Category Archives: Jesse gets it wrong

Manchester by the Sea

manchesterNote: This is the second part of a review double-header!  Jesse sent two recommendations in a single shot so I’m reviewing them at the same time. Click here for the other review.

What Jesse said:

Two movies for you to watch: War Dogs, and Manchester by the Sea. Very different but excellent flicks. War Dogs is so absurd it will make you laugh and then wonder if the grownups really are in charge… also, it was funny ’cause it’s true (based on a real case). Manchester by the Sea was a pretty intense slow burn. Casey Affleck plays the main character. Watch out for the BAHS-ton accents. Family drama.

Mike’s verdict:

If you’re going to freak out every time you see a frozen chicken, I think we should maybe go to the hospital. I don’t know anything about this.

Judging by this quote alone, I should like Manchester by the Sea. Add the fact that it is packed full of awkwardness and I should really like it.  Awkward people just trying to exist in a world where all the little things are much harder than they should be; this is my favourite kind of movie by far. But let’s get things straight right up front: I did not like Manchester by the Sea and I am struggling for a reason not to give it 0/10.

Right from the beginning I was aggravated.  The dialog starts before the opening credits music has faded and it was annoyingly difficult to hear what seemed like an expository exchange.  It was a relief when the music finally stopped – little did I know that all the music in this film would be annoying, out of place, too loud or unnecessary.  It was never appropriate to the scene, nor even ironically inappropriate – it was just all wrong.  Music usage is a crucial aspect of film and when not done correctly it can be devastating even to an otherwise fantastic movie.

Of course, this is not an otherwise fantastic movie. Affleck is annoying before you even see his face. To be fair, he did start to grow on me by the end, but I’m pretty sure that had more to do with the rest of the characters.  At first I wondered why his character would be so anti-social, but then it became clear; he has the most immediately unlikable family and friends imaginable. I can’t think of another film with so many genuinely unlikable characters.  None of them are relate-able as people. A good awkward movie is good because the awkwardness is familiar and understandable.  But all of the characters in this film are unpleasant – and they are definitely not helped by the awful fake accents that just make the dialog that much more painful to hear.

Thirty minutes in I wanted to stop watching. By an hour in I had checked the time remaining half a dozen times, and I really wanted to stop watching.  By and hour and forty-five minutes in I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to take anymore.  And then, inexplicably, it just ends abruptly without any resolution. Normally that would impress me, but this time it felt cheap; I had earned something more involved.

Maybe I’m out of practice. Maybe this is what passes for awkwardness in film these days.  In my day, we had people like Mark Duplass to show how awkwardness can be reveled in. I’d like to see him redo this film shot-for-shot with a better cast. The only actor that should stay in the Duplass version is Matthew Broderick. Yes, that’s right, Matthew Broderick is the single best part of Manchester by the Sea.  In fact, for his part I will give the film a whole extra point.

1/10

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Nightcrawler

kjjjghWhat Jesse said:

So I thought I was gonna watch a movie about one of my favourite Marvel characters, instead I get a weird movie about how Jake Gyllenhaal spends his nights looking for bloody footage to sell to sleazy TV news people who go by the motto “if it bleeds it leads…”. Nice. Gyllenhaal does a nice job as an ambitious sociopath and I can’t remember the last time I saw Renee Russo in anything but she was pretty good too. Check it out.

Mike’s verdict:

I was intrigued by the trailer for this movie. It combined a slow-simmering and eerie awkwardness with an uncommonly clean look – creepy but without the cliché grittiness that everyone’s been doing lately. It gave me high hopes for the movie despite the fact that the concept – people chasing gruesome disasters with a camera, intent on sell the footage to television news – didn’t jump out at me as particularly interesting. I wasn’t overly excited, but I expected there would be a sufficient backdrop for exploring the creepy characters presented in the trailer.

I was wrong.

I will admit that the subtle unsettling nature of the trailer does come through in the full movie. The atmosphere is right, and the creepy-but-clean setting works. Unfortunately, a lot of the scenes are drawn-out – presumably to build suspense – and they’re left just a little too long. Eerie only stays suspenseful if it fluctuates enough to not become desensitizing. Nightcrawler fails at this. It’s really, really slow.

