The Ugly American

September 21, 2018

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Internet Movie Database          Movie Review

From the novel of the same name by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick.

Mr. Otter brought this home, and we watched it. He had read the book, which I hadn’t, and I knew nothing about it except the current usage of the phrase, which is Americans going to other countries and behaving like complete assholes.

So this is about a fictitious Southeast Asian country named Sarkan, that has a northern half that has become Communist, and they and the Chinese are trying to take over the rest of the country…sound familiar? Yup, it’s Vietnam; I figured that out after about ten minutes, it’s really obvious. Brando is the new ambassador, sent there to make sure the new road through the country that the Americans are building (“Freedom Road”) goes through, after some sabotage halts construction.

Brando’s character has a close Sarkanese friend who is being led astray by those darn Communists, so that’s a huge plot point with much political talk, and he is also friends with two Americans who run a hospital for children that is much needed and appreciated.

Eventually it all goes pear-shaped, mostly due to misunderstandings and the machinations of those doggone Communists, and the Americans have to leave. Not really a spoiler, it’s obvious where the plot is going.

This was pretty heavy-handed, but since it was made in 1963 about current political events, that’s not surprising. I was surprised, though, when I was talking to Mr. Otter a few days later- he used the phrase Ugly American, and I said, I assume that movie is where the phrase came from, but Brando wasn’t what the phrase means now, he really appreciated the country, tried to follow the customs and respect the people, but was misinformed.

Mr. Otter said no, the eponymous Ugly American was the American doctor, who the local people considered to be ugly although they loved him anyway. Huh? Really, said Mr. Otter, I read the book, it was him.

O-kaaaay. So there you have it.

If you like heavy-handed political drama, or seeing history from the contemporaneous point of view, this is your movie. But be warned, Brando is already in mumble-mode in 1963, it was sometimes very hard to understand him.


Anything Goes

September 21, 2018

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Two song-and-dance men on a sea cruise rehearsing a new show with two women, plus gangsters. Hijinks ensue.

This is a pretty badly done remake of a sparking and wonderful Cole Porter musical. Not only did P G Wodehouse co-write it, but Sidney Sheldon, he of Sexy Potboiler Thriller fame, had some kind of hand in it…and the script is just awful, even for a 50s musical.

Plus extra songs were added in, which OF COURSE don’t stand up to the original brilliance of Cole Porter.

Bing Crosby and a VERY young-looking Donald O’Connor (but he always looked young, come to think of it) are mugging their way through this thing, trying to be upbeat and doing what they can to keep up the pace; a woman named Zizi Jeanmaire (and who did very little else in her career) and Mitzi Gaynor are the female leads.

There are a few good moments, but you have to sit through a lot of bad ones to get to them. Give this one a pass.


Ant Man and the Wasp

July 12, 2018

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Ant-Man is back! Under house arrest for helping out the Avengers in Germany, but still needing to save the world…or at least a little part of it. Joined by the volatile Wasp, and up to amusing business as usual.

This is the ‘bumbling superhero’ type of movie, and while amusing, is not really my cup of tea. Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are good, the plot moves well, there are great special effects and some surprises (including the traditional Marvel added scene in the end credits, DO NOT MISS THIS) but it was just funny hijinks with not really much at stake.

And…I know the Marvel universe is full of pseudoscience, but in many of the movies they try to make the pseudoscience make sense in the context of the movie. In this one I felt like they would throw around some science-y sounding words and then MAGIC! Something would happen and I would just be expected to go with the flow. I got really tired of this after a while: OMG (science sounding words) we better (more science sounding words) (MAGIC HAPPENS) because (science sounding words).

So yes, the story was amusing, I kinda like the “bumbling but it all turns out ok” way that  And-Man operates, sure. But not the best Marvel movie ever.

Except the tardigrades, aka water bears, who were ADORABLE. Aaaawwwww.

 

 


Money Train

June 7, 2018

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Woody and Wesley are transit cops who have a boss (Robert Blake) who is a bastard and they get back at him by hijacking the subway car that carries all the money for the transit system.

Um, stupid people doing stupid things stupidly.

This is not to say that this movie was not mildly enjoyable; Woody and Wesley are both young and cute (1995) and JLo is ditto. The plot was okay, just unbelieveable enough to make me roll my eyes, which (being in the middle of apheresis at the Red Cross) was about all I could move.

Mildly amusing, a good way to pass the time, no great shakes.


Ready Player One

April 26, 2018

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From the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline.

A dystopian future where everyone lives in a virtual world and a contest pits teens against a soulless company in a race for money and power.

Okay, you all know what I’m going to say right off the bat, don’t you? Yup. READ THE BOOK FIRST. The day after I saw this I had to wear my excellent new t-shirt that says, Don’t judge a book by its film adaptation…because oh, boy is that ever true in this case.

Now, don’t get me wrong- this is a good movie. Teens competing with the evil corporation that wants to destroy something of value to them, beautiful special effects, a good solid plot, good actors, what’s not to like? Nothing. It’s a good, likeable movie.

 

But if this is the movie:

  mandala 2

This is the book:

mandala

I read this book when it came out in 2012, and loved it. And since then I have listened to it on audiobook (excellently read by WIL WHEATON) at least three times. I love love love this book. And there are so many things that they just couldn’t do in the movie…not ‘couldn’t do right’, but just could not do at all. The whole movie is packed to the gills with pop culture from the 70s to the 90s- books, movies, music, computer games, video games, television show, you name it. There is no way anyone could get the copyrights to actually use all that stuff.

