Dollhouse is, quite simply, about how much it sucks to be a kid. Written entirely from the perspective of one unhappy girl, every scene is intentionally exaggerated to emphasize just how unfair her world is. Her parents don’t love her as much as her siblings, her teachers don’t appreciate her effort, and all the kids at school think she’s ugly. She’s every 12-year-old girl who ever lived.

The film actually does a good job of portraying the awkwardness, disappointment, and unfairness that, all combined, pretty much define the early teen years. The kids definitely give decent performances, and the atmosphere really is effective. Even the conflicted bully from a bad home is believable.

Unfortunately, the film’s intention is ambiguous because its aim is slightly off.  As an affirmation that all kids feel the world is unfair, Welcome to the Dollhouse would be a worthwhile lesson for most children. The problem is that the film isn’t actually meant for children – the message is delivered too subtly. It’s only recognizable through hindsight to someone who’s already lived it and survived well enough to look back rationally; only an adult is going to understand what the film is saying. On the other hand, the lesson is wasted on an older audience for exactly the same reason. If you can understand the message, you don’t need to learn the lesson.

Maybe I just have a thicker skin than Jesse, but I didn’t find much in the way of ‘cringe-inducing moments’ either. I could recognize that a character felt awkward, but it didn’t translate to me being uncomfortable for them. At most I felt sorry for the girl in a ‘don’t worry, you’ll understand when you’re older’ kind of way.

This one gets 5/10. I wasn’t bored, and the production was good all around. But it didn’t give me anything to think about.