The film is also very obvious. Maybe I have a dim view of human beings, but I wasn’t surprised by any of the things the main character did. I could see every plot point coming way in advance, and that includes the ‘big surprise’ at the end.

‘Slow’ and ‘obvious’ are enough to ruin a movie themselves, but my criticisms are not done: the characters are problematic as well.

One major issue is inherent in Jake Gyllenhaal‘s character. He’s a terrible person on the inside, and a terrible person on the outside. Everything he says is garbage and nobody around him is fooled by it. That’s the point – he’s fake and we all know it. Unfortunately, the nature of acting requires the actor to pretend to be something they are not, and convince the audience. In this case, Gyllenhaal is pretending to be someone who is unconvincingly pretending to be someone. The meta-acting means that Gyllenhaal has to convince me that he is someone who is unconvincing – in other words, the more convincing Gyllenhaal is, the less I am convinced. This movie was doomed right from the beginning. Gyllenhaal could never come across as convincing, because he was trying to be unconvincing.

Sadly, I have problems with the other main characters as well.

Rene Russo‘s character is just awful. I have no idea if she is an accurate depiction of a television news producer, but I really hope not. The trope of the newsman (or woman, whatever) who is willing to do anything for the story is well grounded in reality, but I would like to think that most television producers would set a higher standard for what they are willing to give up personally for the story. This is especially true given that Gyllenhaal’s character is so intentionally unconvincing in his sales pitches. For every hard decision Russo’s character has to make, her choice is unbelievably stupid. And I mean that literally – I simply could not believe that a real person would make such choices. Riz Ahmed‘s character suffers a similar fate – he’s so stupid that I have a hard time believing he could exist.

The movie actually reminds me a lot of the True Detective mini-series. The series definitely shares an intention with Nightcrawler: to show the awfulness of individual humans in an eerie but clean atmosphere. But it also shares its problems; both are slow, obvious and lacking believable characters. Unsurprisingly, Jesse liked both.

3/10

As for the most significant complaint raised by Jesse (and way too many other comic nerds), the bottom line is that the Marvel character is not known even remotely well enough for the movie producers to have thought there would be confusion. Marvel’s Nightcrawler is little more than a tag-along to the X-Men and nobody can realistically argue that they saw this movie thinking it was going to be about mutants.  If Marvel ever chooses to make X-Men 56: Nightcrawler’s Turn, Jesse will have no doubt what the movie is about – because every showing will be sold-out 3 weeks in advance and there will be over-night line-ups of desperate nerds outside every theatre.


Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape

What Jesse said:

Another cool documentary for you. This time it’s about how in the early 80’s the powers-that-be in the UK thought that a list of about 80 mostly crappy movies referred to as The Video Nasties, was going to corrupt an entire generation of British kids. Complete with hilarious stories of UK Parliamentarians sitting around one day to watch these low-budget horror movies (some became physically ill and most couldn’t take more than a few minutes…), or how because of the confusion of not knowing which exact movies were on “the list” police officers were confiscating titles such as Apocalypse Now or other definitely non-nasty or even critically acclaimed films from the shelves of corner store video shops in England. There were video “burnings”, and some shop owners even did jail time for stocking some of these titles! Nothing like a good moral panic to get the old juices flowing…Crazy doc. Enjoy.

Mike’s verdict:

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front – I am totally, utterly and completely against censorship. I don’t believe that the state should attempt to block the expression of ideas whether they are in print, video, audio, stone tablet or the voice of the crazy guy yelling on the corner. Governments should be free to pay experts to publish information, but they should not block non-experts from publishing as well. That’s not to say that I think most people have valid opinions. They don’t. And I certainly don’t care to actually listen to most people’s opinions. I’m also not under the delusion that everyone has some inherent ‘right’ to be heard, and I don’t think that spilling blue paint on a sidewalk constitutes ‘art’.  What I do believe is that everyone has a responsibility to ignore the opinions they find disagreeable. Don’t like that TV show? – change the channel. Don’t like what’s on the radio? – learn to play the guitar. Don’t want to see naked people killed by chainsaw-wielding maniacs? – don’t rent the video. Don’t want your children to see naked people killed by chainsaw-wielding maniacs? – don’t let them rent the video either. I’d like to live in a world where people think of their interactions with others as governed by personal responsibility – not personal rights.  What’s that? You think you have a right to be heard? Great. The best part of my worldview is that I don’t need to argue with you. You can stand on your soapbox all day – I’m going to get a sandwich.