Plus the main character, Wade/Parzival, narrates the whole thing in first person, and literally the first quarter of the book is backstory to the rest of what is going to happen…again, no way a movie can do that. There was a tiny bit of the backstory, because the story wouldn’t make sense without it, but not much.

But mostly- and I know many people don’t agree with this- I think the characters in the book were excellent, well drawn and really interesting. And that is the place the movie most falls short- the characters are just ‘teens on a mission’ and the viewer really doesn’t care about them at all, because there is no investment in them or their world or their problems.

So I’m not going to be a hardnose and say, don’t see the movie. I’m just going to say, if you read the book first, you’ll enjoy it more because IT’S SO MUCH BETTER.

Listen to the Otter. She know what she’s talking about.

 


7 Days in Entebbe

March 20, 2018

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A ‘Inspired by True Events’ story about the hijackers who took a planeful of people (including a hundred Israeli citizens) to Uganda, and how the Israeli government sent special forces troops in to rescue them.

Mr. Otter and I went to see this; both of us, of course, were around when it happened, but considering that it was the month I graduated from high school, I wasn’t reading a lot of newspapers at the moment. But nobody at that time could miss hearing about it, it was a huge deal. And still is.

This movie…is not as good as we hoped it would be. I can’t speak for absolute historical accuracy, but they spent a lot of time trying to humanize the terrorists, which neither Mr. Otter nor I thought was either a good idea or very well done.

There was also a big plot thread with one of the soldiers and his girlfriend, who was pissed off that he wouldn’t be around to see her dance performance (really? Army guy is supposed to not follow orders to see your show?) and many cuts to the dance itself, which was an modernish thing that had us saying, Huh? Here is what Mr. Otter found out about it afterwards, because (good librarian that he is) he looked it up:

Mr. Otter: Apparently the first one is a piece about conformity among
the Haredim, which is supposed to somehow tie in to Israel’s tough
stance vis-avis the Palestinians. It’s a fairly famous piece, first
danced in 1990. The other piece is probably something about something,
too.

The second piece was during the credits, and was also a weird modern thing. And btw, this is not a reflection on the dancers, who were excellent; it just seemed out of place in a movie like this, especially with no explanation. I would have been happier with more politics and soldiering and less touchy-feely. I wonder if this stuff was put in specifically so that women would come to see an action movie?

This was okay, but not great. There was not enough tension, and the politics and public opinion were mostly told rather than shown…we were pretty nonplussed by the whole thing.


Geostorm

November 7, 2017

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There is a grid of weather satellites controlling the weather all over the world…but of course things go horribly wrong…

I would normally put a SPOILERS warning here, because I’m going to give away the name of the bad guy (as if you can’t guess it from the cast list) so if you really care, stop reading. And do yourself a favor, don’t watch it either; really, you will thank me for this advice.

So yes. Climate change and all, so the nations of the world actually work together and put up a continuous sphere of satellites, controlled by an international space station, to control the weather.

So let’s allow this ridiculous premise, that anytime this century (much less soon) this would even be feasible, much less possible. The science police are out to lunch, and we won’t tell them.

The footage of this web of satellites doesn’t just have all of them in geosynchronous orbit…no, they are PHYSICALLY CONNECTED by lines of some kind of metal into a grid. Really? What kind of stupid is that, to think that that’s more believeable than just spacing them in orbit? Plus the space station is OUTSIDE this net, and shuttles go up and down. Could they have left a couple of big holes for this? no, the shuttle has to get through the spaces, which don’t really look big enough.

Then…the station was built under the aegis of, and control of, the US, but will soon devolve to the United Nations, and of course somebody doesn’t want it and is sabotaging the weather (over specific cities, we’ll get to that later) but has left clues and things so the Good Guys can Figure It Out. I’m tired of villains who are stupider than I am. And of course it’s Ed Harris, as soon as you see that he’s in the movie you know he’s the bad guy. Because Ed Harris.

And speaking of actors, how sad is it that it looks like 300, as awesome as it was, is probably the zenith of Gerard Butler’s career? And I say that not having seen most of the stuff he’s done, but now he’s in a high-budget dog like this? Sad. Just sad.

So yes, high budget. Really amazing sets and (at least in the trailers) mind-blowing special effects. Except…there were more or less 5 cities that got destroyed…and it was…well, not very exciting. Plus there was no indication that when each of these catastrophic events happened they would have repercussions outside the specific area of that one city, which was even more unbelieveable than the rest of this turkey. They were individual cities, and you saw cgi footage of stuff happening, but since there were no characters we knew involved, and the damage was limited to one tiny area, it was…just cgi.

And that (aside from the predictability and the stupid science) was the problem with this movie- for a thriller and a special-effects disaster movie, it was kind of boring. The plot was not very good (at least  they tried to give an explanation for there being a self-destruct device on the international space station) and none of the characters was really more than stock- the smart girl with a gun who is in love with someone she shouldn’t be in love with, the maverick who built the thing who is going to have to die to save everyone except he won’t die, the bad guy who turns out not to be the bad guys because (surprise) Ed Harris is actually the bad guy, the maverick’s daughter who is in the movie SOLELY to try to make us care whether or not the maverick survives the self-destruct thing, etc. etc. etc.

Meh. Skip it. Not worth even watching for free.