Thursday, August 20, 2015

July 2015

This month, I binge-watched the first two seasons of American Horror Story, having caught the fourth season live when it aired last year. The first season was a total bore, but things picked up magnificently in Season 2, dubbed Asylum. Meanwhile, my lunchtime breaks have been spent re-watching old Seinfeld episodes; they're just as funny the second time around. On the literature landscape, the audiobook of Finders Keepers, Stephen's King's sequel to last year's Mr. Mercedes, found its way onto my iPod, and I devoured it quickly and eagerly. I can scarcely wait for End of Watch, the third installment of the trilogy, due out next year.
Here are the movies I saw in July:

JURASSIC WORLD (2015)—Fourth entry in the Jurassic Park franchise is a sort-of reboot, since none of the performers from the earlier movies are around (many of them having been eaten) and the original theme park has long since been shuttered. In the new film, an all-new park called Jurassic World is gaining traction, but of course it’s only a matter of time—minutes, really—until the monsters get loose and it’s curtains for everybody. It’s astonishing, really, that nobody learned a lesson from the first movie, which Jurassic World is practically a remake of (dinosaur escapes from its cage and creates chaos, while evil humans with ulterior motives exacerbate the situation). All the ingredients are here: the suspense is ramped up by having some of the protagonists be kids; bad guys get their comeuppance; dinos fight each other and so on. The special effects are, as always, the main reason to see one of these movies—just turn off your brain and enjoy the amazing CGI. Casting Chris Pratt, fresh off his success with Guardians of the Galaxy, was the single shrewdest move the producers could possibly have made. (8)

BIG GAME (2015)—When Air Force One is shot down, the president (Samuel L. Jackson) crash-lands in Finland and hunted down by terrorists. Only a native boy hunter (Onni Tommila) can help save him. This is an outrageously preposterous adventure story, with a never-ending supply of plot holes and unimaginably ridiculous situations, but it zips right along and rarely drags. Some other respectable actors (Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent) are slumming in this absurd action flick as well. Silly, escapist fun, full of comic-book violence and at times a bit campy. (7)

THE OVERNIGHT (2015)—A couple new to Los Angeles (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) meet some wealthy young neighbors (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche) when their kids make friends at a local park. Dinner invitations follow for the two families, and then the creepiness starts being doled out: are the rich hipster friends looking to swing? And why is water-filtration magnate Schwartzman moonlighting as an artist who only paints people’s rectums (including his own)? The action largely unfolds as the four adults get increasingly drunk and high, and although much of the film gets by on a series of occasional cringeworthy jokes, the movie’s resolution is surprising and worth waiting for. Huge debit: Schwartzman and Scott skinny-dipping and dancing around with their schlongs flopping around—I had to remove my glasses so these scenes would be perceived in blissful blurriness. (7)

TANGERINE (2015)—Shot using iPhone 5s in West Hollywood, only a few miles from my house, this extremely low-budget movie traces a day in the lives of two transgender prostitutes—we get to know all about their johns, their jobs and their jollies. One of the gals, freshly sprung from the pokey, has an immediate goal: to hunt down the hooker who has been screwing her lover/pimp, drag her to him kicking and screaming, and generate some drama. For about three-quarters of the movie, the action shambles along at a leisurely pace, but things perk up considerably during the final showdown at Donut Time (located at Santa Monica Blvd. and Highland Ave.). The movie, which tackles themes ranging from sex-trading to homophobia, is a mini-revelation, especially considering that the crew clearly didn't have two nickels to rub together. Moreover, the leads had no major acting experience, and the soundtrack seems to consist largely of classical and public-domain music. Directed by co-writer Sean Baker, with the multi-talented Shih-Ching Tsou pitching in as everything from producer and costume designer to acting as a cute but hapless donut slinger who has the cops on her speed-dial. As shoestring movies go, this is the dictionary definition of how to put one together. (9)

INFINITELY POLAR BEAR (2015)—Set in the mid 1970s, writer-director Maya Forbes’ film casts Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana as interracial Bostonian parents of two small girls. Early on, Ruffalo suffers a breakdown and is diagnosed with bipolar disorder; he then attempts to raise the kids while Saldana heads to Manhattan to study on a university scholarship for 14 months. The kids find his idiotic behavior annoying, and oh, so did I! The performances are fine, but the movie was a bit of a slog for me for two reasons. First of all, there’s practically no story in this movie—just a series of anecdotes showing how unfit Ruffalo is as a solo parent, and second, while I could barely tolerate Ruffalo’s often childish and embarrassing behavior, he chain-smokes through the entire film, and I just find that grotesque. (I grew up with dual chain-smoking parents, which has left me mentally scarred for life.) The film left me cold—I really wish there had been more story and no smoking. (5)

TRAINWRECK (2015)—Standup comedian-turned-TV-sketch-series star Amy Schumer now graduates to feature-film status with this comedy written by Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow. As usual, Apatow’s running time is unnecessarily bloated for a comedy (over 2 hours), especially for what is the merest wisp of an idea: Schumer plays a woman with the stereotypical characteristics of a slovenly male bachelor, i.e., interested only in drinking and one-night-stands. (Naturally, these values came from her pinheaded father.) So when Amy meets a nice, personable and eligible surgeon, she does everything she can to sabotage any chance of a long-term relationship. Will true love win out? What do you think? There are definitely some laughs in the film, but I found it extremely unlikely that Schumer’s boorish behavior would actually inspire Cupid’s arrows to shoot the surgeon (Bill Hader) as violently as they do. Also, after barely a couple of weeks, I have forgotten virtually every element of the movie. (7)

MR. HOLMES (2015)—This Sherlock Holmes story takes us to his twilight years, with lapses of memory and possible Alzheimer’s. Holmes (Ian McKellen), now 93, has long since hung up his deerstalker hat—actually, it’s established that he never really wore one—and is keeping bees in the countryside, his trusty housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son (Milo Parker) by his side. The film, in what can charitably be called a leisurely pace, concerns itself with Holmes’ struggle to remember the details of his last, unsolved case, as well as a secondary mini-mystery involving a Japanese man. (There’s another subplot involving the mystery of some dying bees in his hive.) This is a somewhat gentle movie that kept me absorbed despite its deliberately slow pace. (8)

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