That being said, I thought this movie was mostly a waste of time. It’s terrible that a group of almost-parliamentarians were allowed to create a panic that allowed corrupt police to put video store owners in jail. Seriously, that is terrible. But I didn’t need to watch endless interviews cut with unpleasant video clips to reach that conclusion. Granted, before watching the documentary I had no idea that this particular moral panic had occurred. But there’s really no difference between this panic and any other that has led to censorship. The film-makers here could have made a 60 second public service announcement and got most of their point across.  This is particularly true now that we have the internet to show us all the unpleasant video we can stand, and nobody able to censor it.

Two and a half decades ago, someone should have stepped in to stop what was obviously unfair treatment of video store owners. And this should definitely go into the history books as one more example (in an extremely long list) of why state censorship is a terrible idea. But there was no need for this lesson in 2010 – nobody was then or is now in any danger of having their ‘right to watch gross movies’ taken away.

I’m pretty sure the film-makers just wanted an excuse to watch all the movies their parents warned them about.

3/10 – But only because I learned a bit of history.


Bottle Shock

bottleshockWhat Jesse said:

I got another awesome movie for you to review. It’s called Bottle Shock and it stars Chris Pine (the new Cpt. Kirk) and one of my favorite badass (and unintentionally funny) actors of all time, Alan Rickman!

Rickman is absolutely perfect with his low-key off-beat performance as a wine-pushing guy just trying to make a buck. Yes, the movie’s title does have something to do with wine and the wine industry but the plot is really about people and their obsessions with trying to prove that their stuff is the best. Nothing tastes as sweet as being proven right and these characters’ agendas start to become more and more obvious as the story unfolds… enjoy.

Mike’s verdict:

I feel like there are actually three movies here, and the one represented by the title actually gets the least screen time.

First, there is the snobby wine guy movie. It’s not bad – but it sort of feels like Wes Anderson and Woody Allen came together and the best parts of both of them cancelled each other out. There’s always this feeling like something ridiculous and fantastic is about to happen, but at the end I realized that the anticipation was all I would get. I’m not really sure why this part of the movie got naming rights – the storyline begins and ends the film, but is almost completely absent in the middle.

Next there is the lost boy needs to grow up / serious dad needs to chill out movie. This one was pretty tired. It’s been done many times before and everyone knows that it will end with both men understanding each other and themselves a little better. Bla. Bill Pullman‘s character doesn’t even make sense – I don’t think that a guy who walks away from being a lawyer to start making his own wine would really need to be told to chill out. And I won’t even get into Pine’s character looking completely out of place wearing the Kurt Cobain costume.

The last movie is about a Mexican vineyard worker who wants to get out from underneath the prejudice that surrounds him. I think this would have made the best movie if it had not been buried within the other two. I really liked Freddy Rodríguez‘s character Gustavo, and his storyline could easily fill a feature-length film. 

I had hoped that Bottle Shock would live up Jesse’s hype. I really like Alan Rickman and looked forward to his deadpan disdain for life coming through in every scene. Unfortunately, there was so much of the movie that had nothing to do with his character that by the time he finally came back I had forgotten the movie was even about him.

If you want to learn about the California wine scene in the 70s, I’d skip this and find a documentary. If you like seeing Alan Rickman, I’d skip this and watch pretty much anything else that he’s ever been in. If you want to see Bill Pullman have a melt down, I’d skip this and watch the first 2 minutes of The Grudge. But if you like the feeling of anticipation followed by the emptiness of disappointment you should definitely watch this.

I’m going to rate this 3/10, but only because I really like Alan Rickman.


A Shine of Rainbows

What Jesse said:

You should watch A Shine of Rainbows next. It’s a heart-warming film about a young boy whose life is unfair. It made me cry. It also has a young Jack Gleeson who shows that he’s more than just King Joffrey. Plus, Aiden Quinn has dreamy eyes.

Mike’s verdict:

As soon as I heard Jesse’s description of this film, I figured that I was going to hate it. I actually put off watching it for weeks because I just couldn’t bring myself to accept the level of torture I was sure it would turn out to be. But I knew it needed to be watched eventually so I finally gave in the other night.

And my fears were completely justified.

I suppose that there is an audience for this movie, but it definitely is not me.

To start with, the story is depressing in a sometimes-life-sucks kind of way and never really turns around, but doesn’t add anything new to the complaint either. Where most intentionally depressing movies have some kind of happy ending or an intellectual reason for not having one, this film only has a sort of “mitigated” ending. Life isn’t as bad as it was 30 minutes earlier, but it’s still not that good either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally fine with movies that leave out the fairy-tale ending. But if you’re going to make a movie that illustrates why life isn’t always fair, it should at least have a captivating or thought-provoking message. The only message in A Shine of Rainbows is that some kids have difficult lives and they need to focus on whatever silver lining they can find – even if that silver lining has a massive black cloud rumbling in the middle of it. I can’t even really say that this movie is about sympathy for the main character because in the end his lot isn’t nearly as bad as some of the other children who are left behind at the orphanage in the opening scenes.

Even worse, there is nothing surprising in this movie. The entire plot plays out exactly the way you think it will – except in a few cases where the obvious development would have been more interesting than what actually happened.

To be fair, the acting is pretty good. John Bell is definitely believable as a mostly defeated orphan and Aiden Quinn is definitely believable as a reluctant adoptive father. I disagreed with Jesse’s assessment of King Joffrey though – he came across as exactly the same Jerk to me.

Overall, A Shine of Rainbows is precisely as I expected – tedious and predictable. It’s the kind of movie my mom would watch on a Sunday afternoon while folding the laundry – and she would walk away 20 minutes before the end to start making dinner.

2/10


The Host (2006)

The Host-coverWhat Jesse said:

The Host. It’s a monster movie in the classic tradition of monster movies, only it’s different because the effects are brilliant. It really looks like there is a monster. Instead of making a monster that moves all around perfectly like it knows what it’s doing, this one flip-flops around. It moves just like a mutant fish thing really moves.  In fact I think they just hired a real monster for this one. That makes the most sense. I think you’re really going to like this. It’s not like Hollywood monster movies. Hollywood never shells out the cash for a real monster.

Mike’s verdict:

At two hours, this movie is about an hour and 30 minutes too long. It started strong – goofy for sure – but still engaging. Then it descended into just plain boring. By the one hour mark, not only did I start wondering how much longer I had to watch, I actually found myself checking Facebook on my phone. And no, I didn’t hear the chime of a notification first. Apparently my psyche just felt it was time for a dose of cat pictures.

At least up until that point the story made sense. After the one hour mark it turned into some kind of tinfoil hat conspiracy movie. There’s a monster on the loose, but the whole country is preoccupied with tracking down one guy and his family for some reason. I completely lost track of what the ‘bad guys’ were trying to accomplish. And don’t even get me started on the totally random brain surgery scene.

The characters are even worse than the story. They’re all completely annoying; not one of them is a person I’d want to spend two minutes alone in an elevator with. Oh, except for one random homeless guy – he’s pretty funny. If you watch the movie, which I hope you don’t, you’ll know exactly who I mean. That is, assuming you make it to the hour and 45 minute mark.

But even if the producers had come up with a good story and engaging characters, the movie was doomed anyway because the acting is terrible. I’m sure a little bit is lost in translation, but awkward dialog doesn’t account for awkward movement. I’ve seen some amazingly acted foreign films with dubbed sound. This is not one.

I’m giving this a 3/10. I’ll admit that Jesse is right about the monster – it really is life-like. But that doesn’t fix the rest of it.

ps. There was one more thing that bothered me but I didn’t feel it fit into the review. At one point a Korean character is talking to an American character through the use of a Korean / English translator. But I was watching with the official English dubbed voices. The people who recording the dub apparently didn’t notice that the scene required two different languages – so all three characters were speaking in English! It was confusing, and exactly the kind of tiny annoyance that shows lousy craftsmanship. I don’t know how much control the producers have over language dubbing so I didn’t take it into account, but it was still aggravating.


Black Dynamite

What Jesse said:

You should come spend your Saturday night in my basement with a bunch of other dudes. We’ll get pizza and check out Black Dynamite. I just watched the trailer with the sound off and my eyes closed – I think this one will sweep the Oscars this year.

Mike’s verdict:

4/10  (+5 for the pizza, -1 for making me remember Arsenio Hall)